“Our Kitchen,” is the English translation, and nothing makes me happier than walking into their perfectly lit kitchen, ordering the best margarita in Portland, and sampling too many Mexican small plates. Nuestra Cocina is located on 21st and Division, and is one of Mr. Spreadsheet and my favorite locations for damn good food. They don’t take reservations, and they’re only open for dinner, so we recommend either going early, going late, going on a weeknight, or bringing an entertaining guest who will keep you company on the patio while you wait for a table. You will not regret the inconvenience.
Nuestra has perfect evening ambiance. It is just loud enough to make you feel the energy of your environment, while still effortlessly comprehending your partner’s conversation. The service is prompt and friendly, and your evening will begin with perfectly tiny handmade corn tortillas, pressed and griddled just moments ago from pure masa. They come with a beautiful pureed salsa with just enough of a kick to enjoy with your exquisitely crafted margarita…seriously…order the margarita.
Mr. Spreadsheet and I have never ordered an entree at Nuestra Cocina. The small plates are too delicious, and the variety is part of the fun. The menu gets changed slightly throughout the seasons, but some old favorites never change. The pork tacos (tacos de puerco) are a must-have, along with the sopes de chorizo. The pork, in any form whatsoever, is the best food on the menu, and the tacos are reliable perfection. Slow-cooked with chilies and spices, expertly seasoned, and topped with the perfect amount of cotija cheese, diced onion, and radish to make the texture pop, this little plate of three tiny tacos (picture a silver dollar pancake) will make it difficult to quit at one order.
The sopes are my favorite dish. They are crispy masa cakes, topped with black beans, chorizo, and a little garnish to freshen up what might otherwise be a heavy bite. These little cakes are substantial, but are deliciously savory. Don’t pass them up.
One more dish in particular deserves to be highlighted. The tamarind prawns (camarones con tamarindo) are slightly spicy, but are incredibly flavorful. The tartness in the tamarind and the spice of the chilies marry beautifully as the prawns grill in their shells. They’ll come to you slightly charred and smoky, with a cooling lime, cucumber, jicama slaw that is one of my favorite side dishes of all time.
Tonight for dinner, I made sopes…or rather I should say I assembled sopes, as nothing was made from scratch. I went to our local Mexican supermarcado and picked up some pre-formed masa cakes, pork chorizo, and queso fresco. The result of my labors is pictured above. Yes, that’s MY food up there! All you need to do to make them is to deep fry the masa cakes for about 1 minute, or until they float. Rest them on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Top with refried or black beans (my favorite are the salsa style refried beans from Trader Joes), some browned chorizo, crumbled queso fresco, cilantro, finely diced onion, and a few thinly sliced radishes. Easy and delicious! Even Lock loved them, and he never likes anything.
Although we enjoyed our dinner tonight, it’s nowhere near the quality of Nuestra Cocina, and we look forward to visiting again (and again and again) in the near future. If you decide to make a visit, Mr. Spreadsheet and I would love to hear your opinion…just don’t forget to order the margarita!