Dining Out

6 Great Latin Restaurants in Seattle

South-of-the-border cuisines, or food inspired by them, shine in these commendable spots around town.

By Kathryn Robinson March 2, 2016 Published in the March 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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Big Chickie's rotisserie

Big Chickie Pollo a la Brasa

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A whole lot of folks now detour through Hillman City since the very careful proprietors of this refurbished gas station began peddling their Peruvian charcoal-roasted rotisserie chicken. Choose quarters, halves, or wholes—dark or light meat (some nights juicier than others, alas)—then fill out your plate with your choice of insanely terrific sides: lime-glazed sweet potatoes, corn salad, a mouth filler of a crunchy kale slaw, and a carb loader’s dream of cheesy potatoes are among the best. Technically the only seating is at outdoor picnic tables with sheets of clear plastic to keep out the elements in winter (read: bring the Polartec)—but the chili-spiced brownies for dessert have warming properties of their own. 5520 Rainier Ave S, Rainier Valley; $$ 

Cantina Leña

Tom Douglas is up to his old tricks in this bright Belltown space—showing us exactly how crisp pork carnitas needs to be to render nachos impossible to resist, just how festive orange paint can make a metal chair, precisely how many tortilla makers must be visible in back to convey maximum authenticity. It’s very casual, with plenty of margs and other cantina cocktails, and full of flavor—from the achiote-rubbed pork shoulder for stuffing into tortillas to the mescal-smoky caramel dipping sauce for the churros. When the flavors work, as in those (overgreased) nachos, good luck pushing the platter away. 2101 Fifth Ave, Belltown, 206-519-5723; cantinalena.com $$ 


Given how much success one can enjoy running a bad Mexican restaurant, really good Mexican restaurants—those attending carefully to Mexican regional cuisines—can be genuinely moving. Meet Chávez: a stylish nosh bar just north of the frenzied Pike/Pine section of Capitol Hill’s 12th with a sophisticated clientele and an even more sophisticated menu. Chef Gabriel Chávez wistfully recreates his childhood favorites from Durango, Mexico, with tacos aromatically meaty (braised short rib is killer) and guacamole sparkling with flavor. One bite of his meat-and-fruit stuffed chile en nogada and you’ll know why his mom won all the neighborhood contests. Stiff cocktails on the breezy patio, along with chips and salsa, equal summertime bliss. (Read more...)  1734 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-695-2588; chavezseattle.com $$$ 

The house margarita with fresh lime and Serrano pepper-infused tequila at Chávez.

Island Soul

Island Soul is brought to us by the folks who ran the charming Casuelita’s Island Soul in Judkins Park, relocated to more visible Rainier Avenue, and renamed to distinguish it from their cousin’s enterprise, the formerly related Belltown Casuelita’s. Got that? Neither do we—and you won’t care either once you crackle into a plate of tostones, fried plantain chips with sweet red onions, which taste wickedly fried but are actually roasted in garlicked olive oil. End to end the long menu is just terrific—from the jerk chicken, suffused with smoke and jumping off the bone, to the panfried red snapper lavished with a powerful escovitch sauce full of onions and peppers, to a platter of curried goat packing a perfect little sting, to the sweet moist coconut corn bread. It’s soul food gone Caribbean—or jerk food in the hood—with flavors every bit as bright and vivid as the sunshiny place and its friendly welcome. Desserts redefine decadence. 4869 Rainier Ave S, Columbia City, 206-329-1202; $$

La Carta de Oaxaca

The brick walls of old Ballard meet the terra-cotta tiles of old Mexico in the single most teeming, table-turning, earsplitting, salsa-sloshing sensation in town. While you’re waiting for your table—it’s not a matter of if in this reservation-free zone—thank the Dominguez family, who emigrated from Oaxaca and brought their home-cooking matriarch with them. There she is now, behind the salsa bar, making mole in the open kitchen. It’s a lush, sweeter-than--standard- rendition and an intricate complement to the pork and tortillas in the No. 18. Another stunner is the entomatada plate, in which marinated paper-thin strips of grilled beef arrive with folded corn tortillas in one of the finest tomatillo sauces north of the border. From the wall of arty light-box photographs to the SRO bar in back, the place couldn’t be more Ballard—which renders its deeply authentic food and dirt-cheap down-to-earth humor all the more revelatory. Closed Sun. 5431 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-782-8722; lacartadeoaxaca.com $

Muy Macho Taqueria

Times have changed some at Muy Macho Taqueria since it first opened years ago. It’s gotten spiffier, with tiled tables, a more fashionable open kitchen, and walls of historic photos, many showing those Mexican revolutionary icons Zapata, Villa, and Trotsky. Veggie burritos and taco salads have joined the carnivores’ classics. But the one-word inscription, “Mexicanisimo,” on an outsized Zapata mural still says it all: It’s still easier to order in Spanish, and Muy Macho still serves some of the very best Mexican food in this metropolis. Its proprietor is from Oaxaca, and her intensely flavored mole negro is the real Oaxacan thing, a chocolate addict’s dream. The classic stews—posole and menudo—will cure whatever ails you, whether or not you have the guts to ask about the “four kinds of beef tripe” in the latter. The roasted half chicken, drippingly tender in crackling skin, is superb. 8515 14th Ave S, South Park, 206-763-3484 $

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