Five Places for Great Mexican Food in the South Sound

pacos tacos enchilada plate

Happy #CincoDeMayo! To celebrate, here is a list of my favorite Mexican restaurants in the South Puget Sound. I’m originally from Eastern Washington, where there was a high Latino population and great Mexican food could be found on every corner, so I’ve become kind of a Mexican food snob. It’s difficult to find places that are both locally-owned and authentic. Here are a few of my favorites:

Paco’s Tacos 4520 Lacey Blvd. Lacey, WA

pacos tacos closuep enchiladas

Paco’s Taco’s is kind of hole-in-the-wall on Lacey Boulevard, and doesn’t have a whole lot for décor except for come colorful laminated tablecloths and pictures of some of the featured specials.

The menu features shrimp bowls, hard tacos, chilequiles, (corn chip strips covered in sauce and seasoned picadillo—pilled pork) carne asada and enchiladas. The enchiladas can be filled with all types of meat, beef, pulled pork and if you’re feeling adventurous lengua (tongue), My favorite is the chicken. Something magical happens when they prepare their chicken to put in their enchiladas. It is the MOISTEST chicken I’ve ever had in an enchilada.

California Taco Truck Lacey & Olympia

Looking for Mexican food on the go? Look no further than California Tacos. They have four locations in Thurston County—two in Lacey and two in Olympia. Their taco and quesadillas are served on fresh white corn tortillas, and are topped with your choice of meat and cilantro. They also have tortas—which are Mexican sandwiches stuffed with meat, cheese and vegetables.   Make it a combo with refried beans and rice. They also have portable tables and chairs with limited seating, which makes a great outdoor dining option on a sunny day.

Ramirez Mexican Store, 5105 Capitol Blvd. SW #C Tumwater

A homemade chicken tamale smothered in salsa rojo, crema and cotija cheese.

A homemade chicken tamale smothered in salsa rojo, crema and cotija cheese.

I’ve written about the Ramirez Mexican Store, located on Tumwater Blvd., just south of the Costco/Freddy’s complex on Trosper. It’s both an eatery and a store to buy Mexican spices, fresh salsa and pan dulce (sweet Mexican doughnuts).  What they’re best known for is their tamales. For about $3 each, they’re longer than the length of your hand, smothered in either red tomato salsa or green roasted tomatillo salsa, drizzled with crema—a smooth dairy sauce and topped with cotija cheese.

El Toro, Tacoma

With multiple locations in Lakewood and Tacoma, this Mexican restaurant LOVES CHEESE. Everything is covered in a thick, melty layer of jack and cheddar cheeses. And best of all—they have two kinds of salsa—green tomatillo/jalapeno and red tomato salsa.

La Salvadorena, 122 H St. Aberdeen

salvadorena 1 salvadorena 2

Ok. So this place sells Salvadorian food and does not technically qualify as Mexican food. But Salvadorian cooking is very similar to Mexican cooking, with staples like tacos and enchiladas. What sets Salvadorian restaurants apart from Mexican restaurants is the papusa. (Pa-poo-SA). Papusas are thick, homemade corn stuffed with cheese and various fillings. La Salvadorena has nearly a dozen filling combinations including jalapenos, beef, cheese, chicken,  chorizo (Mexican sausage) and lengua. They have also recently expanded their menu to include desserts like fried plantains and flan.

I Ate Here: Lanai Cafe Olympia, WA

Thurston County is saying ‘aloha’ to Hawaiian flavors. The Lanai Café opened in downtown Olympia less than six months ago. Though the owners are from the Pacific Northwest, their business partners are from Maui and Oahu.

Lanai Pulled Pork Main

As the name suggests, this pork dish is marinated and braised with Kalua. It has a deep, smokey flavor and tender texture.

The menu features items like a savory pulled pork that is slow cooked and shredded. It can be eaten on its own or put inside pulled pork sliders. There are braised Kali short ribs, fried pork loin, chicken katsu (a breaded fried chicken breast with a tonkatsu—barbecue sauce) Spam appetizers, Hawaiian sweet bread, and Kona coffee drinks, just to name a few. All combos are served with Asian sesame salad and steamed white rice, or for a little extra, you can order pineapple fried rice.

