“A lot of people think it’s a trend, but I don’t… I look at it as an alternative way that people choose to eat and I want to be able to accommodate all of that,” said Chaison.
In addition to making her food accessible to diners of all stripes, Chaison strives to be community driven. (And indeed, Chaison has opened up her space to host pop-ups from some of Portland’s fastest rising stars, like Mitate, Plant Based Papi, Tume, Kumare, and HeyDay.) She’s also responsible for the food program at The Midnight, offering an abbreviated menu of Latin American-inspired vegan and vegetarian bar bites. On Division’s “eat street,” the self-made restaurateur dominates an entire block—her first restaurant, the vegan/vegetarian Thai spot Kati, is just next door.
“I’m an immigrant from Thailand, but I’m really passionate about Latin American cuisine. I wanted to open a gluten-free restaurant, and this type of cuisine fits perfectly with that concept,” said Chaison.
Mestizo opened in December of 2019, and did well until COVID hit a few months later; they went through the same 2020 rollercoaster as the rest of the industry, doing the same takeout/dine-in back-and-forth that proved fatal for some restaurants. Within that period, Chaison also parted ways with the business partners she started the restaurant with, citing creative differences.
Chaison currently runs the kitchen, but she credits former executive chef Kanani Mahecha with coming in and refining the restaurant’s opening menu. Drawing on her Mexican-Filipino heritage, Mahecha put her personal touch on dishes, bringing Chaison’s vision to life with an infusion of the homestyle cooking she does for her family. Chaison draws inspiration for her menu through her travels, along with restaurants she likes to frequent around town.
Mestizo’s plays on traditional dishes pay off. An already bright shrimp ceviche is made brighter with juicy bits of grilled pineapple. It’s served with housemade chips, but an extra buck and a half will get you a pile of housemade golden chifles—fried plantain crisps which are addictive enough on their own but killer when used as a vehicle for the ceviche.
The banana flower tacos, three to a serving, are substantial. These are not your delicate squash blossoms, oh no. Chaison likens them to artichoke hearts, but they’re larger and have a subtle banana flavor. Deep fried to crispy perfection, the rice flour-battered blossoms are nestled along with crunchy slaw on tri-colored Three Sisters corn tortillas and finished with tangy orange habanero sauce and a drizzle of coconut cream.
If you’re more of a “bowl person,” Mestizo offers rice and salad bowls with your choice of grilled Caribbean-spiced jumbo shrimp, seared rockfish, or garlicky Pals oyster mushrooms. The rice bowl is filling and well rounded, with yams, tomatoes, corn, black beans, Haitian pikliz, and a nice kick of spice from some chipotle aioli.
I advise you to save some room and cross your fingers that the pumpkin! spice! flan! is available during your visit, because it is an absolute must. Even though we had it on a 80 degree day, savoring it brought visions of jumping into a pile of crunchy leaves and frolicking through a pumpkin patch floating through my head. It’ll kick your overpriced PSL into the middle of next week. And now that colder months are upon us, Chaison is currently working on getting heating installed for the restaurant’s sizable patio.
Mestizo, 2910 SE Division, (503) 384-2273, mestizopdx.com