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

 

I Ate Here: Ramirez Mexican Store, Tumwater, WA

Ramirez Mexican Store Offers Tamales y Comida Muy Autentica (Very Authentic Food)

A plate of chicken tamales and pork enchiladas at Ramirez Mexican store in Tumwater, Wash.

A plate of chicken tamales and pork enchiladas at Ramirez Mexican store in Tumwater, Wash.

I’m originally from Yakima, Wash., a city wthose population is nearly half Hispanic. On nearly every corner, you can find flavorful, authentic Mexican, food in the form of restaurants and outdoor“taco wagons,” food carts where you can watch cooks prepare the food in front of you.

Since moving to western Washington seven years ago, I’ve often struggled to find great Mexican food that rivaled that of my hometown, particularly tamales (a most street food made of a ground corn substance called masa that’s filled with a variety of meats and wrapped inside a corn husk and steamed.) Tamales sold at many restaurants and supermarkets have tamales that are grainy and dry. But Ramirez Mexican Store in Tumwater got it right!.

For $2.95 diners can eat a tamale that comes stuffed with your choice of chicken or pork. Each tamale is  slathered in rijo (red) or verde (green sauce). Chicken tamales have a traditional tomato-based red sauce, while the pork comes with the green tomatillo sauce. The tamale is finished with a drizzling of smooth crema and cotija cheese crumnbles. (Cotija is a cow’s milk cheese that has a texture similar to feta) Each tamale is moist and melts in your mouth! Best of all is the value for your money. Most tamales are small and can fit in your hand. These tamales are served on a big dinner plate and are about 1 ½ times the length of your hand (unless you have big hands like Shaq, then maybe it’s just one). On Mondays, you can spend about $10 to get the two tamale lunch special that comes with a side of rice and beans. Some of the beans in the refried beans have not been crushed all the way, so there are delightful chunks of beans with every bite.

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

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

Other items on the menu include tacos, enchiladas, wet burritos, and quesadillas that can be filled with a variety of meats such as asada (steak), barbacoa (shredded pork), chicken, pulled pork carnitas, chile verde, ground beef, or lengua (beef tongue). When you dine in, make sure to fill up on the complimentary chips. Their chips are quite different than chips you would get at most Mexican restaurants. They are quite a bit thicker–almost like a pita chip and they have seeds in them (I suspect either chia or flax seeds).

After you’re done eating, stop by the Mexican store and panaderia (bakery). The bakery has a wide selection of pan dulce (Mexican donuts) that are topped with a rainbow of sugar. Some are stuffed with cream, others chocolate. The churros are rolled in white sugar and cinnamon and filled with different flavors. Each one is a surprise. The one I ate was pineapple. The store has some of their fresh baked tortillas and lots of hard to find latin ingredients like chile de arbol, spanish adobo seasoning, and dried rose buds.

In additon to the main tumwater store, there is also a smaller Ramirez to Go location in West Olympia that is open for breakfast. (Breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros–eggs)

 

Ramirez Mexican Store

Most Entres $8-$10, sides about $4

Ramirez Mexican Store

5105 Capitol Blvd. SW #C

Tumwater, WA 98501

Store Hours

Mon-Thurs: 9:00am-8:00pm

Fri-Sat: 9:00am-9:00pm

Sun: 9:00am-7:00pm

Ramirez To Go

2400 Harrison Ave SW

Olympia, WA 98501

Note: Hours for the Ramirez To Go location were not listed on the website. It’s advisable to call in advance for hours. (360) 753-1829

 

Have You Seen This Pig? “Polly” The Pig Stolen From the Ranch House BBQ and Steak House

Some news about the Ranch House BBQ and Steak House I blogged about last month: Their mascot, “Polly” the Pig, has been STOLEN! 

PollyTwin2

“Penny” the pig, is the identical twin of “Polly” the pig statue that was stolen from the Ranch House BBQ and Steak House in Olympia. The Ranch House Steak BBQ and Steak House is on Highway 8, in between Thurston and Grays Harbor Counties.

Some little piggies go to market. Other little piggies stay home. But one particular little piggy was stolen and her owners want her back.

“Polly,” the brown resin pig statue that for years greeted hungry diners at the entrance of the Ranch House BBQ and Steak House, was pig-napped nearly a year ago, and employees at the restaurant have not stopped searching for her.

They’ve put up posters around the restaurant and posted her picture on their Facebook page. They even filed a police report, to no avail.

PoillyAmy

Ranch House owner, founder and pit master, Amy Anderson sits on top of “Penny” the Pig statue. Penny greets customers in the lobby. She is also the identical twin statue of “Polly” the pig, who was stolen last year. Her owners have not given up the search.

