Mexican Restaurants in Gresham, Oregon

mextiza_chefosweldo.JPGCorazon, 1205 S.W. Washington St.

"It's ironic that I'm opening a Mexican restaurant, " Gruner chef Chris Israel said by phone in December. "We never ate Mexican in San Diego. If we were going to eat Mexican it would be fast food, which meant taquitos, five for a dollar, stacked with shredded lettuce, tomato and sour cream."

Yet last month, Israel, who is part Mexican, signed a lease with partner Kurt Huffman to do just that.

Corazon, Israel's ode to seafood-centric Mexican joints in Southern California and Baja, is expected to open in the former Pinot American Brasserie space by May 1. Israel plans to take the cavernous space and carve it into three parts: a 60-seat bar, a 60-seat dining area, and an 80-seat events space run by Huffman's ChefStable restaurant group.

Huffman envisions the bar as an urban taqueria, with $3 beers, shots and seven types of tacos (think fish, octopus). In the dining room, Israel plans a menu of big combination plates, a nod to the spirit of beachside restaurants in Baja's Rosarito - there's "drinking, dancing, it's festive, it's a lot of seafood, steak and lobster, " he says.

mimeromole.JPGIsrael hopes to source his seafood from a Hawaii-based fishing boat owned by his father-in-law, and he's toying with adding recipes gathered on a recent whirlwind tour of Mexico, including tlayudas (a crunchy tortilla) and aguachile (a spicy ceviche).

"It's not going to be regional Mexican cooking, " he says. "That's already done and done well enough here by chefs doing authentic Mexican food."

Jamie Francis/The OregonianChef Osweldo Bibiano

When Israel talks about chefs doing regional Mexican food, he's in part talking about Oswaldo Bibiano's Autentica, which sticks to the flavors and techniques of Bibiano's native Guerrero.

But Bibiano himself has moved past the restrictions of regional authenticity. With his second restaurant, North Portland's Mextiza, which opened in November, he pulled flavors and techniques from all over his home country, marrying recipes with high-quality Northwest ingredients.

verdecocina.JPGIn practice, that means a juicy chorizo sausage, served on a piquant black-eyed pea purée, is tagged on the menu with its city, Toluca, in parentheses. And the Caesar salad proudly lists its hometown of Tijuana. Meanwhile, a golden-roasted chicken topped with grilled pineapple and onion and served with potato salad has no denomination.

"Sometimes people ask me, 'Hey, is this authentic?'" Bibiano says. "Well, not really. If I brought the truth about Mexican cuisine to the table, people are never going to eat it. Roast head, cow's brain. People don't eat (it)."

One other item sourced from all over Mexico? The restaurant's 170-plus-bottle tequila list.

Jamie Francis/The OregonianMi Mero Mole is open for business at 5026 SE Division St in Portland. The restaurant features a mural on the wall done by local high school students.

For all his praise of Portland's Mexican food, Zukin does get tired of the same four or five types of grilled meats found at most of the taquerias in town.

"In Mexico, if you found a place doing carnitas, they would do the whole pig, from belly to ear to everything, " Zukin says. "Carne asada is a late-night food, grilled on coals. Al pastor would be on a spit. Somehow, whether it changed as it came up through California or what, this is what American taco trucks serve, so that's what people think when they think of Mexican food: carnitas, carne asada, lengua and al pastor."

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