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: Mac N’More, Lacey, WA

Mac N’More Offers ‘Slightly Twisted’ Take on Comfort Food

Mac And More (4 of 5)

Mac N’More is an “Urban Mac N’Cheese House,”located in Hawk Prairie in Thurston County. The Macaroni and cheese is extra creamy and features a blend of three cheeses, including pacific northwest favorite, Tillamook cheddar.

Crayfish tails and green onions or a blend of beef and pork meatloaf aren’t ingredients most come cooks would think of adding to macaroni and cheese.

It’s a concept Steve Cobb hopes will catch on among Thurston County diners. The 52-year old owner of the Mac N’ More restaurant in Lacey has spent the last few years integrating combinations of ingredients to one of America’s favorite comfort foods.

“I strive to serve original food, stuff you can’t get anywhere else in town,” Cobb said. “We’re taking mac and cheese, which is a traditional side dish and elevating it to a sophisticated main dish. We’re also slightly twisted, off the normal path and want to appeal to foodies out there who are looking for something interesting and daring.”

Mac N’ More has a menu featuring eight or nine macaroni and cheese skillets. Each dish begins with a portion of traditional elbow macaroni smothered in a smooth, creamy sauce with a slightly smoky undertone featuring a blend of four cheeses including Tillamook aged extra sharp cheddar. Various ingredients such as crayfish and green onions (The “Mudbug”), tender chicken strips coated in a tangy buffalo sauce and blue cheese (the “Buffalo”) are cooked along with the macaroni and cheese rather than simply tossed on top–a process Cobb says creates a marriage of flavor profiles. The dishes are finished with finely crushed corn flake crumbs to add a crunchy texture. Other combinations include “the loaded potato mac” (bacon, potatoes, green onion and cheddar cheese) and a mac and cheese meatloaf with a beef and pork meat blend, tomatoes, green onions and bacon. There’s also a “garden” option featuring spinach, black olives, tomatoes and green onions.

Customers also have the option of channeling their internal macaroni artist by creating unique combinations using a choice of ingredients such as pickled jalapenos, hard boiled eggs, avocados, mushrooms, pesto and chili beans. And of course, there’s always the original mac and cheese option with no mix-ins.

Cobb says with all the various ingredients and combinations on the menu, there are more than 1,000 different mac and cheese combinations.

the "California Mac:" Grilled calimari, steak, capers, garlic, artichoke, parmesan pesto, served with grilled sour dough bread and dpesto butter

the “California Mac:” Grilled calimari, steak, capers, garlic, artichoke, parmesan pesto, served with grilled sour dough bread and dpesto butter

Rise of the Mac

Steve Cobb and his wife had always dreamed of opening their own restaurant, but career and travel prevented them from doing so. His wife, Kati Cobb, was an Army soldier, and Cobb says he and his family lived as “nomads” for close to 26 years. Kati Cobb served three terms of deployment in Iraq. For a while, Steve was a stay-at home dad, and when his kids grew older, he held many positions in the restaurant industry and spent years refining his culinary skills before opening Mac N’ More in 2011.

Eventually, Kati’s military career brought them to the Pacific Northwest. Steve spent some time cooking for soldiers at JBLM. He studied some old recipes on Army recipe cards and made several dishes using their cooking techniques. He eventually rose to a shift leader, supervising eight cooks. Together they made thousands of meals for soldiers out in the field. Sometimes, they would make up to 1,000 meals per meal period. After leaving JBLM, he continued his career at Elyse’s Catering in Tumwater for two years, where he became head chef. He also spent some time at the Dome Deli on the capitol campus cooking mainly when the legislature was in session.

By then, Kati had returned from her deployments in Iraq, and had risen to the rank of a First Sergeant. After three deployments, Kati decided it was time to retire. It was then that she and Steve revisited their dream that was more than two decades in the making.

“We always said that once she retired, we could open our own place,” Steve said.

