|Volume 11, Issue 10||
|Ahmad prepares a Chile Relleno burrito.|
“I had $100 in the bank, but my uncle helped, and I was willing to work hard to make it happen. At that time, there wasn’t much Mexican food available in the area. Macheezmo Mouse was popular, serving a healthier variety of the cuisine without a lot of fat. That’s how I decided to create Bandito Taco,” he says.
The space was previously the Pony Express mailbox store, so he had to build the kitchen from scratch. He was able to purchase used equipment. “I didn’t know how it would work out, so we had to save as much money as we could. Even the “Order Here” sign was used—it used to belong to Sunshine Pizza!” he says.
The first two years were hard. “We didn’t have very many customers, and I worked here 24/7. But from the beginning I had three strong principles that I have always kept to: a clean restaurant, with quality food, and great service.”
Eventually, a glowing review by “The Phantom Reviewer” from KGW-TV began to bring in the customers. Word-of-mouth spread the news that the place was worth visiting, and business began to grow. Ahmad says it’s still “a hidden treasure” in Cedar Mill—he knows that there are a lot of folks who will love his food if they try it.
Ahmad developed all the recipes, and still does a lot of the cooking. Everything from the original menu is still there, and they’ve added a few new items over the years. Traditional fish tacos, several healthy and tasty soups, and my favorite—chile rellenos, have been popular additions.
“We make our food healthy for our customers by skimming off the fat, and by steaming rather than frying as much as possible,” he explains. Don’t expect dishes smothered under a thick layer of cheese or swimming in red grease. It’s not what some people think of as Mexican food, but it’s tasty and satisfying with plenty of flavor and texture.
One of the most popular menu items is the Ultimate Burrito. For $6.50, you get over a pound of food—vegetarian house-made refried beans, rice, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives and guacamole with your choice of ground beef or chicken, all stuffed in a double wrap of flour tortillas, and served with their delicious crispy chips and their signature, fresh-daily salsa. The salsa is so popular that they sell it in containers for takeout. Nachos are another popular choice, and come “Bandito style” with beef and all the toppings, and veggie or chicken fajita style. A side of chips with nacho cheese is a favorite kids’ choice.
The restaurant is very family-friendly. “A lot of people bring their family in for our “Sunday Crunch” special after church,” Ahmad notes. Regular crunchy ground beef tacos for only 59¢ each make it easy to feed the family and still have time and money to spend the afternoon having fun.
The other regular special is the Monday bean burrito for 75¢. They also offer a daily special on their Facebook page. Check it out, and then come in and ask for it, because it’s not advertised in the store.
The menu reads like a more traditional restaurant, with specialty items that include a chicken fajita salad and a taco pizza, soups, tacos (hard-shell and soft) , tamales, chile rellenos, burritos, enchiladas, nachos, and quesadillas. All the food is served on disposable ware—there’s no room in the tiny kitchen for dishwashing. And the portions are so generous, many folks take part of their meal with them anyway!
Takeout makes up about 70% of the 120 or so meals they serve daily. Lunch is their busiest time, but a lot of people have discovered that it’s a great easy dinner solution for busy families. You can call in your order and pick it up on your way home.
During the season, Ahmad gets some of his produce from the Farmers Market that takes place right outside the door. He’s very supportive of the Market, although he says that some of his regular customers don’t visit on Market days. “We get new people stopping in, so it makes up for any loss. And I love the music!” The outdoor seating in front of the restaurant, with ample shade from the overhanging roof and from a shelter they built, is popular with families.
In March of this year, they were able to add beer and wine to the menu. “It took about six months to get the license,” he explains. “We had to fill out a lot of forms, and go through a background check. Inspectors came in and checked everything, including whether we could see the drinking customers at all times. Afterwards, they sent undercover agents to check that we were following the rules. We passed easily!”
In addition to beer and wine, they have an assortment of Jarritos Mexican sodas, horchata (a rice drink with cinnamon), lemonade, SOBE teas and juices, and soft drinks.
But wait, there’s more! Bandito Catering serves up food at your location. They provide everything you need to feed a crowd with choices including a taco bar, enchiladas, tamales, and other dishes that can be served over rice or rolled into burritos, with chips and salsa and all the sides. Prices run from $5.50-$12 per person. For groups of 25 or more, they offer free delivery, setup and cleanup. A $30 charge is added for smaller groups, or you can pick the food up yourself.
Ahmad and his wife, Sahar Fardanesh, are the only full-time employees. They employ six part-time helpers during the busy times.
He and Sahar married about five years ago. Her parents are Irani. She was born in California, and moved to Oregon in 2005 to attend PSU and East West Massage School. They met through a mutual friend. Ahmad has a grown daughter from a previous marriage, and three grandchildren.
Ahmad has made many improvements to the space over the years. He put in easy to clean and attractive tile floors, walls and countertops. And the eclectic and fun decor includes some items he got in Mexico, and also an abacus that he used to watch his father use in Iran. It all seems to fit together to create a welcoming, clean and efficient environment.
He and Sahar arrive at the restaurant every day at 8 am. They cook food and clean during the morning hours, getting ready to open at 11 am. During the fall and winter, they close at 8 pm, and stay open until 9 pm on weekdays during the spring and summer.
What makes it enjoyable for him after all these years? “I love my customers,” he says. “People come in with their grown children and reminisce about how they raised them eating our food. I have a lot of friends that started out as customers.”
He doesn’t do a lot of advertising—he has coupons in an entertainment book and in a coupon-clipper. He’s very supportive of Sunset and Westview High School teams and clubs, and he’s always willing to display schedules and special event posters. He also helps out with fundraising at the local elementary schools.
Bandito Taco is located in the Sunset Mall at the northwest corner of Cornell & Murray. They’re close to Cornell, about halfway between Murray and Shari’s, at 13565 NW Cornell. Call for takeout at 503-643-2304 anytime between 11 am and 8 pm daily.
Published monthly by Pioneer Marketing & Design
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291