A widely held stereotype of Americans asserts that we like things that are big. After all, what American does not live in a big house, drive a big car, or watch a big TV. When it comes to red meat, we like to eat large animals, namely the cow.
Americans consume relatively little lamb and even less goat, even though the rest of the world consumes more goat than any other animal. In the United States, most Americans prefer wearing goats (cashmere) to eating them. Immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America do most of the eating.
So it'ês no surprise that the most popular dish at the Rosticeria y Cocina El Paisano in White Center is the birria de chivo ($7.99), chunks and shreds of goat meat stewed with chiles. The meat'ês taste is not unlike lamb or beef, but it'ês deeper and richer. Slightly darker in color than beef, it is lean in texture, with a slightly mineral flavor.
El Paisano, located near the intersection of 15th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Roxbury Street, is a beloved institution that serves authentic Mexican home cooking, mostly to immigrants who call the place home. Mexican customers are the mainstay, naturally, but Somalis and Cambodians eat there too.
Maria Mireya, a cheerful woman with a lyrical name, works most days, taking orders and running the cash register. The food, she said, tastes just like her home state of Durango, Mexico.
El Paisano serves the expected dishes like enchiladas, tostadas, chile relleno, burritos, tortas, and of course tacos, which at $1.50 each can be ordered with 15 different kinds of meat, including beef intestine (tripa), pork stomach (buche), fried pork skin (chicharron), tongue (lengua), meat from a cow'ês head (cabeza), and even beef testicles (criadillas).
The variety of meat is hardly coincidental with the fact that the restaurant'ês owners, Jose and Patricia Silva, own the butcher shop next door. Having a ready and constant source of fresh meat would improve any restaurant. The practice of pairing a butcher shop with a restaurant is a growing concept in high-end dining from Brooklyn to Portland. But for the Silvas, it was just a logical business decision, made with no consideration to food fashion or marketing.
The Silvas started the butcher shop nine years ago, building the business slowly, making loyal customers out of friends and neighbors who attended their church a few blocks away. Customers kept telling them they should open a restaurant too, which the family finally did three years ago. Good tacos can be found with relative ease all over the city, thanks to the growing popularity of taco trucks. But full-service restaurants serving authentic Mexican cooking are harder to come by.
White Center is perched on a ridge above the industrial backwater of Seattle. Block for block, downtown White Center might be the most diverse neighborhood in the city. Here, you can eat Cambodian noodles or El Salvadoran tamales. There are Thai, Vietnamese and Somali grocers. And of course, here you can find some of the best Mexican food in the city.
El Paisano roasts whole chickens, which you can buy whole or in quarters or halves. A whole bird with rice, beans, tortillas, limes, onions and pico de gallo will set you back $11, but it'ês enough food for a small family. The roast-chicken meal is a staple of Mexican corner food stalls. The restaurant also serves tamales formed and wrapped by hand on the premises.
Another house specialty are the soups, most under $8. Caldo de res is a beef soup with corn and root vegetables. Albondigas, a meatball soup, is occasionally offered as a special. Then there are the Mexican classics, pozole (made with pork and hominy, a corn kernel) and menudo (made with tripe).
Eating delicious Mexican food from a truck is rightfully becoming an honored ritual, but some food was just not meant to be served on wheels.
If you go: Rosticeria y Cocina El Paisano, 9615 15th Ave. SW, Seattle, 206-763-0368. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.