Best Mexican Food in Salem (2012 Update)
It's been two years since I posted about "Best Mexican Food in Salem." A lot has changed. I think three of the places I had in the original post are gone. But I have discovered a lot of new places since then.
I believe Salem is not just the capital of Oregon. It is the Mexican food capital of Oregon! There are now many wonderful places with very authentic Mexican food from different regions of Mexico. About one in five residents of Salem is Latino, the vast majority being recent emigrants from Mexico. That has made our city a Mexican food destination in the Pacific Northwest. None of these places is fancy. Many are grocery stores and meat markets that also have modest taquerias as part of their businesses. But the food at these places can be really outstanding. Come visit Salem and see what I mean.
Here are my top ten places for authentic Mexican food:
1) Los Temos (7000 Portland Road NE)
This place is on Hwy 99 just north of town on the way to Woodburn (a bit out in the country). Look for the sign with the goat head. That's the clue to what this place does best -- birria de chivo (roast goat). You can't go wrong ordering birria tacos or the birria "combinacion" which is goat meat with rice and beans. The corn tortillas are "hechas a mano" made by hand -- some of the best you have ever had. On weekends there is a conjunto band playing norteno music. Another good thing about this place is you can buy a beer. Many authentic places in Salem can't serve it because of Oregon's antiquated liquor license requirements, I am guessing. This place alone is worth the trip from Portland or Eugene.
2) Chula Vista Market and Taqueria (135 Lancaster NE)
This is a small grocery store with a restaurant in the back. It's a gem. Check out the specials. Sometimes they have four tacos for $5. If they have it, get the buche tacos. This is pig's stomach which sounds weird but is anything but. They are delicious. Trust me. Carnitas tacos are good too. If they are offering albondigas (meatball soup) you gotta get it. They make it up fresh to order so the vegetables are perfectly cooked (the carrots in the soup are a revelation). The tortillas here are handmade to order -- delicious. While you are waiting for your food to cook have a bowl of complimentary beans from the pot over by the wall. Drizzle them with a little of the chili oil salsa. Yum. There is a lot of other stuff on the menu here too. It's all good.
3) Plaza Morelia (3391 River Road N, Keizer)
This place is just over the border in Keizer. It's easy to miss on your left as you head north. Slow down and watch for it. It's another grocery store with a meat market and a restaurant in the back. The specialty here is lamb (borrego) which is only available on weekends. They also have birria de chivo (goat) on the weekends. If you come on the weekend by all means order the borrego. I think the huaraches here are especially good. These are thick oblong bases of masa topped with a thin coating of refried beans, and your choice of meat, cheese and lettuce and tomato. Thankfully you can get a beer with your meal here too. On your way out get some housemade chorizo seco at the meat market. This is Mexican sausage that is dried out a bit. Put it on your grill at home and cook it until all the fat runs out. Really delicious.
4) La Concentida Carneceria (1042 Lancaster Dr. NE)
This is a meat market that specializes in pork. They get the whole pig and cut it up behind the counter. In the back they have giant pots of pork fat bubbling away making chicharones and carnitas. I promise this will be some of the best carnitas (roast pork) you have ever had, simply because it is so fresh. There are two small booths under an annoying TV where you can sit and order up some carnitas tacos for only $1 each. These are really taquitos (small tacos) made with two tortillas (not handmade). The meat is so good you will want to eat at least three of these. This place is a gem for pork lovers.
5) Mercado San Francisco (1584 Lancaster Dr. NE)
Here is another grocery, meat market and tortilleria. They do it all and have a food counter and restaurant seating as well. They often have a special of Michoacan style barbarcoa tacos (look for the paper sign). This is roasted beef head. Sounds scary but is actually delicious. Try it if you are an adventurous eater. All the food is good here, but my favorite is the torta ahogada. This is a large sandwich made on a fresh bolillo with fresh carnitas. It is then "drowned" (that's what ahogada means) in a chili and tomato broth that soaks the bread and flavors the meat. You eat it with a knife and fork. These are common in Guadalajara, I believe. They have them several places around Salem but the ones here are the best I have had.
6) Azteca Bakery and Torteria (2138 Lancaster NE)
Yes, another place on Lancaster. Lancaster is fast becoming "Little Mexico." It is the ugliest street in Salem, but makes up for it with good Mexican food. This place specializes in food from the state of Oaxaca. They have things on their menu you don't see elsewhere. An example is molotes which are mashed potatoes mixed with chorizo and fried. They are topped with black beans and cheese. One order feeds two people! They also have good tamales, usually as a special. If they have rajas con queso tamales (tamales stuffed with roast poblano peppers and cheese), get them.
7) Salvador's Bakery (3790 Silverton Rd.)
This place has been here a long time. It has a meat counter, bakery and small selection of groceries. All of the food that you get at the food counter is good. I especially like their tamales and often pick up a dozen to go. You can eat them here too. They have an amazing salsa bar with about a dozen different salsas to try. You can get those to go too. They make a great tres leches cake that you can buy by the slice or take home a whole cake. Another good choice here is the pozole.
8) Junior's Taqueria (1705 Winter St.)
This is a sentimental favorite -- one of the pioneers of authentic Mexican food in Salem. I have been coming here with my family for years. All their soups and tacos are good. Look for the large choice of meats for your tacos on the blackboard to the right of the counter where you order. I have always thought they do an especially good job with their chili rellenos. Chicken sopes are also a good choice here for something a little different. The corn tortillas are handmade and excellent.
9) Taqueria El Tapatio (615 High St. NE)
If you are in downtown Salem and want good Mexican food, this place just on the northside of downtown is a solid choice. I especially like their lunch special of four taquitos and a drink for $5. Your choices include fish tacos and potato and chorizo tacos. Both are great choices. You can also get a Mexican drink like a horchata or tamarindo in the $5 deal, not just a fountain drink. A great lunch!
10) La Fondita (3330 Center St NE)
Okay, this place just opened and it may be too soon to put them on a best of Salem list. But I have high hopes. They opened in the same spot that used to have a great Guerrero-style place called Habanero that sadly closed. The nice family that runs the new place has an interesting menu with some unusual dishes like flor de calabaza quesadillas and mixiote (which I haven't tried yet, but it sounds good). On the weekends they have birria de chivo and borrego and pozole verde. This place deserves to make it. An undiscovered gem perhaps. We'll see.
Please visit Salem and check out these wonderful authentic Mexican eating places!
Great report...makes me very, very hungry. Nice job summarizing all these places, and accurate too, I know since I've been to several...love Salvador's (and their chicharrones!), and that meatball soup at Chula Vista. Salem just might be a True Taco Town! More photos, por favor...and can they all be labeled? That would help.