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Seattle: Help a Homesick Texan

Looking for suggestions of Tex/Mex, chili, BBQ, etc. in or around the Seattle area.

So far I've found the smoked meats at Frontier Room in Belltown and Dixie's BBQ to be quite authentic.

I've struck out in the Tex/Mex and chili department. I tried Austin Cantina, but it's really more of a PNW spin on Mexican food.

Are there any other Texans out there who have found a taste of home? Please only respond if you've actually had Texas-style food. It's very distinctive.

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  1. Take a drive on U.S. 2 past Monroe until you hit the Reptile Zoo. No, don't go to the zoo, but check out the school buses parked out front. It's the home of Old School BBQ, IMO, the best BBQ in the region. They smoke their meats on-site over mesquite (the ribs and chicken are standouts). Topped with a glistening of zesty, not-too-sweet pepper-based sauce (none of that treacley shellac job found on most Q in this region ), served with a side of peppery, jalapeno infused whole pinto beans simmered with bits and pieces of leftover trimmings, and a side of moist corn bread, you might just think you're back home.

    Oh yes, the owners are transplanted Texans who opened up their roadside attraction when they couldn't find any decent BBQ in the area

    1 Reply
    1. I am originally from Texas, have lived in Seattle for 4 years so far, and have long since given up on finding Tex/Mex here, sorry.

      Rosita's in Green Lake is the closest I've found and it's not that close.

      I have also never had any BBQ I'd consider edible here, except for an occasionally passable pulled-pork sandwich. Forget brisket.

      1. I moved from TX a couple years ago, and boy howdy do I feel your pain... :) The food here is awesome - however, lacking in the TexMex and BBQ arenas. For TexMex, Rosita's isn't bad, but I prefer El Sombrero's in Columbia City - not as crowded, really good 'ritas... Not as good as anything in TX, but it's the closest we've been able to find, and actually does satisfy the cravings (more or less). Their Weds special (green enchiladas) are actually really tasty. I think it might be a daily item, but it's "special" (lower price?) on Weds. The other stuff is pretty standard.

        For real Mexican, there's a pretty good Oaxacan place - La Carta de Oxaca, but you need to get there at like 4pm when it opens to get a table.

        As for BBQ- we've tried a bunch. <sigh> Haven't been able to quench that craving - we end up smoking our own meat. Haven't tried the school bus place suggested; it'll be next on the list. But we tried places in Seattle, way in the East side (like Snoq, I think), even over on Bainbridge. The only thing we've found is Roy's in Columbia City that makes a pretty good pulled pork sammie. Granted, we haven't tried *every* bbq joint in town, but just those that were "recommended". I still yearn for good TX BBQ, though - might break down and mail order some Salt Lick. :)

        1 Reply
        1. re: veveg

          The Pecos sliced beef is a pretty good version of the lean smoked brisket.
          (everything else of theirs is overrated, and they over sauce everything)

          If you like a fattier brisket, Gabriel's fire does an ok job if you get it fresh. (they sometimes leave it out a little too long though... )

        2. You are going to have to buy a smoker and cook yourself--I have been here for 10+ years, but grew up and lived in Houston and a bit in Austin. I crave Tex Mex the most, and there is nothing here that comes close. There is no queso in this entire town, they hardly like cheese, it seems. Food I like that is Mex/SW: Cactus in Madison. It is more southwestern, but it's all right, and the margaritas are good. la Carta de Oaxaca in ballard. Real Mex, but I like most dishes. We also like El Camino in Freemont, Pesos on Lower Queen Anne (sometimes). If you try to compare it to Texas Tex-Mex you will be disappointed. Rosita's was ok, but I haven't been in a while.

          I don't have any better ideas for BBQ than what others have said. I like Pecos alright.

          I like the gumbo at Hilltop Ale House, cousin to 74th Street and Columbia City Ale Houses. Has some spice and flavor. Chili--I actually buy chili occasionally at Met Market. It's not real--it's mostly beans, but at least they add a decent amount of chili powder.

          2 Replies
          1. re: cocktailhour

            I agree that La Carta has good authentic Mex and a nice selection of tequila. El Camino is okay, but they don't offer the obligatory chips-n-salsa before the meal. You'd get laughed out of Houston if you opened a Mexican restaurant and neglected that detail.

            A tip for chili con queso...I've found it on the menu at only one Seattle restaurant: Red Robin. And it isn't half bad.

            I've had the gumbo at 74th st alehouse, one of my favorite pubs, but I just don't care for it. For starters, they put one pickled okra in the serving. It should be fresh okra and lots of it. I've also tried the gumbo at Steelhead Diner which I had high hopes for since the chef cooked in New Orleans for a while, but it didn't taste like home, either. I get my fix at Pappadeux when I'm traveling through the Houston airport.

            As for chili...I make my own (beanless) chili. Owning a smoker isn't an option for me...alas, I live in a condo with no balcony. :-(

            1. re: frygirl

              I love that pickled okra--I wish they put more on it! Absolutely on El Camino. We always get the plantains, although of course not the same, and I like the bistec that comes with cheese enchiladas--the sauce is really good when it's spicy. it's been dulled down lately, though.

              I usually eat Pappasito's at the airport. :)

          2. Frygirl, The Steelhead diner makes an authentic, from scratch chicken fried steak. However, it is on and off the menu. (I think if you call in advance, they might make it for you.) Every other Puget Sound restaurant buys frozen Sysco dreck and deep fries it. Branks BBQ in Sumner (Hwy 167, 20th Street exit) are displaced Texans serving very good ribs. (Better than any I have found in the region. The quality of the pork is amazing.)
            For Mexican, try some of the dives in White Center. Generally they rock--just be careful.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Leper

              I love the chicken fried steak at Geraldine's Counter. (My cardiologist's feelings are a bit more ambivalent.)

              1. re: terrier

                Ooo, those are excellent chicken fried steak recommendations. Thank you!

            2. Hi FryGirl-

              As a fellow Texan, I can tell you to give up on Tex-Mex. The best you'll do here is to find good California-style, which is OK, but we know it's not the same. People here seem to think "No Lard" is something to be proud of!

              My recs for Mexican are Taqueria Muy Macho in South Park and Taqueria Tequila in Greenwood. Muy Macho is pretty good for lunch, and I like the breakfasts at Tequila. But honestly, I usually just stick with El Asadero (the highly esteemed taco truck on Rainier almost to Columbia City).

              I know a lot of people here really like Rosita's and Senor Moose, but I was not impressed by either. And Oaxaca, for it's charms, is definitely not Tex-Mex. And I can't stand either of the Texas themed places I've been to, Austin's and Bandits.

              What I really, really, really miss are breakfast tacos. What I wouldn't give for a Taqueria Villa Arcos chicharrones taco right now!

              In terms of non-Tex Mex: the best chicken fried steak I've had locally was at Norm's in Fremont, which definitely feels like it could hang in Austin. I have yet to be impressed by BBQ, but I have only tried a handful of places, so I am optimistic.

              Good luck! Please keep sharing your discoveries...there's enough of us around, sooner or later someone's going to open up a real Tex Mex place.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pusherman

                I was just commiserating with another Texan about the lack of breakfast tacos! When I moved here, I couldn't figure out what people ate for lunch downtown. No Tex Mex, no great burger places, no red beans and rice ...

                I have dreamed of opening a Tex Mex place, but I fear people here would not accept it: 1. spicy. 2. cheese on everything. 3. as you said, lard. They actually seem to like Cal Mex.

              2. Sorry, I should add -- I actually think the chili at Last Chance in SoDo is pretty good, but definitely not authentic -- they'd never heard of frito pie!

                3 Replies
                1. re: pusherman

                  AWWW! I miss frito pie... I remember that was the cafeteria special back in school - like every Weds. :) I thought everyone knew what that was until I married a Yankee... Poor, deprived souls....

                  1. re: veveg

                    When Lynn owned Wild West BBQ, in the Columbiua Tower Food Court, she served up a good Frito pie. I don't actually know if the new management knows anything about real chili, or gets it from a can, but it's the only Frito Pie I've seen hereabouts.

                    1. re: mr.nelso

                      One of the joints down on the Georgetown strip's got'em.
                      Smarty Pants, I think, but maybe Jules Mae.

                2. If you're jonesin' bad enough to drive down to Portland (hey, it's closer than Texas! ;o) give Podnah's Pit a whirl: http://www.podnahspit.com/

                  The brisket is crazy good and the chili very Texan. His breakfasts on the weekends are fabulous too.

                  1. Such fabulous recommendations everybody. I can't wait to start trying them! I've found myself explaining frito pie to so many people here. For those not in the know, it's traditional "fair food" in Texas. The classic preparation is to tear open a mini-bag of Fritos along the vertical seam along the back of the bag (to use as serving dish), top Fritos with a generous helping of chili, raw chopped onions and shredded cheddar or Longhorn cheese. It's delicious!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: frygirl

                      15 years ago, there was a stand that sold this exact preperation at the UW football games under the moniker "Travelling Taco". I liked them at the time, but I was like 16, so I also liked Taco Bell and Arby's, so I can't trust my judgment in retrospect.

                    2. You'll have to stop by next time I smoke a brisket. It won't be until it warms up a little, but my brisket is usually pretty good.

                      My wife and I are from Oklahoma, but spent a few years in Dallas. The thing that you just can't get here is Tex/Mex food. If you find a place that satisfies, my wife will be your best friend.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: vanillagorilla

                        I think this has been asked before, but man, VanillaGorilla, you've got to have us over some time!!!

                          1. re: GreenYoshi

                            From my user profile you can find my website and contact info. Just send me an email, and I'll let you guys know when I break out the smoker.

                        1. I did happy hour at Laredos in Lower Queen Anne this week. It's not too bad, but it's definitely not authentic Tex-Mex.

                          Chips & salsa: They have good, homemade tortilla chips served with two salsas: green and red. They are both flavorful, but there is zero heat. In fact, there was no spicy heat in any of the appetizers we ordered.

                          Nachos: Nice presentation of individually-prepared toppings on each chip. They start with a base of refried beans and add monterrey jack cheese, guacamole, carne asada (you can get it with chicken, too) and a pickled jalapeno. I liked but didn't love these.

                          Chile con queso: This is the true test of Tex-Mex authenticity for me...and Laredos failed. The queso tasted more like sour cream than cheese. Icky.

                          Tacos al pastor: They added pineapple to the chunks of pork. Yes, you heard me right. Pineapple. That's just not right.

                          Gorditas - I don't think of this as a classic Tex-Mex dish, but it was my favorite thing at Laredos. We ordered it stuffed with pork in achiote sauce and it was delicious.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: frygirl

                            "Tacos al pastor: They added pineapple to the chunks of pork. Yes, you heard me right. Pineapple. That's just not right."

                            Pineapple is actually traditional in the preperation of al pastor. The pork is cooked on a trompo (think gyro meat) and the pineapple is roasted along with the meat on top of the trompo and as the pineapple juice run into the meat which adds flavor and tenderizes the meat. As the meat is is cut from the trompo it is cut from top down putting chunks of pineapple with the pork.