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Best Mexican Food In Salem

In the 2000 Census, Salem was about 15% hispanic. I expect that in the 2010 Census that percentage will be 20% or higher. That being the case, you would think you could find some authentic Mexican chow in this town. You can, if you avoid the many places that cater to the gringos. There are lots of them on S. Commercial St. and Lancaster Drive. Most of them say their food is "Jalisco style" but that is false advertising. You'll never find this food in Jalisco.

If you want authentic Mexican food in Salem you have to venture out to North Salem, where most of the Latinos live. There you will find some places that don't bring you chips and salsa when you sit down. Then you know you have found the real thing. Here's some of my favorites ...

El Turbo (850 High St.) Okay, this place does bring me chips and salsa, maybe because I am a gringo. But they have the best chicken mole in town! It's so yummy you'll want to lick the plate. They are also open for breakfast and have a nice selection of breakfast options.

Juniors Taqueria (1705 Winter St.) This has been a favorite for many years. These folks are from Michoacan and everything on the menu is great. I like the carnitas tacos and the chicken sopes. Their tortas are very good as are their chili rellenos.

Salvador's Bakery (3790 Silverton Rd.) This is much more than a Mexican bakery. Their food is delicious, maybe the best in town. Try the chicharon tacos and the pork tamales. The tortas are excellent too. They have a wonderful selection of self-service salsas including some very good ancho chili salsas (look for the bright orange one). They make their own tres leches cakes that are yummy, and they sell by the slice or you can buy an entire cake at a reasonable price.

El Caminante (2575 Silverton Rd.)
This is a taco truck. Their food is very good. They have lots of unusual things that you won't find elsewhere. How about a chavindeca, a kind of fancy double decker taco with your choice of meat? They have 11 meats to chose from including lengua, birria, and buche (?). They have a torta jaguayana (?) and a tostada de cueritos (skin?). Check it out.

Taqueria Los Pinos (2300 Silverton Rd.)
Another taco truck. Their tacos are only $1.25 each. They have fish tacos for a little more. A specialty is the queso de puerco torta (head cheese sandwich). It was delicious. Not weird at all.

There is another taco truck on Silverton Rd., close to Salvador's, but I didn't jot down the name. They grill chickens and rabbits on a wood fired grill. Then their serve it four ways (plain or with different sauces). We've had the chicken "a la diabla." It was mighty hot! We need to go back and try the rabbit.

If you want a culinary adventure, you can just eat your way up Silverton Rd. from the State Fairgrounds to Lancaster. There's lots of good authentic Mexican chow, some of which you may have never had before. It might be worth a trip, even from Portland, to check this out.

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Juniors Taqueria
1705 Winter St NE, Salem, OR 97301

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  1. We went back to the taco truck just down the road from Salvadors (3828 Silverton Rd.). It has two names: El Pollo Feliz and Mariscos Playa Azul. They were out of the conejo (rabbit) but the cook was nice enough to give us a little sample. It was the rib cage attached to the neck. It was tasty! A lot like chicken with just a little hint of gaminess. The 1/4 grilled chicken meal is a deal. You get the chicken, rice and beans, tortillas an an extra plate with limes, radishes, cucumbers and chopped onion mixed with cilantro. You also get delicious grilled sweet onions and a few grilled jalapenos. All for just $5.95. They have a wood fired grill in the driveway where they do their cooking. Besides the chicken and rabbit they advertise guilotas (quail) and godornices (I asked what this was and they said "little chickens" -- maybe game hens?). From the seafood side of the house we got two grilled shrimp tacos. We were there in the evening and the grilling appeared to be over. Our meat came out of the kitchen. It's probably best to get there in the afternoon when the meat is still coming right off the grill. Our meat was "original" which is unadorned, but you can also get it with a very hot sauce (a la diabla) or with BBQ sauce or with butter (a la mantequilla). This place is great and the owners are really friendly. Try it.

     
     
     
    1 Reply
    1. re: Amecameca

      Thanks! We'll try as many of those places as possible when we're in Salem. Terrific to hear about places up there.

    2. El Grullense on Portland Road is also pretty authentic. The staff doesn't speak much English, and most of the clientele is hispanic, which is always a good sign. I used to live in the neighborhood and go there pretty often, but have since moved out south, so La Hacienda Real is where we dine most often for Mexican.

      2 Replies
      1. re: tracylee

        I posted a review of Los Temos to the Portland board -- probably not a good choice, except that they supposedly have a branch (Los Temos #2) on SE Powell in Portland. Here is the link to the post:

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7379...

        Based on one visit, I would definitely put Los Temos on the list of the best authentic Mexican restaurants in the Salem area (it's just north of town). I can't wait to go back.

