AS SUMMER ENDS, so too does this year's search for Portland's perfect taco. I've criss-crossed the city, taken a side trip through a wonderland of Korean flavors, and ended here, at the start of the rainy season.
This doesn't mean I won't be out there, shivering in a drizzle, waiting for the goodness to be passed down to me from the glowing interior of my favorite truck. I certainly will. I just won't be doing it as often. Instead, I'll head indoors, switching the bulk of my allegiance to the brick and mortar joints where I can watch the rain in the comfort of permanent shelter.
Nevertheless, I arrive at this column with a happy belly and a pocketful of accolades for those (supposedly) mobile taquerias I love so much. So without further ado, let me welcome you to the 2010 Portland Mercury Tacoville Awards.
N Interstate & Killingsworth
9 am-6 pm daily
La Chiquita blew me out of the water. I can still remember the day I found it, squatting there anonymously behind a large gas station. It had everything I could have possibly wanted: a shade tent, jacked-up hand-made signs, a boatload of charm, and tacos prepared incredibly well, doled out in very generous portions.
They are my new taco standard. Not just because of brilliant asada and perfectly seasoned pollo, but also because of the creative pluck they show with the amazing peanut sauce salsa. I've never seen the stuff anywhere else, and it is mind blowing. This is taco heaven.
Taqueria Los Arcos
SE 102nd & Stark
Tues-Sun 10 am-8 pm
Taqueria Los Arcos deserves the runner-up position mostly due to their amazing carnitas, which have a touch of smoke and just enough fat. They also deserve the award because they were only one of two taquerias I found this year that were actually making their tortillas fresh.
There are some who might suggest that Los Arcos should be out of the running due to the very Americanized toppings they load onto their tacos. However, I've come to believe sour cream, shredded cheese, lettuce, and all the rest are a great way to coax non-believers to the trucks. I consider those dished out by Los Arcos to be a kind of gateway taco, getting you hooked on the taco lifestyle you never knew you wanted.
Best for the Veg Set
SE 20th & Morrison
Tues-Sat noon-8 pm
Since my first Tacoville trip to Treat Machine, I have returned several times for more fresh vegan tacos—without the inclusion of weird shit like soyrizo and tofu trying to pass as meat. It's not that I'm flirting with a veg lifestyle. Not at all. This is one of those instances when the product trumps the message.
Sometimes all you want is something a bit lighter, like avocado, plantain, or yam, tucked into a tortilla made right before your eyes. But just because they taste light and fresh doesn't mean they can't satisfy. Combined with black beans, onion, cilantro, and tomato, these are substantial tacos. And they're made even better by killer hot sauces like piña colada, chipotle garlic, and coconut cilantro.
Follow @KoiFusionpdx on Twitter for
location & hours
After a delightful experience at the original Kogi BBQ taco truck in LA, I returned to Portland to see how the locals stacked up. While I enjoyed all of the downtown options (most notably the delicacies from Korean Twist on SW 3rd and Washington), Portland's first Korean taco truck, KOi Fusion, is still my favorite.
The reason for my love rests in the outrageously flavorful short ribs that have a perfect balance between spice, savor, and sweetness. I also appreciate the fact that among the locals, KOi is the one that retains the best of both worlds: Their tacos include both bean sprouts and pico de gallo. Also, they know the value of a lime wedge.
The Best Tacos from a Caucasian Dude
I was incredibly skeptical of Chef Jeremy Larter's tacos. I'd heard the Holocene chef had been making them, but my taco truck snobbishness had kept me from giving them a try. I was so terribly mistaken.
I had Larter's pork belly tacos at the Time-Based Art Fest—they blew my mind. They've convinced me that the only way to eat my favorite fat-laden pork product is in a tortilla. This is a fine edible, with belly that's just fatty enough and a tad smoky. It's also one of the most dangerous morsels I've eaten recently, because you could be well into your third before you realize what you're eating is basically straight pork fat with a touch of meat. I'm not sure when Larter will be serving his tacos again, but if you can find them, you must have one.