| Autentica |
IMAGE: AMY OULETTE
All doubts are handily cast aside as you walk into the terra cotta-tinted dining room. The first thing you may see is the chef-owner's mother, Roberta Bibiano, or his wife, co-owner Ebelia Madrano, standing in the gleaming open kitchen making tortillas. It's those velvety tortillas that serve as a homey anchor for a type of Mexican food that is rarely seen in Portland, a cuisine with little in the way of concessions to gringo palates and all the soul of home cooking.
To start, tender octopus with red onion and serrano peppers ($7) and mixed seafood ceviche acapulqueno ($8) are fresh tributes to Bibiano's hometown near Acapulco. Triple up on richly spiced chopped pork tacos with fiery salsa ($1.50) or a shredded chicken and chipotle ($3) tostada. The star of the starters? Ultra-rich sopa fideos ($6), a mild broth with vermicelli noodles ladled over delicate poached eggs.
But the true litmus test of a genuine Mexican kitchen is its mole. When done right, the dish tastes rustic but incredibly complex at the same time. It does just that at Autentica. The mole teloloapan ($13), served over a half-chicken, includes eight different kinds of dried chilies, which race across the palate with sweetness, heat, toasty nut flavor and a touch of earthiness. Plus the fistfuls of steaming tortillas that accompany the dish are the world's most perfect sauce sopping-up device.
A green mole gets bright acidity from tomatillos and lushness from ground pumpkin seed, proving a perfect foil for a delicate pork tenderloin ($12). It's also found on the enchilada plate ($11), drenching a shredded chicken-filled tortilla alongside a Oaxacan cheese-stuffed poblano chiles rellenos that packs just enough heat to make you sweat.
On weekends, brunch features Mexican soul food like huevos rancheros ($8)—over-easy eggs on tortillas in a mild red chili broth with ham-studded black beans—and the movingly soulful chilaquiles ($8), strips of fried corn tortillas in red chili sauce topped with crema alongside a small, juicy grilled steak. It's the kind of breakfast that has "hangover cure" written all over it.
Autentica isn't perfect: Occasional waits for food and sincere but uncertain service smack of a restaurant that is still trying to find its footing. But those silky-singed tortillas and lush mole are payback enough. Besides, everyone knows bona fide authentic cooking takes time.
Autentica, 5507 NE 30th Ave., 287-7555. Lunch and dinner 11 am-10 pm Tuesday-Friday, brunch and dinner 10 am-10 pm Saturday-Sunday. $$ Moderate.