“Polly is a symbol of the beginning of our restaurant and where we want to be,” said Ranch House owner, chef and World Champion Pitmaster, Amy Anderson. “We’d love to have her back with her family.”

Polly’s Arrival

Polly was originally purchased in late 2006. Anderson says she was driving down for what would have been the restaurant’s “Express” location in downtown Olympia. However, massive rainstorms in 2007 triggered a mudslide that destroyed the original Ranch House, located on Kennedy Creek Road near Summit Lake. The restaurant was run out of Olympia’s Governor Hotel during the rebuild. When the restaurant re-opened on Kennedy Creek Road the following year, Polly was placed at the entrance to serve as the restaurant’s “greeter.”

Polly was also the restaurant’s mascot. Staff brought her to barbecue competitions and booths at local farmer’s markets. She even came along to weddings and events at which the restaurant catered.

“She was a memory-maker,” recalls General Manager and Pitmaster Joe Gutierrerz. “People took pictures with her. I’ve had customers tell me they remember when their son was 3 and climbed up and was riding on her.”

Night of The ‘Napping

Polly disappeared last year sometime during the night of April 24, 2014. Staffers arrived in the morning and began their pre-opening routine: checking to see if the parking lot is clean start to prep food for the day. It didn’t take long to notice something was amiss.

Gutierrez stepped outside to go to the parking lot and discovered an empty spot beside the bench where Polly used to sit. He and staffers walked all around the restaurant. The only thing that remained of Polly was a broken hoof.

A broken hoof is the only clue left by the pig-nappers.

A broken hoof is the only clue left by the pig-nappers.

“At first I thought it was a practical joke,” Anderson said. “They left the hoof and we were expecting a ransom note.”

The staff have had a few theories as to whodunit. Polly weighs well over 100 pounds, so they think there were at least two co-conspirators.

“It was right around graduation time, so we thought that maybe some of the high schoolers were pulling a prank,” Gutierrez said.

He said employees have investigated tips they have received from customers. Once they thought they might have found Polly in front of another restaurant. But after driving there to inspect it, discovered it was a different pig.

He also said he heard a story of a Thurston County resident who once had a lawn gnome stolen. A year later the gnome reappeared at its owner’s home–with a scrapbook. Apparently, the thief had taken a road trip and, brought the gnome as a travelling companion and took pictures of the gnome at every stop.

But more than a year passed, with neither a scrapbook, nor any further clues as to Polly’s whereabouts.

Gutierrez says it may have been funny at first, but “it’s been a year and it’s not really funny anymore.”

Polly used to travel with staff to farmer's markets, cooking competitions and other community events before she was stolen.

Polly used to travel with staff to farmer’s markets, cooking competitions and other community events before she was stolen.

Other Pigs

The Ranch House has many other pigs in and around the restaurant. Several concrete pigs adorn the garden and walls around the outdoor patio. Wooden pig-shaped cutting boards are hung next to the many trophies and ribbons the restaurant has won in cooking competitions over the years. “Cash,” a giant pig wearing a chef’s hat stands in the lobby. If customers want to know what Polly looked like, they can simply gaze upon “Penny.” Penny is Polly’s identical twin, big, brown and with red handkerchief around her neck.

Since Polly’s disappearance, Anderson purchased “Hope,” a tall, metal pig that now greets diners in the Ranch House’s parking lot. It can easily be seen from the freeway and is probably harder to steal because of its massive size. However, Anderson says Hope won’t fill the void left behind by Polly.

“We got Hope two weeks after (Polly was taken),” Anderson said. “But we didn’t make a big deal about it because we’ve been so bummed about Polly being stolen.”

If you know where Polly is or have any tips that might lead to Polly’s whereabouts, call the Ranch House BBQ and Steakhouse at 360-866-8704.

The "Wanted" Poster describing Polly and what little details are known about the night of her disappearance.

The “Wanted” Poster describing Polly and what little details are known about the night of her disappearance.

I Cooked This! Strawberry Blue Cheese Crumble Salad Drizzled with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

 

It’s mid June. That means summer’s just days away. It also means it’s berry season! I enjoy  growing strawberries out of a plastic container on the patio.  I also love stopping by Spooner Berry Farms Berry stands. They have over a dozen locations throughout the South Sound including Tumwater, West Olympia and Lacey. There’s even a berry stand on the coast in Aberdeen! (Note: You should buy your berries early, as the berry stands are usually sold out by 3 p.m.) They also have U-pick berry fields that are open seasonally.