Opening a restaurant required a lot of planning, determination and research. Steve said he did a lot of market research about what kind of restaurant people would want in Thurston County that wasn’t already there. He even spent time polling random passersby on the street. He also did research on various types of restaurants throughout the country, in larger cities. One restaurant he came across was S’Mac restaurant in New York City, where the menu featured macaroni and cheese as a main dish. He says macaroni and cheese restaurants were popular in larger cities and areas near universities, mostly because it was often an affordable late-night bar food dish, and it appealed to mass populations because it was a traditional comfort food. He says the restaurants were often called “urban mac and cheese houses.”

Classic Mac N Cheese with pickled jalapenos

Classic Mac N Cheese with pickled jalapenos

“The concept was copied in big cities but not here,” Steve said. And so the idea for Mac N’ More was born.

Running Mac N’ More has been truly a family affair, Steve said.

His son, Theo, often helps cook in the kitchen. Sam, the couple’s daughter, who is a Washington State University business graduate helped develop the marketing plan. And his other daughter, Jordan has dreams of one day opening her own bakery and many of her baked treats are available at the restaurant.

“I’m all proud. They’re a chip off the old block,” he said of his children.

He also said he eventually wants to open five restaurants, including one in West Olympia and start offering gluten-free options.

‘N More

Mac and cheese isn’t the only thing on the menu. It also features a wide selection of American diner fare. There’s fresh salads with crisp vegetables and homemade dressings such as champagne vinaigrette thousand island. There’s soup, chili, meatloaf, buttermilk marinated chicken breast and a variety of classic sandwiches and burgers served on a giant English muffin.

The food isn’t the only thing customers can enjoy. Each table is painted with a chalkboard friendly paint so you can draw on the tables with chalk while you eat.

Mac N More also has a wide selection of diner fare. Their burgers, like this bacon cheese burger, come on a freshly-baked jumbo English muffin from a local bakery.

Mac N More also has a wide selection of diner fare. Their burgers, like this bacon cheese burger, come on a freshly-baked jumbo English muffin from a local bakery.

Recommendations:

For a light, yet satisfying lunch, I recommend a half order of the classic mac and cheese with 1-2 of your desired mix-ins, with a side garden salad. The salads are green and crisp with a a selection of homemade dressings. The one I tried was a white raspberry vinaigrette. The raspberry puree in the vinaigrette complimented the sourness of the vinegar for a perfectly balanced, tangy dressing.

Mac And More (1 of 5)

House Garden salad with olives, croutons and a white balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

 

Mac N’ More

9323 Martin Way in Lacey

Hours: 10:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Follow the restaurant on Facebook.

Average Price For an Entree: $8-10. Mix-ins range from 35 cents to 75 cents.

 

 

I Ate Here: Beau Legs (Southern Cuisine)

 

Review: Beau Legs, Lacey, WA

Somewhere along the evolutionary chain between fish and chicken, emerged frogs. Sometime in history, a primitive human slaughtered an amphibian and discovered it was tasty. We’ve been eating the part land-dwelling  and part water-dwelling slimy critters ever since. (Fun Fact: Some researchers suggest some of the first frog legs ever eaten occured over 10,000 years ago in ancient Wiltshire, England)

Frog legs are one of the star dishes at Beau Legs, located in Lacey, Wash. For foodies brave enough to try frog legs, their flavor profile is just that–a cross between a chicken and a fish. Frog legs have a history of being braised or roasted Asian and European dishes (mainly French.) However, at Beau Legs, frog legs are prepared Southern style: drenched in a cajun-spiced flour mixture and then deep fried like chicken wings. (If you’ve never seen frog legs before, picture a longer, more slender chicken wing without the pointy tips on the end).

 Southern-style deep fried frog legs at Beau Legs in Lacey, WA

Southern-style deep fried frog legs at Beau Legs in Lacey, WA

Beau legs has a plethora of other Southern Style offerings, such as gumbo ( a stew-like concoction with beans, spices, andouille sausage over rice)  mac and cheese, jambalaya (much like gumbo, but not a stew), deep fried chicken, alligator po’ boys, and fried okra. (Note: When I ate at Beau Legs recently, they were out of the alligator po’ boys. The waitress who served us said the alligator is sometimes a difficult-to-get-item from local suppliers. So if you want to try some alligator, call ahead.)

