Expect magical things when you visit Alebrije, the cart inspired by the Mexican state of Oaxaca, located in the lot behind the Bunk + Brew hostel in downtown Bend. For one, the cart's name is derived from the fantastical folk-art creatures that are sculpted from wood and brightly painted—much like the logo and exterior of the Alebrije food cart itself. For another, the menu is varied and offers a number of surprises, along with some traditional fare.
Those with big appetites will be drawn to the Tlayuda, a giant pizza-like creation with taco-style ingredients set atop a big, crispy tortilla. For $15, diners who take on the Tlayuda by themselves will very likely have lots to carry home. Also of note are the dishes that come with mole, including enchiladas. While Central Oregon has plenty of Mexican fare to choose from, not every location decides to delve into the complexity of mole—that delightful sauce that can be made in as many ways as there are Mexican kitchens.
Another mainstay at Alebrije is the menudo, that home-style Mexican soup typically made with hominy. Alebrije's version is served with all the fresh onions, cilantro and lime your heart desires, so even though it's getting warmer outside, it's still highly recommended as a yummy lunch or dinner. Another delicious item not found on every Central Oregon Mexican-restaurant menu is the memelita, a thick, hand-made corn tortilla with flipped-up edges that allows a layer of beans, queso fresco and your choice of meat (or not) to rest safely inside.
Along with the carne asada, carnitas, chorizo and chicken, meats at Alebrije include adobada and birra, the stew-like meat that, with many dishes on the menu, comes with a side of consomé broth.
With birria being such a delight, and given my own weakness for a good torta, I was naturally unable to resist trying out a dish that combines some of all of my favorite things: tortas, birria and cheese. On a recent visit, Alebrije was serving up a Quesabirria Torta as a special, featuring birria, cheese, onions and cilantro pressed into a telera roll, sizzled on the flat-top and served with a side of consomé. It was like all the things people love about a French dip, but with far more flavors than that classic sandwich: crispy and cheesy on the outside, with just enough oily goodness in the consomé to keep things interesting.
On another visit, feeling less hungry, I opted for a trio of taquitos, the tiny, rolled-up tacos with just the right amount of crunch. Other taco plates—those classic items that personally, I'd gladly eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner—are also affordable and delicious.
In a city where it's not uncommon to order a sandwich that can cost upward of $20, Alebrije stands out with a number of affordable menu items that won't leave you forced to break the bank to eat a full meal. Given its location at the back of a hostel, the place undoubtedly draws in hungry budget-conscious travelers and an increasing number of downtown office workers looking for a chill lunch spot.
Bunk + Brew has, over the past several years, steadily been expanding, adding a bath house and expanding its patio to include, along with the Alebrije cart, Pop's Southern BBQ and a beer station. Cool greenhouse-like domes allow diners to socially distance while also staying warm—and on the weekends, a small stage is home to various musical acts. The vibe at this food pod, compared to the many others that populate Bend, is still low-key—somewhat surprising considering it's probably the one closest to downtown.
With so many food carts—and food cart pods—in Bend these days, it's almost like a job trying to go to them all. For those looking for solid food and a wide selection of menu items—including plenty for vegans and vegetarians to choose from—add Alebrije to your list.
In the lot behind Bunk + Brew Historic Lucas House
42 NW Hawthorne Ave., Bend
Mon-Tue 10am-3pm, Wed-Thu 10am-9pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10pm, Sun Noon-9pm