Corte Fino makes good Mexican food even better with halal ingredients.

by Bao Nguyen

Corte Fino. Photo by Bao Nguyen.

Not yet done with his 30s and Martin (Mar-teen) Perez already has an impressive resume of experiences. He’s been a cook, a waiter, a personal trainer, a barber. He’s sold cars, taught kids, helped people refinance mortgages. And while there aren’t any tracks to be found on Spotify or Youtube, he’s even rapped with Seattle’s own Macklemore. 

This manic lifestyle wasn’t without consequences.  

“I was a big-time partyer and used to get in a lot of trouble,” Martin, who has Mexican roots recalls. “But my soul was searching for something else. I needed to find some type of discipline. And then I found Islam.”  

If you’re wondering what the Mexican Muslim community is like in Seattle, Martin is it. No surprise considering that the Muslim population in Mexico numbers less than 4000.

Chipotle chicken with rice and salad. Photo by Bao Nguyen.

His current life is no less hectic than before, but it does seem more rooted in family and community. After traveling far and wide, he returned to Seattle, his home town, got married, and became a father. Martin started teaching Islamic school on the weekends and organizing community events. When he found out the commercial space next to the school was available, he jumped at the opportunity to open a restaurant that combines his two identities. 

Together with co-owners Abdurahman Noor (cousin in law) and Mahamoudi Sheikh (brother in law), Martin opened a Corte Fino, a Mexican Halal restaurant in the Othello neighborhood of South Seattle, an area he knows intimately from his childhood. The nearest restaurant serving this type of food is in the Southern California city of Carson, according to his research. 

Halal is an Arabic word meaning “lawful or permitted.” With food, halal refers to a dietary standard defined by the Qur’an, the scripture of Islam. It’s akin to how kosher food is defined by Jewish law, including the treatment of animals for consumption. Another thing: no pork products. 

Mexican food without pork? 

“Yeah…we have to compromise,” explains Martin. “Like chorizo, it’s usually made with pork. A lot of things also use pig fat. But that’s the creative part. Our chef is an artist in the kitchen. He has a version of chorizo that’s delicious. I couldn’t thank him enough.” 

Cheese dip with beef chorizo. Photo by Bao Nguyen.

At the end of the day, Mexican halal food is simply the familiar Mexican dishes we’ve all come to love, made using halal ingredients. In fact, all the meats at Corte Fino, Spanish for “fine cut,” are organic as well. What’s important to Martin is that Corte Fino “serves great food, period,” not just for Muslims but for everyone. 

To do that, Martin got Gregorio Gutierrez, lead sous chef from Aqua by El Gaucho, a renowned Seattle restaurant to design the menu. In keeping with his principles, Martin also wanted to avoid wasting food so he worked with the chef to come up with the right proportions and they do grocery shopping almost every day. They order just enough so that “our food stays in the fridge for 2 days max.” 

“It’s a headache but you get the freshest ingredients and when you see people enjoying the food, the gratification is better than anything. You can’t replace that.” 

You’d think this is more than enough work for one person, but already Martin’s gears are turning and shifting. There’s another empty commercial space next door and, well, “Fino Café and horchata lattes” is all he’ll say at this point. 

“For me, all this work helps me out,” Martin says with a giddy smile. “It keeps my mind occupied. The challenge is finding the balance.”