South by Northwest

Carlita's Pearl Portland

Tacos and margaritas, yes, but with a delicious, unabashedly free-style approach

Beneath strings of Edison-bulb globes and exposed ducts and pipes, dapper cantina Carlita’s (1101 NW Northrup St, 971-352-6991)—which also offers warm-weather seating on the sidewalk catty-corner from Tanner Springs Park—looks more ambitious than a taqueria.

And it is. High ceilings, tall windows, and varnished-wood tables create a convivial feel. And the restaurant’s creators, who also operate Brix Tavern, Swank & Swine, Fuller’s Coffee Shop, and several others, joyfully play fast and loose with the concept of Southwestern dishes and drinks, infusing their offerings with accents from Oregon and other parts of the world. What they do with remarkable consistency is produce superb elevated comfort food.

Carlita’s turns out an array of tacos with flavorful fillings like smoked and chile-cured Carlton Farms pork belly with apple-fennel slaw.

Offering a particularly generous happy hour daily from 4 to 6 p.m. and again from 9 p.m. until closing, Carlita’s turns out an array of tacos with flavorful fillings like smoked and chile-cured Carlton Farms pork belly with apple-fennel slaw, wild mushrooms with chipotle crema, and local chicken with mole negro and marinated tomatoes. Other standouts include both cold-water shrimp and ahi tuna ceviches, posole rojo, and a selection of five kinds of salsa (tip: the kicky but smooth ghost pepper crema delivers the boldest flavors among the bunch).

Tequila and mezcal cocktails are a specialty, including the smoky-sweet Fantasma with mezcal, pineapple-honey syrup, lime, and chile.

Carlita’s is at least as much a place to drink as to dine. Tequila and mezcal cocktails are a specialty, including the smoky-sweet Fantasma with mezcal, pineapple-honey syrup, lime, and chile, but you’ll also find a selection of enticing whiskey concoctions. The signature Carlita’s Way, for instance, has earned a devoted following—this heady sipper of Buffalo Trace bourbon, falernum syrup, Peychaud’s bitters, a rinse of absinthe, and a lemon twist will warm your soul on a chilly winter evening.

Salud, y buen provecho! –Andrew Collins // Photo Courtesy Bella Media

 

Authors
Top