Lanai Platter 1

Kalua Pork platter served with Asian sesame salad, steamed white rice and a slice of pineapple

One of the biggest surprises was the lumpia, which is traditionally a Filipino appetizer. It’s like an eggroll, but filled with meat and served in a rice flour wrapper (as opposed to a regular flour wrapper), which makes them extra crispy.  I make this dish often, with a recipe passed down from my mother’s side of the family for generations, so I was curious to see what the Hawaiian take was on it.

Lumpia at the Lanai Cafe. Though a traditional Filipino dish, the Lanai offers a Hawaiian take on the dish from the Philippine Islands

Lumpia at the Lanai Cafe. Though a traditional Filipino dish, the Lanai offers a Hawaiian take on the dish from the Philippine Islands

The Hawaiian version is made with beef, and instead of using a simple salt and pepper seasoning the Hawaiians use a jerk seasoning blend—which is a hodge podge of sweet and slightly spicy seasonings including cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar and garlic, which gave the savory appetizer a slightly sweet and spicy, almost peppery undertone, which was a delightful departure from the Filipino version I am used to. (It’s still not as good as the Filipino version I make, but since I am Filipino, I will always think the Filipino version is better) It is the best lumpia I’ve eaten so far at a restaurant.

The Lani Café

514 Capitol Way S. Olympia

Hours:

Mon-Th 11 a.m.- 8 p.m.

Fri-Sat 11a.m. -10 p.m.

Entrée Price Range: $7-15

 

Bruce Lee Ate Here: Tai Tung Restaurant, Seattle

 

Bruce Lee ate here. And now I have too. For a Christmas gift, I took my husband to the Wing Luke Asian history museum in Seattle for an interactive walking tour about Bruce Lee and his past haunts in Seattle, which included a Chinese performing arts theater, an apartment which used to house his dojo in the basement, and of course, one of his favorite Chinese restaurants, the Tai Tung.

tai tung sign

Built in 1935, the Tai Tung is the oldest Chinese restaurant in Seattle. There are large circular tables with lazs Suzans for group dining. Bruce was born in San Francisco, lived in Hong Kong and then moved to Seattle and lived there for a number of years long before he gained a major following as a movie star in the U.S.  He attended, though did not complete college at the University of Washington and met and later married his wife, Linda in Seattle. Our tour guide told us the Tai Tung was one of Bruce’s favorite places to eat .

The Tai Tung were three other couples who joined us on the tour, which made for easy family-style dining. The meal included in the tour started out with a simple bowl of chicken stock with wilted cabbage leaves. Basically won-ton soup without the won-tons. Apparently, Bruce chose this lighter soup to serve as more of an appetizer, something to whet your mouth before the main course.  The second appetizer was Chinese fried chicken wings. Unlike Southern fried chicken wings which are dredged in all-purpose flour, Chinese chicken wings are dredged in a rice flour, which gives the wings a lighter and crunchier texture.

friedchicken1

Chinese fried chicken is crunchier and lighter than traditional fried chicken because it is dredged in rice flour.

Chinese fried chicken

Chinese fried chicken

The main courses included a  glazed garlic shrimp stir-fry. The garlic was amply-sized and tender and the garlic glaze was neither overly-salty nor overly garlic. It allowed the fishy, sea brininess of the shrimp to shine. Our tour guide tells us this was one of Bruce Lee’s favorite dishes, which his wife Linda learned to cook for him.

Garlic shrimp, one of Bruce Lee's favorites

Garlic shrimp, one of Bruce Lee’s favorites

chow mein

pork chow mein with sliced mushtooms and pan fried noodles

The other components of the meal included a sampling of other menu items, which may or may not have been Bruce’s favorites, but are popular with the locals. There was a pan fried pork chow mein. The noodles had a soft texture sort of like spaghetti, not the harder gelatinous texture found on most other menus. There was also a grilled, marinated pork  dish with plenty of sauce to pair with sticky Calrose rice and sweet and sour chicken. 


Glazed pork stir fry

Glazed pork stir fry

The tour also includes all-day admission to all the exhibits in the Wing Luke Museum and the guided historic hotel tour, located next to the museum. It served as both as an Asian-run general store and as a place to live for Asian immigrants and refugees.

Me (left), My husband, Steven (right) with Cardboard Bruce Lee (center) at the Wing Luke Musem

Me (left), My husband, Steven (right) with Cardboard Bruce Lee (center) at the Wing Luke Musem

The Bruce Lee Tour is $41.95 per adult, plus tax.

