My last meal would likely be a taco, some guacamole and chips and a margarita to wash it down. I rarely eat any Mexican food that I don't absolutely love, so I am biased, no doubt. However, I'm doing my best to be neutral and honest about my recent Papi Chulo's experience.
Papi Chulo's Jalisco style taqueria opened back in September 2022 in the Box Factory in Bend, in the former Foxtail Bakeshop location next to River Pig Saloon. It just so happens that the River Pig operators also own and operate Papi Chulo's. Both places also have Portland locations.
Papi Chulo's is colorful inside and out, with bright colors on their sign and on their walls; the metal dining tables and chairs are blue, red, orange and yellow, and you can't help but smile when you're bombarded with all that colorful boldness. An entire interior wall is a rambunctious mural painted by local artists Katie Daisy and Karen Eland; there's a big vibrant sun, a giant Monarch butterfly, a serpent, a bright red heart, a skull, cacti, a beautiful bird and more. Are you smiling yet?
After placing my order at the counter, I plop down at one of the red tables and barely have time to scroll through a few Instagram postings before my food is ready. Of course I had to try a version of birria; Papi's serves birria tacos, burritos and quesadillas. I chose the QuesaBirria Quesadilla, a crispy beef and cheese quesadilla with onion, cilantro and Mexican beef broth on the side. It was perfect. Birria is a hot trend right now, popping up on just about every local taco shop/cart/truck menu, and Papi Chulo's birria is among the best I've had.
Birria originated in Jalisco, a state of the Mexican Republic and was traditionally a goat stew. These days, the meat may be lamb or most likely beef in these parts, braised in a broth with spices such as cumin, oregano and ginger. That beef cooking broth also serves as a sauce for dipping. The birria dipping sauce that came with my quesadilla was warm and tasty with just the right amount of spice.
I also ordered several tacos (all on organic handmade tortillas), including the Carne de Res with grilled steak bites, onions, cilantro and jalapeño sauce, which ended up being my favorite. The steak was flavorful, with just the right amount of crunch on the edges, and the sauce had just the right amount of heat.
The simple Barbacoa taco I ate was chock full of slow-cooked beef along with onion, cilantro and jalapeño sauce. It was similar to the Carne de Res, but the beef was shredded, and there was plenty of it. I also enjoyed a Verduras taco with poblano pepper, corn, wild mushrooms, Mexican cheese and salsa verde. This meat-free taco was delicious, and the pepper, mushroom, corn combo paired well with the verde salsa.
The last taco I tried was the Baja Style fish taco, featuring beer-battered cod with pineapple pico de gallo and chipotle aioli. I typically love fish tacos, and while the pico and aioli had nice flavor, the batter on the fish was just a bit soggy by the time I got around to taking a bite. I'm thinking if I had eaten the fish taco first, there would have been more crunch in the cod batter. The fish was white, firm and fresh, so I'll definitely give it another try sometime soon.
Other menu items that I look forward to sampling in the near future include a breakfast burrito with hashbrowns, grilled veggies, eggs and cheese and a Fresca bowl with mixed greens, black beans, grilled Anaheim peppers, avocado, pico de gallo and salsa roja dressing. There are also nachos with pico, jalapeño, pinto beans and Mexican cheese, which you can top with chicken, steak, pork, shrimp or up to four veggies if you prefer. Yum.
I did get a side of guacamole with my tacos and quesadilla, and it was bright green and fresh and very good. Other sides offered include rice, black and pinto beans, chips, salsa and birria consomé.
Papi Chulo's also offers a handful of margaritas including a Diabla made with spicy pepper mix and a Princesa made with lime and strawberry. You get your choice of a salt or a Tajín seasoning rim on any of the margaritas. There's also a Mezcalita marg made with mezcal if you're in to that smoky flavor. You can even get a pitcher of margaritas, a Beerita or a Michelada. Plus there are several cervezas, tequilas and even non-alcoholic frescas on the menu.
The prices are quite reasonable with tacos starting at $3.50 and burritos coming in at $8. A Modelo Especial is also $3.50, and an entire pitcher of margaritas is only $40. Seriously, you can get a nice amount of food and even a drink for under $15 — a hard thing to do these days, so bravo to Papi's for keeping us on our budgets.
Like I mentioned earlier, I'm biased toward the flavors of Mexico, but I don't think anyone would be disappointed with an après-ski snack and drink or a full lunch or dinner from Papi Chulo's. Salud!