It’s lunchtime at Portland Mercado, a Latin American public market in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood in Southeast Portland. Families with young kids, couples and a handful of solo diners crowd around the broad picnic tables under a covered patio area strung with lights. A cheerful Mexican corrida plays over the sound system, while customers and purveyors banter in Spanish. And the cuisines of Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, El Salvador and Colombia are front and center at this culinary hub.
First opened in spring of 2015, Portland Mercado is a grassroots economic development project focused on growing small culinary businesses owned by Latinos. The results are delicious. The outdoor patio sets the stage for eight brightly colored food carts and a comfortable eating area while the indoor section of the market includes a butcher shop, grocery, candy store, dessert shop and a commercial kitchen for startups.
Strolling the cart lineup, our first stop is Mixteca PDX, a family business whose owners hail from Oaxaca, Mexico, and with a menu steeped in the moles and tamales indigenous to that region. We tried the classic mole bowl — shredded chicken, black beans, rice, vegetables and mole negro, topped with a cabbage salad — delicious and filling with a little kick that was cooled by a glass of cold, milky horchata.
On to El Gato Tuerto (the one-eyed-cat), offering a fusion of Argentine and Cuban cuisine and a project of two different chefs. We loved the fried plantains, nicely caramelized and sweet with a side of spicy black beans. The Cubano Sandwich, layered with roasted pork, ham, mustard and Swiss cheese, was filling and savory. To drink, the minty (non-alcoholic) mojito was the perfect accompaniment.
A tour through the inside marketplace took us to Don Felipe Chorizos and Sausages, on this day offering three types of house made chorizo — chicken chorizo, green pork chorizo (made with spinach) and red pork chorizo (with various spices). We also took note of Barrio, a cantina serving Latin American wines and cold beer (and highly recommended by a local for their tap selection, sangria and micheladas). Fruitbox Juices Smoothies and Snack Bar offered a host of tasty frozen fruit bars and other fresh-fruit based treats, but we opted for the chocolate-covered frozen bananas and papayas and Kaah Neighborhood Market & Grocery, where we also got a taste of several fresh and piquant salsas — carrot, zucchini and jicama — and a stack of warm, hand formed corn tortillas.
Happy and full, we left Portland Mercado with glowing, chile-infused hearts and plans to come back soon.
Portland Mercado is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Some food carts are closed Monday and Tuesdays. For a complete list of businesses and menus as well as details about the organization’s mission, visit the Portland Mercado website.