The Tai Tung Restauranunt

659 S. King St, Seattle

Hours

Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Fri-Sat: 11 a.m.-midnight; Sun 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Price Range: $8-14

 

 

 

I cooked this! Ham Bone Soup with Smashed Navy Beans

Christmas is over, but don’t throw away that ham bone! You can use your leftover ham as the base for this wonderfully hearty, soup. It takes about 2-3 hours on a low simmer to get the ham to the point to where it falls clean off the bone and it’s hard not to eat any of it while it’s cooking–it fills your house with the sweet, smoky aroma of ham!

Category: Easy  Prep Time: 10 minutes   Cook Time: 3 hours

Leftover ham bones from holiday dinners serve as the base for this simple, yet flavorful soup. alternatively, you an use 1-2 ham hocks if you don't want to prepare a whole ham.

Leftover ham bones from holiday dinners serve as the base for this simple, yet flavorful soup. alternatively, you an use 1-2 ham hocks if you don’t want to prepare a whole ham.

Ingredients:

  • Bone from cooked ham with remnants of meat attached. About 1 ½-2 lbs
  • 1 pound Navy Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 10 sprigs fresh parsley
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • l large clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 Tbs. dry thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
ham bone soup stock

ham bone soup stock

Directions

  1. Place navy beans inside a large stockpot or Dutch oven and cover with 2-21/2 inches of water. Bring beans to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover for one hour. DO NOT DRAIN.
  2. After beans have cooked for an hour, add the rest of your ingredients. Place ham on top. Turn heat back to medium high–just enough to get the contents simmering again. Cover and let simmer for 2-3 hours or until meat falls off the bone easily when scraped with a fork.
  3. Remove ham from pot and place on a platter. Using two forks scrape off the meat from the bone and shred the ham. Add the ham back to the stock pot. Using a masher, slightly mash the beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: Soup will be thick. For a thinner consistency add more water during cook time. Refrigerated leftover soup may thicken up. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time and stir until you get desired consistency. Then reheat on high for 2 minutes or until hot.

I Ate Here: Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen: Tumwater

Filled with old world Italian charm, Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen in Tumwater is a great place for a fresh and satisfying lunch. The menu features an assortment of gourmet sandwiches and pasta entrees. The chef, Sam Pellegrino has been a chef and restaurateur for over 30 years. He’s catered several fine dining events in Thurston County, including more than 1,500 Japanese and American guests during the governor’s sister state reception in the Capitol Rotunda.

pellegrinos sign

The portion sizes are perfect for lunch. They are served in bowls that are not two or three times the size of a normal bowl. You can eat a salad, a soft, warm ciabatta roll with a side of balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping that comes with the pasta and not be too full by the time the pasta arrives. You can finish the pasta and feel satisfied, not so full like you are going to explode.

The spaghetti bolognese is cooked to al dente perfection (there’s also a gluten free pasta for $1 more) and is covered in slow-simmered tomato sauce that is light, creamy and sweet. It is mixed with tender, seasoned ground beef and topped with shiny dollops of fluffy ricotta cheese.

SPAGHETTI PELLEGRINOS

spaghetti bolognese

The antipasto salad is light, fresh and features an assortment of green lettuces and marinated vegetables such as celery, onions and mushrooms.

pellegrinos salad

antipasto salad

This month, the menu also features a “sausagefest” assortment of sandwiches with grilled garlic ciabatta bread and your choice of four sausages featuring four types of sausages including a milder andouille sausage to a super spicy Louisiana hot sausage.

They also have a large catering menu,a friendly staff with extensive menu knowledge,  dining on two floors and a banquet room that can seat up to 30 people for special events.

The only weird thing about the restaurant is that it’s right across the cemetery. On a bright, sunny day, it looks like a lovely park lined with flowers, trees and the tombstones are simply a side note. On a gray, rainy day or after dark, it might look like the setting for the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, but in either case is entertaining stare at while eating.

Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen.

205 Cleveland Ave SE, Tumwater

360-709-9020

Lunch: Weekdays 11-4, Sat. Sun. 11-2

Dinner: Mon-Thursday 4-9; Fri 4-10, Sat. 2-10, Sun 2-9

Check out the video tour.

Is Geoduck the Latest Culinary Trend?