StrawberrySalad

Chopped strawberries served over salad greens and blue cheese crumbles, drizzled with honey balsamic vinaigrette dressing

However you get your strawberries, there are thousands of recipes out there. One of my favorites is to chop them up and put them in a salad with feta cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The combination of acidity from the balsamic vinegar, salty , creaminess of the blue cheese crumbles and tartness of the strawberries might sound strange. But don’t let that stop you from trying it! The secret ingredient that ties all the flavors together is honey. It tames the other bolder flavors, so none of them outshine each other.

Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

  • 2 TBS Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 TBS Honey
  • 1/4 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Pinch of course salt and pepper

Directions

1. Prepare strawberries: Hull out the centers and cut into chunks

2. Wash and rinse salad greens. Any type of lettuce will do, OR use spinach.

3. Add strawberries to greens in bowl and sprinkle with desired amount of  blue cheese crumbles.

4. Combine honey, oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil in a small bowl and whisk to emulsify. Alternatively, you can add all ingredients to a screw top jar and shake vigorously until combined.

5. Drizzle over salad greens and toss to combine.

A flat of strawberries from Spooner Berry Farm

A flat of strawberries from Spooner Berry Farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spooner Berry Farms has plenty of other recipes on their website. Have a favorite berry recipe? Share it below in the comments or email southsoundfoodiegirl@gmail.com.

berrybarn

A Spooner Berry Farms berry barn is an iconic summertime image in the South Puget Sound.

I Ate Here: RanchHouse BBQ and Steakhouse (Olympia)

A full rack RanchHouse BBQ and Steakhouse ribs can feed two people.

A full rack RanchHouse BBQ and Steakhouse ribs can feed two people.

The RanchHouse BBQ and Steakhouse has been a landmark on Highway 8, greeting drivers between Thurston and Grays Harbor Counties.

The bright, red building that looks like a farmhouse (with a giant iron pig at the entrance) has received national acclaim.The Ranch House has been featured on the Food Network special BBQ Country Cook-off, Grill Girls and TLC’s Buzzworthy BBQ. Menu items have also won competitions in several countries. There is a shadow box filled with ribbons and trophies from many competitions. According to the restaurant’s website, owner and Olympia native Amy Anderson have earned championship titles for BBQ from five states, Canada and a championship in Ireland in 2000.

pig1

A large iron pig greets guests who come for dinner at the RanchHouse BBQ and SteakHouse, located on Highway 8 in between Thurston and Grays Harbor counties.

 

A former reporter for The Daily World of Aberdeen told me that the restaurant is a favorite of former Washington state governor Christine Gregoire. It also overcame tragedy. In 2007, a heavy rainfalls caused the creek that runs adjacent to the parking lot (Kennedy Creek) to wash out half the restaurant. Locals and residents from all over Puget Sound stop here to enjoy some award-winning favorites on the menu. So I had high expectations when I stopped in to eat there. The menu has big portions, so one rack of ribs and a couple of sides is enough to feed two people, and that’s exactly what my fiance and I did.

A view of Kennedy Creek, adjacent to the parking lot at RanchHouse BBQ and SteakHouse.

A view of Kennedy Creek, adjacent to the parking lot at RanchHouse BBQ and SteakHouse.

The menu says a whole rack of ribs is supposed to have ten individual ribs. We must’ve gotten lucky or happened to get a mutant pig. Our rack of ribs had 11! The ribs are St.Lois style ribs, which means they are spare ribs which are grilled and heavily-sauced (as opposed to dry-rubbed). The ribs were smoked over cherry wood, giving the ribs a distinct savory, and slightly sweet flavor. (The type of wood used in BBQ smoking can affect the flavor of the meat. Check out the science behind it here.) The ribs were moist, tender and fell of the bone with every bite. I could’ve used a little more sauce. Thankfully, the restaurant has bottles of its signature sauce at every table. It tasted spicier than the sauce that was on the ribs. I’m not sure if this was because:

1) it was a different sauce OR

2) it was the same sauce used in the cooking process but the flavor profile was changed because it was at room temperature and it had not gone through the cooking process with the ribs

In either case, it complimented the ribs well.

A c up pf the RanchHouse BBQ and SteakHouse Chilli. Oh, the beautiful cheese!

A c up pf the RanchHouse BBQ and SteakHouse Chilli. Oh, the beautiful cheese!

I also enjoyed the chili. I usually pass on the chili because I don’t care for most beans. But the chili had a robust flavor and was not overly-spicy. The ground beef and beans were slow-cooked so their flavors combined flawlessly. The best part was the ooey, gooey melted cheddar cheese on top. (My fiance said he wanted crackers to add a crunchy texture to the chili, but I was satisfied because of all the cheese!)

