Sunday, May 23, 2010

Go for the Tacos, Stay for the Chips: Fina Taqueria

I have one party trick. It's neither fancy nor disgusting. My trick to impressing at a party is to show up with a bag or two of the chips from Fina Taqueria. This has never failed me, and it never fails to elicit the question, "Where did you get these chips?"

I got them from Fina, a sister restaurant to the Mucho Gusto/DickieJo's empire of the West brothers. Their chips are made by slicing up corn tortillas into sixths, dropping them into boiling oil, and then assaulting them with French Fry Salt. What's French Fry Salt? It's French for "holy crap this fried thing tastes great!" I have bought guacamole and salsa with these chips before, but it's completely unnecessary. They are a taste-force unto themselves, and cost only $2 a bag.

Unlike MuchoGusto, here the burritos and tacos are made in the kitchen, not on an assembly line before your eyes; for me, that's not a bad thing, because you only have to offer your order to one person standing calmly at a register, instead of several people trying to keep track of multiple orders at a time. Like the other restaurants, its closing hours vary but are generally early (8:30-9ish on weekdays), so this is not a taco stand made to attract kids after the bars get out. This is a taco place meant to attract people who want to taste the ingredients inside their burritos, and congratulate themselves on finding a way to eat Mexican-like food in a somewhat healthy manner.

So what are these ingredients?
Like its sister restaurants, there's a stable of not-exactly traditional Mexican ingredients to choose from: vegetarian beans (pinto or black beans) and shredded cheddar-jack cheese come as the standard (basic) burrito; you can add rice and a sauce (sour cream, lime-cilantro sour cream, pepita-citrus vinaigrette, or chipotle vinaigrette) for a dollar more; add another dollar and they throw in lettuce, shredded cabbage, and pico de gallo. For another dollar each, you can have meat (beef, chicken, or pork) or tofu; fajita onions and peppers; guacamole; or red or green enchilada sauce over the top. Tacos (crunchy or soft) offer the same ingredients, but come as plates, served with rice and beans: 1/$4.99, 2/$7.99. A la carte, a soft taco is $3, a crunchy taco, $4.

The ingredients are fine and fresh, but the costs at Fina have been rising. It used to be that you could get a burrito with beans, cheese, sauce, and a side of chips for $3.99; since it was the sauce that made the burrito, that was a good deal. Now that the sauce is in its own price category, I'm less likely to consider this as a quick lunch or dinner stop.

They have a few other non-traditional menu items: a Sloppy José, a Felipédelphia Cheese Steak, and a Carnita Cue that all seem to be the sandwich answers to a lunch crowd that might be a little too likely to skip Fina for the Wendy's down the street. These are far better buys than a burger, though, and while they'd be too messy to eat in a car (say, while rushing back to work), they'd be fine to try around the table outside that has a fire in its center on a mild spring day. Fina wants badly to be a place that friends gather on the patio to eat tacos -- maybe returning to the counter to order a new taco or beer as the evening comes on.

It isn't that place, unfortunately; the interior is too small and chrome to encourage any kind of lingering, and the outside area is usable only on the mildest of sunny days, since there's no shade from the elements and not much shelter from the roaring, smoggy traffic of Willamette. It is, however, a nice place to stop in for a quick weeknight bite, particularly if you want to take it home. And it is, I reiterate, the go-to place in town for fresh-fried tortilla chips.

Location: 2621 Willamette
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9ish every day.

Fina Taqueria on Urbanspoon


  1. This place is pretty great for the aforementioned chips, and I will always have a soft spot for the West Brothers' lime-cilantro sour cream. I think its secret ingredient is crack.

  2. I only tried it once, and somehow I got a crack-free batch. But I love both cilantro and sour cream deeply, so I can see how this could be true.

  3. Oh, you have *got* to go get yourself a bag of the chips that they make at the Plaza Latina supermercado (7th & Taylor). You must. Go. Right now. Scoot!