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        Los Temos
        7000 Portland Rd NE, Salem, OR 97305

        1. re: Amecameca

          Los Temos has to be one of the most interesting eating experiences you can have in the Salem area. I went there again today to have the plato de birria (kid). They also have other meats like lengua (beef tongue) and chicken and even shrimp, but I wanted to try the goat again. One $10 plate fed three of us (we made tacos with the goat meat). You can have as many "hecho a mano" tacos as you want (we got a refill). They serve the broth from the goat stew on the side in a cup as a soup. It is delicious -- lots of spices are used in the cooking of the goat, but the clove flavor stands out. While we were there two mariachis wandered in and serenaded the diners ($5 a song). What fun! I hear they have a four person group on the weekends. This place may be a little intimidating for gringos the first time around, but give it a chance. The people who run this place are really friendly. When I was there today the young man at the counter spoke English. Los Temos is open 7 days a week from 9 to 5. I understand birria can be a breakfast food in Mexico, hence the early opening. I think they do their biggest business in the early afternoon, traditional comida time in Mexico. Try it.

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          Los Temos
          7000 Portland Rd NE, Salem, OR 97305

           
           
           
      2. Thank you Amecameca. I stopped at Salvador's Bakery on one of my occasional trips through the Salem area and just had to stop on my way back to get tamales to take home to share. Terrific!

        The only problem is where to stop next time through - you suggest too many choices that all sound great. It may have to be Los Temos.

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        Los Temos
        7000 Portland Rd NE, Salem, OR 97305

        1 Reply
        1. re: oregoncook

          Yes, it's got to be Los Temos. Order the plato de birria and you won't be sorry.

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          Los Temos
          7000 Portland Rd NE, Salem, OR 97305

        2. Some things have changed since my first post. El Turbo is closed and some of the taco trucks have moved on. But I have since discovered what might be one of the best choices for authentic Mexican. It's not quite in Salem, but almost. It's just over the border on River Road in Keizer. Plaza Morelia is next to impossible to see from the road (on your left) if you are heading north. It's at 3391 River Rd. right next to a Mexican meat market called El Jalapeno that is easier to spot. From the outside it looks like a small grocery, but the secreto is that in the back is a counter that serves up delicious food. There is plenty of seating in a little room on the side, but I like to sit at one of the tables near the counter so I can observe the action. Their specialties on the weekend are birria de chivo (baby goat) and barbacoa de borrego (lamb). I had the "plato" of the latter. For only $10 you get a nice big bowl of lamb soup (lamb broth with new potatoes and chick peas) and the meat on the side (you may need to ask for it on the side). They serve it up with all the hechos a mano tortillas you want, so we ate the soup and made tacos with the meat. There is a nice salsa bar with a good selection of homemade salsas, onions, cilantro, etc. It was delicious! I think I might have liked the soup even better than the lamb. The lamb comes with some fat and bones, etc. but you can avoid that when you make your tacos. The people who run this place are very nice and friendly and helpful to gringos. They have 99 cent carnitas tacos on weekdays, and excellent huaraches. They do a nice business and for good reason. The food is really great.

           
           
           
          4 Replies
          1. re: Amecameca

            The number of authentic Mexican restaurants in Salem (to go with way too many inauthentic places) keeps growing. Habanero is the first place I have found that features dishes from the Pacific coast state of Guererro. It's a small place and a bit hard to find, but it's worth looking for. It's open for lunch and dinner. On our first trip we had the picaditas as an appetizer. They are like sopes, but smaller and without the meat. They were great. My dining partner tried the camarones en crema. The sauce (reminiscent of pipian) was plate-licking good! It was served with handmade corn tortillas, rice and black beans. I had a nice big bowl of posole verde, pork, avocado, and hominy soup with a broth thickened with pumpkin seeds. Excellente. We will be back to try other Guererro specialties like the pollo en mole verde and the chilaquiles. Other dishes you don't see elsewhere are the caldo de langostinos and something called aporriadillo. Our server (who might have been the owner) was super friendly and helpful and she liked talking about the specialties at Habanero. There are three kinds of homemade salsa including a habanero salsa. This place is at the corner of Center and Hawthorne in a little strip mall. It's about five minutes off I-5 if you are passing through town and want a different Mexican dining experience. Check it out.

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            Habanero Restaurant
            3330 Center St NE, Salem, OR 97301

             
             
             
            1. re: Amecameca

              Appreciate the reviews.

              Since we've moved to Oregon from LA, my wife misses what she calls "real" arroz con pollo. If you had to recommend a place in Salem for that specific dish, what would your opinion be?

