Tour of Mexico through Seattle area restaurants?
In a search for 'authentic' Mexican food restaurants in Seattle, I haven't come across much discussion of which region a restaurant's food might represent. The thread enumerating cuisines from many countries got me thinking - why not make a list of restaurants in the area (or the state) that represent different regions of Mexico? Sadly, I don't know enough about the restaurants & regional specializations to start much of a list.
In some brief internet research, some of the states can likely be grouped together based on overall cuisine. Can anyone weigh in on:
Is the following list of generalizations useful, and
What (hopefully tasty!) restaurants in Seattle might represent the cuisine of these areas?
1. Baja (Baja California + Baja California Sur)
2. Yucatán (Yucatán + Campeche + Quintana Roo)
3. North-central Mexico (Coahuila + Nuevo León)
4. Central Plains (Aguascalientes + Jalisco + Guanajato + Michoacán + Zacatecas + San Luis Potosí + Hidalgo):
La Botana, in Greenwood
Huarachito's, in Columbia City
5. Gulf Shore (Querétaro + Tamaulipas)
6. Pacific Shore (Colima + Michoacán + Guerrero + Nayarit):
Michoacán, in Ballard
7. Isthmus (Tabasco + Chiapas + Oaxaca):
La Carta de Oaxaca, in Ballard
El Sabor de Oaxaca, in Burien
8. Northwest Mexico (Chihuahua + Sonora + Durango + Sinaloa)
10. Mountain South (Puebla + Tlaxcala)
11. Mexico State + Distrito Federal:
El Quetzal, on Beacon Hill
Barriga Llena, in Greenlake
ALSO: Restaurants listed in 'authentic Mexican food in Seattle' Chow threads that I cannot place:
El Puerco Lloron
Tacos El Asadero
Taqueria La Estacion
Taquerio del Rio
Great concept for thread. A few observations and questions:
I understood that Huarachito's chef was from DF; they sell some specialty items typical of that region's cuisine, such as huaraches, etc.
Agua Verde, at least in the past, claimed their food was Baja-oriented or inspired. Its quality is fine to me, but it seems to have wandered fairly far from what might be considered authentic regional cuisine.
Where is Taquieria Maestro? How is it? How is Michochan in Ballard? Do they do dope carnitas like La Tarasca of Centralia?
Best of luck, I hope you are able to unearth some new finds.
Thank you for your observations and questions, equinoise. I will move Huarachito's to DF.
Although I love Agua Verde for what it is, I don't consider it authentic (frequented it ever since it first opened). If someone out there has experienced this food in Baja, let me know! Otherwise, I'll keep it in the 'Americanized but tasty' category.
Full disclosure: I have never been to most of these restaurants. Spent a little while combing the CHOW PNW boards for 'authentic Mexican', and came up with these locations (I'm a 2-year returning-transplant). Plus, I am looking forward to spending Christmas in Mexico, and would love to do a food/cooking tour. Have to visit all these restaurants before I can figure out where to travel!
Taquieria Maestro is a taco truck (never been there). It may move from Burien (on Pac. Hwy. S. just north of 518) to Kent (23646 Pacific Hwy S, south of 516). The comment I found on CHOW was, "Totally dumpy surroundings but very clean truck and (outdoor) dining area. They have GOAT on the regular menu!! This place rocks and is the least gringo TT in the Sea. area." I saw only one reference to Michoacan in Ballard (also never been), which did not go into detail except that it was tasty and not "L.A.".
Sadly, the glorious La Tarasca carnitas have not made it into my mouth yet. Soon.
On another out-of-town note, if anyone is looking for seriously excellent Mexican food in/around Spokane, go to De Leon Foods, the bigger one on the north end of town. Some of the best mole AND carnitas I've had! (chile relleno was a pass, though)
a quick comment: your geographic breakdowns are faulty. i.e., Queretaro is in the middle of Mexico, and would NEVER be considered part of the Gulf Coast. Michoacan (among others) might have a Pacific coastline, but most of its known cuisine is from its interior, i.e., Morelia, Patzcuaro, etc
Then: most immigrants (from Mexico) in this country are going to aim their food at a more general population, thus offering a more "pan-Mexican" menu. to appeal to gringos and Mexicanos from other states/regions. Thus, you are not going to be able to hit as many of these regional specialties as you might hope. Oaxaca, el Norte (not likely to be broken down by the various states from east to west), Yucatan, etc., might be available, but Chiapas, the Jarocho area, etc, are not likely to show up quite so heavily. Just my thoughts from observing Mexican food in California, Texas, Kansas, NY, NC, Oregon, northern Mexico, etc
Your comments are 100% appreciated, thank you sambamaster. I made the list from a place of pure ignorance & internet research (hardly a good combination), and had to guess about some of the states with which I've not had much contact. If there are other faulty breakdowns, I really would love to hear them! Michoacan, I have heard, has some diversity in food from the coast to the interior, so it is listed twice. Would you say this is accurate?
