¡Bienvenidos! Painted in vibrant shades of pink, yellow and turquoise, the Portland Mercado shines brightly as an innovative cultural hub for Portland. Since its opening in April 2015, the complex has provided affordable launch space for local Latine-owned businesses. Their licensed commissary kitchen also provides entrepreneurs in the beginning stages of their food business with a place to experiment and grow.
Editor’s note: We use gender-inclusive Latinx and Latine over Latino/a to refer to people of Latin American heritage.
Mathilde’s Kitchen, which started as a Haitian food cart, transformed itself into an artisanal hibiscus beverage company through the use of the Portland Mercado’s commissary kitchen. Their bottled drinks are now stocked in grocery stores across the city.
With 19 enterprises — including a neighborhood grocery, meat market, coffee shop and food cart pod — in place, the Mercado has become one of the city’s most delicious destinations.
The fun begins inside the Kaah Neighborhood Market, where fresh-baked concha pastries and tortillas perfume the air. Stock up on homemade salsas from their deli section or purchase spicy sausage and fresh cuts of meat from their carniceria (butcher shop). Choose from their many Latine imports — think dried chilies, woven goods, clay pots, and chili-coated candies.
Fill growlers with wine, beer and sangria at the (dog-friendly) laid-back bar and bottle shop, Barrio. Enjoy healthy cold-pressed juices, fresh-cut fruit seasoned in chili powder, or delicious smoothies and bowls (infused with chamoy or CBD at your request) from Xōcotl. During the winter, the juice shop also sells warm treats, including soup and esquites (Mexican-style corn).
Outside, a row of rainbow-colored food carts plate up traditional recipes infused with Portland flair. “Let’s try something different!” declares the banner on the Colombian cart Que Bacano, and the carts make that easy, with menus that represent five regions of Mexico, as well as Colombia, Cuba, Peru, Argentina and Costa Rica, each with distinct cuisines. Order an earthy chocolatey mole, belly-warming pozole, pull-apart cheesy (gluten-free) corn flour rolls, or pizza-like Oaxacan tlayudas (14-inch crispy tortillas topped with queso fresco, fresh veggies and pork rinds). In other words, this is way beyond standard Tex-Mex fare.
In addition to providing tasty, authentic food and incubating new local businesses, the market serves as a touchstone for Latine culture. The Mercado’s calendar of public events includes community festivals featuring mariachi music, Aztec drumming, salsa dancing and other regional arts.
“This market is more than just an opportunity to support our local economy,” says Senator Ron Wyden, who helped champion the Mercado. “It is an opportunity to celebrate and appreciate our diverse backgrounds through food and other goods and services.”
Whether proudly Latine or eager to explore diverse cultures, visitors from all over the world can find plenty to love about this unique neighborhood market. ¡Vamos al mercado!
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