Best/Worst Mexican Food

Portland used to have a wide variety of tasty Mexican food joints, but the ones I’ve enjoyed have slowly disappeared, strangely accompanied by the emergence of Taco Del Mar (the Burgerville of Mex food — not fast food, but good food made quickly) and Baja Fresh (which is good, don’t get me wrong).

Only one or two of my old haunts remain, and as a combination of diets and the dwindling of the industry have conspired against me, I’m left scratching my head at where I should go for some decent Mexican food in the Portland area.

Here are existing places that I still think are good:

Romo’s La Jara (on 48th and Hawthorne): Romo’s original place was over on Sandy, not far from the present Thien Hong, and my grandma used to love taking me there. His new establishment has much of the same menu, packed into a more typical Mex-restaurant decor. Not super-stellar, but solid fare at reasonable prices from an established name in town.

The Mexican Place on Division/Main in Gresham (Hurradura or something like that): My cop buddies like to go here from time to time. Authentic Mexican food, super cheap, and great salsa.

Acapulco Gold (Multiple locations): Not great, but sufficient.

Bad places:

El Sombrero (113th and Sandy): This used to be my favorite. Then new people bought it, and now it sucks. It breaks my heart to drive by.

La Carreta (Multiple locations): Mierda en la shingle.

Your thoughts?

29 Comments so far

  1. keyfur (unregistered) on April 29th, 2005 @ 8:29 pm

    esparza’s – 30th and ankeny in se.

    great mole, odd meats, very odd decore.

    i know it is kind of a cop out choice because everyone *loves* it, but so do i.

  2. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on April 30th, 2005 @ 1:20 am

    I haven’t found many truly good Mexican-American restaurants in Portland. Lindo Mexico in Vancouver is pretty darn good. Good chips and salsa. Good beans, especially the black beans, and decent rice. Like the specialties — arroz con pollo, pollo ala gloria, bistec ranchero suizo. Decent fajitas.

    Esparza’s can be good, although some of their smoked meats can be dry. Really good chips and salsa. The BBQ pork nachos are great.

    You know, for a chain Chevy’s isn’t bad either. Better than the average in Portland, I’d say.

    There are, of course, the various taqueria-style places, like the chain Cha, Cha, Cha, La Bonita on Alberta, El Grillo downtown, San Felipe in Westmoreland, 3 Jalapenos way east on Division, La Iguana Feliz out near the airport, etc. On average, these are better. (And you can find fantastic ones in Hillsboro, Gresham, Woodburn, and Vancouver.)

    A couple places to stay away from: Casa de Rios — just absolutely horrid; Adobe Rose — over-rated and under-flavored.

  3. Jeff (unregistered) on April 30th, 2005 @ 2:10 pm

    I went to school in socal and even though it was a horrible place to live the mexican food was to die for. The closest I’ve found in PDX is La Bonita on NE Alberta. Try the fish tacos and carne asada burrito.

  4. Eric (unregistered) on April 30th, 2005 @ 2:22 pm

    One of my favs is El Grio, on Burnside by Powells. It’s got some great mexican food served by real mexicans as opposed to the salsa crazed hippies that run most of the mexican joints around here. And it’s connected to Mary’s Club, so you can enjoy a nice burrito while watching some fine ladies bear their bosoms.

  5. Luke (unregistered) on May 1st, 2005 @ 12:08 pm

    I really like Mayas Tacqueria on SW 10th and Morrison. I think there’s one on NW 23rd too. I don’t eat enough Mexican food to comment on how authentic it is, or even how it compares to most other places around town. Everything I’ve ever had there has been pretty tasty though.

  6. Kristina (unregistered) on May 1st, 2005 @ 12:25 pm

    La Serenita at NE Alberta and 28th. It is also next door to a Mexican food shop that has pan dulce and Mexican Coke, the greatest beverage ever.

  7. Beth (unregistered) on May 2nd, 2005 @ 11:50 am

    My favorites in Portland are Cha Cha Cha in Sellwood, and Ole Ole (I’ve only been to the one on E. Burnside). Both give you tons of tasty food for cheap.

    I agree with the person who said to stay away from Casa de Rios and Adobe Rose. I’ve eaten at both and been really disappointed by the food and service.

