By Tiffany Ran
October 2, 2017

A commonly held belief was that the best Mexican food was only available further south near the border, but that is quickly changing for us in the Northwest. Thanks to chefs who are celebrating these flavors on their menus, opening new restaurants, and leading future generations of young cooks. We interviewed three Mexican chefs on the growing local representation of Mexican cuisine, their favorite Mexican dishes, and the impact the cuisine has on their career and work here in Seattle.

David Orozco, Chef-owner of Mexican Restaurants Asadero el Mesquite and Asadero Sinaloa

David Orozco, Chef & owner of Asadero Mexican restaurantsDavid Orozco’s Asadero Sinaloa began as a small food stand in Kent. Shortly after their building was shuttered and they were forced to close, Orozco went brick and mortar. David quickly expanded his Mexican grill concept to a second location in Ballard with Asadero el Mesquite within a brief two-year time. Both Asadero locations champion quality carne asada made with wagyu beef and paired with their signature salsa made with fire roasted tomatoes on a molcajete, mortar and pestle.

What are some of your favorite Mexican dishes or childhood dishes?

The Caldo de Albondigas. When I got married, my wife made it with a little chipotle touch. We were doing that for a couple specials last winter. We’re basically a steakhouse so we started blending wagyu and tenderloin to contrast a finer cut and a leaner cut for the meatballs. They came out really good!

The Chicken Tinga. That’s something that we don’t serve but that’s one of my favorite things too. That’s my grandmother’s dish.

Favorite Local Places for Mexican Food:

For some of my favorite Mexican dishes I like to go to La Carta Oaxaca. I like to go to there for their mole.

For a simple taqueria, I think the best taqueria here is Tacos Chukis. They’re a straight-to-the-point taco joint. I like that. That’s how a taqueria is supposed to be. I love their pastor and their salads are phenomenal.

How do you think Mexican cuisine is represented in the Northwest?

I think it’s starting to get a little bit better, especially in Seattle. As of five years ago, it was terrible. It was all Tex Mex and people still had that idea that Mexican cuisine was all tacos, burritos, enchiladas, salsa and chips, and cheesy. This is something we must fight against to change the mentality of people in the Northwest; that [our cuisine] is not all about that, that we can stand up with the real stuff and create a [restaurant] concept from that. I think it’s changing and it’s going in the right direction.

Pedro Martinez Plata, Chef at Portage Bay Café Found His Passion in Cooking 

Pedro Plata, chef with Mexican heritage at Portage Bay Cafe Pedro Martinez Plata did not expect to be a chef when he first moved to Seattle about 16 years ago. He studied to be a refrigerator and air condition mechanic in Mexico. In Seattle, he started out as a janitor at the former Bon Marche Department Store, but felt unmotivated in his work. A friend recommended that he take on a dishwashing job at Mama’s Mexican Kitchen, where he worked from dishwasher up to prep cook and eventually line cook. He first joined Portage Bay Café at its South Lake Union location and was eventually promoted to sous chef. When Portage Bay owner John Gunner decided to open its new 65th location in Roosevelt, Plata was assigned to be the chef of the new location, where he takes pride in training new line cooks who started out just like him.

What are some of your favorite Mexican dishes or childhood dishes?

I’m from Nayarit, in a little town of Ixtapa de la Conception. That’s close to the sea so we eat a lot of seafood. One of the dishes my mom used to make when I was a child was Empanadas de Camarones. This empanada is made with masa. They use a sauce called salsa huichol that’s popular in the state we’re in (Nayarit, Mexico). We add the salsa to the masa so the masa has a red color and it has the flavor of the chipotle and salsa huichol. Inside there are tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapenos, and shrimp and my mom used to fry those.

Another dish I really enjoy is the Pescado Zarandeado. Here the fish is called Red Snapper. The fish gets cooked on an open fire, which adds a smoky flavor to it. We eat a lot of seafood over there.

Where do you like to go for Mexican food?

I always go to eat at this one location in Lynnwood called Todo Mexico.

What do you enjoy about the Seattle food scene?

I’m a chef here but at a Portage Bay location, so I’m not making Mexican food but I like learning about other cuisines. Here in Seattle, it’s very diverse and if you want good food, you can go to a lot of different places. All the things I like to eat, we can eat here. Sometimes I go eat shrimp, crabs, scallops. I feel that Seattle also has a lot of many similar things as where I’m from.

Rosa Nami Soto, sous chef at Terra Plata Favorite Mexican Dish Resembles Her Diverse Restaurant Experience

Rosa Soto, local Mexican chef Local chef Rosa Nami Soto had opened restaurants, worked in them, and pushed their menus to new heights before she appeared as a sous chef to chef Wayne Johnson’s battle on Iron Chef and later as a Food Network Chopped Champion. Recently, she transitioned from working as sous chef of Zocálo to becoming the new sous chef of Terra Plata. Her restaurant experience is diverse, including Spanish, French, Mexican, and even Chinese food, and cooking in both Seattle and Chicago, but Soto’s passion for food can best be summed up in one quintessential dish.

What are some of your favorite Mexican dishes or childhood dishes?

My favorite childhood dish is mole. Mole is my first memory and food obsession. Both my grandmas would make it. I grew up in Mexico until I was four and even at that age, I was eating mole. My mom said ever since I was a baby, I was eating mole. Most of the kids don’t like eating that stuff. Even growing up, my mom could never let me wear white saying, “Sometimes you would find mole and any time you found mole, you’d always end up with mole all over you and your shirt, all over your hands!” Now as a chef, I haven’t been able to make my mole at a restaurant but I do make my mole chocolate cake. I use mole in other ways but it’s something I’d like to feature more in my food.

Is there anywhere in Seattle you like to go to for mole?

Mole is just another word for sauce. Mole can be anything. It can be made with seeds, peppers, chocolate, fruit. It varies from region to region, family to family, and in consistency. I like that there’s chocolate in there but I like that you can’t taste it there. It’s just this added complex flavor, depth. I also like that it’s sweet, savory, smoky. You can’t put your finger on one thing. It changes. It’s personal.

I don’t like many people’s moles but there’s this little window in the Pike Place Market called La Vaca. They have chicken mole enchiladas and the reason why I enjoy eating there a lot is because their food is a lot like my mom’s cooking. Turns out that their mom is from the same region that my mom is from. Pretty much the best version I’d recommend in Seattle is there because it reminds me of my mother’s mole. It isn’t my mother’s mole, but it’s as close as I can get to it and it just happens to be $7 out of a street window.

How has your exposure to Mexican cuisine shaped you as a chef and your everyday cooking?

This summer I went to Pujol in Mexico City to eat at Enrique Olvera’s restaurant. He has that mole that he continuously marries. When I was over there, I think it was about 1012 days that it’s been cooking. I was able to have the mole they just made versus the mole that’s been cooking for a thousand some odd days. There were about 90 ingredients in it. It was one of the craziest food experiences I’ve ever had. I went to Mexico for this. That’s how obsessed I am. I made reservations four months in advance.

I cook every day at home because even though my mom had two full time jobs, she cooked at home. Even though my grandma had a full-time job and took care of all her grandkids, she always cooked at home. It’s always ingrained in me. I still cook at home every day even though I’m always at work for 16-hour day, I don’t like going out to a restaurant, I like going home and making my own food and feeding myself. I know what I want. I have a comal at home on my stove, which is what you use to heat up tortillas, I eat tortillas every day. It’s part of me. I can’t not have that in my life. When I moved to Chicago, that was the first thing I packed in my bag.