Plaza Morelia

Leo Vallejo, who owns Plaza Morelia in south Keizer, cuts a cactus for use in one of the restaurant’s dishes. The no-frills counter in the back serves up hot quesadillas, tacos, burritos and more, and one of their specialities is carnitas. (KEIZERTIMES Jason Cox)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

There’s good eating to be had in the back of Plaza Morelia, a Mexican grocery located in south Keizer.

The grocery itself has the produce and Hispanic products you’d expect to see – household Mexican brands along with harder-to-find produce like plantains and cactus – but the restaurant is where Leo Vallejo really makes his mark.
Leo has lived in the Salem area almost 30 years, following his sister from the Mexican state of Michoacan in the 1980s. He opened the grocery about three years ago and started serving food from the back kitchen in 2009, starting with carnitas – braised, seasoned pork chopped and served in tacos, quesadillas or just by the pound with handmade tortillas. The carnitas are a staple of the area where Leo hails from, and he said he opened the kitchen to “serve the need of the people who live around here.”

That, and “just to prove our food is good.”

Kitchen work isn’t easy, but Leo worked as a mushroom picker for years prior to opening his store.

“This is harder,” he said while chopping fresh jalapenos.

His son Sergio doubled as a translator while preparing fresh doughnuts. The restaurant has a menu, but doesn’t really have a “menu menu,” he said.

“If they want something special and if we can do it – we do it,” Sergio said.

Their bakery operation sells tortillas, doughnuts, cakes and other pastries along with “every type of Mexican bread,” Leo said.

Featured meats all week are carne asada (chopped beef), the aforementioned pork carnitas, al pastor (marinated pork), chorizo (sausage), tripa (pork intestines) and lengua (beef tongue).

Meats can be put on huaraches, in tacos or quesadillas, or in burritos. A salsa bar with red and green – and a very spicy orange – provides a variety of ways to spice up your dish.

On Fridays they serve caldo de Cameron (a shrimp soup), but Saturdays and Sundays are when they break out the specialties.

Then they have barbacoa de Borrego (barbecued lamb) y de chivo (goat), along with menudo (a spicy tripe stew).

Most of the meats are also sold by the pound, and they also offer catering.

“A lot of people come in and buy food by the pound, like the barbacoa, and get tortillas,” Sergio said. “It feeds the whole family.”

The atmosphere is pretty bare bones – a few sparsely decorated chairs and tables and a TV constitute the dining room in the rear of the grocery. Dine-in and takeout options are available.