Is There Authentic Mexican Food in Central Oregon?

A dive into some of Central Oregon's well known Mexican restaurants to determine whether their food is authentic or not

A dive into some of Central Oregon’s well known Mexican restaurants to determine whether their food is authentic or not

By Miranda and Fatima at El Amigazo Taqueria

Central Oregon is filled with a large variety of restaurants serving American food, Greek, Japanese and more. With a multitude of cultures in our food industries, most would assume the ethnic variety would come hand-in-hand. But Oregon’s population, as of 2022, was 14% Hispanic or Latino, even though Mexican restaurants are prominent in most places you look. With a lower population of Mexicans, how can we know if the Mexican food of Central Oregon is truly authentic? Fatima Valdovinos and Miranda Vogel, two teenage girls with completely different backgrounds decided to figure it out. Fatima was raised in a Latino household, with authentic Mexican food being a staple in her life. Miranda was raised in an American family not knowing the difference between food labeled as Mexican and authentic Mexican food. We came together to rate some of Central Oregon’s most well known Mexican restaurants. 

We started at a taco truck in Redmond called El Amigazo. The owner, Isabell Castillos from Morelos, Mexico, has owned the food truck for three years, buying it from the previous owner in 2020. Castillos said that the majority of her recipes are from her hometown in Morelos. She also added, “mi mamá me ayuda mucho con lo que vienen siendo las salsas y como esas cosas. Pues como mi mamá viene con todo eso de Morelos.”(My mom helps a lot with salsas and similar things. Since she comes with all the recipes from Morelos.”)  

We ordered two Al Pastor con piña tacos. They were delicious, with vibrant flavors and good, seasoned meat. The tacos were not spicy at all with a 1 out of 10 spice rating from both of us. We didn’t add any of their house made salsas, we ate what came on the taco. At the end of that meal we both concurred that if we were in Redmond, we’d eat there again. With an overall rating of 8.5 out of 10, we suggest that if you are in the area, give it a try.

Next, we went to Hablos Tacos in Bend. The first thing we noticed was the colorful tiles along the walls with decorations of pineapples and overpriced bottles of mexican soda in a fridge (aka Jarritos). We ordered two tacos Al Pastor con piña and two carne asada tacos, which cost $13. We had to wait over 15 minutes before the tacos were served. They looked unflattering to say the least. Miranda ate the carne asada without much care, but the moment Fatima took a bite, she shoved the plate away. The carne asada was flat, the shell had been crusted in cheese and was burnt, it was very displeasing to how Mexican food should be. The tacos were definitely not authentic. The tacos Al Pastor got an average spice rating of 3.5 out of 10, the spiciest we’d had so far. Fatima rated the tacos a 0 out of 10, while Miranda rated them a 6 out of 10. This goes to show how little those outside of Mexican culture know about how traditional food should taste.

Tacos El Pastor con Piña from El Amigazo

We then asked to interview the head manager. We talked to manager Isaiha Serontas about the inspiration for the restaurant. He said, “one of Chef George’s favorite stories to tell is that for his bachelor party they went down to Mexico City, [Mexico] where they ate at a Michelin star restaurant. They flew to Tijuana the next day and tried different taco trucks around and said that the food from the taco truck was just as good as the Michelin star.” Serontas added that George decided to bring some of that taste into America. We later asked what makes Hablos Tacos authentic and Serontas said, ”…most of our food is held true to authentic recipes that Chef George and our Hispanic cooks contribute.”

Though, overall not the most authentic experience, their music taste was amazing and the environment was nice. With an overall 3 out of 10 rating, we agreed that neither of us would return to this restaurant to eat. 

Carne asada tacos from Hablos Tacos

Lastly, we went to the local chain, El Sancho. The walls were painted in pretty colors with nothing demoralizing Mexican culture, there was stained glass in the back with a nice painted mural. We ordered a limeade, two carne asada tacos and platanos (fried bananas), totaling $18.50. Our larger order of food came out at a lightning rate, less than five minutes later. The presentation was colorful and pleasing to look at with light green sauces and colorful blue plating, things were looking good already. Although the tacos were not very spicy, they had immaculate flavor, getting the best average rating of the day with a 9.25 out of 10. We both agreed we would definitely eat there again, and the service was great, ending our food rating experience on a high note. Although the owner originated in Bend, the food had an authentic taste. 

When interviewing the manager on shift, Dani Beverage, gave us insight on El Sancho. She explained El Sancho’s origin saying, “the owner started with a tamale push cart which turned into a taco shack…[then created] this restaurant [before adding on] the westside restaurant.” There are two El Sancho restaurants, both in Bend. The owner, Jon Barvel, also came from Bend, but he traveled around Mexico. He has a Hispanic cook who created all the El Sancho specials from her own recipes. 

Carne asada tacos and platanos from El Sancho

Overall, of the three places we visited El Amigazo, Hablos Tacos and El Sancho, El Amigazo and El Sancho were deemed authentic, or seemingly authentic. They were the places where we both felt a good vibe and most importantly, the food was delicious. Though we did stick to Redmond and Bend, there are more places in Madras that offer authentic Mexican food. These would include Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant, Mazatlan Mexican Restaurant, Posada Mexican Grill, Mi Casa restaurant, and La Cabañita Restaurante are all located in Madras and are authentic and run by Hispanics.