Encanto Restaurant

I've been looking for good Mexican in town. Not too actively, but I listen to suggestions. My mom asked me, earlier this week, if I wanted to go try a new place by her house. She and her partner, who's a cook, love it. So I figured I'd try it out.

Tonight we met at Encanto Restaurant (5225 N. Lombard) to have some of what I was assured was the best Mexican food in town. My wife and I arrived first, and once we were all seated, we pre-ordered a plate of the chips and guacamole.

In looking around the place, Encanto is a neat location. It's spare and clean inside, almost an industrial look, with the shiny cement floors and plain walls with occasional decoration. It's that sort of trendy hipster attention to atmosphere which often cautions you that the food you get will be style over substance, because the decor is just too nifty for the people involved to actually be focusing on the food. But it's pleasing enough that you're willing to have high hopes.

I'm of the mindset that all Mexican restaurants should serve free chips and salsa. It's a time-honored tradition. So I was disappointed that none were offered, and in fact to get chips you apparently have to order them with guacamole, which means paying $6.

The guacamole is good, by the way. Very good. The chips are home-made and okay. Not particularly crispy, the bite was harder to make through the chip than I like. A bit too thick, I guess. They were well-salted.

The place also has Dos Equis on tap. I ordered it. Having a draft cerveza at a Mexican place is a bonus, so they get points there. It's served with a pre-crushed lime wedge already floating in the liquid, which saves some labor and is also a plus.

The actual menu is pretty spare. One page. One dessert (not counting what may have been on the specials menu, which I didn't look at that closely). There's nothing on the menu that looks good for a toddler. I imagine you could ask for a quesadilla or something but if, like us, you have a kid with you, it's nice to see options readily available.

I ordered the Flank Steak Enchiladas ($14), which I ordered with both the red and green sauce (as this was given as an option). My wife ordered the same, with green sauce only. The order arrived with one plate having only red sauce, and one plate having both. I let my wife have my order and took her's, but was a bit disappointed. That's why waiters often use pads to take orders, and apparently this waiter should have.

The enchiladas themselves were simple. The steak was served on top, and the enchiladas themselves were simply soft corn tortillas folded over some cheese, cooked, and then smothered in sauce. The sauce had a pleasing smokiness to it. The steak pieces were obviously good meat, but were served burnt on the outside, which was probably intended, but which gave a bitter finish that didn't go well with the surrounding food. The rice was blah; under-seasoned and bland and entirely worth skipping. The beans appeared to be seasoned with only cumin and maybe some garlic or onion. They were boring as well.

The service was overall quite good and attentive (aside from the order mix-up). The food arrived quickly and my mom and her friend liked their's a lot. My wife and I were both entirely under-whelmed. My grandma was with us as well, and remained silent on her feelings. I suspected she didn't like it all that much, but perhaps I misread her.

Encanto is not Portland's best Mexican food. Not even close. It's a nice place, but if you aren't in the neighborhood or you're not desirous of a hip joint to have a margarita and chips with guacamole, then you can probably find better for cheaper near where you live.


That's MIZZ Gypsy To You! said...

I would feel more inclined to agree with you if I didn't know that Encanto is not supposed to be a Mexican restaurant. The menu is more southwestern US than straight Mexican and there are Central American dishes on the menu, as well as Caribbean and occasionally Native American. (You should have checked the specials menu.) It's also innovative. Last time I was there I had dried cherry ice cream for dessert. It was yummy!

As for feeding a toddler, you might ask the waiter to ask the chef to come up with something. They seem to be quite responsive to special requests like that. I've seen young children eating there so surely there are things the chef can make for them.

You seem to have enjoyed the food other than it not being Mexican. With that I will wholeheartedly agree.

Rusty said...

Mizz Gypsy:

Fair enough, I guess. Although if you're serving chips and guac as an appetizer and enchiladas as an entree, it's fair to put you in the "Mexican" ball-park. I'd classify the restaurant as a Mexican-with-other-influences place, if pressed.

Either way, I think a lot of people would say it's Mexican if pressed to classify it, and as such I thought I'd let readers know that if they're looking for good Mexican food, this isn't it.

