The Woodlawn neighborhood is definitely an up-and-comer, but it still takes vision to open a restaurant there. There are Portland favorites like Firehouse and Breakside Brewery that draw diners from outside the zip code, but there are also many residential blocks between the tiny business districts. However, Woodlawn real estate is on the rise, so maybe it’s ripe for an upscale grocer, a French bakery, or a bustling breakfast spot that’s a combination of all of the above. But instead of something predictable (though a grocery/bakery/breakfast concept would be wonderful—hint, hint, Portland restaurateurs), Jaime Soltero is bringing tamales.
His beloved food truck Tamale Boy will still be on the road, but now there’s a brick-and-mortar location where you can hang out and linger over the fabulous food. Opening Friday, March 14, at 1764 NE Dekum, Tamale Boy will be hosting a friendly grand opening event that’s typical of how Jaime runs his burgeoning masa empire—with open arms and a huge smile.
A Recipe for Success.
Thanks to a great reputation (Tamale Boy’s tamales won “Dish of the Year” in 2012 on Portland’s Yelp), their loyal fan following, sincere hospitality, and a huge patio with street frontage (hello, summer!), Tamale Boy’s Dekum outpost is going to be a huge draw for Woodlawn locals. And it will most likely also be a beacon of authenticity for anyone within a 40-mile radius. Jaime’s. Tamales. Are Good. Better than good. They’re fantastic. And the rest of the menu is deliciously presented as well. Even better? Everything is created with local, organic ingredients, and tamales are gluten-free, if that’s your gig.
There are two varieties of tamales on offer: cornhusk-wrapped and banana-leaf wrapped, and both offer a vegetarian option. The fillings are more well-known in the cornhusk offerings (green chile pork, adobo-sauced chicken, and roasted Pasilla peppers), but the banana wraps are where the excitement is at. Called oaxaqueños because they originated in Oaxaca, Mexico, these options include Cochinita Pibil (pork roasted in citrus) and Mole Negro (chicken cooked in black mole sauce). As you’re trying to choose between tasty tamales, pick out a side dish, too. There are just a few, and they’re decadent. Choose from Frijoles Puercos (the meat lover’s option with beans, bacon, chorizo, ham, chopped onion and chipotle peppers), Arroz Mexicano, and deceptively delish Esquites: corn kernels roasted in margarine and seasoned with chipotle, garlic, onion, and epazote, a unique Mexican herb that tastes kind of fennel-y/lemon-y. (Bonus! Epazote is also used medicinally to treat indigestion, so you’ll be doing your mouth and your belly a favor.)
Looking ahead to summer, if you’re primed to take advantage of that patio, you’ll want to hydrate with a Tamarind Whiskey Sour made with Bull Run Whiskey, the honeydew/mint margarita, a Horchatalada (horchata spiked with Malibu Rum and Still Life Vanilla Vodka), or Hibiscus iced tea that’s revved up with Del Maguey Mezcal. But why wait? Tamale Boy has these cocktails on offer now, and a nicely stocked bar with local spirits. And if you miss the novelty of ordering from the truck, get your grub from the walk-up order window.
We experienced the new digs at a media preview party where ticket proceeds went to charity—a nice touch. There was a DJ, a hand-stamp at the door (it read “Thank You!”), and a parade of waiters bearing tasting trays, but that night they served tamales off Jaime’s famous truck. It went back on the road the next day. As we queued up to order, it felt like a sweetly sentimental nod to the vehicle that made all of this possible.