f you happen to find yourself at the Portland Mercado on a Wednesday, you’ll probably witness at least half a dozen smoothie-starved customers attempting to open the doors of the clearly closed Xocotl Juice & Smoothie Bar before they return, defeated, to their cars. They’re just a fraction of the vibrant Foster-Powell smoothie bar’s loyal customers: one who makes the trek all the way from Beaverton for a morning ginger shot, another who comes in and orders the same mango-pineapple-orange-juice concoction so often that the owners named a drink after him (C3-KO), and summer revelers in search of a refreshing spicy mango-pineapple chamoyada complete with house-made chamoy sauce using a recipe from 1940s Mexico.
“We know our customers, so a smoothie bar becomes like a bar,” says Omar Salomon, who co-owns Xocotl with wife Vanessa Salomon.
Next to a cluster of brightly painted food carts, sandwiched between a friendly wine and beer bar and a produce market, the Salomons act as smoothie bartenders: playing to customers’ tastes (tropical tamarind or passionfruit for someone who loves tart flavors), crafting monthly specials inspired by countries across Latin America (like a Brazilian-style mango-avocado smoothie with cane sugar), and knowing their regulars’ orders by heart.
The couple opened Xocotl in 2018; their son, David, now 14, also helps out. They had always planned to open a business together, “something with food,” says Vanessa, and enrolled in business training courses through Mercy Corps and Portland State. Having immigrated to Portland from Mexico City back in 2003, Vanessa says the smoothie bar was inspired by Mexican markets and “the way we grew up.”
Named after a Nahuatl Aztec word for “fruit,” Xocotl combines the spirit of Mexican fruit stands with the concept of an American juice bar. What sets Xocotl apart? Instead of using ice, which melts and makes smoothies watery, the Salomons portion and freeze fresh fruit every day, from local berries to tropical passion fruit, tamarind, and guava. Licuados, a lighter version of a smoothie popular throughout Latin America made with fruit, milk, and ice, also grace the menu. Smoothie bowls are big enough for two, including an açaí bowl, a kiwi-avocado bowl, and a banana-cacao number topped with pistachio butter.
Even avocado toast gets special treatment, topped with beet-chipotle hummus and optional ground grasshopper—a blessing in the Anahuaca culture, Omar says. “We want to take out a little bit of that stigma out, because this is tradition,” he adds, touting the ingredient’s flavor, nutritional value, and sustainability. But even in a more pedestrian smoothie recipe like the Berry Rico, the flavors of each element come through.
“I grew up in my grandmother’s kitchen,” says Omar. “I didn’t have written recipes. It was always tasting, tasting, tasting. We taste every smoothie we create. We have to make sure to balance the flavor.” 7238 SE Foster Rd #10
Papaya Banana Breakfast Licuado
Xocotl’s twist on the classic Latin American licuado
1½ cups fresh papaya
1 cup ice
1 cup almond milk
1 oz agave syrup
Put ingredients in a blender and liquefy for 20 seconds. (Add a scoop of protein powder to the mix for a “super breakfast licuado.”) Serve in a cup. Leave some space to top with your favorite granola.
Photo at top of Salomon family by Thomas Teal