Salem is not just the capital of Oregon. It’s the Mexican food capital of Oregon! There are so many wonderful places with very authentic Mexican food from different regions of Mexico.

About one in five residents of Salem is Latino, many being recent immigrants who don’t want to give up their food traditions. In this and future articles we aim to be your guia to the best, most authentic Mexican food in Salem and Keizer.

First stop: Chula Vista Taqueria.

Chula Vista is typical of the many authentic Mexican taquerias that have sprung up in Salem in the past decade. For your average gringo Oregonian, taquerias can be a little intimidating. Some menu items may be unfamiliar and you usually have to order at a counter. No problema. The counterperson usually speaks English, is happy to see you, and will tell you all about their offerings.

Just ask about their specialties.

Like several of the Salem taquerias, Chula Vista is a combination Mexican market and eatery. You walk through the market to the taqueria in the back. Jésus Tafolla is the friendly proprietor and Alejandra is the cook and either will be happy to take your order. Tacos and tortas (Mexican sandwiches) are the biggest sellers. The tacos cost $1.50 each and come on a large size corn tortilla that is made to order.

Jésus and Alejandra learned their craft in Guanajuato in central Mexico and several of the dishes here reflect the food of that region. One of the best things on the menu is the sopa de albondigas ($7.95), a meatball soup that is made to order. The meatballs are delicious and the vegetables are fresh and tasty.

Like most authentic taquerias in town, Chula Vista doesn’t serve fast food. While waiting for your order you can have a large or small bowl of complimentary frijoles from a self-serve pot. If you can take the heat, drizzle on a little salsa de oro from the container on the table. This is chili flakes roasted in oil, also known as salsa macho!

In addition to the regular menu, Chula Vista Taqueria offers a changing array of specials written on pieces of paper taped around the counter. On the day we were in they offered tacos de alambre ($1.95), a wonderful grilled combination of carne asada (beef), cheese, onion and chilies on your choice of corn or flour tortillas. Another wintertime special is a hot chocolate drink called champurrado. This is a chocolate-flavored atole ($1.95), a drink that dates back to pre-Columbian times in Mexico and is made with water, corn flour, milk, chocolate, cinnamon, and raw Mexican brown sugar – very filling and satisfying on a cold winter day.

Don’t confuse the Chula Vista Taqueria with its sister Chula Vista Restaurant next door. Jésus runs them both, but the restaurant caters to more American tastes. For a culinary adventure, and the real taste of interior Mexico, head into Chula Vista Taqueria and let Jésus and Alejandra serve up some of their outstanding fresh Mexican specialties for you.

135 Lancaster Dr. NE
Salem, Oregon 97301
Monday – Sunday 10 am to 9 pm