Ask a longtime Bend resident where to get the best cheap meal in town, and chances are he’ll say, “Taco Stand.”
If you’re not among the initiated, you’ll ask, “Which taco stand?”
And he’ll reply, “There’s only one Taco Stand.”
Wedged between a laundromat and a skate shop, blocks from any other commercial business, this tiny shop is not a fine-dining establishment. But it’s a place where you can get a filling meal for less than $5, and where you’ll stand shoulder-to-shoulder in line with a blue-collar worker in coveralls, a carefully tailored businessman and a heavily tattooed indie-rocker.
It’s been owners Gene and Lori Fitzsimmons’ little piece of Central Oregon heaven for more than a decade.
“I moved to Oregon from New Jersey 13 years ago looking for a restaurant, either to start up or to buy,” Gene Fitzsimmons recalled. “And I came across the Taco Stand. It was available, and it fit with what I wanted … a small place, kind of casual, but with a high volume.
“It hasn’t changed much since then. I changed the menu a little, played with the recipes a little bit, but you know what they say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
I was sold on Taco Stand the first time I indulged in a Wednesday special: a red-snapper burrito. The seafood was fresh, and there was a lot of it. Big chunks of white fish were rolled in a flour tortilla with melted jack cheese, rice, a tomato-onion-cilantro pico de gallo and lettuce.
The menu is posted, not printed, and every day has its special. There’s chicken mole on Mondays, carne-asada burritos on Tuesdays, mole verde on Thursdays. Friday has a pair of specials: veggie tamales and chipotle-chicken burritos (with cheddar cheese and spicy peppers).
Order at the counter, and you’re given a wooden block — hand-carved with an animal, an eagle, a snowboarder or perhaps a fir tree — to identify your choice as you wait. A community bulletin board takes up most of one wall; as your order is being prepared, you can check “For Sale” and “Roommate Wanted” ads, see what band is playing where this weekend or learn about upcoming benefits. A mural of a siesta under a palm tree occupies the facing wall.
If you’re not a fish fan, cheer up. There are other choices. The chile verde, tender chunks of pork in a green tomatillo-based sauce, is delicious. The chicken enchiladas, wrapped in corn tortillas and cloaked in a mild ranchero sauce, may not be the most exciting item here, but there’s no shortage of chicken.
The tamales are made in authentic Mexican fashion. Shredded pork is covered in masa (corn) dough, wrapped in a softened corn husk and steamed until the dough is cooked through. Mine may have been a little overcooked, as the dough had little moisture left in it, but it was very good.
The daily menu also features tacos, tostados, chile rellenos and nachos. And then there’s Boswell’s challenge, by far the most expensive item at $8.25.
“A 15-year-old came in here and said he wanted a burrito with everything,” said Lori Fitzsimmons. “So we gave it to him. And he ate every last bite. So the challenge is, if you can eat every bite, like he did, we buy your lunch.”
If you’ve never been to Taco Stand, follow these simple instructions to find it: From southbound Wall Street, turn left on Florida Avenue and follow it seven blocks to Hill Street. (From northbound Bond Streeet, turn right on Florida and go six blocks.) It may seem as if you’re lost in one of Bend’s older residential districts, but when you hit Hill Street, look to your right: Taco Stand is at the heart of the little neighborhood commercial complex.
The restaurant is open only 25 hours a week, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. And it’s tiny. There are six tables (seating 18) and three bar stools indoors, four tables (seating 16) outdoors. As often as not, every available seat is taken, and the line may extend outside the door.
Kokanee Cafe (A).
Set amid the pines in remote Camp Sherman, 15 miles northwest of Sisters, the rustically elegant Kokanee is among the best restaurants in Central Oregon. Chef Steven Draheim’s menu, emphasizing seafood and wild game, is creative and exquisitely prepared, and the professional staff has its timing down to a fine art. Open 5 to 9 p.m. daily through September; reduced hours October to December; closed January to mid-April. 25545 S.W. Forest Service Road 1419, Camp Sherman. 595-6420, www.kokaneecafe.com.
Every city needs at least one good Middle Eastern restaurant, and in Bend that restaurant is Kebaba. From the kitchen of a startlingly purple Craftsman house come terrific kebabs (lamb, beef, chicken, tuna), creamy hummus and other high-protein dishes. The interior is a little dark, but that’s all the more reason to enjoy the patio seating. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. 1004 N.W. Newport Ave., Bend; 318-6224, www.kebaba.com.
Cajun and other Southern cooking styles headline the menu at this eclectic Highway 97 restaurant, which demonstrates just how well fine dining can replace a former fish-and-chips shop. Although the ambience is more functional than beautiful, the service is top-notch, ranking with the best in Central Oregon. Open 4:30 p.m. to close, Tuesday to Saturday. 1085 S.E. Third St., Bend; 312-2899, www.zydecokitchen.com.
Cafe Sintra (B+).
The only Portuguese restaurant in Central Oregon, Sintra (in Sunriver and downtown Bend) surprises diners with unusual flavor combinations at very reasonable prices. The menu and service are casual, but they may be less so when dinners are reintroduced later this year. Don’t miss the Portuguese chicken stew. Open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. 1024 N.W. Bond St., Bend; 541-382-8004. 7 Ponderosa Road, Sunriver; 593-1222, www.cafesintra.com.
Location: 221 N.W. Hill St., Bend, between Florida and Delaware avenues
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday
Price range: $2.10-$5.25 (one dish is $8.25)
Credit cards: No
Children’s menu: Yes
Alcoholic beverages: No
Food: B. This isn’t gourmet, but it’s not supposed to be. The food is fresh and there’s plenty of it.
Service: B+. Although this is an order-at-the-counter joint, it’s friendly, prompt and efficient.
Atmosphere: C. OK, so it’s not fancy. But it’s clean, casual and serves the purpose.
Value: A. Where else in Central Oregon can you get this much good food for so low a price?