I agree that most Mexican food in this country is aimed at the gringo, generally in order to stay in business. Many people love this food, and that's great for them. I just thought it was interesting that there have been many 'authentic Mexican' threads here, but no discourse on the specific regional specialties. Food can't originate from 'pan-Mexico' (unless it's copied from other places in the U.S.), so anything truly authentic must have been made by a person from a particular region of Mexico.
I personally feel that there is value in seeking out the regional specialties, and supporting businesses that bring something unique to the conversation. I may not be able to find food from each of these regions - but perhaps in asking, I might discover a richer country than 'pan-Mexico'.
Michoacan does indeed have several personalities....the food from the highlands around Morelia and Patzcuaro is different from the coastal which is different from the (not drug lord infested) Tierra Caliente a bit south of the highlands.
And I applaud you for seeking out the hidden gems (I just found a new Yucatecan place in Portland but need to visit one more time before writing it up). It sounds like Seattle might have some interesting options, but generally speaking, the tendency is to offer a more general menu to attract the widest clientele possible. And what I meant by "pan Mexican" is sort of a catch-all to refer to the usual suspects like generic tacos, enchiladas (and that awful California-ization of the burrito). Even in Mexico, you would never find the corundas of highland Michoacan for sale in neighboring Guanajuato, much less in Seattle or Omaha, though I heard rumors of corundas somewhere in the Bay Area, maybe Santa Rosa, or on the Peninsula where there is a large concentration of Michoacanos. Like Italy, where a local pasta recipe can be totally foreign just a few miles (or sometimes even streets in Rome!---I remember one great cook in Montalcino, south of Siena, complaining about a local restaurant serving farro soup..."We don't eat farro here," she said....farro is common in Lucca, about 70 miles away....) Anyway, food in Mexico is so regional as to be totally foreign from one region to the next and so not as marketable to a general audience as say, "tacos de pollo", like the hamburger is here....
Damn, what am I trying to say? Oh, just that, unless there is a concentration of people from a specific region in Seattle or Portland or wherever, it's difficult for a regionally focused place to survive, at least that is what they think.
there is a tendency for most "ethnic" joints to stay safe with their menus and not venture off too much into more "authentic", read: diverse, offerings; e.g., the nearly identical Vietnamese menus found in most Portland VN restaurants: pho, noodles and maybe banh mi, but very little of the great dishes of Vietnam like pork cooked in fish sauce, beef 7 ways, etc etc. They do what they think the market will bear, afraid to offer anything different...or, as you say, afraid to "bring something unique to the conversation."
Ahhh, if someone in Seattle or PDX would open a traditional northern Mexico cabrito palace (i can't remember what they are called generically, if anything) where the goats are cooked whole over a natural charcoal or wood fire, and served simply with corn tortillas, frijoles a la charra and guacamole, I'm sure they would make a fortune. The flavors are amazing, and the spectacle is very enticing...for gringos or for Oaxaqueños (where I've never seen such restaurants), all of whom would find the food impossible to resist....
Anyway, keep searching and reporting anything you find beyond "pan-Mexican"!!!
sorry for rambling....
I agree with sambamaster's point about Seattle Mexican restaurants having ageneral trajectory toward gringo-friendly pan-Mexcian as opposed to regional specialization. While this is most true for a given restaurant's concept, name, and marketing efforts, that doesn't mean that some places won't sell regional speciality dishes along with their generic burritos and enchiladas.
Like some Asian restaurants, I've noticed that some area Mexican spots that cater at least partially toward a emigrant clientele have items that are only shown on a native-language menu or poster, if at all. Some proprietors believe that offal and other more edgy foods should be concealed to avoid discouraging gringo customers (there was a good debate on this board regarding the dual menu approach at Bamboo Garden about a year ago)
This means further investigation is required in order for one to find the authentic items. For example, at Huarachito's I had to ask the servers to describe all of the items that are listed on the menu only in spanish under the carnitas heading, such as ear, skin, snout, etc. (This a la carte approach to pig parts is DF style, as J. Gold explains here: http://www.laweekly.com/2009-04-30/ea...
Alot of times, this process of inquiry, in and of itself, can be interesting and even entertaining, though I feel the best policy is to at least make available a few menus listing in English all available items.
I haven't been to a Guaymas for a while, and I can't say either what is regionally appropriate about their food, but I have made one or more salsas from Diana Kennedy's book that are listed as Sonorense, usually rustic and toasted chile in flavor.
I do appreciate that Guaymas has the salsa bar, a feature that is thoroughly standard at respectable taquerias in California, but negelected here except at the local chains (e.g. Guaymas, El Riconsito)
Ditto Puerco Lloron. The Carne Asada there is as authentically Norteno as I have seen. . The chef and at least one of the ladie behind the counter have Norteno accents, and I bet if you had enough people together you could get the owner to cook a goat.
Sounds like a chowhound project.