The sign said Taqueria Tequila opened at 11, but the door wouldn’t budge when I showed up at 11:30.
The lights were on and I could hear a TV, so I knew someone was inside. I was just about to knock, when a friendly looking man with a baseball cap emerged from behind the glass and unlocked the door.
“Are you open?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, waving me in. “Come in. Come in.”
I was the day’s first customer.
The restaurant on St. John Street in Portland is not hard to find, but neither is it obvious. It’s been open less than a year and is gaining a word-of-mouth reputation for serving fast and tasty Mexican lunches.
Taqueria Tequila is located in a small space a few steps up from street level in what appears to be an apartment building, tucked among a service station and another apartment building. Union Station Plaza is directly across the street.
Whatever effort is required to either find the place or enter it is worthwhile. My lunch was spectacular.
I took a seat at the bar, where I enjoyed a Spanish-language midday soap opera on the TV and ordered a two-item combo ($9.49) of taco and burrito. The same man who let in me brought me a basket of chips and small bowl of salsa, which set the tone for lunch. The chips were thin and crispy and not at all greasy. The soupy salsa had a modest bite to it.
He turned the volume down on the TV and turned up the volume on the stereo, which played Mexican music. I actually would have preferred listening to the TV, even though I do not comprehend Spanish. But I enjoyed watching the drama, which in 10 minutes included a shooting, a lover’s quarrel and a sympathetic mother figure consoling a woman in distress.
During my wait, I also appraised the bar and was favorably impressed with the selection of Mexican beer. There were the obvious choices, as well as a few beers that I enjoyed during my trips to Mexico: Negra Modelo, Carta Blanca, Pacifico and a few others.
Just as I began getting thirsty, my meal arrived: A large platter with an oversized ground beef hardshell taco and a chicken burrito, smothered in a tangy sauce and dripping with melted cheese.
Between the two was a spread of rice and refried beans. This was lunch, but it could have been my dinner, the platter was so large.
The taco might have been my favorite. It was served in a hard shell, with well-seasoned ground beef and brimming with lettuce, chunks of tomato and small ribbons of cheese. The beef was lightly seasoned. The shell cracked some as I bit into it but mostly held together. I ate it over my plate, so the lettuce and beef that spilled out fell into my bed of rice and beans.
The burrito was coated in a thick tomato sauce and melted cheese. It was packed with shredded chicken, lightly seasoned.
The beans were just runny enough and the rice sticky and plentiful.
The menu is extensive and includes such specialties as a torta (a sandwich with chicken or pork, cheese, tomato and avocado), a fajita melt that comes as a French bread sandwich, and a variety of vegetarian and seafood dinners. Friends have raved about the tacos, which cost as little as $2 each.
I was impressed.
In addition to the plentiful and excellent fresh food, I appreciated the friendly and efficient service.
I’m not smart enough to know if this is authentic Mexican food, but I believe it is. It’s certainly more tasty and interesting than many of the other choices that we have around here. I’ll be back, and next time I’m getting a beer.
WHERE: 249 St. John St., Portland | 207-774-7773 | facebook.com/taqueriatequiladekanoza
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays.
WAIT: About 10 minutes
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: No