Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Portland Restaurant: Stella Taco

What: Stella Taco
When: 2940 NE Alberta St
Where: 11am - 10pm Daily
Honeys Heart: The vibe

Katie and I made a deal when we started the blog. We would use it as an excuse to regularly go out to eat and drink (you know, "for the fans") and we would always be honest in our posts. The being honest part kind of sucks sometimes, but it must be done.

Katie and I attended Stella Taco's launch party on Tuesday evening and here's the deal: owners Ian and Becky Atkins and Chef Matt Fields (formerly of Little Bird) seem/are great, the vibe is really laid back and welcoming, but the food - at least what we sampled - left us wondering "would we leave our usual taco spots (Uno Mas, Por Que No) to come here?"

The answer: no, not based on what we had.

We started our Stella Taco experience with a Paloma de Juarez ($5.50) made with Olmeca Altos Blanco tequila, triple sec, grapefruit Jarritos, and lime. Definitely a funky take on a marg, maybe something for next year's 4th of July party?

The Frozen Margarita of the Day ($5.50) was a pineapple margarita. Tart and tasty. Not sure either were better than Por Que No's margaritas, but the price point is way more reasonable!

At the opening we tried the Elote ($3.50) which is roasted corn with fresh crema topped with lime salt, chili powder, and cheese crumbles. Katie and I both like corn, so we thought this was good- even if it was a fairly simple dish.

For tacos, Stella started us off with the Cancha ($2.50) made with crispy organic corn kernals, re-fried black beans, sliced red onions, and crema. It was sort of like a corn nut taco... which was weird, but sort of good, but really just hard to chew. I think the corn kernals either needed to be a little softer or a little crispier because our jaws felt a little sore. We wondered if we were being overly critical, but the man next to us voiced his agreement without any prompting.

The second taco we were served was the Brisket de Matamoros ($3) made with Painted Hills brisket that is dry-cured, coarse-ground, and slow-roasted and then topped with toreados chiles and pickled red onions. Not a bad flavor, but the choice to grind the brisket seemed a little strange to us. Why not slice it to show off its tenderness? Points for uniqueness though? I would also be curious about portion size. The taco seemed a bit small to us for $3- but this was just a sampling so maybe that was intentional.

Looking at the other taco offerings, I wish we could have tried the Lamb Barbacoa ($4.50) or the Chile Colorado ($2.75) with pork shoulder stewed with red chiles, tomato, and onions and topped with matchstick potatoes. It seemed Stella picked the more unique tacos for their tasting, but that might have been a risky decision, at least from our standpoint.

There were also Flautas ($8) floating around with a tomato broth for dipping. We didn't end up getting to try these though. They looked crispy...

Oh yes, and for dessert we had a Sopapilla ($3.50) which is a fried tortilla pillow with cinnamon and sugar and local honey.

The take-a-way here: Stella Taco was good, not great. It didn't convince us to give up our usuals, but it was an opening and we know those can be stressful and don't always reflect all that restaurants can do. We may need to give it another try and get some additional opinions. Stay tuned - there may be an update to this one!