Taco Bell started earnestly enough, as a single food stand in Southern California.
It was post-World War II California, and McDonald's and In-and-Out Burgers were beginning to peg the highways with quick food stops, and Glen Bell, a 23-year-old former Marine, thought tacos could give an ethnic alternative to hamburgers. At the time, he owned a hot dog stand along the road and decided to add something a bit more baja to the selections.
The idea (originally just crispy shells) caught on with loyal customers and spread across the U.S., nipping at the heals of McDonald's for six decades and perhaps teaching more Spanish to Americans than every middleschool teacher combined, but also along the way serving as an increasingly cheap ambassador of Mexican food. In 1991, the first Taco Bell Express opened in San Francisco, dedicating most of its menu to $1 items and reducing tacos to little more than a cartoon version of their original glory—basically, slopped refried beans and melted cheddar cheese.
Fortunately, over the past several years, tacos—the real deal, clever canvasses of corn tortillas piled with fresh ingredients—have enjoyed a resurrection. Yes, Taco Bell continues to serve 2 billion tacos annually and Baja Fresh has joined the ranks to Starbucks Mexican food (and yes, "Starbucks" can be a verb; def.—create approachable yet drool inducings versions of otherwise exotic food stuffs).
The most recent addition to authentic Mexican food in Bend is Sabor a Mi, a brightly friendly, family-run breakfast and lunch joint.
A Mexico City native and a Bend resident for a decade, Leticia Maynard is the charming proprietor of the restaurant. It is simple and warm environment. With fewer than 20 seats indoors and a small astro-turfed backporch, Maynard has made the place feel like a cozy, no-frills, fairly average Mexico City restaurant. But that's the point—and the charm: This is not high-fare with elegantly contrasting spices like Portland's uber-popular Por Que No, what Sabor a Mi is, is authentic, good-tasting, affordable Mexican food.
Last week's special, a chorizo-and-potato burrito, was hearty; the rice had a vaguely smoky taste and the sausage enough spice to make its presence stand out. Likewise, the tacos are simple affairs—softball-size corn tortilla wraps with sprinklings of crisp cilantro and minced avocado, joined by chicken or spicy pork. (The shrimp taco had a slightly tinny taste, and can be avoided.)
Open less than a year the place already fills with loyal regulars. But it is equally friendly to first-timers.
This is the real deal. SW
Sabor a Mi, 304 SE 3rd St
Authentic Mexican food
Open Mon-Sat 7 am – 4 pm
Real Food Street Bistro
735 ½ NW Columbia St.
Fresh, local, real sandwiches, tacos and more
Open Mon.-Sat. 11:30 am-8 pm
Locally sourced produce and meats utilized in from-scratch recipes are what make Real Food Street Bistro a Westside cart staple (can we say the next Spork?). The two modern taco adaptations—a pan-Asian pork and a Pacific line caught cod —are mouthwatering twists on the traditional; both are garnished with aioli, pickled vegetables and slaw on top of locally-made corn tortillas. The Korean pork tacos are topped with a sour, spicy kimchi made in-house (ahem, in-cart) with a refreshing cucumber and ginger salad. Drool. The crispy fish tacos are breaded with panko for crunch and topped with chipotle-avocado aioli and crumbly feta cheese, a surprising but tasty Cotija alternative. BB
La Burrita Mini-Market & Deli
843 NW Fifth St., Redmond
tacos, burritos, homemade tamales
Open daily 7 am-10 pm
Yes, some of the best tacos in Central Oregon come from a gas station. Inside this particular station (Towne Pump) in north Redmond (northern end of the "Y") is La Burrita and spot-on the type of juicy tacos one might find outside of Guadalajara. Meat, grilled onions and chopped cilantro all double- wrapped in fresh corn tortillas—yes, heaven. The $2 tacos are tops here (carnitas!), but La Burrita also makes tasty tamales from scratch and serves breakfast burritos all day. Not heat lamp food—these Mexican treats are made fresh by someone's grandmother. God bless her. Downside: Can't drink a beer here. Upside: Can buy a six pack of Modelo to go. JW
1133 NW Wall St.
tacos, burritos, breakfast specials, beer
Open daily 10 am-9 pm
When Super Burrito made the move away from their cozy downtown location on Minnesota Avenue and into a voluminous space on the corner of Greenwood and Wall at the downtown's edge, we were skeptical. That was years ago and we were wrong to doubt. Plentiful seating, beer and South American soccer on TV—this is the bounty afforded us by their larger Wall Street location. The tacos remain inexpensive and delicious, as do the rest of the items on the menu. There's a taco-fixins bar (lime, carrots, salsas and even free chips) and a patio that gets plenty of sunshine. Also, it should be noted that the Super Burrito staff is the perhaps the most pleasant in town. JW