Recently I had reason to recall an evening we spent in Mexico several years ago:
"Strolling through the Centro Historico on a moonlit evening, a light breeze causing the temperature to dip down to, oh, 78 degrees. The doorways were lit by wrought iron streetlamps, people were just beginning to leave their day at the beach to have dinner." Then, arriving at our restaurant, "we sat and listened to the people chatting with their families and scolding their kids, the waiters joking with their tables and taking orders. It was a warm night and the voices, all in Spanish, blended with the music floating on the light evening breeze."
Pollo en molé poblano.
Memories of the warmth, the languor, the smell of chiles and limes and the sea all swirled around me during our dinner at Xico (pron. CHEE-koh), Kelly Myers' tiny jewel of a restaurant on Division. It might just as well have been on Mazatlan's Plazuela Machado, so strongly did it remind me of the magical days we spent in that colonial town.
And it's no wonder. Like the best Mexican restaurants, Myers grinds all her own masa in-house from (non-GMO) field corn that goes into the tortillas, tacos, huaraches, tlacoyos, chips, quesadillas and masa-based dishes. Same goes for the plethora of chiles—including dried and fresh guajillo, ancho, poblano, arbol, mulato and others—that flavor the authentic handmade molés, salsas and other sauces and gently infuse so many of her dishes.
Taco trio on handmade field corn tortillas.
Family-friendly pricing with a kids' menu that doesn't stoop to pander, the menu has a strong list of antojitos, or small plates, that range from chips and fry bread to guacamole and hefty salads. The "platos" are entrées that include classics like chicken molé, a roasted whole trout pozole (top photo) that's been called crush-worthy by the Oregonian's Mike Russell, and a chile-braised pork shoulder-and-belly and a Mexican-style grilled flank that are both to die for.
Flourless chocolate cake with chile-chocolate ganache and cinnamon chantilly.
While I don't mean to slight a treasured restaurant from the past, I actually prefer the setting of this place over the much-lamented Cafe Azul, which carried the lone torch of authentic Mexican cuisine at the time. Contrasted with Azul's more formal setting, Xico is relaxingly casual, with a strong cocktail menu and a much-touted wine list, the perfect place to enjoy an intimate dinner for two or gather with a larger group (the better to tour the menu…hint, hint).
Details: Xico, 3715 SE Division St. 503-548-6343.