And I didn't enjoy the food, other than it not being Mexican. The guacamole was exceptional. The enchilada was alright. The steak on top ruined it, though -- if it hadn't been served as it was (over-singed on the outside), it would have been much better. However, that is probably something that other people would like more than me, and that's fine. The beans and rice were not good.

ValkRaider said...

It is *supposed* to be a "New Mexican" restaurant. As in the state "New Mexico" - not a Mexican who recently came to being.

But it fails miserably. I was raised in NM, living there 21 years. The food at Encanto sucks, and is nothing like "New Mexican" food, and is not really any good as "Mexican" or "Southwestern" food either.

The only reasonably good "New Mexican" food in Portland can be found at two places. "Romo's La Jara" at 50th and Hawthorne, and "Adobe Rose" in WestMoreland on Bybee. Neither are 100% perfect, but they are both very good and much much better than Encanto.

Encanto also would not make anything for our 5 year old, instead charging us FULL PRICE for a hamburger for the kid. It was like $8 or something ridiculous. We were there shortly after it opened so maybe they have a little lee-way on this regard now, but come on - have a kids menu already. People with kids like to eat too. You don't have to make the place like Laurelwood - just give us a cheap burrito or beans and rice or something.

And I am with you on the chips and salsa thing. Chips and Salsa should be free with the meal. Period.

In "New Mexico" you either got chips & salsa or sopapillas free. Often you got both.

I give Encanto a 3 out of 10, unless you have kids then they get a 2 out of 10.

I was thinking we should give them a second chance - but your review is pretty similar to what we felt, so It doesn't look like they have changed much.

Megan said...

I totally have the same mindset about chips and salsa. Making the decision to charge for chips and salsa and 98% of all other Mexican restaurants provide them at no charge is a huge mistake.

pdxpunk said...

Wow, what a wierd review and comments. I think Encanto is fantastic! I've never had anything there, after about 15 visits, that wasn't top notch. I've turned many of my pals onto it as well and most loved it to the point of becoming more or less "regulars."
As to the lack of kiddie service: Too bad. It isn't really a kid restaurant, more of an adult vibe. Personally I have had too many meals ruined by over-indulgent yuppies and their brats so I am only too happy to NOT see a bunch of kids running around. If you need to feed your toddlers go to the Spaghetti Factory!

Bonnie said...

I love encanto. I have had wonderful food and service there. I like that I can get the wonderful salad with mushrooms and meat for only $8 or splurge for the short ribs when I have more money. The combinations of food on the plate are innovative and beautifully flavored. I hardly ver go to Mexican restaurants so encanto fits the bill for my friends who want Mexicanish food and there are still enough choices for me.

I don't have kids, but I always see a lot of families eating there, and the kids are munching away happily. I love that this place is in my neighborhood.

The only complaint I have is the outside seating. Benches are uncomfortable and the plants haven't grown up enough to be pretty. But it will be.

Rusty said...


Thanks for the comment. My favorite aspect of this blog is the semi-democratic aspect of offering our perspective but leaving room for others. Plus, we can't get to these restaurants enough to give more than snapshot versions of them, so other perspectives from other visits over time are valuable.

Anonymous said...

I have an 11 year old so I know it is tough when you first have a toddler to find restaurants that fit with your new reality. I also have to agree with one commenter that many people do not make their kids behave in a restaurant and it ruins it for everyone. There seems to be a tacit understanding of which restaurants are a toddler-free-for-all, such as Chuck E Cheese, Laurelwood Brewery (almost as bad if not worse than Chuck E) and Old Wives Tales, and those restaurants where your kid is tolerated (the ones that have crayons and coloring sheets like Gustavs but you better not let them run around) and the ones where the owners and patrons wish you would leave. Unfortunately, most of the good restaurants are in the later category so you better get used to not eating out fancy or finding a babysitter. :) We tried a weekly babysitter for a few years but eventually gave up and are just waiting until our kid is old enough to go with us to the fancy ones.

I imagine since a lot of people in N. Portland had kids before the stock crash last fall that the hip restaurants there would do well to at least become the crayon/coloring kind of place, if not the equivalent of the Laurelwood "let your kids rule the roost" type of restaurant.