Geoduck–The Next Culinary Trend?

geoduck

Geoduck: The Giant Clam.

I’ve always been fascinated by strange-looking food and been brave enough to try things that aren’t typically thought of as mainstream American fare. Perhaps it comes from my Filipino side of the family and being exposed to things like pickled pigs feet and watching my mom eat balut (a Filipino delicacy that is an egg containing a fertilized duck embryo).

The latest food fad in the Pacific Northwest appears to be geoduck (pronounced GOOEY-duck), a giant clam that looks more like the male genitalia than something to cook with. The phallically-shaped bivalve is the largest and longest of the clam species weighs in at nearly two pounds and has a crop cycle of about six years.  

Geoduck is popping up at restaurants and seafood shops all over the state. KING 5 recently broadcasted a story featuring Olympic Mountain Ice Cream that used the ingredient in ice cream. (Author’s note: although I have not yet personally tried the geoduck ice cream, the company has more than 30 flavors of ice cream that are sold in several Puget Sound retailers as well as produces a sweet and refreshing lavender honey flavor sold at the Sequim Lavender Festival each summer that I have tried, and is wonderful). Robert Irvine was once forced to make a Geoduck and Mushroom salad on an episode of Dinner: Impossible. And there are a growing number of Seattle restaurants that use the item regularly on their menus.

So, why is a seemingly ugly,unappetizing, and quite frankly, freaky ingredient making its way onto our plates?

Maybe its the fact that their size can produce a lot of servings per bivalve.  Maybe its because like most shellfish, it’s low in saturated fat and a good source of protein.  Or maybe people are becoming more adventurous with their food.

I decided to find out for the latter reason. As we were driving home from a business conference this week, my husband and I decided to stop by Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, to try a bowl of geoduck clam chowder.

geoduck chowder

Overall, I was rather disappointed with the chowder. It was a hearty, stew with many colorful diced ingredients: potatoes, carrots, celery and generous amounts of cracked black pepper, I found very little geoduck. The geoduck chunks were so tiny, I at first thought they were chunks of potato. The geoduck had a surprisingly un-clam-like texture–soft and silky instead of the firm and chewy, chunky texture I’d expect from clams in razor clam chowders from the Washington coast. (side note: I spent several years as a reporter in Ocean Shores sampling varieties of chowder restaurants use to compete in its Razor Clam Festival) The little geoduck chunks that I were able to find, did not have the fishy, seafood flavor I’ve come to expect from chowder. In fact, the geoduck hardly had any flavor at all.  Although the broth was a bit too thin for my preferance of chowder, allowed the flavors of the other components to come through nicely, just not the geoduck.

So I’m kind of reluctant to try it in other forms–in salad, fried, steamed, in ice cream. I NEED YOUR FEEDBACK, DEAR READERS.

 Is this the way geoduck is supposed to taste? What’s your favorite way to eat geoduck? Who serves the best geoduck in the Puget Sound? Got any recipes to share? Post your recommendations in the comments below.

South Canadian Foodie Girl Ate Here–Best Places to Eat in Victoria, B.C.

South Canadian Foodie Girl: Victoria, B. C.

Standing in front of the Parliament building in Victoria, British Columbia

Standing in front of the Parliament building in Victoria, British Columbia

Hello loyal South Sound Foodies! I apologize for my nearly month-long absence. I was getting married to my loving, loyal man of seven years! We honeymooned in Victoria, British Columbia.  Fun Fact: Victoria, B.C. has the most restaurants per capita in North America, second to only San Francisco. So for my triumphant return to my SSFG blog, I give you South Canadian Foodie Girl: Best Places to Eat in Victoria, B.C.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel –721 Government St.

Delights on the Afternoon Tea Platter at The Fairmont Empress Tea Room

Delights on the Afternoon Tea Platter at The Fairmont Empress Tea Room

There are tea houses all over Canada, but one of the best places to drink tea while experiencing historical ambiance is at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. The Fairmont Empress has been serving Afternoon Tea for over 105 years. Guests from around the world have experienced Afternoon Tea precisely how Anna, Duchess of Bedford intended it to be when she first invited her guests for tea and scones. Over the years our pastry chefs have perfected the scones, shortbread and rest of the delicacies to truly delight the senses. The china which you will be served with today was first used by The Empress in 1939 for the Royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. This pattern is now produced exclusively for the Empress Tea Lobby.

