On a strip of Southeast 12th Avenue between a busy Hawthorne intersection and Ladd’s verdant maze sits a striking new Venezuelan-inspired eatery. Within Teote’s hypnotizing, Technicolor exterior, fried masa arepas, fatty, flavor-packed grilled meats, and a daring upstairs bar serving mezcal and chocolate crafted in-house come together in one of Portland’s most exciting new finds.
Teote is the brick-and-mortar reincarnation of Fuego De Lotus, a Division Street food cart that once served “inauthentic” South American arepas (thick cakes of fried masa). Now chef-owner Michael Kennett has taken a big step forward with an expanded menu and seriously updated digs. Dialed-in arepas—perfectly golden, with a crackling exterior and fluffy masa center—anchor the menu alongside a cast of grilled meats and fried snacks.
The arepas come piled high in ten varieties, from smoky pollo to chorizo and plantain. The standout El Diablo arrives with devilish bites of slow-cooked pork belly, red chile maple sauce, salsa verde and queso heaped over a corn-perfumed pattie—reason alone to visit.
From the grill comes thin, crosscut Korean-style ribs marinated in Serrano and lime and lamb chops glazed in smoky Morita chile sauce, both seared to a sensual bloody rare. For an extra kick, go for the squeeze bottles holding scorching, citrus-heavy salsas. Wash it down with a rotation of fruity agua fresca (watermelon-lime and mango-habanero) spiked with booze for easy summer drinking.
For a deeper taste of Teote, move beyond the flashy fire engine red walls and plush bar stools of the first floor and up a flight of artfully tiled stairs. Upstairs, dark beams, streaming skylights and hanging iron chandeliers give way to the window-lined second floor balcony.
Teote’s ambitions stretch to a carved wooden bar in back with a Day of the Dead aesthetic, scheduled to open in early August. This is the Jaguar Bar, Kennett’s after dinner concept for smoky Mezcals, pour-over coffee and a variety of house-crafted chocolates, all served in flights. Also in the works: an 80-seat outdoor patio surrounding a giant fire pit for late summer nights. Fuego de Lotus may be extinguished, but Teote is burning brighter than ever.
1615 SE 12th Ave