  8. The Pieman (unregistered) on May 2nd, 2005 @ 11:58 am

    I remember, once upon a time, when Casa de Rios was good.

    I agree with the sentiment that the time of their goodness is (long-since) past…

  9. John (unregistered) on June 1st, 2005 @ 2:21 pm

    For those of you that liked El-sombrero. Rumor has it that the old owners of El Sombrero have aquired La Iguana Feliz which is right next to El Sombrero and will be opening sometime between 6/2/05 – 6/4/05. So happy eating.

  10. Tony (unregistered) on June 6th, 2005 @ 8:02 pm

    To that one person that said El Sombrero sucks. What are you thinking?!?! I used to go there when the old owners had it. YUCK! This one time I saw bugs crawling up the walls! Now, the food is way better and the service is still great! Highly Recommended! People should try El Tapatio with many locations! FANTASTIC!

  11. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on June 12th, 2005 @ 12:05 pm

    I think the El Tapatio chain (they also own a few other places under different names in PDX) is pretty weak Mexican. My litmus test is whether it is better than a national chain, like Chevy’s, and El Tapatio definitely is not.

    I’m pretty disappointed that La Iguana Feliz got bought out. I’ll have to go check it out. It’s only been about a month or two since I was last there. It was one of my favorite taquerias. They always had birria as a taco option, made really good carne asada, and their other meats were generally done well. Plus, they had some of the best chips and salsa in town. Just don’t get Mexican-American there. The burritos and Americanized quesadillas sucked.

    Here are a couple links, btw, to my reports on Mexican in PDX:



  12. Tony (unregistered) on June 13th, 2005 @ 3:40 pm

    Youíre comparing El Tapatio and Chevyís? OMG ! Now I know the people on this site donít know what theyíre talking about! Chevyís owned by white people? El Tapatio is owned by Mexicans, one family. It might not be fully authentic but itís better than Chevyís. Bagged chips, sick salsa compared to nice fresh ones. HMM NO CONTEST! I can see that people arenít familiar with TRUE Mexican food. Shame!

  13. Rich (unregistered) on June 14th, 2005 @ 8:52 pm

    Wow, that’s the first time I’ve heard something that negative about El Tapatio. I like it, just my opinion. I’ve never gone to Chevy’s so I can’t compare both of them. I recommend El Tapatio, though really good. People should try the REAL AUTHENTIC dishes like the seafood, fajitas, etc. The enchiladas are burritos are tex. mex. but still great.

  14. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on June 15th, 2005 @ 2:53 am

    Hey, Tony, why don’t you take a look at my site and entries and you’ll see that I’m plenty experienced with Mexican food. (And I just returned from a food trip to Oaxaca, Puebla, and Mexico City.) I don’t know if you know it, but even Mexicans can make bad Mexican food — especially when their customers are primarily gringos as is the case with the El Tapatio chain in Portland.

    I don’t know Chevy’s history (and I wonder if you do, either), but I bet, like most restaurants, there are plenty of Latinos in the kitchen. I don’t think Chevy’s is especially good, but it’s decent and sets a good standard for acceptable Mexican-American (something Portland largely lacks). They don’t use canned ingredients and they make fresh tortillas, even if by a machine.

    As I’ve said, I’ve tried several of the different incarnations of El Tapatio in PDX and they’re all pretty poor. There are several places and definitely several I haven’t been to. So who knows. Maybe there’s a good one, but I’d be surprised. The only two names of chains under the El Tapatio chain that I can remember right now are El Tapatio and El Rancho Viejo. But I believe there’s at least one other name they use.

  15. Tony (unregistered) on August 18th, 2005 @ 4:36 pm

    Ah, everyone has there own opinons I guess. I just think El Tapatio is great. Local chain owned and operated by family. Chevy’s has Americans in the kitchen I’ve seen them.

  16. cicolini (unregistered) on August 19th, 2005 @ 8:42 pm

    Before Casa de Rios remodeled they were pretty good, a twisted combination of Mexican and Korean (which, besides cheese and beans, is a pretty amazing mix).


  17. Jeff (unregistered) on August 27th, 2005 @ 4:57 pm

    ROMOS La Hara, Hawthorne and 51st. Hands down, they get it right pretty much every night. I have been eating there for 10+ years, it is the closest to the Sonoran style food we ate growing up in Flagstaff Arizona. If you make it to Flagstaff, El Charo on S. San Francsico, sets the gold standard to my palette.

