I’ve eaten hundreds of tacos in this town, and I have an urgent message for all taco lovers: get yourself to Tito’s Taquitos immediately for top-tier tacos. This eye-catching teal cart in a church parking lot in Southwest Portland has only been open since February, but nearly every day, it’s been selling out of its freshly fried potato taquitos and tacos on hand-pressed tortillas with toppings including birria, shrimp, shredded chicken, and seasonal veggies like birria-braised hibiscus flowers, al pastor chickpeas, and asada mushrooms.
The taquitos are fried to a delicate crisp—they’re crunchy but not greasy—and stuffed with tender potato, topped with avocado crema, and garnished with cabbage, pickled onion, and radish. I tried the super-tender braised beef birria; for best results, I recommend drizzling your taquitos with one of the three excellent housemade salsas: tangy habanero, smoky chile de arbol, or citrusy tomatillo. The tortillas for the tacos are bursting with toasty corn flavor, and their delightfully springy, al dente texture makes a wonderful canvas for the proteins I tried: juicy grilled shrimp and sweet-smoky chickpeas al pastor with pineapple. The masa and tortillas are sourced from local purveyor Three Sisters Nixtamal and from Los Angeles producer Kernel of Truth. My dining companions, PoMo food critic Karen Brooks and worldwide diner extraordinaire Gary Okazaki, were also impressed.
When I visited, the agua fresca of the day—watermelon—was lightly sweetened and felt just like biting into the real fruit, with bits of pulp for maximum effect. This cart even nails dessert—the tres leches cake I tried was a knockout, combining a firmer cake reminiscent of a strawberry shortcake with lightly sweetened cream, blueberries, and raspberries.
Chef-owner Anthony La Pietra combines his knowledge of cooking garnered from his Durango, Mexico-raised grandmother while growing up in Los Angeles with his French training from culinary school; he also takes cues from his part-Italian heritage and his Cuban godparents.
“The way we cook the beef is, I use Mexican flavors, but I use French and Italian techniques to braise it,” La Pietra explains. “It’s similar to osso bucco where you braise the meat and make it super tender, but mixed with birria style flavors.”
After culinary school, La Pietra cooked for TV and movie stars in Hollywood. After opening and selling two restaurants in Los Angeles—Velma’s Cafe and Ceviche El Rey—La Pietra moved to Portland to work as a chef at Adidas. When the pandemic sent employees home, La Pietra decided to open Tito’s Taquitos, named for his late stepfather whose favorite food was taquitos. Though the cart stands alone on a stretch of road devoid of fellow food carts, it’s already proven to be a success, and La Pietra is on the hunt for a brick and mortar location, with which he plans to expand his offerings, including his veggie options—think a deep-fried squash blossom served fish taco style.
But don’t expect La Pietra to be up on the Instagram trends like consome-dipped red quesabirria tacos (which are delicious in their own right). “My roots are traditional, but I do a modern take on it,” he says. “These are birria style tacos, but they’re not the trendy kind that you see everyone doing now. It’s just about good flavor and about good, quality taste.”
Tito's Taquitos, 4616 S Vermont St, @titostaquitospdx, 503-406-5935