Review: Mexicali Express (Beaverton)

Mexicali Express
12590 SW Canyon Road
Beaverton, Oregon 97005
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Ph: 503-643-3739
Hours: 9 a.m. to midnight daily
Website
Lunch money: $-$$
Rating: ★★★★☆

The Portland area certainly has a plethora of Mexican food options, but sometimes it seems very few of them are worth your hard earned dinero. In the heart of downtown Beaverton sits an almost DayGlo-colored painted building that advertises their video lottery machines. It’s not exactly the place you’d expect to find some of the tastiest Mexican food around…but it is.

Mexicali Express has actually been around for a couple of decades (they were originally located on West Burnside where Gaya Gaya Sushi is now). From my experience, local fast food places tend to diminish in quality over the years, get run out of business by the national chain behemoths or attempt to expand on their own.

Happily, Mexicali Express has remained almost exactly the same for the 20+ years I’ve been eating there, so I feel a little nostalgic every time I walk through the doors. The décor is FAR from fancy, and the relatively recent addition of a video lotto lounge doesn’t help—but you’re not coming here for haute cuisine; you’re coming here to nosh!

The menu is typical Mexican fast food: Tacos. Burritos. Nachos. Quesadillas. Fajitas. Enchiladas. You know the stuff. But this is no Taco Bell. The freshness and quality of the food is remarkable considering the slightly rundown location.

I almost always go with a burrito, a taco AND the Mexicali fries (which comes to about $6 total). I’m not usually a fry person, but there’s something special about those lightly seasoned potato discs that I can’t resist…especially dipped in ketchup. Yum!

Practically everyone I take to Mexicali mentions the tortilla chips and taco shells with delight—they’re light, crispy, and offer the perfect crunch. I always suggest ordering a side of chips and salsa or guacamole for your table as a starter. (Sorry, no free chips and salsa appetizer here.)

The food is full of flavor and seasoned well, but they do serve almost everything on the mild range of the spicy scale (of course, some items can be ordered with a more spicy sauce option). If you need that extra kick, they do offer an extensive fresh salsa bar with a boatload more options than you’ll find at your local Baja Fresh (that place is so bland and boring, right?).

Mexicali Express opens at 9 a.m. for breakfast (you can order breakfast burritos until 1 p.m.) and stays open until midnight daily. They also offer a convenient drive-thru. The service is fantastic, and I get the feeling that this is a family run operation because you tend to see the same faces behind the counter again and again.

Overall, this is the perfect place to hit up for a quick, fresh meal that won’t break your budget. Simple. Fresh. Fast. Delicious.

PROS:
– Fresh, fast food
– Very reasonable prices
– Fresh salsa bar
– Friendly service
– Open late and there’s a drive-thru

CONS:
– The video lottery area is a little weird
– The building is a bit of an eyesore

Mexicali Express on Urbanspoon

Review: Agave Azul (Gresham)

Agave Azul
155 SE Vista Avenue
Gresham, OR 97080
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503-674-0654
Hours: Sun/Mon 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Tue – Sat 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Lunch money: $$
Rating: ★★★★½

Just off (very busy) Powell Boulevard on a quiet side street in Gresham is a little burnt orange colored house that’s been transformed into one of the best Mexican places in the Portland area. No joke. Seriously…no joke.

Arriving at Agave Azul was a little confusing…um, which one’s the right door to enter? Um, is it OK to park on that street, there’s no parking sign? Use the side door and, yes, there’s plenty of FREE parking…even on the street. (Living in Portland can make you parking sign crazy, but this is Gresham.)

But once inside we were quickly seated and handed our menus. The dining room was tiny, very clean, sparsely decorated and (surprisingly) kinda empty considering it was primetime lunchtime on a Wednesday. (Note: there is also additional seating in the adjacent bar/lounge area through the saloon-style doors.)

Starting off, they offer a unique complimentary appetizer—a soft bean taco with a side of fresh salsa hot sauce—instead of the typical jumbo-sized basket of chips and salsa. We were, again, a little confused by this at first, but then realized it actually makes some sense. How often does your entrée arrive at a Mexican restaurant and you’re already too stuffed full of chips? If you’re like us, that happens a lot!

While the complete Agave Azul menu is expansive, we were determined to stick to the lunch menu and its super cheap prices—most dishes run about $6(!)—and we were absolutely NOT disappointed. The lunch menu was quite varied with your typical Mexican fare: tacos, burritos, lots of meat and seafood options…even the pickiest eater will likely find something to happily chow down on.

We ordered the tacos de pescado (fish tacos, duh). The two tacos were piled high with grilled white fish, tomato, onion, cilantro, lime and crème fraiche. We gobbled them both up in record-setting speed! OMG GOOD! The flavors and texture were mastication perfection on a doubled-up corn tortilla!

Our lunch buddy went with a beef burrito with mole sauce—and it was massive! We’re talking seriously substantial.