    The list of marginal mexican food in Portland is too extensive and why these establish survive boggles my mind…

  18. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on August 28th, 2005 @ 12:42 am

    Jeff, the answer is cheap beer and a high number of calories per dollar. Unfortunately, Mexican-American, like the Chop Suey style Chinese, doesn’t have to be good for people to eat it, it just have to be cheap and plentiful.

  19. lynntofu (unregistered) on October 11th, 2005 @ 1:17 pm

    You all need to come over to Vancouver and eat at Casa Grande. It’s the best Mexican food I’ve had in Vancouver. They have a whole seperate menu for vegetarians!! ;-) Chips and salsa are bought out before the meal.

  20. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on October 12th, 2005 @ 12:23 pm

    Oh man, Lynn, I *hated* Casa Grande. Granted, I didn’t eat the vegetarian, but it’s some of the worst Mexican I’ve had. However, El Presidente also in downtown Vancouver was even worse. I’m a bit of a Mexican food snob, though.

  21. skipjimson (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 4:23 pm

    There’s a fairly new place on SE 26th & Powell, called Nacho Mama’s. I haven’t tried everything on the menu, but the carnitas and the carne asada tacos are great. The chips and salsa are as fresh as I’ve had in PDX. Also, the halibut tacos are insanely tasty.

    Romo’s? No thanks… we recently had the worst-ever experience there. The older woman (waitress) that has worked there for quite awhile was as rude as can be, and grossed us out. There was a small pebble in my girlfriend’s food, which almost broke her tooth… needless to say, she was pretty turned off. So, she called the waitress over and discretely explained the situation. The waitress proceeded to claw the object off of my girlfriend’s plate with her long and disgusting fingernails, then started examining it… like, really workin’ her bifocals/overhead-light combo. She finally passed it off as the stem of a lime. She actually argued the point, whole-heartedly, which just made both of us crazy. It was obviously a rock, but this lady just insisted we didn’t know what we were talking about. It sucked enough as it was, without the creepy old broad calling us liars.

    Also, the service was way different for the regulars than it was for us. Plus, it’s just way too expensive for what it is.

  22. Tony (unregistered) on November 28th, 2005 @ 11:46 pm

    I think the old waitress at the Romos restaurant might have been right. I make Mexican food all the time! Everytime I make Pico De Gallo or Ceviche I always fine small rock like things. I finally realized they were part of the lime.

  23. skipjimson (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 4:32 pm

    Even if it was part of a lime (which I’m sure it wasn’t), it was her long, disgusting nails scraping said item up off a full plate of food that made me sick. Man, just remembering those wrinkled finger tips workin’ to isolate the little nugget from the refried beans all up under her nails & stuff… enjoy your fingered meal, yo, I’m goin’ elsewhere.

    Limerocks? Really?

  24. pebbles (unregistered) on November 29th, 2005 @ 5:23 pm

    Of course it was a small rock. You often have to pick them out of the beans before cooking when buying in bulk.

  25. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on November 30th, 2005 @ 10:42 am

    Small rock like things from pico de gallo and ceviche? Huh? Remind me never to eat at your place!

    I’ve been making such items for mucho anos now and never encountered such a problem….

  26. Tony (unregistered) on December 3rd, 2005 @ 10:38 pm

    Where do limes come from? Trees! Sometimes when farmers are picking them they don’t cut off all of the tree limb. It could get into your food especially if your preparing a lot of it. It could of been from the avocado or the beans too.

  27. James (unregistered) on December 4th, 2005 @ 9:18 pm

    One of my favorites is El Palenque on 17th St. in Sellwood. The menu is half Mexican, half Ecuadoran.

  28. skipjimson (unregistered) on December 5th, 2005 @ 11:36 am

    Thanks for the info about bean trees, Tony. Again, the rock on my girl’s plate was a rock, not a tree limb. I like your optimism, though… I agree it woulda been perfectly acceptable if the old broad fingerin’ my girlfriend’s dinner would have discovered a branch all up in there.

  29. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on December 5th, 2005 @ 2:17 pm

    Palenque is Mexican and Salvadorean, I believe.

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