Portland’s 2023 Restaurant of the Year: Ki’ikibáa

From 2017 to 2022, Portland had more Manny Lopez sightings than D.B. Cooper and Bigfoot combined.

Was that the former Bluehour sous chef back at Angel Food & Fun, the Northeast Portland restaurant that his careful Yucatecan cookery put on the map? Was that his distinctive grill shining from the kitchen at a new East Portland restaurant? His menudo popping up in Milwaukie?

That none of these tips panned out might be less interesting than the fact people sent them to me in the first place.

But for fans of Angel’s panuchos, poc chuc and frijol con puerco who kept the candle burning, last winter brought great news — Manny was back at a new restaurant, Ki’ikibáa, opened with wife Suny Parra Castillo on Northeast 82nd Avenue. Also back? Many of the same dishes Lopez introduced to Portland nearly a decade ago, plus a few intriguing specials — Mayan blood sausage, anyone? — to reward repeat visits.

Despite Portland’s surprisingly deep roster of carts and restaurants representing the Yucatán, none are executing on Ki’ikibáa’s level. The panuchos are the best in town, each gently crisp tortilla stuffed with black bean and topped with lettuce, pickled onion and a choice of meat, including cochinita pibil, the citrus-marinated pork. Ditto for the Christmas-toned pozoles (red and green), and the relleno negro, a pork loaf formed, Scotch egg-style, around a hard-boiled egg, and served with shredded turkey in a savory black broth made from charred chilies that takes Lopez around a week to prepare.

Few dishes on the menu have equals in town, and that’s without even mentioning arguably Portland’s best burrito, with its seared carne asada and layer of gently crisped cheese. But I’d go a step further: After visiting a handful of recommended restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I’m thinking there’s a good chance Ki’ikibáa is the best place to eat Yucatecan food in America. And it the place we loved eating the most in 2023.

Before you visit: This isn’t Kann, our 2022 Restaurant of the Year, with its small regiment of staff and reservations booked out months in advance. Ki’ikibáa is a true mom-and-pop found on Northeast 82nd Avenue just across from the Bag O’Crab, near McDaniels High School. Even on quiet days, Lopez and his team take their time perfecting each dish. Have patience if you visit, especially over the new few weeks.

What to know: Ki’ikibáa sits a stone’s throw away from another very good Yucatecan restaurant, La Mestiza, which happens to be owned by a family from the same central Yucatecan town as Lopez and Parra Castillo. Same goes for a handful of local food carts. According to Lopez, many residents from that town, Maní, first moved to the Northwest to harvest apples in the Columbia River Gorge, before bringing a taste of their home to Portland.

What to eat: Salbutes, panuchos with cochinita pibil, pozole rojo or verde, relleno negro or blanco, carne asada burritos, tropical aguas frescas, any special.

Further reading: Angel Food & Fun chef Manuel Lopez is back with new Yucatecan restaurant, Ki’ikibáa

Ki’ikibáa is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday at 3244 N.E. 82nd Ave., 971-429-1452, @kiikibaapdx.

— Michael Russell; mrussell@oregonian.com

If you purchase a product or register for an account through a link on our site, we may receive compensation. By using this site, you consent to our User Agreement and agree that your clicks, interactions, and personal information may be collected, recorded, and/or stored by us and social media and other third-party partners in accordance with our Privacy Policy.