By Nancy Tannler
932 SE Morrison St.
Tues. – Fri. 7 am – 2 pm
Sat. – Sun. 8:30 am – 3 pm
The brick and mortar PepperBox Cafe is the natural evolution of Jim Wilson’s food cart he operated in N. Portland since 2003. The doors recently opened and he and his partner Zane Blaire are serving even more of the authentic New Mexico-influenced food than before.
After graduating from culinary school, Wilson came to Portland with his wife Margaret who was going to attend graduate school at the University of Oregon’s Portland branch for architecture. They had never been to Portland. Coming into Oregon on I-84, Margaret said she began to feel worried that it wasn’t as lush and green as the pictures indicated. By Hood River, things started to look good and it has become their home.
Wilson’s family is from Albuquerque. His brother is a chile farmer and he is the PepperBox Cafe’s direct source for the famous Hatch Chile pepper the restaurant uses. They are grown in the Hatch Valley where the soil and growing conditions contributes to the flavor of the chile. The Hatch chile was first cultivated in the 1920s from the common New Mexico green chile, and is a species of the genus Capsicum. Now there are many varieties that vary in heat from very mild varieties to the much spicier Big Jim, NuMex Barker, or Lumbre that Wilson and Blaire like to use in some of their recipes.
Zane Blaire was another reason the Wilsons decided to live in Portland as they were friends back in Albuquerque. Blaire was a stay-at-home dad while his kids were little so he was able to indulge his passion for cooking for his family. When Wilson talked about doing a restaurant Blaire was on board for the experience.
Now they are up early making homemade tortilla’s six days a week and serving up satisfying breakfast tacos, huevos rancheros, tortilla sandwiches, tortas burgers, chile and more. “The food we ate in New Mexico was very simple, I used these recipes in my food cart and my customers really liked them,” Wilson said. Customers liked them so much so they have followed him to his new place across town.
One of the special favorites is the Primo Breakfast Taco served with cage free eggs, pastrami, pickled hot peppers, onions, pepper jack cheese and chipotle crema. The tortilla sandwiches are a great deal too. The Albuquerque Turkey is filled with turkey, avocado, bacon, arugula, pepper Jack cheese and green chile crema for only $4. The chorizo- burger tortas use house made chorizo (spicey Mexican sausage).
Tortillas are made from wheat, and are thick yet light and perfect for wrapping up one of the various fillings available at the restaurant. Corn tortillas are also available. Their sauces are made from scratch too. There’s the mild New Mexican Red Chile or hot and spicy Green Chile sauce, a habenero carrot hot sauce, chipotle crema and a green chile crema. It has been said that capsicum chile reduces inflammation, relieves pain and helps sinuses.
Some side dishes sound different, calabacitas–sauteed corn, squash, green chile and cheddar cheese; jalapeno apple slaw and green chile cheese fries. The kids menu has all the right ingredients and they are all named after the owners’ children or friends of the family. You know food titled Lexi–cheesy scrambled eggs or the Albert–macaroni and cheese or the Aubrey, cheddar cheese quesadilla, is sure to please.
The restaurant is conveniently located and does a great take out business too. Order ahead and it will be waiting for you on your way to or from downtown.