Portland Notes successfully negotiated the first of many food crawls this past weekend. With over 80 years of combined taco-eating experience, San Diego-based John McKinnis and Austin-raised Kelly Jones covered 5 taco restaurants and food carts in a straight 16 block walk on Hawthorne. Following are reviews of the tacos, along with a photo album of our food adventure, average meal prices, and an invitation to participate in our next event!
Por Que No at 4635 SE Hawthorne opens for brunch at 11 AM on Saturdays, making it especially difficult to stick to our “Tacos Only” policy of the day. We started the day by asking servers and customers to recommend their favorite items.
Tacos average $3.50-$4.50 each – drink options are phenomenal. Por Que No offers a variety of freshly made juice-based beverages that can be combined with alcohol to create all manner of delicious naughtiness. The chips and salsa are made in-house. We sampled the Al Pastor and Pescado tacos. Al Pastor rub was full of flavor, that good balance of heat and flavor we were hoping for. The fish in the Pescado taco was breaded in cornmeal, and topped with a pineapple slaw. My favorite part of this experience was seeing other taco orders coming out of the kitchen – the garnishes on each style of taco are unique and carefully conceived to give a range of taste sensation in every bite. Mucho Gusto! Por Que No offers a seasonal vegetable taco and has vegan options.
Advice: Order before you are seated, as the dining room is very busy from open to close.
Pepinos at 3832 SE Hawthorne is an unassuming casual restaurant that reminds me very much of what I grew up with in Texas – extremely varied menu with a variety of daily specials, ranging from tamales to soup, tostadas, full meals, and more. Chips and access to the fresh salsa bar are complimentary.
We selected a 2 taco special for $5.95, which included a drink. Pescado again – fish tacos were interpreted differently in each restaurant we tried, but Pepinos served the most familiar style – a breaded portion topped with classic cabbage and a secret recipe sauce. Served in a grilled, double wrapped tortilla, this was also probably the most filling taco of the entire crawl. We also consumed the heck out of a chorizo taco, which was satisfyingly spicy. The best part about Pepinos’ atmosphere was the level of comfort – service was very friendly, and the roomy dining room hosted a variety of enjoyable conversations as strangers became friendly at the salsa bar.
Advice: Don’t rush – ask questions. There is so much variety, but everyone is very friendly.
Cha! Cha! Cha! at 3433 SE Hawthorne may be the best reflection of the neighborhood, with the emphasis on healthy, responsible, and sustainable choices. The menu educates customers about where the ingredients are gathered, and why they are personally and universally healthy.
Tacos average $3.50-$4.50 individually – margaritas are available. We were given a basket of warm chips and a few salsas to choose from while we waited for our tacos to be made-to-order. Pescado tacos here offer a choice of white fish or salmon. We selected the grilled wild-caught white fish (such a difficult choice!) and the Del Dia, which is a fresh, seasonal veggie taco of the day. The tacos are served in house-made, thick corn tortillas that taste like corn – every ingredient in these tacos stood on its own. The pickled red cabbage on the fish was delicious, but not overpowering – important, because the fish was delicate, flaky, and absolutely stunning. The veggie taco was one of many vegetarian and vegan options. What we like most about Cha! Cha! Cha!? A responsible restaurant that promotes local sustainability and focuses on our health – what’s not to love?
Advice: Have fun and try new things: you can feel good about yourself when you leave!
Neza is a food stand located in the 3300 block of SE Hawthorne, directly outside House Of Vintage. No seating, so be prepared to walk and eat. The tacos are compact and not overly messy, so it’s completely doable.
Most selections are only $1.50 each, and the canned drinks were just $1.00. Because these tacos were smaller, we tried 3 options: Grilled chicken, Al Pastor, and a basic vegetarian taco. Served in foil, and ready for mobility, these tacos were double wrapped in grilled tortillas, and the basic street food we expected to find, filling and simple. The veggie taco with whole pinto beans, rice, fresh tomato and monterey jack cheese was a reminder of home! Waiting for the tacos, we could hear the comforting sounds of meat sizzling on the grill – Pretty impressive lunch for $5.50.
Advice: No seating, so just be aware. Tacos are on the smaller side, so add an extra for good measure. When you’re finished – check out House Of Vintage.
Our final stop was La Morenita in the 3100 block of SE Hawthorne. There’s a small covered seating area attached to the stand, which was greatly appreciated on this cold, drizzly day.
Tacos are $1.75 each, for the most part. La Morenita offers a full menu of Mexican delights, but the tacos were definitely a popular item. We chose a chorizo taco with avocado salsa and a tilapia pescado. The tacos are full-size, double-shelled, and overstuffed (which is a good thing) with fillings. The fish taco was so full that we had to take a few pieces out before we could pick up the taco! For the price, these tacos were very impressive! I’ve had burritos here before, and had to share with a friend. No skimping here!
Advice: Ask the fantastically helpful person at the window for a recommendation. So many good options!
This was a great first attempt at a crawl – no one was injured, and we still love tacos! Portland Notes will announce the next crawl in advance – if you have a review or a comment, we’d love to hear and share it!