              1. re: JDBear

                Well you got me there Mr. Bear. I have not eaten this anywhere in Salem. According to Wikipedia, arroz con pollo is not so much a Mexican dish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arroz_co...). It says Puerto Rico claims it as their national dish. That might explain why you can't find it in Salem. The best chicken dish at a Salem restaurant is the grilled chicken at El Pollo Feliz on Silverton Rd. See the August 21 post above for a write-up and a picture. This is a glorified taco truck so they are not open all that much in the winter. In a month or two they should be going strong again. Check it out.

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                El Pollo Feliz/Mariscos Playa Azul
                3828 Silverton Rd NE, Salem, OR 97305

              2. re: Amecameca

                I'll have to try it out! I loved chilaquiles for breakfast in Puerto Vallarta the few times I've been there, and it'd be interesting to see how it's done elsewhere.

            2. We finally made it to Los Temos. The corn tortillas were absolutely terrific and nothing like I've ever tasted. My partner said he has not eaten hand made tortillas like that for 35 years since family taquerias in agricultural central California. The birria de chivo was wonderful! I didn't go with the plato since he wanted a burrito di chivo (which he enjoyed).

              Next time's hard choice will be Plaza Morelia or Habanero. Or El Pollo Feliz/Mariscos Playa Azul? Or?

              Thanks, Amecameca!

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              Los Temos
              7000 Portland Rd NE, Salem, OR 97305

              5 Replies
              1. re: oregoncook

                Alas, oregoncook, Habanero has closed. It's really too bad because I don't know of another Guererro-style place in town. Their green posole was really outstanding. But the good news is that there is a great place on Lancaster called Azteca Bakery and Torteria, in the same strip as Star of India, that serves very interesting and inexpensive food from Oaxaca. I recommend the molotes. Another new place is El Rinconsito on Market St. where the specialty is tamales (pork or chicken) made fresh twice a week (and always on Wednesdays, I am told). As for your next stop, I recommend El Pollo Feliz on a nice warm day on the weekend. Drive by and make sure the smoker is smoking so your chicken is fresh off the grill. Plaza Morelia was doing some remodeling last time I was in there and they may not be done, but check them out too, before too long.

                1. re: Amecameca

                  About a month ago (I apologize for my reporting delay) I stopped at El Pollo Feliz on a Friday that was not very warm (I apologize for not heeding your advice!). They had no rabbit, but their chicken, pork and beef tacos were all on special and the woman recommended them. I had all three. They were very good, but not outstanding, IMHO. Clearly, I need to give this place another try.

                  Before I come through your area again, I'll be sure and get the latest scoop from you, Amecameca. Thanks.

                  1. re: oregoncook

                    Sorry you didn't hit El Pollo Feliz on a good day. I only go there in warm weather when you can sit outside at the picnic table and enjoy your food. Usually when they have rabbit they have a homemade sign by the road that says "conejo." Also you want to go there when you can see the smoke coming out of their grill so you know the meat is fresh. It's most reliable on the weekends. I suggest you come back next June on a Saturday or Sunday. In the winter I'd say the best places to go are Los Temos (for goat tacos and consome, and tamales if they have them -- you have to ask) or Plaza Morelia for lamb tacos and lamb soup (weekends only) or Mercado San Francisco for the torta ahogada. Those would be my top three choices for best Winter eats in Salem Mexican joints.

                    1. re: Amecameca

                      Stopped at Plaza Morelia today and it was wonderful! Lamb tacos and lamb soup were oh so good! Partner had a carne asada burrito (his acid test) and enjoyed it a lot. Helpful folks, friendly place, fair prices, oh if I only lived closer.

                      Out of curiosity, Amecameca, did you ever get a chance to verify Los Temos #2 in Portland?

                      1. re: oregoncook

                        No, I've never done that. I'll have to ask the friendly folks at Los Temos next time I am in there. I was there last weekend. My daughter who was visiting from Vancouver, BC, had to get her birria de chivo fix. It's soo good. The norteno band was jamming when we got there. Close your eyes and you could be in northern Mexico.

              2. Alberto's across from the Fred Meyer store on Market St has excellent burritos. I had the breakfast burrito with chorizo last time I was in and there were chunks of the meat mixed in with the eggs. Their coffee had cinnamon in the blend and was a very pleasant break from the usual 'burnt' coffee served in the northwest (Charbucks...)

                1 Reply
                1. re: NVJims

                  Actually this place is called Aibertos. Confusing, I know. I haven't eaten there. Seems to be kind of like Muchas Gracias -- trying to appeal to both the gringos and the Mexicanos. I'm not knocking it. Actually the Oregon Burrito at Muchas Gracias is a guilty pleasure for me. But there are so may other great places to get the authentic Mexican within a couple miles of here that I have not bothered to try it.

                2. La Perla at the Reed Opera house makes a fantastic burrito. I got mine with pork carnitas. It was about four dollars.

                  1. I checked out El Ranchero Market and Restaurant today. It was awesome. I will be back.