By James Bash
For the Hollywood Star News, March, 2010
Northeast Portland has a number of businesses featuring products from Mexico and other countries in Central America and South America. It’s a niche market with an appreciative clientele, similar to the early part of the twentieth century, when Portland boasted taverns, groceries and shops in which the owners spoke German, Italian, Swedish or another European language.
Mercado y Taqueria Don Pancho
Inside Mercado y Taqueria Don Pancho, 2000 N.E. Alberta St., you’ll find a lively mix of items, everything from piñatas to peppers. Mercado (which means “store” in Spanish) has been open for ten years. More recently, business owners Francisco and Gloria Ramerez added the restaurant (Taqueria).
Maria Ramirez, the daughter of the owners, runs the store, which has a meat counter (carneceria) with fresh cuts and marinated specialties. The well-stocked grocery section offers, among other things, canned chipotle chile and dried chiles in large bags.
“The most popular thing about the store is the butcher shop,” said Ramirez. “We’ve got a variety of steaks that are cut especially for Mexican dishes.”
Ramirez’s husband Alfonzo “Fonzi” Rodriguez runs the taqueria.
“We create everything from scratch, so it helps to have a butcher shop in the same building,” said Rodriguez. “We have special marinating sauces that come from my mother-in-law. She has the recipes in her head.”
“My mom came from a rural area where they didn’t even have a real kitchen,” added Ramirez. “She just grew up with it.”
Mercado y Taqueria Don Pancho is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (winter hours).
Another popular market, La Oaxaquena, 4735 N.E. Cully Blvd., offers one of the largest arrays of calling cards in Portland. The wall is covered with the colorful cards that customers use to call their friends and family in Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, and countries in Africa, too.
“We get a wide variety of customers in the store,” explained Lazaro Garcia, who has owned and operated La Oaxaquena for ten years, “so we sell a lot of these cards.”
The store also provides specialty phones, which customers use to transfer money. After picking up the receiver, they are instantly connected to a person who can help with the wire transfer.
At La Oaxaquena, customers also buy vegetables, fruits, candy and a variety of packaged goods from Mexico, Central America, and South America. One of the most impressive displays is a wall of dried peppers.
“I think that the red habanera chili pepper is the hottest,” said Garcia’s daughter, Carmen Garcia Gonzalez. “It will make you tear up real fast.”
Rufino Santinnan, a native of Mexico state (which lies in the center of Mexico), owns El Provenir, 4620 N.E. Cully Blvd. The store offers many of the same products as La Oaxaquena, but some of the selections are different. For example, El Provenir’s piñatas look flashier, more modern.
Santinnan works every day of the week at his store, which is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“It’s a long day,” said Santinnan, “but lots of people stop by, so that helps. Many of them like the bread that I sell. It’s from a local bakery.”
At Santa Domingo, 5447 N.E. 42nd Ave., “lots of people buy hats, pants, blouses, shirts, and other clothing,” said owner Gloria Martel, although the clothing isn’t from south of the border.
Martel, who has owned Santa Domingo for four years, is from the Oaxca region of Mexico. She now lives with her family near the store.
The store also offers a money transfer service and sells phone cards, piñatas, canned Mexican food and some fresh food. Many customers also enjoy the Santa Domingo restaurant, which is in the same building, and offers authentic Mexican food.