Mexican Beer in Oregon? Xicha Did it First

Get to know the folks behind the Pacific Northwest's only Latinx-owned brewery, plus insider tips on what to order.

By Zoe Baillargeon June 9, 2021 Published in the Summer 2021 issue of Portland Monthly

Opened in 2017 and pronounced “chee-chah”—the name refers to a pre-Hispanic fermented corn beverage—it’s the Pacific Northwest’s only Latinx-owned-and-operated brewery.

The warmth of an Oregon summer’s day is second only to the warm and familial welcome you’ll receive at Xicha Brewing in Salem. Opened in 2017 and pronounced “chee-chah”—the name refers to a pre-Hispanic fermented corn beverage—it’s the Pacific Northwest’s only Latinx owned-and-operated brewery. It’s also a restaurant serving dishes that not only honor the Mexican American and Central American heritage of its owners and workers, but also pair exceptionally well with Xicha’s range of inventive house brews.

After business manager Ben Mendoza and head brewer Matt Dakopolos met at Salem’s Willamette University, Mendoza connected Dakopolos, an experimental homebrewer at the time, with chef Ricardo “Ricky” Antunez and his wife and front-of-house-manager, Maggie Antunez, who in 2013 opened Pura Vida Cocina in nearby McMinnville. The rest is delicious, malty history.

With the region’s sole Latinx-owned operation in an industry dominated by white guys, Xicha’s founders wanted to create a family-friendly place of accessibility, inclusivity, and cultural exchange. The menu features phonetic pronunciations for non-Spanish speakers. Lotería nights attract newbies as well as those who grew up with the game. Pricing is affordable (on-tap draughts are $5), and every customer, from humans to four-legged furry friends, is treated like family. “We are who we are, we love who we are ... we love what we do,” says Maggie Antunez. “We created something very special.”

What to eat and drink: Paying homage to the traditional lighter beers of Mexico, Xicha’s rotating lineup specializes in lighter lagers and ales like the flaked-corn-brewed Chela, the subtly fruity Guava golden ale, and the zesty 505 pale ale, brewed with New Mexican Hatch green chile that gives it a nice-but-not-too-spicy kick. For the ultimate summery experience, pair the sautéed shrimp or grilled codfish tacos—served on handmade corn tortillas and topped with pickled onions, cabbage, radish, cilantro, cotija, and chipotle aioli—with the Chela or other light choices.

But there are also great options for the dark-beer-loving set, like the Cerveza Negra dark lager, the Bate Bate chocolate stout, or the rich Cerveja Escura. They match up well with succulent, slow-braised beef barbacoa or crispy pork belly tacos. And don’t worry, IPA fans: Xicha has you covered with the Dos Mundos, a balanced brew made with Old World malts and New World hops and best paired with the shrimp tacos.

More dishes and brews from Xicha Brewing

Why stop there? “Start with the tacos and nachos and branch out,” recommends Ricky Antunez. Dishes from Mexico, Central America, and South America take on new life, honoring traditions while mixing things up, like empanadas stuffed with jackfruit tinga or chorizo and chicken croquetas. “We like to play around with flavors. We don’t want to fit into a box.”

How to visit: While away an afternoon on Xicha’s outdoor patio in West Salem (about an hour from Portland), where colorful décor and Latin music abound. Stock up on beer before heading home: a canned four-pack of Chela for $12, or a few 500 mL bottles of choices like the Clásica amber lager, the Cerveza Negra, or the Guava golden, for $4–5 each. You can also take home a 64 oz growler full of new offerings like the tequila-barrel-aged La Hefa, a phonetic spelling of “jefa,” or boss, a reference to the Xicha crew’s nickname for Maggie Antunez.

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