At the end of August, I took an extensive trip to the Pacific Northwest. The 11 day vacation included a long weekend in Napa Valley for a friend’s bachelorette party with my college crew followed directly with a trip to Portland and Seattle with my grade school buddies. Since I knew I would not have many opportunities for tacos in Napa, I saved all my taco explorations for Portland and Seattle with my grade school friends. How lucky were they?!
My Pittsburgh Taco Festival companion Alexis and my best friend Hillary flew in from Pittsburgh to meet me in Portland after a weekend full of wine and cheese. They are two brave individuals, accompanying me on my adventures on the other side of the country with an itinerary full of activities in one hand and a taco list in the other. My list of events included exploring waterfalls, hiking trails near volcanoes, national gorges, beach sunsets, breweries, and local attractions. I like a mix of touristy and non-touristy experiences on my trips.
Uno Mas Taquiza
Locations: 1914 W Burnside St, 2329 NE Glisan St
In just over an hour after landing in Portland, Oregon, I was ready to do some late afternoon exploring in the Pearl District. Our plan Monday night was to visit the Rose Garden, see the world’s smallest park, and settle our butts at the end of the night at Deschute’s Brewery.
On our walk to the Rose Garden, we passed a sign advertising happy hour tacos and a late Monday night taco special after 9pm. The sign was for Uno Mas Taquiza which happened to be on my list of tacos to try in Portland! I don’t know why I do so much research since I have had a solid habit of stumbling across recommended taco joints.
Every Monday-Friday from 3-6pm, tacos are just $2 and after 9pm on Mondays they drop down to $1 per taco. There was a wide range of taco fillings including marinated pork and chicken, crispy pork skin, steak, chorizo, mushrooms, octopus, cactus, carnitas, roasted beef, blood sausage, tripe, vegetables, lengua, pastor, and fish.
I went with the carnitas, pastor, and marinated chicken tacos to get a general feel of the tacos.
The pastor was my favorite as it had a distinct cinnamon taste to it that reminded me of the pastor taco I had at Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria (link to blog here) in New Orleans (which had one of my favorite pastor tacos I have ever had – up there with Pittsburgh’s Tako and Las Palmas). The carnitas was a little fatty which added some juiciness but I did not like biting into the large fatty chunks. However, I did like the sauce they used on the carnitas as it was rich like gravy. The chicken was my least favorite as it was dry and the small amount of achiote sauce left the taco with a subtle, earthy flavor which almost went unnoticed.
Besides the pastor taco, Uno Mas had a lot of positive things to note. They had a salsa bar next to the counter that had a ton of homemade salsas to chose from. I chose the aquacate salsa on my carnitas taco which turned out to be a super light and refreshing salsa. The price of the tacos was great too – for just $2 a taco they were a steal and only $1 after 9pm Mondays! But what really made my tail wag was the cork dart board and foosball table! My absolute two favorite bar games in one place. I do not come across that combination often.
¿Por Qué No?
Locations: 3524 N Mississippi Ave, 4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd
After a day of hiking around the Colombia River Gorge and visiting several different water falls, we built up an appetite for tacos again. I picked Por Que No due to recommendations from locals and because it was another spot on my exclusive taco list.
When we made our way to this part of the city, I noticed there were a lot of cute shops and places to eat along the main road. There were plenty of options for places to eat but Alexis and Hill stood by my side for tacos. (Later on in Seattle, this was not the case.)
The small taqueria had an appealing store front; it was a robin egg blue painted building, pastel colored umbrellas, bicycle racks, cold water stand, and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating in the front and back patio. Inside, nothing matched at all. Colors popped everywhere from the artwork and signs on the walls to the stools and chairs that were sporadically placed at tables. It was like walking into a Forever 21 with an overwhelming selection of clothes to browse. I also thought of Voodoo Brewery in Pittsburgh with the open garage door concept connecting the indoor seating to the outside front patio.
We arrived around 2pm so we made it before the 3pm happy hour rush. From 3-6pm and after 3pm on Tuesdays, tacos are 50 cents off. The price of tacos here ranged from $3.25-4.75 per taco.
The menu described the tacos in depth with origin of the meats, cheeses and crema and how the meats are braised. For example Cascade Farms provided the chicken, pork, steak, and beef brisket. The queso fresco, crema, and cilantro come from Ochoa Queseria in Albany and the shrimp and Alaskan cod come from Newman’s. I just can only imagine the best of the best with the detailed descriptions here.
Boring me went with the basics. Maybe it was to compare the tacos I had the previous day? We can go with that. I chose the al pastor, carne asada, pollo verde, and the carnitas (I ordered this fourth taco after Alexis raved about the carnitas).
The basic tacos were far from ordinary. My favorite out of the four was the al pastor. The super succulent pork had amplified flavor from the burnt ends and pineapple. The taco was a little heavy on the cilantro, and the salsa de arbol was a little spicy so I probably should have got it on the side. My second favorite taco was the shredded chicken taco braised in tomatillo salsa and topped with salsa verde. The chicken was juicy and soft and the combination of high quality chicken with salsa verde is currently one of my favorite pairs. I liked the slow roasted pork (carnitas) taco next best with the salsa verde, queso fresco, onions and cilantro. This taco was dripping in juices and made for a fantastic taco. The cheese was incredibly rich and it just worked. It really was hard ranking these three tacos. The chopped flank steak (carne asada) came in last because it was a little greasier and just did not have the same bursts of flavor as the other three.
Alexis ranked her tacos as the following: Carnitas> al pastor > shrimp (camarones). When I say she was raving about the carnitas tacos, I wasn’t kidding! She said she could have eaten five carnitas tacos. Alexis thinks if she got the arbol salsa on the side, the al pastor may have trumped the carnitas. She also noted that she liked the crema and cabbage on the shrimp taco.
Hillary said her favorite was the pollo verde followed by the carnitas and then the carne asada. She agreed that the carne asada was a bit too plain.
So to answer the question in the title of the post……
If I could only choose one of the two to visit again, it would be Por Que No. I really liked the combination of meats and toppings here and I craved more of the tacos here than from Uno Mas. They were not as greasy either.
Bonus Tacos! A true Taco Tuesday.
On Tuesday night after the day of waterfall hikes, Por Que No tacos, and Alibi Tiki Bar, we went out on Mississippi Avenue. We came across a bar called Rambler on Mississippi. We just happened to be there during trivia and $2 tacos. The ground beef tacos reminded me of Doce Taqueria in the Burgh. The crema sinking into the rich ground beef with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese was to die for!