The rapid growth of Portland’s Hispanic and Latino population over the past two decades is marked by a cadre of colorful, welcoming, and outstandingly tasty markets, restaurants, food carts. And for those looking to cook up the traditional cuisine at home, there’s a wide variety of grocers available to supply your needs, from tiny tiendas to supermarkets. A vast range of nuanced spices, sweets, sauces, meats, drinks and produce from Mexico to Chile can be found in shops right here in PDX, and we’ve rounded up a list of some of our favorites.
Portland’s Latin American Markets
3022 NE Glisan St., Portland, OR 97232
In a sea of mostly Mexican-focused markets representing the Latin American wares available in Portland, Dashen interjects a welcome stream of foods from across the other Latin nations.This dimly lit market is a jewel box of finds from back home: Puerto Rican staples sazon, sofrito and habichuela rosada are in stock, as are Salvadoran frozen pupusas, Peruvian yellow chile paste aji amarillo, mauby syrup from Trinidad, Mexican harina, Colombian dulce de leche known as arequipe, and the sumptuous dulce de leche stuffed Argentinian cookie alfajores. Dashen also stocks nearly every Goya product out there. Beyond the dry goods, hard to find drinks glisten from the coolers, the likes of yerba mate, malta and Postobon sodas. Produce such as fresh hibiscus, plantains and frozen yucca are also at hand. One of the best parts of Dashen, however, is its proprietor, a kind, knowledgeable and outgoing man, ready to answer ay questions or simply share a joke every time you walk in.
18330 SE Stark St., Portland, OR 97233
La Tapatia serves as a kind of centerpiece for the local Hispanic community. Out front you’ll find a cart selling tamales and cups of esquites. In the back, a taqueria serves up delicious fare, and attached next door is an impressive flea market. The various sections of the self-proclaimed “super meat market” are all proportionately stocked with the principal Mexican food players – rice, beans, beef, tortillas – as well as many star items – fresh guava paste with seeds, sriracha mayo, ceviche, nopales for cactus salad, corn husks and bulk dried chilies from japones to arbols. In the back of the massive shop, there is a huge wall of glass cases containing pan dulces for just .79 cents each. They’ve got everything from fresh-baked conchas to wedding cookies, cream-filled tornillos and cakes made to order. For frozen goods, a tiny freezer case boasts frozen guanabana, cashew fruit, and banana leaf across from the tortilleria churning out fresh in-house tortillas sold by the bag alongside tortilla warmers. The carniceria is lined with marinated beef, chicken, pork al pastor, organ cuts and chorizo by the pound, and also includes fresh and fried fish such as mojarra frita. Almost every flavor of Jarritos is available on the shelves while satiating options like Aloe drinks and coconut water with pulp shine from the refrigerated cases. Your standard Mexican coke, glass bottled and made with real sugar instead of fructose, is available as well in a variety of sizes. There is an extensive selection of teas in the spice aisle too, from Garganta sore throat tea to te de siete azahares, an herbal remedy tea made of seven mixed blossoms. Next to the teas are a wall of herbs and spices, everything from palo brazil wood to linaza seeds and malabar spice. Now just top off your stockpile of goodies at the register with some nuts like garbanzos or cacahuetes coated in chile as a snack, or milk candy or banderas de coco for your sweet tooth, and your meal is complete.
SE 72nd and Foster Ave, Portland, OR 97206
Portland Mercado is not just a market, it is a coop of Latin American businesses all housed under one bright and multifariously neon colored roof. As far as foodstuffs go for home cooking, you’ll want to visit the tiny Kaah Market, run by Guatemalan owner Erick Caravantes. The name Kaah means neighborhood in Mayan, and this small market and larger Portland Mercado vending space creates just this for the local Hispanic and Latino communities. Don’t let the size of Kaah itself fool you, though, there is plenty to take home, including fresh salsas, pineapple pico de gallo, pan dulces just out of the oven and a surprisingly varied selection of organic or local tropical produce: kiwis, avocado, tomatillos, chayotes, fresh coconuts, plantains, pomelos, even starfruit. A wooden kiosk pushcart is the central focus of the shop, reminiscent of Latin American street markets, adorned by an assortment of tortillas, tortilla chips and locally made hot sauces. You will find some unique items here as well such as chappurias, grasshoppers eaten in many locales across Mexico, boldo, a camphor like tea, and fire- baked clay olla de barro pots, tortilla presses and stone mortar and pestle round out the cookware.
