4908 SE Powell
Open seven days
11:30 am – 10 pm
The bright pink adobe restaurant conjures up a place one might eat in on a trip to Mexico, not right on Powell Blvd./Highway 26. Carlo Vicenttin, La Bamba owner, noticed the empty storefront on his way back and forth to market from his first location in Sandy, Oregon.
Seven years ago, the old convenience store didn’t look anything like it does today, but Vicenttin’s vision for a second restaurant in Portland representative of a cantina in his native Veracruz has become a fine place to dine on authentic and traditional Mexican food.
Inside, prints of Frida Kahlo adorn the walls adding to the south of the border ambiance. Vicenttin came to Bend to attend Central Oregon Community College from Veracruz when he was nineteen years old. As he was learning English, he began as a busboy in a restaurant, working his way up through prepping food, to cooking, to bartending and finally as a manager. He knew the business from the ground up so when he opened the first La Bamba ten years ago in Sandy he had a feel for how a restaurant would work.
“I had a simple plan: do all the standards – tacos, burritos, chimichanga, enchiladas etc. plus specialize in regional dishes that might eventually coax diners into trying something different,” Vicenttin said.
The menu is extensive, serving entrees from Veracruz, Oaxaca, Yucatan, Puebla. “We use spices we can only get from Mexico in our recipes so the dish will be authentic tasting,” he continued.
They serve five different Moles everyday; Mole Poblano, Mole Verde, Mole Manchamanteles, Tlatonile and Mole Negro de Oaxaca.
An example of a Yucatan main course is Cichinita Pibil (Burrito Yucatán), a large burrito stuffed with pork, marinated overnight in achiote (annatto) and slowly roasted in banana leaves topped with sauce and Monterey cheese, red onion, pico and guacamole.
From Veracruz, Camarones Echipotlados, large shrimp sauteed with mushrooms and pineapple bits in a savory chipotle (smoked dried jalapeno) sauce. Pollo en Mole from Puebla, consists of chicken sauteed in their own crossbreed of Mole de Puebla and Mole de Xico, with flavors of dried fruit.
From Oaxaca, the Pipián Mole Verde con Pollo, chicken and zucchini simmered in a pumpkinseed, tomatillos, poblano pepper and epazote herb green mole.
Vicenttin spends time researching different traditional food menus and prepares and serves them as nightly specials. If diners like it, he will put it on the menu, sometimes removing a dish not as popular so the menu stays fresh and changes. If something you like is gone from the menu, you only need to ask to order it again.
There is a full bar available with an extensive tequila and mescal selection. “Tequila and mescal are part of the Mexican culture, they’ve been included in all celebrations, ceremonies and special occasions since before the Spanish arrived,” Vicenttin said.
Interestingly, his grandparents were Italian immigrants who originally settled in a colony in Central Mexico. When the land got sparse, young people made their way to Veracruz where they intermarried, had families and worked.
Vicenttin’s home is here now though he still visits family in Veracruz and checks out what’s cooking.