Eliza Sohn

I'm always torn on the whole high-end Mexican food thing. When I want Mexican, I want fish tacos with sour cream from La Bonita, rich pinto beans from Super Torta, or blazingly spicy devil prawns from El Dorado, and really, I want it all for under $12. At Autentica, on NE 30th and Killingsworth, they take Mexican fare to gourmet levels, and I'm not sure it's worth it.

Don't get me wrong, Autentica puts out many an interesting dish. For example, try a half chicken bathed in a mole made with nuts and eight kinds of chiles. Or try a novel, if not perfect, dish of cactus leaves stuffed with ricotta-like requesón cheese, tomatoes, and rosemary. A friend and I recently shared their appetizer of spicy Dungeness crabmeat, avocado, and peppers served with tortilla crackers. Though this sounded delicious on the menu, the dish was one of the restaurant's biggest train wrecks. The crab was fresh and of good quality, but the sauce tasted exactly how a wet dog smells. My friend and I backed away from this dish immediately, even alerting the waitress to the smell/taste when she asked whether we liked it. She responded to our concerns by saying, "Sometimes when we don't like how a thing smells, we don't like how it tastes." Wait... what? If my $13 appetizer tastes like dirty feet, it would be nice if you took it off my bill.

Moving on, though, we tried the sharp Oaxaca cheese melted with chorizo and served with spectacular homemade corn tortillas. We also ordered a side of guacamole because the waitress recommended the two together. Sure, it was pure fat, but both the melted cheese dip and the guacamole were fabulous. At $9 for the cheese and $7 for the guacamole, though, I was paying as much for an appetizer as I would for an entrée, which is hard to swallow when you're five minutes from broke.

For entrées, we tried the Platillo Mexicano, which showcased three kinds of sauces over enchiladas, and a chile relleno. All three sauces were competent, but none blew my mind. Their red and green moles are decent, but not particularly rich or memorable. Our other entrée was an entirely enjoyable Mexican salad of grilled sweet corn, chayote (gourd), chickpeas, black beans, and cotija cheese. This traditional Mexican dish was executed flawlessly, but at $14 I couldn't help thinking I could make something similar at home for five bucks or less.

I know, I'm being a total harpy about the prices, but if the food at Autentica had been amazing, I would have gladly paid $90 for a twosome and written a rave review. Unfortunately, though, my experience made me wish I'd been scarfing down a quesadilla from the Mexican cart on SW 3rd and Pine. In hopeful news, though, Autentica serves an inexpensive and compelling brunch featuring everything from poached eggs to fish soup, and my friend Ed can't stop raving about their Thursday night pozole special (soup made from pork or chicken, with corn and plenty of fixings). Check out either of these events with confidence, and dip your toe slowly into Autentica's hit-and-miss cuisine. Who knows, it might just be your thing.