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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Counter service

Daily 10:00am–11:00pm

Features Outdoor dining
Bar None
Credit cards Visa, MC

Alberta Arts District
2817 NE Alberta St.
Portland, OR
(503) 335-8283

8029 SE 17th Ave.
Portland, OR
(503) 234-3280
La Sirenita
It’s not the best, but the salsa bar is a wonder

Impressive Mexican kitchens often occupy humble digs, and La Sirenita is one of the city’s most impressive and most humble.

Entering this cozy space is like walking into a simple family kitchen. Spanish is as welcome as English. The menu is short and sweet; La Sirenita manages to stay focused, unlike the long, meandering, Mexican-American menu at La Bonita, the inferior competitor down Alberta (which nonetheless manages, somehow, to be more popular—ah, the wisdom of the masses).

The meats that fill La Sirenita’s tacos are very traditional and very good: juicy tacos al pastor have just a faint kiss of pineapple, as they should; tacos de cabeza (head cheese) are surprisingly meaty, delicious, and probably the best around unless you crave them super-gamy (they’re not here). Carnitas are moist and rich, too, whether in a taco or a California-style super-stuffed burrito, which they do quite well. We’re also fans of La Sirenita’s mole verde.

There’s not much of an attempt at décor beyond the brick-trimmed archways. There’s a roll of paper towels on each table, a Gatorade-like water dispenser, and cafeteria-style tables and chairs. The most attractive interior element might be the long wooden beams that hang a few inches below the ceiling, spanning its length. But don’t come here for dinner. That would be no fun.

Still, humble as it may be, La Sirenita provides more atmosphere than most places at this level of Mexican taco-meat execution. Getting tacos de lengua or al pastor this authentic is something we generally associate with a taco stand off a highway somewhere. Here, at least, you can sit down and spend quality time at the salsa bar.

In fact, “salsa bar” is really an understatement—it’s a great condiment bar with pickled vegetables in escabeche, several different types of hot pepper, great homemade salsas, and other goodies. Make good use of the bar, and you’ll wind up with the best-dressed tacos in the city.

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