Surrounded by orchards and farms that have attracted a flourishing Hispanic community, Hood River has a robust — and growing — Mexican food scene.
Paco’s Tacos, a food cart that sits just south of Hood River Cinemas, is one of the businesses leading the way. Representing the culinary scene for years, owner Paco Magaña has just one tip for ordering: Get there early, because he’s almost guaranteed to sell out.
“Everything you can think of, it’s basically all from scratch,” he says. “We’re different. We’re always authentic.”
That authenticity shows up in some of his most popular dishes, including birria stew, fat burritos heaped with fixings and crispy mulitas (a double-layer quesadilla), all featuring locally grown beef, pork and chicken from his family’s ranch near Hood River.
Loncheras, Fusion Burgers and Mediterranean Tacos
To really experience Hood River’s Mexican food, start with one of many great lunch spots, or “loncheras.” Busy Hood River Taqueria draws visitors for its cute outdoor patio, torta Cubana and “crazy” burritos with chipotle sauce. In nearby Mosier, residents love La Vaquita Taqueria, offering gorditas and savory sopes piled high with meats like adobada and al pastor. Ayala Taqueria offers breakfast burritos — just ask if you don’t see them on the menu — and a special menudo (tripe stew) on Saturdays.
For more of a fusion twist, try El Cuate in Hood River’s the Heights neighborhood south of downtown. Look for a Mexican take on hamburgers with chipotle mayo or burritos enhanced with feta cheese. Love & Hominy Tacos, which opened in downtown Hood River in 2022, specializes in playful fusion food, with hits like Mediterranean tacos (think tzatziki sauce and mint) or Thai tacos with ginger-peanut sauce. Cool off with a boozy frozen rosé with strawberries and lemon.
A Family Legacy
The Magaña family’s influences on the food scene are undeniable. Ixtapa Family Mexican Restaurant, which also has a location in The Dalles, uses the meat that Magaña prepares, while his uncle, Tony Diaz, started Michoacán Sports Bar & Grill in Odell (8 miles south of Hood River), where his cousin Diego now does most of the cooking. “He’s super well-known for his carnitas,” Magaña says.
Meanwhile, Magaña’s mother, Sylvia, runs a second Paco’s Tacos food cart in Parkdale (16 miles south of Hood River, on the western flank of Mt. Hood), where she offers seafood, menudo and barbacoa (barbecued beef) on weekends. Her special, the “Mount Hood” burrito, is a gargantuan belly filler with rice, beans, meat, onions, cilantro, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. “People rave about it,” he says. “It’s the No. 1 thing we sell.”
Family Recipes Live on and Grow
The secret to Paco’s Tacos’ success lies in Parkdale, where the family runs a 50-acre farm with livestock that Magaña’s brother butchers himself. They order spices directly from Mexico City that are almost impossible to find stateside. Family matriarch Sylvia Magaña makes the tortillas. The family also started offering aguas frescas, light nonalcoholic beverages made with fresh fruits like watermelon, cucumber and lime.
And more things are in store, quite literally. The family first started selling tacos at the Hood River Fairgrounds but soon expanded around 2014 with the purchase of Jim’s Market, a historic store in Parkdale. They started making tacos there that were a quick hit among the orchard workers seeking a fast lunch as well as for visitors on their way through.
Tragedy then struck a few years later when a fire gutted the store. That’s when Magaña got the idea to buy a food cart and keep the business alive. That mushroomed into two food carts and in late summer 2022, Jim’s Market will open once again, this time bigger and better than ever, Magaña says.
They’ll have a full 4,000-square-foot restaurant inside with a full bar and another 4,000-square-foot retail space for the same asada and other meats used at Paco’s Tacos. You’ll also find some hard-to-find spices, beer and other convenience items. A rooftop patio for soaking up the views of Mt. Hood is also in the making.
Coolest of all? Paco’s Tacos may be on its way to yet another location, this time in the foodie hub of Portland. Magaña says with the newly rebuilt market and restaurant, he won’t need the Parkdale food cart.
“I think people are going to be super stoked,” Magaña says. “Expanding, expanding, expanding. That’s all we’re doing.”
Check It Out:
For more inspiration on great eats in the Hood River and Columbia River Gorge region, check out Tastebound, a new digital cookbook that highlights the region’s bounty with recipes from local chefs and makers, history and information on local food trails, too.