When we last saw Taqueria Nueve back in 2008, it was the harbinger of adventurous Mexican cuisine in Portland. Nueve had excellent house margaritas, bold ceviche, and edgy boar tacos. Fast-forward eight years (get the backstory here): chef/owner Billy Schumaker has returned (this time inside the old Beaker & Flask space at 727 SE Washington St), offering the same undiminished plates and colorful, family-friendly vibe without skipping a beat.
The space is different: Nueve took Beaker & Flask’s dark hued, leather-cushioned spheroid of a room and covered it in fuchsia, upped the bulb wattage, and added electrifying pastel red chairs. Otherwise, the food is frozen in time. That means the Caesar—garlicky and acidic with wedges of tortilla chips and an optional upgrade of rockfish ceviche—is still very good. So is the Bistec Del Nueve, a juicy grilled hanger bedaubed in smoky Oaxacan chile sauce. That stalwart margarita comes through again, clean and strong with good el Jimador tequila, as it did six years ago.
Nueve might be the same, but the rest of the city has changed. Now we have a better frame of reference for great tacos (Uno Mas), Oaxacan playfulness (Xico), and obsessively researched guisados (Mi Mero Mole). Nueve’s coctel de pulpo (octopus in sweet, spicy cocktail sauce) probably won’t thrill flavor-seekers, the chile relleno isn’t the Puebla platonic, and the tacos—from super crispy boar to fat-laden tongue—are pricey, at around $4 a pop.
But it doesn’t need to be all those things. Already, Nueve packs a full house with its accessible flavors, big portions, and kid-friendly digs. Food is consistent and approachable, and the staff speaks laymen’s Spanish. If it can still fill the room after eight years in a deep hibernation, Nueve must be doing something very right.
727 SE Washington St