Monday, November 04, 2013

Quick Hits: Xico, Angel Food & Fun, Teote

I've had a yen, an itch, a yearning lately for Mexican food, the real stuff, not a knock-off I've dreamed up to put in tacos here at home. The past couple of weeks I've had some that hits the spot.

The sign pointing the way to lunch at Kelly Myers' Xico is both functional and fun—after all, you do have to go around to the side of the building to find the window where you'll place your order. But it also spells lunch as "lunx," emphasizing the fact that Xico is pronounced "CHEE-koh" not "SHEE-koh."

Once you walk up to that window you'll find a list of several Mexican tortas, or sandwiches (pork belly torta, left), made with pork (belly or shoulder) simmered in Kelly's signature chile sauces, as well as chicken, chorizo and vegetarian versions. All feature some combination of Oaxacan cheese, red onion escabeche, guacamole, lettuce, salsa and beans layered in a light bread roll that holds up nicely to the saucy fillings, and all are incredibly delicous at under $10.

The Sonoran hot dog (top photo), however, is crazy good and a steal for $6. A Nathan's all beef frank is wrapped in bacon and grilled, then laid on a pinto bean-slathered bun, topped with the house tomatillo salsa and showers of crumbled cotija cheese, escabeche and a zigzag of crema to top it all off. Add in a hibiscus flower agua fresca or, my choice, their sublime horchata, a just-slightly-sweet-with-a-hint-of-cinnamon beverage that is ideal as a counterpoint to chile spicing, and you've got a totally awesome, not-to-be-forgotten midday meal.

Oh, and in case you thought the walk-up window means sitting on the sidewalk in the cold, you get to go through the side door and choose one of their comfy banquette tables inside. Sweet!

Details: Xico, 3715 SE Division St. 503-548-6343.

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When my friend Michel suggested checking out a new Mexican place in the 'hood, I was all for it. When she told me the name of it was Angel Food & Fun, I was a little less excited. But because Michel knows her south-of-the-border cuisines, and I subsequently read that the owner was former Bluehour sous chef Manuel Lopez, any anxiousness disappeared.

We walked in at noon straight up and found the cozy canteloupe-colored room scattered with a few simple tables, each one topped with the colorful fabric flowers you'll see at any open-air mercado in Mexico. The menus were stacked at the counter, and Manuel's wife, who also helps out in the kitchen, was happy to answer questions and make recommendations.

While the menu features the expected burritos, tacos and tamales, they're well-executed versions—handmade tortillas, well-seasoned meats and escabeche on the tacos, a grilled cheese frico rolled into the burrito and a banana leaf-wrapped tamale. But it's the authentic Yucatecan treatment that Lopez gives to the other items that makes this a stand-out place rivaling higher-priced Mexican restaurants around town.

We started with a panucho (above left), a refried tortilla spread with refried black beans and shredded chicken, then heaped with avocado, lettuce, tomato, escabeche and a slice of pickled jalapeño. The cochinita pibil (top photo) is a hearty bowl of achiote-braised pork that's been wrapped in banana leaves and braised for hours, served with a topping of pickled onions and cabbage with some of the afore-mentioned house tortillas on the side. A dish I hadn't had before was a relleno negro (above right), a stew of luscious pulled turkey meat in a recado negro, a sauce of blackened chiles and turkey broth that Lopez tops with slices of warm corn mush, comfort food of the highest order.

Seriously, the prices here are so reasonable, the executions so awesome, that it'll be hard not to go back on a regular basis on those I-don't-feel-like-cooking or need-a-fix-of-authentic-Mexican-goodness nights. The fact that it's close by is just icing on the cake.

Details: Angel Food and Fun, 5135 NE 60th Ave. 503-287-7909.

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Arepa: (Spanish pronunciation: [aˈɾepa]) a flatbread made of ground maize dough or cooked flour prominent in the cuisine of Colombia and Venezuela. It is eaten daily in those countries and can be served with various accompaniments such as cheese (cuajada), avocado, jelly or jam or (especially in Venezuela) split and used to make sandwiches. - from Wikipedia

Called an "areparia," Teote specializes in this classic street food of Venezuela with a distinctly NW twist—it's also gluten-free, which means that carbs are of the rice, corn, beans and plantain persuasion. Its wildly south-of-the-border, technicolor-meets-barn wood ambience is owner Michael Kennett's brick-and-mortar expansion of his Fuego de Lotus food cart that he's branding a "Latin American street food experience"that "curate[s] a menu of exciting cross-cultural flavors and epicurean delights."

Regardless of the marketing buzzwords, the food here is luscious, the plates loaded and very reasonably priced. My pernil, pork roasted in a Morita chile sauce, was a thick slice of deliciously seasoned meat served with kale salad, rice, verde sauce, queso-sprinkled black beans and plantains. The arepa, which I've never had before so have nothing to compare it to, was crispy on the outside but a bit heavy and bland inside, though it did complement the rest of the plate.

An interesting new cuisine, great prices and loads of food? Makes a good lunchtime stop for me!

Details: Teote, 1615 SE 12th Ave. 971-888-5281.

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