Geographically, you can’t get much farther from Latin America within the contiguous United States than Portland. Gastronomically, however, Portland Mercado is doing a whole lot to bridge that gap.
On paper, the Mercado is a business incubator for Portland’s Latin American entrepreneurs, who can apply for affordable retail and commercial kitchen space within the indoor-outdoor market (one manager referred to it as a “mini Shark Tank”). On the ground, however, Portland’s first public Latino market is a celebration of the Central and South American foodscape. Over a dozen grocers, vendors, and food carts representing nearly as many distinct regions across the continent bring the best of their homelands to this bustling market. It’s a boon for traditionally under-served entrepreneurs as well as a platform on which lesser-known ingredients and dishes from the region can shine.
For example, Que Bacano—a Colombian food cart owned by a former dentist—serves sancocho, a hearty chicken stew with roots in West Africa that combines yuca, plantains, and potatoes typically found in the mountainous Antioquia region. Guatemalan-owned Kaah Market sells fresh-baked concha pastries and chili-coated candies, and on select weekends, hand-made blue-corn tortillas as well. Tierra del Sol, a Oaxacan food cart, uses the same blue corn in the base of their tlayuda, a pre-Columbian dish in which a thick, grilled tortilla is glazed with refried beans and pork fat before it’s festooned with shredded cabbage, onions, avocado, quesillo cheese, cilantro, and chorizo. Ale Cocina is an Argentine food cart focusing on sandwiches and empanadas that serves pascualinas, a pastry pie with roots in medieval Italy.
After you’ve had your fill of deep-cut dishes, the Mercado is a great place for a quick mental getaway. Between the smells emanating from the techni-color food carts, the bright hand-painted murals, and rotating playlists of regional Latin music, the Mercado is transportive for those who’ve never been to Latin America—not to mention the calendar of public cultural events that includes mariachi bands, Aztec drumming, salsa, capoeira, and the like.
For those who hail from south of the border themselves, however, the Mercado offers a bit more. “Before this, I didn’t know a single Colombian,” Fernando Rodriguez, owner of Fernando’s Alegria, told OPB. “We created a community where we could meet other Latinos…a place that allows us to be ourselves.”
Know Before You Go
Open from 11 am-8 pm seven days a week.