The portions were on the large size, which can be expected at most Mexican joints, but it wasn’t too overwhelming. Of course, with food that delicious, neither of us had enough left over to warrant asking for doggie bags.

The service was exceptional from beginning to end—attentive, but not pushy. Our food came out super quick, but we never felt rushed. Our check for two people was less than $15! Not bad for a satisfying, belly-filling meal.

Sure, it’s a little off the beaten path, but it’s certainly unique in its shabby Mexi-chic charm and the food rivals some of the better-known Mexican restaurants in Portland. It might just be our new fave après-ski spot after a long winter day of skiing and boarding on Mt. Hood.

GO! Just go and taste for yourself! We just wish we’d been off the clock so we could try one of the margaritas!

PROS:
– Excellent food
– Lunch menu is very affordable
– Great service

CONS:
– Could use a slight ambiance upgrade
– Might be hard to find if you’re not familiar with the area
– Wish it were closer to our house!!

Agave Azul on Urbanspoon

Gallery: Some Summer 2011 Food Porn

Oh, summer, where have you gone? Didn’t this summer seem to fly by faster than usual? (Maybe that was because summertime weather didn’t arrive in PDX until about August?) Of course, as we look back at these photos, we realize we certainly made the most of our eating opportunities over the past few months. Here’s our (actually short) gallery of some of the tasty tidbits we consumed. Enjoy!

Review: Who-Song and Larry’s Mexican Restaurant

Who-Song and Larry’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina
111 SE Columbia Way
Vancouver, Washington 98661
360-695-1198
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Rating: ★★★★½

After a morning shopping excursion to Jantzen Beach (found some adorable summertime sandals at Target for $10!), we needed to refuel. It was a sunny Saturday, so why not head over state lines and grab some Mexican food at Who-Song and Larry’s? After all, we hadn’t been to The ‘Couv in like FOREVER!

Well, we weren’t the only ones with the same idea. The parking lot was PACKED. (Note: They share a parking lot with Joe’s Crab Shack.) We circled the parking lot three times before snagging a coveted space.

The restaurant was equally packed, and the hostess said the wait for a table would be at least 20 minutes. So we scooted into the seat-yourself cantina section and plopped our shopped-out selves at a comfy table in the corner.

The service was fast! Within a minute or two our server delivered a basket of tortilla chips and some yummy-zummy salsa and we ordered a round of drinks. Me: margarita on the rocks. He: strawberry lemonade.

As we looked over the menu, we noticed how reasonable the prices were and how large all the plates being delivered to the other tables were!

I chose the grilled chicken and steak skewers served dipping sauces. It also came with a grilled shrimp taco on the side as well as yucca fries, rice and their famous sweet corn cake.

My friend ordered the spinach enchiladas, which came with beans, rice and the sweet corn cake. Continue reading Review: Who-Song and Larry’s Mexican Restaurant

Review: Muchas Gracias Mexican Food

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Muchas Gracias Mexican Food (Lake Oswego location)
3970 Mercantile Drive #180
Lake Oswego, OR
503-675-7400
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Rating: ★★★★☆

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Wow. I really wonder why it took me so long to discover the cheesy goodness that is Muchas Gracias Mexican restaurants. There are actually more than 30 locations dotted across Oregon and Washington, but until yesterday I’d never even been to one! Actually, I don’t even think I’d even heard of the Muchas Gracias restaurants before yesterday.

You see, yesterday I pulled up to my restaurant of choice (an Italian sandwich shop) only to discover the place was closed down and about to be auctioned off next week! So, without any backup plan, I ended up at Muchas Gracias by chance. Continue reading Review: Muchas Gracias Mexican Food

Review: Bandito Taco


Bandito Taco
13565 NW Cornell Road
Portland, OR
503-643-2304
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Rating: ★★★½☆

Today I was craving a little Mexican (no, not like comedienne Chelsea Handler), so I ended up at Bandito Taco in Cedar Mill. This little strip mall-type shop has been around since 1990, serving up quality Mexican grub at very reasonable prices.

The restaurant is very, very clean and the menu is plentiful. They offer a wide variety of Mexican options, but I advise you to pick up one of their paper menus and review it first. I made the mistake of ordering off the menu above the cash register, and I was a little disappointed. Had I read through the descriptions of the offerings, I would have probably ordered something else. Continue reading Review: Bandito Taco

Review: The Burrito House

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The Burrito House
1220 N. Hayden Meadows Drive
Portland, OR
503-283-3439
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Rating: ★★★½☆

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One of my favorite things about eating at a Mexican restaurant is the free chips and salsa. Who doesn’t love free chips and salsa, right? Well, jump in the car and get yourself to North Portland’s Burrito House for an additional pre-meal treat: warm fry bread served with honey!

That’s right, chips, fresh salsa AND fry bread. Who needs to eat lunch after a spread like that? Continue reading Review: The Burrito House