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Angel Food & Fun chef Manuel Lopez is back with new Yucatecan restaurant, Ki’ikibáa – OregonLive

Ki'ikibáa restaurant in Northeast Portland
Over the past five years, the Northwest had more possible Manuel “Manny” Lopez sightings than D.B. Cooper and Bigfoot combined. Was the longtime Bluehour sous chef back at Angel Food & Fun, the Northeast Portland restaurant his careful Yucatecan cookery put on the map? Was that his distinctive grill sparkling on the line at a new East Portland restaurant? Was that his menudo popping up in Milwaukie?
That none of those tips panned out might be less interesting than the fact they were emailed or texted to me in the first place. Fans of Lopez’ panuchos, poc chuc and frijol con puerco kept the candle burning all these years, hoping to try his food again one day, seeing signs of Lopez where he wasn’t.
Well, get ready for some good news (drumroll please)…Manny is back.
A little over a month ago, Lopez and his wife, Suny Parra Castillo, opened Ki’ikibáa, a new restaurant in Northeast 82nd Avenue’s former La Parilla space, just across from Portland’s first Bag O’ Crab. The restaurant highlights many of the same Yucatecan dishes that Lopez first introduced to Portland nearly a decade ago, plus intriguing weekly specials that reward repeat visits. You’ll also find the great burritos with their griddled cheese that eventually dominated the much smaller kitchen at Angel Food & Fun.
When I first wandered into Ki’ikibáa last week, I was fairly certain this Manny sighting was the one. Brian Spangler of Apizza Scholls, who has spent significant time on the Yucatan peninsula, had sent me a picture of a menu that included the relleno blanco (white) and negro (black) dishes that had particularly impressed me when Angel had a standing spot in my annual restaurant guide.
Lopez’ brother-in-law, Alex, was behind a counter decorated with a ceramic mug, a molcajete and photo of choch, a crispy, pork-stuffed blood sausage I’ve never seen in Portland before, served here with a bowl of tasty black beans. And there was Lopez himself, explaining where he had gone and what he had done during his hiatus.
Turns out, Lopez never left Oregon at all.
By late 2017, he was tired of the pay at Angel Food & Fun which, like the tiny pool hall and video lottery parlor it abuts, he never owned. Rather than fight over a raise, Lopez told Nguyen that he “had to go home,” a statement that — midway through the presidency of Donald Trump and its anti-immigration policies and rhetoric — trickled down to the restaurant’s new management and from there to chef Carlo Lamagna, whose Facebook post announcing that “the owner’s visa was denied” was picked up by Willamette Week and other local news outlets. (When I spoke with Lopez at the time, he declined to clarify the reasons behind his departure.)
“I don’t know where that came from,” Lopez says of the hubbub today.
Instead, Lopez says he actually spent the past five years running a Gresham store while helping out with his wife’s cleaning business.
Ki’ikibáa, which Lopez translates from Mayan as “delicious food,” sits near the base of Rocky Butte, not far from another Yucatecan restaurant, La Mestiza, owned by a family from the same central Yucatecan town where Lopez was born. Many villagers from that town, Maní, first moved to the Northwest to help harvest apples in the Columbia River Gorge before settling in Portland, Lopez says.
The Yucatecan food landscape in Portland has changed quite a bit over the past decade. In addition to La Mestiza, there are great panuchos at Loncheria Los Mayas, a Cully neighborhood food cart; football-shaped polcanes (literally “serpent heads”) stuffed with smashed beans and pumpkin seeds at Cox Hanal in the new Rockwood Market Hall; as well as kibis, brazo de reina, huevos moltuleños and other hard-to-find dishes at Principe Maya at Portland Mercado, one of our favorite new food carts of 2021.
But Lopez’ versions of these dishes still impress. Try the panuchos, crisp-yet-yielding tortillas stuffed with a black bean puree and topped with lettuce, pickled onion and a choice of meat, including cochinita pibil, the citrus-braised pork. I’d put Ki’ikibáa’s version up against any in town. The relleno negro, a time-intensive pork meat loaf wrapped around a hard-boiled egg, sliced and served with shredded turkey in a savory broth blackened by charred chilies, is my favorite in town. The burritos, with their griddled cheese and perfectly seasoned carne asada, are back as well, and as good as ever.
Order this: Panuchos with cochinita pibil, rellenos blanco or negro, carne asada burritos, any weekly special.
Details: Ki’ikibáa is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday in the Madison Heights Plaza complex at 3244 N.E. 82nd Ave.
— Michael Russell; mrussell@oregonian.com
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