Food News

The Best Thing We Ate This Week: October 30

Don’t sleep on Merendero Estela’s pollo con tajadas and baleadas.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton October 30, 2020

Pollo con tajadas and a baleada with bean, cheese, egg, and avocado from Merendero Estela.

Lately, I can't stop thinking about Honduran food, though I’d never eaten Honduran food before I came to Portland this summer. The Central American food I found in my former beat in Oakland was limited to Salvadoran and Guatemalan. 

My introduction to the cuisine was Merendero Estela, a food cart at 7107 SE 82nd Ave that offers a small menu of Honduran and Mexican items. I first heard about the cart through an Eater article, though it’s also earned praise from the Oregonian. Though it hasn’t made any top fried chicken lists (from what I’ve seen), the pollo con tajadas—a fried bone-in quarter chicken with thinly sliced plantains, pickled red onions, and cabbage slaw laden with lightly spiced mayo—absolutely deserves a place among those ranks. The breading is light, flavorful, and crisp, and the chicken is juicy, meaty, and perfectly cooked. As far as I’m concerned, some kind of vinegary pickle is essential with a greasy dish like fried chicken, and these pickled red onions do the trick.

And though the pollo con tajadas is plenty for a hungry solo diner, or even two with modest appetites, save room for the baleadas. A good handmade tortilla is hard to find, but these fit the bill—thicker than a flour tortilla you’d find at a Mexican restaurant, but with those same toasty, caramelized leopard spots from the grill that deepen the flavor. Inside, the tortilla gets layered with mashed red beans, crumbly queso fresco, scrambled egg, slices of avocado if you so choose, and the meat of your choice (though the meatless version, which I had, is plenty satisfying on its own). It's kind of like a quesadilla, but with less emphasis on the cheese and more emphasis on the tortilla. I never thought I could love a tortilla-bean concoction just as much as I love a fried chicken dish—but Merendero Estela has proven me wrong.

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