Oregon Magazine
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Mexican Food & Drink
Comes to Gringoland


By Fred Delkin

Mexican president Calderon may not like Arizona's attitude about his wandering countrymen, but he should certainly endorse the efforts of some Pacific Northwest-based gringos who have created an accurate presentation of the most appetizing aspects of his native land. Casa Del Matador restaurants were founded in Seattle in 2004 and now have invaded Portland with a pair of sites. We recently dined at the East Burnside Matador outpost and came away very satisfied. Zak Melang and Nate Opper partnered to create the Matador concept after making their mark in the Seattle restaraunt scene. They employed a veteran Seattle chef, Rodel Borromeo, to create a food menu that goes far beyond the usual Tex-Mex offerings.

And then there's drinks -- no less than 93 Tequila brands make the Mastador the champion purveyor of fermented cactus juice. Yes, there's a somewhat limited, but well chosen, wine list and a full bar beyond Tequila. Melang is a frequent traveler to Mexico and has thoroughly researched the origins of his food and beverage lists. Opper brings a construction and design background to the partnership. The Matador laoations feature a plethora of wrought iron and rough-hewn wood decor and each site includes a large iron-hooded stone fire pit in dining center. Melang has his own design flair, expressed in hand-built tables and bartops.

Ironically, the initial Matador location was in Seattle's Ballard section, which has long had that city's largest Scandinavian ancestry, and seemingly a community that welcomed a transition from Herring to Habaneros. Other state of Washington locations are in West Seattle, Tacoma and Redmond. In addition to the Burnside operation, Portland has a NW 23rd Matador outpost.

A dining patron is presented with what would seem to be the traditional Tex-Mex chips and salsa to consume while perusing the menu. However, these are corn curls crisped in-house and a very fresh and spicy salsa. Appetizers include Dungeness Crab cakes, blackened Ahi, spicy fried Calamari, seared Scallops, goat cheese stuffed Jalapenos and a skewer of jumbo prawns floating on a Habanero sauce. We ordered the prawns, backed by a refreshing Mojito cocktail. Next, a Romaine (generous and good!) And then Chipotle-sauced baby back ribs (tender, mildly spicy and mmm-good!), with a glass of well-aged Zinfandel. We finished the culinary onslaught with a frosted 16 oz. Mug of Dos Equis cerveza.

Matador does offer Tex-Mex staples such as Tacos, Fajitas amd Enchiladas, but with their own take on these, which seem more suited to the lunch hour. The sites are open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week, with two happy hours per day, 4-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Details are found at: www.Matadorrestaurants.com

2010 Oregon Magazine