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: 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.

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

 

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.