Lori Lucas

I told my boyfriend that I was going to dinner at Taste of Mexico, and he started laughing. Ditto, a male coworker. At first I thought it was the idea of finding decent Mexican food on NW 21st that struck them as ludicrous, but... seriously, is there a porno with that title?

While the name of the restaurant caused considerable amusement among my more immature acquaintances, it really was the restaurant's location that raised eyebrows among more discerning friends: Northwest Portland isn't exactly known for Mexican food. In fact, the general consensus is that Portland as a whole suffers from a serious dearth. There are some dope taco trucks around, and everyone has their favorite Alberta Street taqueria (La Bonita!), but scouting for decent Mexican can be a depressing proposition.

Enter Taste of Mexico, a higher-end Mexican joint featuring regional specialties.

White tablecloths, fresh flowers on the table, and walls painted in avocado and orange hues give the space a friendly bistro feel. The food, though... I feel like I'm betraying the extremely sweet, helpful waitress who served me the other night in saying this, but the path of a restaurant reviewer is strewn with broken hearts, so here goes: The food just isn't very good.

My first meal kicked off with tortilla chips and black bean dip—kind of Super Bowl party, but not bad. The soups we selected as appetizers, though, were like edible caution signs, warning of trouble ahead. The tortilla soup was insipid and thin, with hardly any flavor to it—though it did feature ripe, lovely avocado chunks—while the sopa de maiz (corn soup) was off-puttingly sweet.

The menu features all the usual suspects (tacos, enchiladas, burritos), plus a platillos principales (main courses) section, dominated by big chunks of protein with lovingly described sauces lending that regional flair: salmon with guava sauce, pork chop with balsamic vinegar-adobo sauce, and snapper with orange sauce.

My vegetarian dinner date was hard-pressed to find much to eat. On the menu, a misshapen tomato symbol denotes vegetarian items—but this courtesy, rather than making the menu easier to navigate, really just highlights the slim selection of vegetarian options. Cheese quesadilla, anyone?

I went with the pechugas de pato (duck breast in a plum sauce)—at $15.95, the portion was substantial, but that didn't make me want to eat it. The sauce was cloying, the duck meat too salty, and ultimately the only part of the meal I could eat without feeling depressed was the side of nicely cooked vegetables—carrots, zucchini, yams—that gave a little color to the otherwise dismal plate. The chicken in pumpkin seed sauce was equally disappointing: The sauce managed to add an unpleasantly grimy texture to the meat while lending little in the way of flavor.

After washing down my duck with a glass of syrupy sangria, I didn't have it in me to try dessert. Sometimes bad dining experiences make me angry, sometimes they make me sad. Taste of Mexico was a saddy: It seems like a well-intentioned little restaurant, staffed by earnest folks just trying to make a living. It's just too bad they can't make their living a little bit more delicious.