2304 SE Belmont St.
Mon. – Sat. 4 pm – 10 pm
When Patricia Cabrera left Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico, she brought with her the deep traditions of her culture and cuisine to share with the people of Portland and created La Calaca Comelona.
When Cabrera first came to the USA, she worked as a pre-school teacher at Head Start and eventually worked her way up to the Director of the Center. During those years there was one thing she really missed from her home in Mexico: the food.
“At the time I couldn’t find anyplace that served the type food I was used to eating. The burrito, chimichanga and tacos served were all Anglicized versions of our food,” Cabrera said.
Everyday while growing up, she watched her mother prepare meals for the family. First a trip to the market a few blocks from their home to purchase ingredients and then the ritual of preparing the traditional foods of her region and other areas of Mexico began. “She made everything fresh.”
So twelve years ago Cabrera decided to break the stereotypical Mexican food restaurant model and open La Calaca Comelona devoted to traditional, regional Mexican food. Along with the delicious dishes, she also wanted to show her customers the great art of her country.
“They [Mexican people] are some of the best artisans in the world. Their work is unique and they have the ability to make art out of practically anything.” There isn’t a dull corner in the place so if you don’t have a lot to say to your date there’s plenty to look at.
La Calaca Comelona means The Hungry Skeleton. Her favorite artist is Jose Guadalupe Posada. On the wall in the bar is a series of his skillet engraving and other skeletal themes. Posada was a printmaker and engraver whose work influenced many Latin Americans because of his satirical savvy and his social implications about the times. Some of the furniture and crafts are Cabrera’s own art creations and indeed, skeletons abound in celebration.
When the restaurant first opened, people still were looking for cheesy burritos. After an ad rep from The Oregonian discovered the place and ran an article about the food, it wasn’t long before people with a taste for authentic Mexican cuisine found her.
Cabrera creates new recipes from scratch. Her special blackberry mole represents the combination of her Oregon and Michoacan homes. “When I make a mole it can take several days to prepare. There are so many different spices, peppers, chocolate, nuts, dried fruits that need to simmer together to taste just right,” she said. Originally, mole was served over wild turkey but now mostly chicken or rice is used.“For me, the kitchen is both fun and magical. We need the combustible materials to set our intellect, our imagination, and our feelings on fire.”
Many menu items are recognizable: tacos, quesadillas, sopes, tostadas, tortas, empanadas, ensalada – but the variety of ingredients that make up these menu items is different. Like the Chipotluda, a homemade chipotle chiles quesadillas or the Carnitas salad served with cabbage, oven-roasted pork, tomatoes, onion, lime juice, jalapeños and avocado. (Avocado is called the green gold in her home state of Michoacan.)
Another important ingredient in the menu at La Calaca Comelona is corn, the ancient food of the Mayans. There is evidence that people began cultivating corn over six thousand years ago. In Mexico today UNESCO is preserving the over sixty different varieties of the heritage corn specimens. “Fortunately corn is gluten free and I’ve removed wheat from all of our thickeners.”
Today her son, Andres Espitia, is helping Patricia run the restaurant. Along with preparing their fresh food, they have created La Comelona Salsa Series available so far at Food Front, Made In Oregon and Green Zebra. The salsa is a tribute to the women from the traditional kitchens of Mexico.
The restaurant opens at 4 pm everyday. The patio in back in back is a lovely place to spend an evening while the summer weather lasts.