In the five-years-and-change that Luna Contreras has lived in Portland, she has become one of the buzziest chefs in town. With a Netflix appearance under her belt, a popular line of hot sauces, and a blockbuster pop-up, Contreras seems to be everywhere these days — it’s common to see her on lineups for collaboration dinners or food festivals. But many Portlanders have been itching to see Contreras at her own space, a prospect that has made her nervous. “The restaurant industry is high risk,” she says. “I feel confident, but I’m not egotistical about getting it done.”
This summer, however, she gave people a little taste of what’s next: A multifaceted restaurant-meets-snack bar-meets-bakery-meets-market-meets-pop-up space showing off the full spectrum of what she can do. We don’t know a ton just yet, but this is what we know so far:
Who is Luna Contreras?
If you’re a loyal reader of Eater Portland, you probably know who Luna Contreras is. A Portland-based chef, Contreras spent time at celebrated San Francisco restaurants Mamacita and Padrecito (which have closed) before moving to Portland, where she worked at restaurants like Bistro Agnes. She opened Nightingale with Chris Mateja before leaving the business, instead focusing on her pop-up, Chelo. Contreras also appeared on the Netflix show Snack vs. Chef.
What is Chelo?
Chelo is Contreras’s pop-up and condiment business. Her pop-ups — which have landed at Magna, Mestizo, and Malka, among others — often incorporate seasonal produce, her culinary background, and Mexican flavors, with dishes like maitake flautas with purple potatoes or shrimp-scallop ceviche with beets and salsa verde. Her condiments, spotted at markets like Providore, Wellspent Market, or Sibeiho, typically stick to hot sauces, though the chef recently introduced a line of hazelnut salsa macha.
What’s the idea behind the bakery?
Contreras wants to open something that lands between a bakery and a snack bar. In an Instagram post announcing the project, she described it as “a space that is genuinely shared with others. A space for collaborations. A fundraising hub. A bakery, a restaurant, a market, a ‘Fonda’ just as my grandmother had. A space for growth and learning. Just as I always had envisioned, a space for all.” In a Portland Monthly interview, she elaborated more, calling it “a lunch-brunch concept” with “things like tlayudas and enchiladas.” Visitors will find her packaged snacks to-go and plenty of takeout options, as well as pastries, pints of ice cream to-go, and retail, including her sauces and other local snacks. The spot will sell Contreras’s own meats, like a house chorizo. “Like Tartine in San Francisco, where you can go in like a deli, but a restaurant,” she told Eater Portland. When the restaurant isn’t open, she’ll offer the space to other chefs for collaborative dinners, pop-ups, and prix fixe meals.
When and where will it open?
It’s very hard to say at this point. Soon, Contreras will launch some sort of crowdfunding project, and will be raising money for a space via pop-ups and collaborations. She also hasn’t locked down a space just yet — it depends on how much she raises. She does say that she wants a “cozy,” small space.
Where can I try her food?
To start, she’s doing a series of collaborative pop-ups at Cafe Rowan with owner Spencer Ivankoe and Gabriella Martinez, also known as Sweet Creature; then, starting February 6, Contreras will begin popping up at Dame for a weekly residency. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, Contreras will serve a variety of small plates that will change periodically, using a rotating roster of produce. In a January conversation, Contreras teased dishes like gorditas, chicory salads, and enchiladas. “It’s that whole fonda, get lots of snacks and drink wine sort of situation,” she says.