The New Portland Mercado Combines the City’s Famous Culinary Culture With Its Growing Hispanic Community
Better known for its rose gardens, green lifestyle and many microbreweries, Portland, OR likely wouldn’t be the average person’s choice for Hispanic cuisine and culture. However, with Oregon’s Hispanic population growing five times faster than the state’s populace as a whole, this could soon change. In fact, the first step in this direction could be the Portland Mercado, a bustling and vibrant Hispanic market that recently opened in the city, drawing in a diverse crowd with its authentic food, vast selection of food carts, shops, bars and more.
Located at a former abandoned car lot on the corner of 72nd Ave and Southeast Foster Road in Portland, the Portland Mercado was little more than a dream a year ago. However, under the careful control of the Hacienda Community Development Corporation, the marketplace is now open for business and working to bring together two important aspects of Portland: the city’s famous food scene and its booming Hispanic communities. And while the project is still young, the idea has already drawn in plenty of shoppers from around town.
Currently, Portland Mercado has attracted eight vendors to its outdoor boardwalk, including local Latin American favorites like Tierra Del Sol and Mexteca, renowned for their dark, earthy mole. However, new faces are quickly drawing attention as well: for example, Five Volcanoes, an El-Salvadorian cart, has quickly picked up some fans with its signature pupusas: chewy, cheesy dough filled with fried pork rinds called chicharrón and edible flowers called loroco. It’s a welcome change from the selection at other Portland marketplaces, which are more likely to offer blooms and flower arrangement ideas instead of edible plants, contributing to the $7 billion annual florist industry in the United States. However, most visitors have noted that the other early vendors are largely hit or miss.
Inside, however, the Portland Mercado is a bright, boxy building featuring more permanent retailers. The grocer, for example, sells pomelos, dried chiles and other staples, while the piñata and candy store, the juice bar, and the coffee shop are sure to delight tourists and residents of all ages. Further inside, El Carnicero, an outpost of a local butcher shop, Ponderosa Provisioners, offers cuts of lamb, beef chicken and pork, and Don Felipe, a chorizo store, sells some of the best red and green sausage in the city. Meanwhile, a beer and wine den called the Barrio spills out onto a patio; Portland restaurant critics recommend sticking to Northwest Brews or standard Modelos, as the Barrio’s sangria and michelada are somewhat watery.
Portland may still seem like a strange place to find Latin American influences and cuisine, but with a growing Hispanic population and the new Mercado, things could be changing. Critics largely agree that the Portland Mercado has a long way to go before it can realize its full potential, but with the right care and attention, some have predicted it could become a hotbed for Latin culture and influences in the years to come.