The house caesar salad had large, crispy, green, fresh leaves of romaine and a thorough amount of parmesan cheese. It came served in a small cup–about the same size of the chili cup. It was difficult to eat without spilling over, so I finally just dumped it out on a plate and had no further problems. (FYI: there is also a garden salad and for an additional charge, diners can top any salad with smoked chicken, pulled pork, or beef brisket.)

the house Caesar salad

the house Caesar salad

The menu also has a plethora of sides that include hot wings, chili cheese fries and deep fried macaroni balls. Desserts include mudslide pie (an oreo cookie crust layered with chocolate sauce, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream and chopped nuts) and fruit crisp (your choice of apple, strawberry rhubarb, blackberry or peach) that has a cinnamon oatmeal crumb crust served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. But I DID NOT try any of the sides or the dessert because I was too FULL from the entree. I’ll just have to make a vow to try of them on a return visit.

In the meantime, if any of my readers has eaten one or more of the RanchHouse BBQ and Steak House’s sides or desserts, feel free to post a review and/or photos in the comments section.

About RanchHouse BBQ and Steak House:

Prices range for entree: $12-28

Sides: $5.49-$12.99

Desserts: $4.50-$7

10841 Kennedy Creek Rd. SW

Olympia, WA 98502

(360) 866-8704

www.ranchhousebbq.com

 

 

Happy #NationalDoughnutDay! Doos Donuts Opens In West Olympia

Left: Maple Bacon Bar, Center: Chocolate Glazed Right: Cake Doughnut Holes rolled in sprinkles

Left: Maple Bacon Bar Center: Chocolate Glazed Right: Cake Doughnut Holes rolled in sprinkles

Mmm… Doughnuts. June 5 is #NationalDoughnutDay. And Olympia residents have a new place to enjoy Homer Simpson’s favorite treat.

Doos Donuts is now open in West Olympia. The new store is the only one open in Thurston County. (The first, located in Mason County in Shelton, already has a loyal customer base.)

The doughnut flavors are off the beaten path. There’s pineapple fritters, apple-filled bear claws, cherry-cream glazed, raspberry fritters, peanut butter and jelly glazed. The filled doughnuts come in more than just the standard vanilla custard with flavors such as coconut  cream and banana cream. And for those not so adventurous, there’s the standard chocolate bars and sugar glazed. There’s also several sprinkle-topped varieties including doughnut holes.

I sampled the maple bacon bar. The way the bacon is incorporated into the doughnut is pretty ingenious.  Instead of simply placing one strip of cooked bacon on top of the doughnut, the entire length of the doughnut is blanketed with chopped up bacon bits, so there is an equal distribution of bacon and maple glaze in every bite. I stopped in later in the day (around 3:30 p.m.) and the doughnuts were as soft and pillowy as some I might expect to be prepared in the early morning hours.

You can wash down your doughnut with milk, coffee or a variety of bottled beverages, too. They are also planning on launching a line of gluten-free doughnuts soon.

SPECIAL DEALS: On National Doughnut Day (June 5), a dozen doughnuts is on sale for $7.99. And from now until June 30, you can get a FREE doughnut by liking the Doos donuts Olympia Facebook page.

Thank you Doughnut Gods, for bestowing this sweet, wonderful treat upon us.

 

About Doos Donuts:

Prices vary depending on size and type of doughnut, but most are under $2.

West Olympia location:

1621 Harrison Ave. NW

(360) 753-DOOS (3667)

Hours: 6 a.m.to  4 p.m. Monday-Thursday

6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

6 a.m.to 4 p.m. Sundays

Shelton location:

2337 Olympic Highway N. #100

(360) 460-8656

Hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

 

I Ate Here: Cebu, A Taste of The Philippines

CebuLumpia-300x225

Lumpia Shanghi is a traditional appetizer in the Philippines. It is made using spring roll wrappers and is often filled with pork and finely shredded carrots.

I am half Filipino. My mother immigrated to the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s, and it was always a special treat when her extended family members visited us and she, my grandmother and aunts and uncles would cook prepare things like lumpia(kind of like an eggroll,but CRUNCHIER)  and pancit (a vegetable and meat noodle dish). The flavors of the Philippine islands are part of my heritage and I was thrilled to find a restaurant in the South Sound that specializes in that cuisine. It’s very nostalgic for me whenever I eat there, and I’m happy to introduce some of my culture with you.

Cebu – A Taste of Traditional Philippine Cuisine

By Rachel Thomson

Angel Vano wants to take diners on a culinary tour of the Philippines. His passion is introducing locals to a culture rich with history and international influence, which they may not be familiar.

