Terlingua – BBQ and Latin American Mash-up

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When I see the list of new restaurants opening in Portland, I always think to myself “I can’t keep up with the new restaurants, let alone go to the well-established ones I haven’t been to yet.” But never one to turn down a challenge, I added Terlingua to the list of eateries I had to get to and when my wife said, “Let’s go to Terlingua”, I responded with the ubiquitous word of acceptance. “Okay.” In business since June, the restaurant touts that it has both BBQ and Latin American cuisine which I thought was an interesting pairing.

After a couple of beers elsewhere, we made our way to the Washington St. restaurant. Arriving at the specified location, we walked past an outdoor chalkboard sign which indicated the lunch hours and noted that BBQ started at five of the clock. It was past five, so my craving for BBQ would hopefully be satisfied. Inside the restaurant, I noticed their bar area which was really nice with lots of wood and also full of patrons. The restaurant looked good overall, but the bar was definitely impressive and functioned as the centerpiece in my estimation.

We strategically sat at a table close to the bar and began to look at menus. The waitress pointed out that specials were on chalkboards on either side of the bar. One board specified the drafts and a drink special. The other listed the food specials and the available BBQ meats that day. I looked at the drink menu in an effort to make a decision on a thirst quencher. Nothing stood out to me. Then I focused on the drink special – the Paloma with Espolon Blanco, fresh grapefruit, and citrus sea salt. That didn’t sound good to me as I don’t generally enjoy grapefruit, but in a pattern of behavior that seems to occur more and more lately, I ordered one even though I thought I might not like it. It was a chance I was willing to take.

My wife ordered herself a sangria and I the Paloma and then I tried to finalize my food choices. The menu categories were starters, main courses, BBQ, and sides. I had pretty much already decided on BBQ and I wanted the chicken. I didn’t know how it came – breast, leg, whole chicken…it didn’t matter. I also figured I should try something else, so I got a side of the Grilled Corn with bacon, cojita cheese, and cilantro. My significant other went with the Chicken Pazole – hominy, avocado, radish, cabbage, lime – and the Roasted Cauliflower with poblano and cheese.

Our drinks came and we put in our food orders and took sips of our libations. I nervously tried my Paloma. “Well, well, well, what an interesting combination,” I thought. The grapefruit and tequila tempered each other so that they were both mellow and smooth like any Christopher Cross song. The drink surprised me. My wife did good work with her sangria which had some lemon and blueberries in it. We sipped away and as we did so, the restaurant started to fill with some of the hungriest people in the area.

Participating in a discussion about North Antarctic tribal rituals involving tin can telephones, my wife and I were pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of our food. I got a half-chicken with honey-butter bread, escabeche pickles, watermelon, and two brown sauces – one a spicy vinegar type and one of the sweet and smokey variety. The menu suggested I had a choice of sauces, but they both showed up on my plate which was just fine with me. My grilled corn came in a bowl as did my wife’s two items. After a quick assessment, I was ready to try the food.

I dug into the chicken. It was smokey and flavorful with the typical pink hue that comes from smoking it. After that initial bite, I pulled a sizable piece with which to try the sauces. I first tried the vinegar based one. It had a potent spice which I loved. I tried the sweeter one and that wasn’t bad, but a little sweeter than what I wanted. My wife, ever the contrarian, preferred the sweet sauce. The grilled corn was sweet and heavy on the cilantro which I liked. The bacon was a little light and seemed to be more of an afterthought. It was still good, but those flavors were nearly undetectable and I challenge Terlingua to add more of the smokey swine. My wife liked her food and I tried the cauliflower. It was great, mimicking macaroni and cheese which to me is always a win.

A few bites of chicken and corn were down the hatch and I needed to try my sides. I took a bite of the honey-butter bread and it was delicious – crispy and slightly sweet. I tried it with the BBQ sauces and the sweet sauce complimented it quite well. This was where I needed to use that sauce since I mostly used the other one for the chicken. I enjoyed the pickles which consisted primarily of cauliflower and carrots with a minor showing of green bean and onion. I gave my wife the watermelon as I would never eat that most foul of fruit. Yeah, I’m not a fan of the watermelon.

The food was good enough to finish and we were asked if we wanted dessert. We passed as we often do. The meal came to 56 shillings before tip. It was a reasonable price, though I did notify the waitress that the charge for my drink was $1 more than what it was listed for on the special board. She promptly gave us a dollar which I added to the tip. It wasn’t a big deal, but I thought some people might not like that discrepancy and wanted to give them the opportunity to correct it.

All in all, Terlingua puts out a solid meal. The smoked chicken was excellent and that spicy sauce was too. My corn could have used some more bacon flavor, but it was still good and that drink was shockingly pleasing. I’m glad that Portland has another BBQ joint, but I’m even more glad that it’s not a straight up BBQ place, but a hybrid with Latin American flavor. Their unique combination is something I think people will go to for good eats and good drinks for some time to come.

Stay hungry.

Feel free to email me at peterpeterportlandeater@yahoo.com with any thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, or otherwise helpful info or post your thoughts below. Also, like the Peterpeterportlandeater page on Facebook.

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