Dining with Dave… The Alder Food Court, Portland, Oregon

Google “Where to Find the Best Mexican Food in Portland, Oregon” and the page at the top of the list is from Serious Eats. Scroll down and you’ll soon be looking at a torta from Güero PDX, a food stand in the middle of downtown Portland.

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Güero PDX #1 at the Alder Food Court in Portland, Oregon

After hanging out at Powell’s Books, heaven for us “I want to hold the book in my hands” folks, I was hungry with time to burn before my flight back to Las Vegas. Güero PDX and that torta looked amazing. Since the online reviews were great, I headed over to their SW 10th and Alder location.

The Alder Food Court at SW 10th and Alder in Downtown Portland, Oregon

Before you go, know this… SW 10th and Alder is a city block that is loaded with a host of different food vendors. It’s a sort of mecca of food carts and vendors. From all over the world. What it lacks is seating, so be prepared.

I took a stroll around before making my way to my target and that delicious looking torta. Finally, I approached the window and ordered the Torta Carnitas al Güero. This is their signature torta, loaded with slow roasted pork, cabbage, onions, avocado and a nice chile-lime aioli. All this is served on a roll from the Veracruz Bay Bakery across the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington. Without exception, every review sang the praises of the bread upon which this tower of torta was built.

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The torta from Güero PDX

I grabbed my torta and went to find a place to sit and deconstruct this beauty. To say I was excited would be an understatement. Finding a place at nearby Director Park across the street, I sat down and prepared to be amazed. The torta looked amazing. Taking hold of it, I brought it to my mouth, paused, and then dove in. The taste was wonderful, slightly sweet, slightly spicy.

However, at that moment, I experienced exactly what Chef Jimmy Shaw, founder of Lotería Grill inherently knows about tortas… it’s the bread.

Dave Miller, Jimmy Shaw, Taste of Mexico, Loteria Grill

Discussing the essence of a great torta, with Chef Jimmy Shaw of Lotería Grill at the 2014 Taste of Mexico in Los Angeles

Spending a few minutes with Jimmy last year at the Taste of Mexico in Los Angeles, we had a great talk about the authenticity of tortas. He shared that he wanted to do a real Mexican style torta in Los Angeles, but that the true Mexican telera, commonly used for a torta, was almost impossible to find.

Until he decided to make them himself. “The secret of the torta” Jimmy claimed, “is in the bread!” Truer words have never been spoken, and in that regard, no matter how good the rest of the torta, Güero PDX came up short, at least for me.

The roll had little of the crispness I’ve come to know and love in Mexico, and the outside was not grilled, a common gringo error in US tortalandia. So while the overall taste was good, even great, I was disappointed and soon walking the block again looking for my Mexican food fix.

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La Jarochita #2 at the Alder Food Court

I came to a stand called La Jarochita 2 in just a few minutes. A Jarocho, or in this case, a Jarochita, is a person from the Mexican state of Veracruz, a good sign I thought. Stepping up to the window, I ordered 2 tacos, the classic carne asada and an al pastor, both on corn tortillas. I asked for both red and green salsa and began to open my steaming hot tacos.

The tacos were loaded with meat, a good sign. The flavors were good and the salsas better than most. What caught me off guard though was cheese… on my tacos! Yes, you read that right. Both my carne asada and my al pastor taco were topped with melting shredded jack cheese.

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Tacos de carne asada and al pastor… from La Jarochita in Portland, Oregon. Complete with shredded jack cheese

I’ve been to a lot of tacos stands across Mexico, and I can honestly say that I have never once even seen a taco topped with shredded jack cheese. On I continued to see if there was one more option for someone bent on finding some great Mexican food.

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Tito’s Burritos #2 at the Alder Food Court in Portland, Oregon

A few steps away from La Jarochita I came across Tito’s Burritos #2. Just let me say this… if this is number 2, I want to try number 1! Finally, in the middle of more than 35 food vendors, I found the taste that took me back to Mexico.

Their carne asada, wrapped in a double corn tortilla was wonderful with the meat left to stand on its own, highlighted by just a little cilantro and onion. No gimmicks, no nothing. Just the pure taste of grilled beef, onions, cilantro and of course, corn, in those 2 amazing tortillas.

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Tacos from Tito’s Burrito’s in Portland, Oregon

I also had the Tito Special Taco. Basically this was the same concoction as the carne aside taco, but with the meat marinated in their special sauce. All I can say is great! I wished I had ordered this one as a burrito so I could have had even more of that deliciously flavored beef.

So here’s the recap. The torta at Güero PDX, was good, if not spectacular. At $8.00, I expected better. The tacos at La Jarochita, came with shredded cheese, hardly a traditional offering at your local puesto de tacos in Mexico City or along the coast in Baja California. The winner of my stroll around the Alder Food Court was Tito’s Burritos #2. Simple and traditional, their food just shined, and at only $1.50 a taco, what’s not to like.

Should you go? Of course. The variety here is fantastic. Whether you are seeking tacos, or some delicacy from another region in the world, the Alder Food Court at SW 10th and Alder has it all. And at prices that won’t kill your pocketbook either.


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