I’m going admit this first: I don’t typically crave Mexican food. I like spicy food, I LOVE avocado but the fried-and-cheesy quality that accompanies most Mexican food tends to turn me off. That said, I’d like to pontificate about Santa Fe Taqueria, located at 831 NW 23rd Avenue (The cross street is NW Kearney).
I went last night during Third Thursday on NW 23rd, a monthly event that is the brain child of Santa Fe Taqueria’s general manager Maya Cardoso, according to Umpqua Bank GM Blane Bartholomew, a Third Thursday collaborator. For a Thursday night during one of the crazier street construction projects I’ve ever lived near, the restaurant was teeming with a jovial buzz: A live band played off and on at the back of the restaurant on a make-shift stage while patrons — a family of eight with small children, couples, guy friends, a group of girls on an obvious no-boys get together — floated around with baskets of chips, glasses of wines and lots of noise.
Entering the restaurant can seem a bit off putting, considering there isn’t a host(ess) to greet you nor are the waiters jiving around the floor with trays. Rather, you enter the dining floor, point blank with little direction except an “Order Here” sign hanging above the steaming grill line counter. If you make it to the counter, you’re in for a treat: Every meal at Santa Fe Taqueria can be customized while it’s being made.
Stop thinking Chipotle or Baja Fresh: The meat, beans and ingredients that fill your tacos, burritos, fajitas and enchiladas are fresh; you can tell from the juiciness and tenderness of the meats, the crispy vegetables, the creamy cheese and the chunky salsa that the cooks (and managers) care about their food.
That care is definitely evident in The Brazilian Wrap: Spicy Brazilian beef, fruit salsa, grilled onions, chipotle sauce smother the typical beans and rice in this $8.00 bombshell of a meal. the beef was indeed tender, a quality that seems to be tossed off the wayside with most burrito beef. It was chewy…because it was slightly rare still and oozing with flavor and juice. Real chunks of creamy avocado cut the spice of the chipotle sauce and the grilled onions added a smoky caramel quality that made me a bit weak at the knees. The fruit salsa added very sweet punches — cold, too — perhaps smaller mango or pineapple chunks would blend the sweetness in a bit better.
I also tasted a super burrito (meat, rice, beans, cheese, pico, guacamole and sour cream; $8) filled with chile verde chicken and black beans. The green chile sauce fills your mouth first with a burst of citrus, spice, cilantro and a hint of minced onion. That same sauce douses shredded chicken that’s already so moist it could stand on its own. The cheese adds a subtle creaminess that combines aptly with the spice and acidity of the green chile sauce. Choosing black beans over the pinto beans I had in the Brazilian Wrap (You can choose from pinto, black or refried beans) for the super burrito was a better option: The black bean ‘juice’ coats the rice which is otherwise not noteworthy — but what rice in a Mexican restaurant actually is?
The tacos ($1.75 to $3.25) are three-bite sized; mainly because they come with one corn tortilla instead of the standard two. Tender spicy pork or flaky ahi served with beans and pico on just one tortilla is a bit messy which can be okay since all meals are served with a healthy handful of tortilla chips. The chips are perfect nacho chips; sturdy but not stale, tasting of golden corn and not bad oil. They’re not over-salted so you could eat them all night while drinking a salt-rimmed margarita without leaving with salt cuts in the corners of your mouth. The chips are a good size, too — they’re perfect for piling on everything that falls out of your taco AND dipping it in salsa or guacamole.
Out with your drinking buddies? Santa Fe Taqueria is a good option if you’re not up for the crowd north up NW 23rd at Casa Del Matador for top shelf tequilas and margaritas for every drinker. I like a simple margarita and found one with Santa Fe Cantina’s Perfect Margarita: Cuervo gold with cointreau, fresh lime and sour for $6.75 (Cheaper if you go during happy hour!).
Some say Santa Fe Taqueria is a bit pricey. Sure, you can get a $6 burrito across the street at Pepino’s but you won’t find the same quality or freshness of ingredients.
Check out Santa Fe Taqueria on Facebook for more information.