My fiance and I decided to try this restaurant after reading lots of positive reviews on yelp. My notes on overall dining experience:

Appearance:The decor doesn’t immediately scream ‘southern style’ save for a couple of mardi-gras masks on the wall. The interior dawns shades of a nautical blue, the same that you would find at most fish and chip establishments. The dining room is quaint, with about five tables and five booths. Though most tables were occupied and seating limited, it  was very clean and did not feel crowded.

Frog legs: The frog legs are coated in the same flour mixture as is used as the fried chicken. The texture of the frog legs met the expectation of what any flour-fried meat should be: golden brown, soft on the inside and with crispy on the edges. The meat was moist, easy-to-separate from the bones and cooked all the way through.

Catfish: The catfish was coated in cornmeal mix of seasonings with salt, pepper and I believe a hint of paprika. I was pleasantly surprised with how well the catfish was fried. I’ve tried many a fish rolled in cornbread and fried that was either greasy (which happens when you don’t wait long enough for the oil in the pan to heat up to the right temperature for frying and the piece of food you are trying to cook absorbs the oil) or the oil was too hot and the cornmeal burned too quickly. The catfish was neither oily or burned. The salt brought out the oceany flavor of the catfish and the cornmeal provided a lightly crunchy texture.

Tartar Sauce: Instead of handing out tartar sauce packets or having customers squirt out a generic brand through a pump,Beau Legs uses a fresh tartar sauce. The horseradish flavor is distinct, but not overly-sharp. The horseradish mix is finely minced and gives the tartar sauce a smoother consistency, unlike some brands of mass-produced tartar sauce,which have huge chunks of horseradish in them. There’s also a layer of sweetness to the tartar sauce (presumably from lemon), and chopped dill that adds a tangy element to the sauce that counterbalances the sweetness. They need to bottle this sauce and sell it!

Fried Prawns: The prawns were coated in a panko breadcrumbs. The prawns were quite large and plump. The ratio of breadcrumbs to prawns was equally proportional, allowing me to taste the buttery, juicy texture of the prawns.

Red Beans and Rice: Red beans were molded on top of the rice like the top of Mt. Rainer and it was great fun to dig down to find the rice and mix it up with my spoon! The rice was fluffy, but still firm. All of this was mixed in with creole seasonings and chunks of andouille sausage.

A cup of Beau Legs' red beans and rice

A cup of Beau Legs’ red beans and rice

Hush Puppies: My biggest surprise of the whole meal! I was apprehensive about tying the hushpuppies at first because 1) the hush puppies were a darker brown instead of a golden brown that I am used to seeing in photos 2) The first time I tried hush puppies at a national fast food chain and they had absolutely no flavor at all. They were just burned cornmeal balls. This was about five years ago and I never ate another hush puppy again.

The Beau Legs version of hush puppies were like a flavor explosion in your mouth. Crunchy on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside. There were some onions that were finely chopped (in the same way as the horseradish in the tartar sauce) that gave the inside of the hush puppies wonderful sweetness that complimented the herbs inside (I could not decide if the herb was parsley or thyme). If this is how hush puppies are supposed to taste, I have been missing out because of one bad experience long ago.

Beau Legs Fish and Chips

8765 Tallon Ln NE Ste G, Lacey, WA 98516

(360) 915-6328

Hours:

11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday

11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Noon- 7 p.m. Sunday

Menu price range: $3.99 for most sides $9-$15 for entrees and special dishes

 

 

Foodie Profile: Sierra Rumble

Check out this feature I did on Sierrra Rumble. She’s only 16 years old, but she’s already a talented pastry chef! She is based out of Thurston County and runs an unofficial business with her mom. She’s an AMAZING food artist!

sierraMost sixteen year olds are excited about getting their driver’s license and shopping for the perfect prom dress – not trying out a new hand mixer or getting their hands covered in flour and granulated sugar while experimenting with pastry recipes.

But that’s how Sierra Rumble likes to spend most days after school. The junior at North Thurston High School has plans on becoming a pastry chef one day. Though she’s had no professional culinary training, she’s already getting lots of recognition for her sweet treats.  READ MORE

Check out some of her edible artistry!  Visit her website

cake

 
cupcake  skellingtonfondant