Portland, Oregon’s reputation as a foodie town is well-established and our love of and support for food trucks is nationally renowned. Now, many of our successful food cart entrepreneurs are taking the leap from food carts to brick and mortar restaurants and Tamale Boy is the latest.
Jaime Soltero, Jr. has made the leap with his new venture, Tamale Boy, located in Northeast Portland’s up-and-coming working-class Woodlawn neighborhood. The tamales are handmade by Soltero’s aunts, his tias, the taste is homemade and the price is right. And Tamale Boy makes the perfect venue for an authentically Mexican night out in a fun, energetic new space.
Designed by veteran restaurant designer, Skylab Architecture, Tamale Boy (which seats 35 indoors and up to 150 on the outdoor patio) is a welcome addition to the Woodlawn neighborhood and to Portland’s food scene. The indoor space is small, but features a terrific mural by LA artist Steven Lopez that depicts the Mayan goddess Mayahuel that gives the space visual punch. Attendees at the restaurant’s recent grand opening got to watch Lopez work on the mural. The restaurant also offers a rotating gallery of the work of local Latino artists.
In good weather, the outdoor patio is the place to be with fire pits, family-style seating, a walk-up order window, a floating outside bar, and outdoor video walls and lawn games.
Tamales and more
The tamales are stuffed with chicken, pork, or vegetables and a variety of sauces: mole negro, chile verde, chipotle in adobe, or the citric and spicy cochinita pilbil (pronounced PEE-beel). Ingredients like pasilla peppers add flavor. Tacos and burritos are available with some of the same flavorful fillings. There are enough vegan and gluten, dairy, wheat, and GMO free offerings to make everyone happy.
Both corn husk and banana leaf wrapped tamales are available. Oaxaquenos tamales (banana leaf wrapped) are from the southern regions of Mexico and throughout Central and South America, while the Nortenos cornhusk wrapped tamales are from the northern regions. Mix and match and get them in either full or mini sizes.
Tamales take center stage at Tamale Boy, but the side dishes are worth exploring. Soltero’s refried beans (frijoles puercos) are native to the Mexico stat of Sinaloa, a region known for its exceptional cuisine. They’re cooked with bacon, ham, chorizo, chopped onion, and chipotle and my companion said the beans with some tortillas are worth the trip to Tamale Boy. There’s Mexican rice of course, and corn lovers should try the esquites, a spiced dish of roasted corn kernels that goes well with everything on the menu.
Soltero’s catering business, Mayahuel Catering, has a menu that includes a large number of small plates, bites and desserts, and these menu items will be rotated into the menu at Tamale Boy. If it’s available, don’t miss the shrimp ceviche—great texture, and the red onion, tomato, and lime enhance without overpowering the shrimp flavor. The Brussels sprouts will win over even folks who normally don’t care for this veggie—they’re roasted with bacon and nuts for the perfect crunch. Their plantain dish is slightly sweet fried plantain—terrific paired with roasted duck, cotija cheese and a black bean salad. The salmon lox is light and fresh. Another fabulous offering is the shrimp and leek soup—pureed leek infused with shrimp and topped with fresh watercress that added a great peppery taste.
Tamale Boy offers a full service bar menu, emphasizing Portland spirits and Oregon wines and beers. Their Tamarind Whiskey Sour, with local Burnside bourbon, tamarind puree, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg whites, or the Honeydew Melon Mint Margarita, with tequila, honeydew melon puree, mint, simple syrup and lime juice are terrific and pair well with the food.
Soltero is one of those folks you like to see succeed. He’s involved in Portland’s strong Latino community from several directions. He donated a portion of their entire first month’s proceeds to the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber. He brought in Portland friends and musicians, Joaquin Lopez and Edna Vazquez, for the grand opening and they created a party-like atmosphere. No doubt, when you visit, you’ll feel welcomed here.
Tamale Boy is open Tuesday through Sunday. Visit their website for food cart locations, catering and delivery information.—Story by Nancy Zaffaro, RFT Contributor
IF YOU GO:
Tamale Boy, 1764 NE Dekum Street, Portland, OR