Like an unassuming little beach taqueria in Baja,
¿Por Qué No? (3524 N. Mississippi Ave., 503/467-4149, and 4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503/954-3138, 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun., $7–11) has a relaxed hole-in-the-wall vibe to go with its excellent tacos and other south-of-the-border street foods. Tortillas and salsas are handmade in-house, and the meats and produce are local and organic, all of which adds to the terrific fresh-tasting zip of the food that rolls out of the miniscule kitchen. You can’t go wrong with any of the tacos; the guacamole is outstanding, as is the seviche. Fresh-squeezed margaritas are utterly addictive (try pomegranate). This place is tiny—line up to order your food, then find a seat. Most people end up sitting at tables in the street, rain or shine, watching the crowds on Mississippi Avenue.
Mexican food can be challenging: If it’s too Americanized, it’s a gloopy, cheesy mess; if it’s too authentic, the flavors and textures aren’t quite crisp enough. Along comes Fonda Rosa (108 NE 28th Ave., 503/235-3828, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–10 p.m. Tues.–Sun., $7–14) with authentically flavorful, positively zippy Mexican food that’s Americanized to the extent that ingredients are top-shelf, while the spicing and heartiness is authentically south-of-the-border.
Just up the street from North Mississippi Avenue, in a former marine-flooring warehouse, is Trébol (4835 NE Albina Ave., 503/517-9347, www.trebolpdx.com, 5–10 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 5–11 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun., $14–18), an excellent Latin American restaurant that’s equal parts tradition and innovation. Chef-owner Kenny Hill spent years as sous chef at Portland’s top-rated Higgin’s restaurant before opening Trébol, and he brings his rich experience in creative New American cuisine to traditional southern Mexican cooking. Trébol’s best dishes derive from recipes of Hill’s Oaxacan grandmother and are rich, honest, and full of flavor. All tortillas, cured meats, and sauces are made in-house. In summer, eat and drink outdoors on a handsome wood veranda.
NE Alberta Street is also home to a number of excellent traditional taquerias. Favorites include La Sirenita (2817 NE Alberta St., 503/335-8283, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) and La Bonita (2839 NE Alberta St., 503/281-3662, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Tues.–Sat.).
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel