I break my love for Mexican food down into three categories. GourMex, Dive and Chain. Having spent most of my adult life in the desert southwest in the burbs outside of Phoenix, I was spoiled with excellent choices in all three categories. I didn’t really move to the Pacific Northwest in search of better Mexican food, but since I am here, I have been trying my best to find suitable proxies for the yumminess I left behind in the Valley of the Sun.
I admit I have been hampered in my search in the Dive and Chain categories, because I live in the relative wasteland of culinary choices of Kitsap county. For me, in these two categories I am looking for a place that I might hit weekly, whereas I view GourMex as more a of a destination experience, where I would be willing to drive a distance for a fine meal. That is not to say there aren’t any good places here on my side of the water, it’s just that there aren’t many. Slim Pickens would feel at home here.
For Dives I have hit a place at 6th and Callow in downtown Bremerton which is part grocery store (I have liked their Carne Asada I have gotten from the meat counter) part restaurant. It is very divey, which I like and the food is decent, but not good enough to warrant a spot on my regular rotation. Last week I tried a family run place in Silverdale called El Huarache Azteca where I had a decent Carne Asada burro and will probably go back to explore further. On the chain front Azteca seems to be the best in the area, yet it is still chain and falls clearly to third place in my three categories of Mexican restaurants. Just for reference for any of you that have been to Phoenix, my favorite dive was Los Dos Molinos (you could say, technically a chain, since there are five restaurants at last count, but every one of them is run by members of the same family). For chain, I prefer the taco bar / taqueria type of places and my favorite was Rubios.
My favorite category though is a blending of two of my favorite things. Good, spicey Mexican food and the high quality and creativeness that comes from a gourmet touch, thus the term GourMex. In Arizona we had what I liked to call the Holy Trinity of GourMex; Richardsons, Los Sombreros and Barrio Cafe. Richardsons started off as a bar, that just happened to have a killer kitchen and soon the kitchen became the main attraction, yet when you walk in, it still is a bar. What I like most about Richardsons, is you can eat cheap and good, off of their combo plate style menu or look to the giant daily special chalkboards for the gourmet selection. Like all three of the GourMex places I have listed, I have never had a bad experience at Richardsons. Los Sombreros is a little more upscale in both ambience and creativeness. This was my go to place for taking out-of-town guests as nothing beat sitting out on the patio sipping on a Cazadores & Cointreau Marg and enjoying some killer food. My favorite was Barrio Cafe, located right in the Barrio in downtown Phoenix. It is a fine dining experience with such creative dishes you will not find anywhere else in the Phoenix area. Order their guacamole made right at the table and savor in the pomegranate deliciousness!
Ok, now that I have got myself all worked up, why did I go down this memory lane? Because two weekends ago, Irena and I set out for our first shot at a GourMex style restaurant here in the Seattle area, Pesos in the Queen Anne neighborhood.
As you walk in to Pesos you are greeted with a beautiful interior. It does have a bit of a bar feel as over 50% of the layout is geared towards the consumption of spirits, but the dining room of about 15 tables is very nicely decorated. Service was excellent, passing the always difficult test of keeping Irena’s water glass full. First taste was chips and salsa which was good and then quite possibly the highlight of my meal was the awesome Cazadores, Cointreau with a splash of Grand Marnier on top Marg. Yummy! Irena ordered the Vaquero Rib Eye and I chose the Carnitas Tradicional. The Rib Eye had a spicy rub and was cooked perfect. My Carnitas though, were a little disappointing. I liked the flavor mix of Ancho Chiles, Cinnamon and Orange, but instead of fall apart tender like I usually get at Los Dos, these were given a final treatment of deep-frying and it really dried them out and for some of the smaller pieces they were down right hard. Irena hit it on the head when she quipped, “I like the Carnitas from Costco better!” Now that isn’t quite as bad of a slam as it sound, as the carnitas you can get from Costco are amazing, but still, a fine dining establishment losing out to prepackaged! Not good.
Overall I would say we did enjoy our experience at Pesos and we will come back to explore other meals. So far it is the closest we have come to experiencing true GourMex in the Pacific Northwest, but I did leave jonesing for the Holy Trinity of the Valley of the Sun.