The bright pop of pinks, yellows, and oranges of the Portland Mercado makes me smile anytime I’m on Southeast Foster. Just past its fourth anniversary, this nonprofit Latinx cultural center and small business incubator is where you’ll find Portlanders of all stripes sipping aguas frescas and jockeying for open table space. It hasn’t been there long, but it already feels like an institution—a tasty, tasty institution. Here are our five favorite Mercado bites of late:
Tamal Oaxaqueno ($6), Mixteca Catering
The Oaxacan-style tamales from Mixteca (read: wrapped in a banana leaf instead of corn husk and, overall, moister and heftier) are what I want when I want a tamale. Mixteca loads pork on the inside and douses it in a lightly spicy mole sauce that gives you the feels and maybe some heartburn. Make it a tamale box, with beans and rice for a few bucks more, and you’ll be set with the only meal you’ll need all day.
Chicharrón (price varies), Kaah Market
On a recent Saturday at the Mercado, I overheard a dad walking by my bag of chicharrón say, indignantly, “Those pork rinds are SIX DOLLARS!!” I very nearly stood up and said, “WORTH IT, GOOD DAD SIR! Plus, they are $5.72!” This ample bag of pork rinds, found inside the market, is the finest in the city. The rinds are thick, with tons of crunch, plenty of meatiness, and just the right amount of salt. They are the extra crunchy Cheeto to the generic puffs. They make excellent taco filling with salsa verde, and they are to be cherished.
Tlayuda ($15.50 veggie, $18.50 with meat), Tierra Del Sol
This Oaxacan treat is a specialty at Tierra Del Sol, and probably what everyone else in line is going to order as well. Using Three Sisters Nixtamal as its base, a 14-inch blue corn tortilla is crisped up and topped with beans, cabbage, queso fresco and queso Oaxaca, tomatoes, avocado, and red onion. Plus meat, if you think you need it. It’s easily enough to feed two.
Horchata Latte ($4.50 for 12 ounces), Sandino Coffee Roasters
I (heart emoji) LA for many reasons: its rich cultural centers, diversity, thriving food scene, and, perhaps most importantly, amazing horchata lattes everywhere. Here? Not so much. But Sandino’s got me covered, blending Nicaraguan espresso with the slightly sweet and cinnamon-spiced rice milk for a coffee treat I cannot master at home.
Mofongo ($10), El Coquí
Portland’s light on Puerto Rican fare, but this signature island dish is strong. Plantains of varying degrees of ripeness are mashed together with chicharrón, salt, oil, and garlic and placed into a dome, accompanied by pork, chicken, or veggies. I like the pork, fried to crispy perfection on the outside, and served with a rich aioli and a lighter acidic salsa for balance.
Bonus bite: Chicken Caesar Wrap ($9), Fernando’s Alegría
Fun fact: the Caesar salad originated in Mexico. Another fun fact: I loves me a goddamn chicken Caesar wrap. And one of the best in town can be found here, with crisp, cool Romaine, doused in dressing and parmesan shreds, wrapped in a huge burrito shell with grilled chicken and tomatoes. It is so much more than a gas station grab-and-go.