Diners who want fresh Mexican food need look no farther than Oregon City's Mesa Fresca, and for those seeking adventurous dishes, the restaurant offers Peruvian specialties, while more familiar American classics, such as hamburgers, chicken and waffles, and chicken noodle soup also are available.
In addition, Mesa Fresca offers beer drinkers the opportunity to enjoy the new Three Knives lager, made by Oregon City's Shattered Oak Brewing.
"We wanted to do a partnership with Shattered Oak and have them make a beer based on our cilantro lime sauce," said Mesa Fresca co-owner and head chef Roy Galvan.
"We started serving it in early March, and our customers didn't know what to expect, but once they tried it they liked it," he said.
"We received a call that Mesa Fresca was looking for some local beers, and after sitting with Roy, it seemed to me that he needed a house beer tailored to his menu," said Brandon Neldner, who owns Shattered Oak, along with partners Greg Neldner, his cousin, and Ryan Jeske.
"Roy's favorite beer was the apricot ale from Pyramid, so I came up with apricot cilantro lager, combining his sauce used with the jalapeno poppers and a lager to entice the Southern flare," Neldner said.
"The beer was named Three Knives after the picture on their logo," he added.
Mesa Fresca opened in May 2016 on Main Street in Oregon City. It is Galvan's first brick-and-mortar restaurant, one that he co-owns with fiancee Kara Castillo. Both are Rex Putnam High School graduates.
Galvan grew up in the restaurant business; his family has owned La Hacienda in the Oregon City Shopping Center for 33 years. He worked at the restaurant through high school and after college and then trained as a chef at Cordon Bleu in Portland.
He and Castillo named their restaurant Mesa Fresca, which means fresh table, to emphasize that they only use the freshest ingredients.
"We use [Oregon City's] Spicer Brothers for our produce, and we don't freeze anything. We use fresh fruit in our margaritas. If you order a strawberry margarita, you're getting real strawberries," not a mix or syrup, Castillo said.
"We went as much local as possible. Our tables are made locally by GHF, and Industrial PDX did all the metalwork," Galvan said.
Castillo, who manages the house while Galvan does all the cooking, said the couple wanted a clean, simple look to the restaurant, with lots of natural light.
"Our bar is set up as a family-friendly sports bar, so parents can watch a game with their kids," Galvan said.
As for the menu, "we have people come in who want to try something new. Our customers ask questions, so everyone who works here tastes everything on the menu, so they know the flavors," Castillo said.
The emphasis is on healthy, flavorful food, Galvan said, noting that everything is made from scratch, including all sauces and salsas.
"We don't use any lard and have a lot of vegan and gluten-free options," he said.
Along with Mexican food, like enchiladas, tacos and burritos, "we have some pretty traditional Peruvian dishes, [which reflect] a lot of Italian and Asian influence," Galvan said.
Two such dishes include tallarin verde, featuring Angus sliced steak marinated in aji amarillo, a Peruvian chile, served over basil pesto spaghetti; and chaufa, Asian-inspired fried rice with chicken, rice, egg, green onion and bell peppers.
One of Galvan's favorite dishes is seco de carne, a beef stew in a cilantro sauce; the meat is slow-roasted and flavored by aji amarillo, "which we use for flavor, not spice."
Fish tacos, made with sautéed tilapia and served with rice, beans and cilantro lime sauce is a customer favorite, Galvan said.
Another dish that customers like is steak fajita tacos, Castillo said.
"It has all the elements of a fajita, but is premade as tacos. The seasoning we use for our meats is delicious," she said.
Specials also are popular, especially taco Tuesday.
"People love our tacos, which are served street style as three little tacos, with steak, pico de gallo, crema Mexicana, rice and beans. It is just the right amount of food," Castillo said.
In May, Mesa Fresca will introduce some new menu items. These will include breakfast dishes on Saturday and Sunday mornings, Galvan said.
And, of course, the restaurant will celebrate its first Cinco de Mayo on May 5.
Opening the restaurant "has been quite an experience," said Castillo, noting that she does not come from a restaurant background.
She added, "It has been such fun joining the [other businesses] on Main Street; people have been so welcoming, helpful and generous."
Mesa Fresca is located at 724 Main St., in Oregon City. Hours are: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call 503-344-4503. Prices range from $6 to $10 for appetizers and $9 to $15 for entrees. For more information, and to see a complete menu, visit mesafrescaoc.com. Check out the Facebook page for frequent updates at facebook.com/pg/mesafrescaoc.
Shattered Oak Brewing is located at 415 S. McLoughlin Blvd., Oregon City. It shares space with Feckin Irish Brewing.
"As a family we do a lot of hunting. During a trip, a lightning storm took out a tree behind our camp. Hence [the name] Shattered Oak," said Brandon Neldner, who owns the brewery with his cousin, Greg Neldner, and Ryan Jeske.
"Without them we could not make this happen. [We are] three creative minds that will do whatever it takes to hit deadlines and keep product rolling," he said.
Shattered Oak produces a wide range of beers, including pumpkin cream stout, Kolsch, amber, honey blackberry ale, British pale, trail pale, IPA and porter.
"My favorite beer we produce would have to be the honey blackberry ale, also called Doppleberry. It's high octane, but has so many layers of complexity and drinks very easy," Neldner said.
Shattered Oak is all about partnerships and community, he noted.
Nelder added, "We don't try to set ourselves apart, we join forces, keeping a tight grasp on community relations and working with local breweries to build the community. Together we are bigger than any one can be."