The drive down through Oregon wasn’t the downpour that I had braced myself for. By the time we got to Salem though, it was drizzling and there was enough pall in the sky to call it gloomy. The atmosphere completely changed when we walked into Los Temos, a return visit to an outstanding taqueria after a hiatus of over a year. Unlike last time, the restaurant was packed with families out for Sunday lunch. The back room, dark back in 2013, was now jammed with customers being entertained by a mariachi band. We would’ve joined the festivities but for the fact that every table was taken.
Los Temos lacks in ‘atmosphere,’ by which I mean what Americans have come to expect as a large, modern restaurant with an equally large menu of Tex-Mex food and a bar. It is, after all, a taqueria, and one that seems to cater to the large Mexican population in and around Salem. It would scarcely attract passersby looking for a place to eat, even more so because it’s surrounded by agricultural fields. The building seems little more than a project of DYI amateurs. Different shades of brown paint hide imperfections in the interior wall plaster. The parking lot gets muddy during rains.
It’s all about the food, especially birria de chivo (goat stew). Great food is impossible to keep a secret. We don’t see birria tacos in the States much, but when you eat the stew with tortillas, it’s a no-brainer to offer them that way. Goat’s flavor profile is closer to lamb, which may explain why birria is made with mutton as well. My birria combination plate (with rice and beans) had enough filling for a half dozen soft tacos, which meant that my wife needn’t have gotten her two tacos of birria and adobada, even if the latter itself was very good. A generous stack of freshly made corn tortillas arrived with my order. And, like before, the consommé from the birria pot was divine, as good as the best jus that comes with French dip sandwiches. You could spoon the broth over the goat meat, but served in a styrofoam cup, I much prefer to drink it straight.
Update (11-28-15): The drive down from Seattle today was sporadically foggy with temperatures in the frosty 30s. The sky was a brilliant blue in Salem. Naturally, I had to have the birria tacos, which did not disappoint.
What caught our attention this time around was a special that Los Temos was offering, possibly for the season but also just as likely a specialty that will be available from now on: a stew made with goat, called caldo de birria, that everyone else in the restaurant seemed to have ordered that would have been the perfect antidote to the cold weather. Next time.
Los Temos Taqueria
7000 Portland Rd NE
Salem, OR 97305