Vano is the owner and cook at Cebu (pronounced SAY-boo), a restaurant offering Filipino cuisine. Named after one of the more than 7,100 islands in the Philippines, Cebu has been offering traditional Filipino dishes to diners since 2001.

“I enjoy promoting culture and heritage through food,” Vano says. “Filipino food transports you to another place.”

The Philippines’ history and influences borrowed from other countries are evident in the culinary offerings found on Cebu’s menu.

An example of this is Cebu’s adobo, a meat dish slowly marinated and stewed with vinegar originating from Spain. In 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines and claimed the islands for Spain, thus marking the beginning of a 300-year rule by Spain. The Spanish version of adobo is made with oregano, salt, vinegar and paprika, which gives it a spicy flavor. However, paprika was not a spice common in the Philippines, so the Filipino version features ingredients such as soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves and black pepper, which allows the tanginess of the vinegar to come through.

Another example of Asian fusion on Cebu’s menu can be found in the restaurant’s take on pancit (PAN-set). In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Chinese established colonies in the Philippines. With them, the Chinese brought noodle dishes and bean curds. The Cebu version of pancit starts with your choice of three different types of sautéed noodles: sotanghon (bean thread), bihon (rice), or canton (egg), which are then mixed with your choice of chicken, pork, prawns or tofu and vegetables like carrots, yellow peppers and red cabbage.

CebuPancit-300x225

Pancit can be made with various types of noodles. (bean sprout noodles, egg noodles, rice noodles) Pictured here is pancit canton, made with egg noodles.

Cebu also offers appetizers such as lumpia (pronounced Loomp-YA), which are similar to Chinese egg rolls. However, lumpia are stuffed with mainly pork and shredded carrots and their wrappers are thinner, which gives the lumpia a pronounced crunch. Cebu’s dessert items allude to the Philippines’ Polynesian roots, featuring a Halo Halo (pronounced HALL-oh, HALL-oh) shaved ice that is mixed with tropical fruits and topped with ice cream.

Vano opened Cebu in Olympia with his wife, Kim, in 2001. He met his wife in Cebu and they immigrated to the United States more than two decades ago. Van attended Pacific Lutheran University, earned a degree in business, and worked in the banking industry for 11 years. However, he says opening his own restaurant has “always been a dream” of his. One day, he decided to leave the banking world, but put his knowledge of business to work into his restaurant.

“It was kind of a now or never kind of dream,” Vano says.

Cebu’s menu is created from family recipes that have been passed down for generations. Vano considers himself the sous chef and says most of the recipes come from his wife’s family. Prior to immigrating to the United States, Kim worked as a dietician and nutritionist and prepared meals for nuns at a hospital.

Since opening the restaurant on Marvin Road, Vano says he’s been able to educate the community about Filipino culture and heritage. He is the president of theFilipino American Community of South Puget Sound (FACSPS). The organization, which started in 1982, is a non-profit committed to promoting and preserving Filipino American heritage in the United States. The organization runs a “Visiting Artists” program, which hosts performing artists such as The Philippine Ballet Troupe and choral singers. The group also runs a humanitarian relief program called “Uhaw,” derived from a tagalong word meaning “thirst.” The organization also sends basic aid to victims of mass disasters and crises in the Philippines and the United States. Recently, FACSPS held a benefit dinner to send aid to victims of the category 5 typhoon Haiyan, which killed thousands of people in 2013. The group also provides a limited number of scholarships to local graduating seniors in Thurston County schools and regularly participates at the annual Ethnic Celebration at Saint Martin’s University.

CebuAngelVano-300x225Vano says the best thing about running Cebu is the opportunity he gets to educate the community about the cultural diversity of the Philippines. He remembers a group of students from an Asian and International Studies course at South Puget Sound Community College who came in for lunch one day for an assignment. They had to try an international type of food and discuss it in class. Vano says none of the students had tried Filipino food before and they began taking pictures and writing notes.

“I’m glad to be here to represent that cuisine,” Vano says. “I didn’t think that educating people would be such a big effect of opening a restaurant, but it bloomed into that. Food is culture and I like being able to bridge culture through food.”

Cebu

9408 Martin Way

Olympia, WA 98516

Hours: Monday – Friday: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Saturday: noon – 9:00 p.m.

Sunday: Closed

Price Range for entree: $8-12

Cebu also hosts special Filipino buffets on holidays such as Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, which features a wider variety of Filipino food not on the regular menu, and Cebu also offers a full-service catering menu. For more information call

Cebu at 360-455-9128.