Good homestyle Mexican food can be hard to find in the city of Portland, Oregon, USA.
Enter Conin, a four-month-old Southwest Portland Mexican joint specializing in family-style food from central Mexico. Conin’s menu — which includes fried enchiladas, tacos, burritos, guacamole and tiger prawns in garlic sauce — is drawn from the food that the grandmother of co-owners Rene Vazquez and Oswaldo Cano served at a restaurant she owned in the 1980s in Queretaro state, northwest of Mexico City.
The restaurant, also co-owned by Vazquez and Cano’s childhood friend Osbaldo “Ozzy” Rojas, is the trio’s first, though the group have more than a century of combined experience in Portland restaurants and hotels.
Southwest Portland has gained some interesting new Mexican restaurants lately, including the inauthentic (but tasty) food at Multnomah Village’s Casa Vaca and the great street-style tacos at Sanchez Cantina just up Barbur Boulevard. But while Conin might have more promise than both of those, inconsistency, especially among the entrees, makes it something less than a destination.
The dish: Our favorite thing at Conin was probably the made-to-order guacamole, dotted with tomatoes and sprinkled with raw red onions and more tomato. From there, you might want to dip into the “from the street” plates — simple tacos, gorditas, enchiladas Queretanas. Instead, we decided to save space for two entrees: enmoladas — a trio of fried, chicken-filled tortillas swimming in house mole — and carnitas. Those carnitas, made with Berkshire pork and served alongside a squat cylinder of cilantro stem-scented rice, spicy pickled veggies (escabeche) and hot flour tortillas, arrived dry in some parts and juicy in others. Rolling the indecisive meat with rice, a few pickles and the house salsa helped. The enmoladas were similarly dry in patches, perhaps sitting too long in the fryer, but were saved by the sweet-smoky mole and escabeche.