Tuesday, July 16, 2013

¿Por Que No? (Portland, Oregon)

Their website has a "mythology" page, on which the owner, Bryan Steelman, praises the "honest smiles of the people" of Mexico. These pale, taco-induced smiles around me, then, must be the other sort. I must misunderstand the kitchen staff on their break joking about Portlandia in Spanish--how could their latin tongues know irony?

This may seem beside the point, but we are concerned with matters of the tongue. If, like the owner, we are inclined to trust honesty, how can we trust the artfully distressed brick walls, where a profusion of Guadalupes watch over us?

Personally, I think honest food is a nonthing, a dopey Jamie Oliverism. Indeed, this is precisely why I distrust this food, which sports dual pretensions of being authentically Mexican and locally sourced. Each meat is preceded with--a what? Place? Company? Brand? Farm? It hardly matters, so long as we know it came from Somewhere.

It seems to be a winning duo of pretense: patrons are always spilling out in lively lines, energized by the imminence of tacos. (Or, let's be honest: of decor.)

I took a photo!
The Tacos: 3/5 Relieved of its proper nouns, the meat shines. That's the wrong verb for this meat; it is, as they say, solid. Both beef and chicken were tender yet charred, juicy yet toothsome. There is of course a lot more than beef and chicken tacos on the menu, including vegetables, fish, squid, and shrimp. Noteably, no tripe, tongue, or heart. I can't blame them--I can't stomach to try such stuff, either.

The meat has been pampered, but the tortilla has been abused. The menu says they're "fresh housemade corn tortillas!" and perhaps this is true: they were fresh a few days ago. I only complain because a $3 taco (they're small) has a certain onus. It's not bad, but it's not ideal. It falls apart a bit, it lacks that suppleness. Still, I devoured it.

Acoutrement: 3/5 Your hand is forced somewhat by the salsas that are already on the taco. They have a braggable selection in plastic squeeze bottles, but my tacos came with an enervated salsa casera and some kind of orange goo. The menu tells me this is "crema." It is creamy. Oh, maybe I'm a bit stubborn when it comes to tacos--surely cream can't hurt. After all, Guy Fieri's tacos come with crema. Er.

Value: 2/5 $3 isn't absurd for a gourmet taco, but what's so special about them? Is it that Bryan Steelman went on a trip to Mexico ten years ago, and culinary history changed forever?

Other: 4/5 I have pilled this plate with vitriol already, but there's no denying this place is a phenomenon, and coming here is to experience it. It's in its prime. Somehow, it snowballed just right; everyone goes to the place everyone goes.

Overall: 3/5 Come for the above, stay for some pretty good tacos. Also, the aguas frescas are good, or at least interesting. The jamaica is good shorthand for the particular tastes appealed to here: very strongly brewed, with not much sugar.

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