Step out of the market into the larger Mercado and you can purchase artisan chorizos at Don Felipe meat counter, fresh roasted sustainably grown coffees at Sandino, or imported beer and wine from Barrio. There is also a communal room strung in colorful papel picado where you can grab a hot bite to eat, or head outside to the food truck court where about ten different food trucks await, serving up foods from all across Latin American – Mexican chicken mole, Salvadoran pupusas, Cuban papas rellenas and Colombian almojabanas to name a few mouthwatering options. The Mercado brings together the best of Hispanic culture all in one place, and it is an experience more than just a market. You can often catch live music or salsa nights here so check their website for upcoming events.
4265 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005
This west side market is festively studded with brightly colored pinatas dangling from the ceiling, a shared quality of all the Mexican markets on this list. One thing that separates Salsa Market from the pack is the refrigerated salsa bar where you can choose from an array of salsas and add additional onion, lime and cilantro. There is a butcher on site, and Salsa Market sells everything from fresh longaniza to whole and ground chorizo, ribs, filetes de tilapia and pork maciza. Seasoned meats are also available inclusive of carne asada, pollo preparado and diced fajita meats ready for cooking. Corn tortillas await for a buck a pound, homemade guacamole is flavorful and sold in tubs, and the tortilla chips are freshly fried. The deli also stocks fresh cheeses by the pound – queso fresco, panela, oaxaca and the like. Salsa Market stocks all of the Mexican core items from fresh coconuts to cilantro, black beans to hot sauce, along with some harder to find specialties such as both regular and spicy dried mangos, fresh yucca and bakery made Rosca de Reyes, a specialty sweet bread eaten on King’s Day. Cookware such as comals – a kind of taco wok – and plastic vitrolero jugs for agua fresca at home can also be bought here, or pick up Jumex juices in Mango, Strawberry Banana, Coco-Pina or a cold can of refreshing Inca Kola. There are vasos de fruta available with fingers of cantaloupe, pineapple and watermelon to snack on, or hit the deli for a house made torta sandwich with your choice of meat, or some seriously sumptuous sopes or menudo. A side of Takis Fuego chips or Churritos are available for some crunch, and imported cold beers are sold singly or by the case. One last thing that sets salsa market apart is its variety of medications and household products available, Hispanic favorites such as alcachofa capsules, Suavitel detergent, and lavender Fabuloso to make you feel like you’re at Mamas.
Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon
16223 NE Glisan St., Portland, OR 97230
Hands down the best horchata you will find in Portland! It is likely that a member of the family will ladle it into a cup for you from behind the deli counter out of a vitrolero. The proportion of rice flavor, sweetness and cinnamon is perfection on a hot day. For a blast of the tropics you can also purchase refreshing agua de Jamaica, the scintillating hibiscus iced tea pleasing to the eye in its fuchsia coloring. All in all, this market is short on the dry and canned goods, stocking mostly the essentials – maiz, rices, limes, refried, hominy and pinto beans, chiles, hot sauces and the like. What they lack in selection, however, they make up with their house made tortilla chips that come in yellow, red and green corn, and their tortillas that come in white or earthy blue corn fresh off the conveyor belt. There are also delicious homemade salsas, including green and hot habanero salsa, and a small variety of stewed meats, cheeses and pan dulces are available. Interestingly, this market boasts a full aisle of imported Mexican hard candies, and also sells a wide variety of pre-packaged tamales. Yet another reason to stop in is for the fact that Don Leon’s sells discos, Mexican plow disc cookers kind of like a wok/grill hybrid used to make discada, an enticing mixed meat dish. Back at the deli case savory prepared foods are available hot, with deals on tamales, gorditas and tacos with fresh guacamole, rice and black beans or crispy chicharrones that can be eaten at small cafe tables in front of a dramatic and colorful mural, painted by the owners son, that incorporates Mt. Hood, Mayan symbols, the migrant farming journey of the market’s proprietors and the sign for 162nd Ave where the shop is located at the corner of Glisan. This mural is the true marking of Don Leon’s and speaks to the journey of its owners from Mexico to the United States where they farmed and dreamed of owning their own business one day. This market is the realization of that dream. On your way out past the mural, take a peek in the sweets case and contemplate ordering a lavish tres leches cake for your next party, or grab a single size cup filled with Mexican rice pudding or gelatina for after your meal.