Food Listings

Taco Chronicles: PDX Edition

Where to find all the tacos from season two of Netflix’s mouthwatering docuseries

By Katherine Chew Hamilton Published in the Winter 2020/2021 issue of Portland Monthly

Many Portlanders are deeply opinionated on the city’s best carne asada and carnitas. But what about rarer beasts of tacos? Where can I find fragrant, tender goat birria? Who reigns supreme for the city’s best cochinita pibil on fluffy corn tortillas? My curiosity was piqued by this fall’s Taco Chronicles: Volume 2 on Netflix. Aided by anthropologists, food writers, taqueros, and passionate eaters, each episode dives into a different taco, on a world tour through Mexico, Southern California, Texas, and Japan. Warning: the show will inspire intense cravings—but Portland has plenty of options worth savoring, discussing, and debating. Here’s how to go on a Taco Chronicles–inspired taco crawl in your own backyard.

Episode 1: Suadero

Mexico City street tacos conjure images of tacos al pastor, fresh off the spit. But don’t forget suadero, a fatty cut of beef fried in grease favored by late-night partygoers. Suadero is hard to find in Portland, but El Catrin (pictured above) offers a solid taste. The cart specializes in regional dishes from Oaxaca, Puebla, Mexico City, and owner Juan Bailon Bibiano’s native Guerrero. The crisp, juicy meat, topped with smooth jalapeño salsa, arrives over the star of the show: dreamy, fluffy handmade corn tortillas. El Catrin, 600 SE 146th Ave

Cochinita pibil tacos and panuchos (plus a shredded chicken panucho for good measure) at Antojitos Yucatecos.

Episode 2: Cochinita Pibil

According to Taco Chronicles, cochinita pibil is the quintessential Yucatecan taco. Pork gets marinated in a blend of achiote, spices, and sour orange juice, then wrapped in banana leaves and roasted. The little bundle gets a boost from pickled red onions and a dash of habanero salsa, all on a handmade corn tortilla. For over a decade, food cart Antojitos Yucatecos has been serving Yucatecan family recipes, including textbook cochinita pibil tacos. For extra credit, order the panucho, a fried tortilla stuffed with black beans. Antojitos Yucatecos, 10175 SE Stark St

Kick off Sunday morning with a goat birria taco and a cup of consomé from Birrieria Los 7 Hermanos.

Episode 3: Cabrito

Cabrito, or roasted milk-fed goat kid, is increasingly rare even in its home region of Northeast Mexico. An exemplary alternative? Goat birria tacos at this family-favorite Rockwood strip mall restaurant. As Taco Chronicles points out, birria, a specialty of Jalisco and surrounding states, was born out of necessity. The word means something with no value; goat was an ingredient that the Spanish relegated to the Indigenous. Birria transformed the meat’s overpowering flavor into something worth celebrating.

Los 7 Hermanos’ birria, served on a plate or in tacos, brings out the best of the goat—floral, delicate, and lean—while masking its gaminess. The consomé, a clear, comforting broth full of chickpeas and rice, brightens a wintry morning with a squeeze of lime and dash of salsa. Birrieria Los 7 Hermanos, 19131 E Burnside St

Go with the crispy ground beef tacos at Rocio's for maximum nostalgia.

Image: Mike Novak

Episode 4: American Taco

In parts of Southern California, where the hard taco has deep roots, simply saying “taco” will, by default, get you crunchy-shelled goodness. That’s the case in San Diego, where Rocio Meza grew up, largely in her father’s Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant. “Ever since I could walk, I was working in the restaurant, whether I was sweeping, peeling carrots, counting the change in the drawer,” she says.

Today, Meza and her brother run two locations of Ponce’s in San Diego. In 2015, Meza also opened her own spot, Rocio’s in Creston-Kenilworth. The menu is largely her own, but there’s one carryover: Ponce’s taco.

“That was one item that stood out to me as comforting,” she says. At Rocio’s, the tortilla shells are fried in-house and fancied up with romaine lettuce and queso fresco rather than the typical iceberg lettuce and shredded yellow cheese. Try the ground-beef taco for maximum nostalgia. Rocio’s Mexican Restaurant, 2850 SE Gladstone St

The simple yet saucy steak and picado burrito from King Burrito.

Image: Mike Novak

Episode 5: Burrito

What’s a burrito doing in this article?! Everything served on a tortilla is a taco, the show argues. And while some think burritos are American, Taco Chronicles traces their origins to Northern Mexico.

The ones discussed on the show aren’t Mission-style burritos laden with rice, guacamole, and sour cream. These burritos stick to two or three 

ingredients: bean-and-cheese, or a guisado (stew) with beans and salsa wrapped in a flour tortilla. The decades-old King Burrito on N Lombard Street keeps that same spirit of simplicity. Go for the no-frills steak picado burrito: pinto beans with a guisado of steak, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. King Burrito, 2924 N Lombard St

It's easy to see why long lines form for the crispy, juicy consomé-dipped beef birria tacos at Birrieria La Plaza.

Episode 6: Birria

This big red loncheria always has a line for its birria de res: tender beef marinated in guajillo and pasilla chiles, then cooked for hours. You eat it on tortillas stained red with beefy, chile-kissed consomé, often loaded with cheese, and sided by an extra cup of consomé for dipping. These tacos have boomed, starting in Tijuana and spreading to Los Angeles and beyond.

Red birria tacos may be trending on Instagram, but they’re rooted in generations of tradition. At Birrieria La Plaza, the birria is a decades-old family recipe from Jalisco.

“My mom [would] cook birria for quinceañeras and weddings,” says Oracio Hernandez, one of the owners of the family-run truck. “It would just fill up our whole apartment with the aroma. Those would be the best Saturdays to wake up to.”

Now Portlanders can kick-start Saturday mornings with birria, too. Bonus: birria is rumored to be a great hangover cure. Buy it by the pound with a large consomé for maximum effect. Birrieria La Plaza, 600 SE 146th Ave

Nacheaux's fish tacos are Cajun-Mexican fusion through and through, from the spice-infused tortillas to the spiced breading to the Nacheaux cream sauce drizzled on top.

Episode 7: Pescado

“It’s unicorn food—you don’t typically see it out in the wild,” Anthony Brown says about the food cart he and his wife, Stephanie, opened in March. This fusion of Cajun and Mexican cuisines represents the backgrounds of Brown, raised by his Georgia-born mom and his Mexican stepfather in Los Angeles, and his wife, a native of Louisiana.

“It wasn’t uncommon for us to have tamales and gumbo at the same Thanksgiving,” says Brown, prompting instant envy.

At Nacheaux, catfish gets dipped in buttermilk, cornmeal, and Mexican-Cajun seasoning, then topped “Nacheaux-style” with purple cabbage slaw, pickled onions, salsa, cotija, and Mexican-Cajun cream sauce. Even the tortilla is inundated with Cajun spices and smothered with griddled cheese.

All seems too fusion-y? Consider this: Taco Chronicles says fish tacos were likely born out of a fusion of cultures—Japanese fishers who brought a version of tempura to Mexico.“I wanted [the cart] to be a place for people who don’t fit in,” Brown says. But in Portland, Nacheaux fits in seamlessly. Nacheaux, 8145 SE 82nd Ave

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