Pork is wonderful. But you already knew that. It's not the hottest take on a well-loved protein, I know, but when the words “lechon” and “popup” are seen together, do not sleep on the opportunity to dig into slow-roasted pork glory. That's what Eric Rivera (formerly the executive chef at the Bookstore Bar and Cafe) is bringing to Queen Anne's El Diablo Coffee on Thursday, August 24: a one-off popup of Puerto Rican lechon, which is whole pig roasted until the skin is a shiny, crackling shell yet inside the meat itself is so succulent you're not sure if its fatty juices are running or if you're just crying salty tears of joy upon it.
His new project since leaving the downtown restaurant is Addo, the popup home to his flurry of gastronomic whims. And in the future, plans for more permanent Puerto Rican cookery are to come.
This particular popup though, at $20 per person, will be fairly straightforward: the giddily aforementioned lechon plus three Puerto Rican sides of Rivera's choosing. If pork isn't your jam, opt for a vegetarian dish of stewed yuca, or cassava, a starchy tuberous root. Oh, and the drinks? “There will be sangria on-hand that will be made by my mom, how cool is that?” asks Rivera. Um, very cool.
See, this is a casual affair. To-go boxes, mom-made sangria, a buffet-like format—it's not unlike the lechoneras in Puerto Rico that Rivera's nodding to: Ascend a winding mountain road on the Caribbean island and it won't be long until you find cars pulled over at stands or little plazas wherein pig's been roasting all day. Buy it by the pound, pile it onto your plate, carry your tray of meat through a line not unlike a school cafeteria, except here they're heaping mounds of arroz con gandules (stewed Puerto Rican rice with pigeon peas) onto your plate and a myriad of other accompaniments.
Eric Rivera. It's been quite a ride following the culinary whereabouts of the Olympia-raised chef since his homecoming in 2015. A recap, shall we: Rivera returned to the Pacific Northwest after spending over three years at Grant Achatz's esteemed Chicago powerhouse-institutions Alinea, Next, and Aviary. He joined Josh Henderson's Huxley Wallace Collective—a restaurant juggernaut of rapid-fire openings and pivots alike—as the director of culinary operations and innovation. In his tenure as such, Rivera helped open two burger joints, a Laurelhurst cafe, and one now-defunct-but-ahead-of-its-time taco bar. NBD. Next: He took the executive chef gig at Linda Derschang's ever-Instagrammable Tallulah's on Capitol Hill. After that: He brought multicourse parades of modernist dishes to Bookstore Bar and Cafe; brunch meant reimagined everything bagels and afternoon tea pairings.
Next for the prolific chef, bringing this little piggy to market. Which is to say: Rivera plans on turning this Puerto Rican popup into a real-deal restaurant when he finds the right place and investors. “For me, this is my dream and has been forever,” says Rivera “[to cook] all the Puerto Rican things, because that's who I am.”
Puerto Rican Lechonera Popup
Thu, Aug 24, El Diablo Coffee on Queen Anne, $20