Travels in Tacoville 

The Search for the Perfect Taco: Part Three

IT'S 90 DEGREES HERE on 82nd Avenue. I'm lounging in a plastic chair beneath a softly flapping tent. Behind me, I hear sizzling; the soft chiming of metal turners on a flat-top grill; the dialogue of a telenovela.

This is the best part. It's the hot anticipation, cooled slightly by an icy Jarritos, as you wonder about what will pass through that window. This column brings the total number of taco trucks (and trailers) covered in this series to 12, and I have found that, like snowflakes, no two tacos are the same. For a brief moment, alone in the shade beside a taco truck, it feels like truly anything can happen.

Here are this week's selections.

Taqueria Mendoza

NE Killingsworth & 60th

Open daily, 11 am-9 pm

$1.25 tacos

Taqueria Mendoza is a bright blue trailer in the parking lot of a convenience store. It doesn't look like much, and you could easily miss it driving down Killingsworth. Don't.

This little trailer produces some of the most transcendent carnitas tacos I've ever put in my mouth. It may simply be one of the most beautiful bites in Portland. The pork is incredibly tender and moist, and the accompanying onions and cilantro are quite fresh. Something marvelous happens when you squeeze lime over this taco. Everything changes. Tones of sweetness are pulled from the pork. The flavor profile expands, evoking tropical climes. You could get lost.

Taqueria La Estacion Express #2

NE Killingsworth & Lombard

Open daily, 10 am-10 pm

$1.25 tacos

Cochinitas pibil is something I have yet to experience at any other truck. This traditional Yucatan dish is made of marinated roast pork, and has a nice heat to it. There are tangy, subtle citrus hues, even without the addition of lime. On one visit the cochinatas taco was accompanied by wonderful slivers of pickled onion; on another, raw white onions—I prefer the pickled onions.

I'd recommend getting to La Estacion as early as you can, as it seems the later you arrive, the tougher the meat. La Estacion Express is associated with the La Estacion Taqueria right down the parking lot, which occupies, strangely, a British double-decker bus.

Su Casa Taqueria

SE 82nd & Burnside

Mon-Thurs, 9 am–9 pm, Fri–Sun, 9 am–10 pm

$1.00—1.50 tacos

I have no idea why I chose Su Casa Taqueria to eat my first tripitas (tripe) taco. It could be that the cook inside the truck was in uniform, and that engendered a sense of trust. It may be that I was suffering heat exhaustion and not thinking clearly. Either way, I'm happy to say that everything worked out at this little truck beside a Safeway.

Which is not to say that a tripe taco is all fun and games. It isn't. There's the matter of texture, which falls somewhere between meat and refried beans. It can be a bit off-putting. Luckily Su Casa manages to fill the slightly funky emptiness of tripe with a nice grilled smokiness. It's even better with a slightly sweet red salsa. It could easily be enjoyed by those afraid of innards.

Elena's

NE 82nd & Hassalo

Open Mon-Sat, hours vary

$1.50 tacos

This taco trailer is now one of my absolute favorites. The language barrier is significant, and the paper sign taped to the side reading "Coming Soon Authentic Mexican Food" is disconcerting, but once you've repeated your order several times to the older gentleman cook and everything is squared away, you are in for a treat.

I recommend the luscious chorizo con huevos taco. Here, a particularly herbaceous fresh chorizo is grilled with an egg before being folded into the tortilla. The sausage has a bright clean flavor and the egg adds richness. Very unique, it's also spicy enough to raise a sweat.

The pollo has a similar heat. Unlike other pollo tacos I've had recently, the generous serving of shredded chicken is tender and juicy. It's quite clear the meat's been marinating for some time and it offers up hints of roasted chile. Perfect with the deep smokiness from the red salsa.

Splurge and add homemade guacamole to make these tacos even more filling. It's a very good food-to-cost ratio. I will definitely be coming back.

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