According to the Empress website,

…the Empress blend (of tea) is a selection of seasonal, quality teas, created exclusively for The Fairmont Empress by the Metropolitan Tea Company. With components from Assam (thick malty and full-bodied), Kenya (floral-like flavour and a golden coppery infusion), South India (superb fruity and sprightly flavour), Ceylon (airy, almost piquant flavour), and China (burgundy depth with light oaky notes), it is truly one of the finest blends in the world.

tea

The menu included fresh blueberries with cream, a delightful assortment of finger sandwiches that included: Smoked Salmon Pinwheel with Dill Cream Cheese Roasted Honey Ham with Tarragon Dijonnaise Free Range Egg Salad Croissant Cucumber & Ginger Mascarpone on Butter Brioche Moroccan Spiced Coronation Chicken on Marble Rye and THE BEST. SCONES. EVER. They were light, fluffy, and soft. The ones at most carnivals are dense and dry out easily. I’ve tried re-creating the scones at home with Bisquick mix, with minimal success.The flavors are there using the Bisquick recipe, but it is a bit more dense and can the bottoms can burn more easily. I filled the scones with Empress Cream and imported strawberry preserves from England.

Pagliacci’s-1101 Broad St.

Located just blocks from the harbor and downtown Victoria, my husband and I took a chance on Pagliacci’s because a couple of friends on our Facebook pages recommended it to us. The walls are decorated with autographed photos of American actors. The menu items are named after actors or Hollywood movies: Bill Murray’s Meatballs, Men Who Stare At Goat Cheese, Prawns Al Capone.

italian

I had “The Cabinet of Dr. Capetelli.” a bowl filled with tortelloni pasta filled with beef, Parmesan, cottage and mozzarella cheeses, tossed in a chunky tomato sauce, mushrooms,onions and red wine topped with baked Parmesan and mozzarella. So. much. cheese. The half portions are enough for two meals. Eat anything on the menu and you’ll be in a deviously delightful food coma. And the bread sticks are soft with a crunchy texture of herbed cornmeal crumbs. On a weekend, the line goes out the door and the wait time could be more than half an hour, so plan ahead. The wait it totally worth the rustic Italian style dinners.

Blue’s Bayou Cafe-899 Marchant Rd.

Southern food is probably the furthest thing from your mind when you think of Canada. Blue’s Bayou Cafe has some of the best cajun food you’ll find thousands of miles north of the Big Easy. Located just minutes away from Butchart Gardens on Brentwood Bay, Blue’s Bayou Cafe is hidden away behind a grove of trees on the marina.

blackened chicken wrap with cajun mayo and bean sprouts

blackened chicken wrap with cajun mayo and bean sprouts

The owners took a trip to New Oreleans in 1999 and fell in love the culture and cuisine and decided to bring it to British Columbia. Every year they bring some sort knick-knack to hang in the restaurant–marti gras masks, alligators.  The menu features Po’boys (with whatever the meat of the season is—fish, alligator, oysters) jambalya, Mississippi Smoked cracked Pepper Ribs. I chose the blackened chicken cajun wrap with chioptotle mayo and fresh bean sprouts with a side of alligator gumbo! The chicken was moist and tender, blackened but not bitter and the chipotle gave it a hint of spice that was pronounced but not overpowering. The gumbo was filled with fluffy rice, cilantro, chunks of roasted tomatoes and tender chunks of alligator.

Alligator Gumbo

Alligator Gumbo

Barb’s Fish And Chips 1 Dallas Rd.

fish and chiips

fish and chips

Barb’s Fish And Chips is probably the BUSIEST restaurant at Fisherman’s Wharf. The menu has an assortment of fresh, steamed seafood–Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, salmon and both fresh and fried cod. The fish and chips are done in a batter with seltzer water–the classic English way, so the batter is light and crisp. The joint has been popular with the locals for 31 years and has been voted one of the best dockside seafood restaurants in Sunset magazine.

Barb's Seafood Chowder

Barb’s Seafood Chowder

One of the best things on the menu is the seafood chowder. It’s made with a variety of fish, clams and other odds and ends of seafood from the harbor with a creamy broth with chopped herbs and corn. The corn adds extra texture and sweetness and each serving comes with a couple of slices of baked garlic bread for dipping. The chowder is a great way to warm you up after a day of whale watching.