By Nancy Tannler
3384 SE Division St.
Hours: 11 am–11 pm
The curious among us couldn’t help but have our interest piqued by the newly-opened Honky Tonk Taco over on Division – such a rythmic name. One of the owners, Tyler Gaston, welcomed The Southeast Examiner to the restaurant and it became easy to understand the notion behind the name.
Gaston has his own individual beat that began in west Oklahoma where he grew up listening to country, honky tonk music. His band, The Tumblers, are regulars at the Landmark Saloon further east on Division St. He came to the west coast ten years ago first settling in Seattle before making Portland his home.
When queried about how he got into the restaurant business with the long hours and hard work, Gaston said, “Isn’t that what you do when you graduate with an English degree?” As far as working a lot, he says “What else is there to do?”
He has cooked and been a bartender in other restaurants and is also an owner in Olympic Provisions, a local salami and sausage making company.
Two of the other partners at Honky Tonk are owner Nat Tilden and chef Carlo Lamagna of Clyde Common, a downtown tavern known for their hand-crafted cocktails and local fare.
Gaston’s cousin, Lance Lovett, is the fourth partner and has taken on the task of branding the place with its individual look. It was while Gaston was working at Clyde Common that the idea for Honky Tonk Taco became a reality.
The restaurant is a walk up and place your order style with menu items served á la carte. They’ve kept the choices to a minimum so they can focus on serving real food and not industrialized ingredients.
“We serve grass fed and finished beef,” Gaston said, which means the beef they serve isn’t fattened with corn in a feed lot, but they continue eating grasses, which takes them about twice as long to mature. It comes from a farm near St. Helen’s.
Gaston’s favorite item on the menu right now is the Carnitas Taco, a deceptively simple taco made with pork shoulder roasted with orange juice, milk, stock and spices and ham. The pork is procured from a farm in Elkhorn in eastern Oregon.
The tortillas are made by Three Sister Nixtamal in Sellwood, and the cotija cheese they use is from Don Froylan Cheese Factory in Albany. “We’ve sourced everything from just a few local companies,” Gaston said.
Although the menu is fairly straightforward, there are lots of additions and subtractions that can be made to individualize each course. The restaurant serves all the standard sides – rice and beans, chips and salsa, guacamole, shrimp, meat, mushrooms. For those who like a meal that talks back, be sure to try Lengua taco, filipino-style braised beef tongue, served with escabeche – cooked pickle.
The real kick of the meal are the margaritas and crafty cocktails, and bartender, Nick Gusikoff, is into making great drinks to accompany your meal. The selections can be found online and like other menu items they feature specials in conjunction with the season.
Happy hour is daily from 3 – 6 pm with all tacos $2.