When’s the last time you had a taco with pulled venison, almond-chile sauce, pickled peppers, fried shallot, and crushed-up Tim’s potato chips on top? Or one boasting pork terrine, blackberry, and habanero sauce?
Creations like these are the norm at Canallas, a Monday-night pop-up at Southeast Portland cider bar The Place (1212-D SE Powell Blvd). Every week, duo Ian Edwards and Eduardo Juarez create one meat and one vegetarian taco with flavor combos unlike any other.
“The name means ‘scoundrels,’” explains Juarez. “It was a joke, and it gives us freedom to do whatever we want—not taking ourselves too seriously, we’re going to do some twists. We’re not going to do anything traditional.”
Edwards has worked at a gastropub as well as for the Sesame Collective restaurant group. Juarez has worked at fine dining restaurants in Mexico, Spain, and Boston, plus a two Michelin-starred restaurant in France; here in Portland, he was the former chef de cuisine at Jose Chesa’s now-closed Ataula. The two met while working at Bamboo Sushi, where they were both prep cooks—and also tasked with making family meal for the large staff. “We worked under the pressure and came up with fun ideas sometimes,” explains Edwards. “We knew we could work well together.”
The pop-up got its start two years ago at Vancouver’s Taco Fest, where they served a pork terrine taco with chicharron, avocado, and mint-parsley sauce—a carnitas-inspired taco that’s become a signature at Canallas. After some time away due to the pandemic, Canallas began popping up every Monday at the Place, where it sometimes sells out within two hours.
I visited Canallas two weeks ago, drawn in by the promise of venison tacos. While venison can often be dry and chewy, that wasn’t the case with this juicy, tender meat, accented by a velvety almond-chile sauce. The two chefs also wisely deployed pickled chiles for acidity and heat, plus fried shallots and potato chips for crunch.
But what surprised me even more was the vegetarian chorizo taco with sweet-spicy mole, super-tender potatoes, feta, onion, and radish—the chorizo was surprisingly juicy and snappy, each element building on another to create complex yet craveable flavors.
Other past tacos have included salmon with glazed bok choy and green onion, green bean and sweet potato with chile crisp, and goat cheese-mole with squash and arugula. All are built on Three Sisters Nixtamal tortillas, griddled until golden, nutty, and lightly crisp around the edges. For the most part, they’re also gluten-free—ideal for pairing with the bar’s menu of dry ciders in bottles and on tap. Eventually, Edwards and Juarez would like to expand their menu or move into a brick-and-mortar, but for now they’re content to continue riffing on tacos.
“It’s a great vessel for all kinds of flavors,” says Edwards, “not pigeonholing ourselves into one type of cuisine.”