There's a reason we turn to Mexican food time and time again as a hangover cure. Something about the combination of lard and fiery spices makes for an ideal opponent against a throbbing cabeza, and few places in Portland get the job done quite as well (or as cheaply) as Tortilleria y Tienda de Leon's. Located next door to a sketchy-as-hell plasma donation clinic in deep East Portland, this small Mexican market and tortilla manufacturer hides one of the city's greatest secrets behind the aisles of jarred mole and Zote bars: a deli counter with some of the best guisados in Portland.
What are guisados? Not to put too fine a point on it, they're hot Mexican stews and stir-fries, often based around a central meat or vegetable. De Leon's culinary gurus—a gaggle of sweet Mexican women of wildly varying age—offer several options every day, such as cochinita pibil (pork marinated in citrus juice), nopales (cactus paddle), and beef or chicken in a variety of sauces. Other Mexican fare is handled expertly as well, including tamales, chile relleno, and most notably, some truly outstanding carnitas. Well browned and crisped at the edges but moist and tender throughout, they're a stunning example of the Mexican classic, and to pass them up is a fool's game.
A great way to dive into the formidable array of choices here is to go with the Combination Plate, which grants you access to two of your choice of the guisados or carnitas, along with beans (black or pinto), rice, and two tortillas (flour or corn), all for a mere $7.49. Top it off with a cup of the daily agua fresca (typically watermelon or cantaloupe) to cut the spiciness of the hotter guisados, and you have a monster of a meal for under $10, guaranteed to fill your belly and help shake off whatever demon's taken up residence in your bell tower.
As for which tortillas to accompany your meal, corn may be the more traditional choice, but I strongly recommend going with the flour. While not always a transcendent iteration such as those served at places like Paco's in Los Angeles or Cafe Coyote in San Diego, these are leagues beyond the disgusting sour discs sold in supermarkets. The deli staff will get them nice and hot on the griddle for you, making them the ideal vehicle for a pair of mini-burritos. You'll still have plenty of food left over after filling both tortillas, so you may as well order a few extra for a pittance. Here, excess is cheap!
Tienda y Tortilleria de Leon's
16223 NE Glisan St., Portland, OR 97230 (map) 503-255-4356
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