Guanaco’s Tacos Pupuseria
In the middle of a weekday, the television at Guanaco’s quietly flashes a telenovela behind a mix of students and workers (both construction and office) who occupy every table and stack them with pupusas. The griddled cake made from masa (cornmeal) is stuffed and then cooked (the opposite order from its Venezuelan cousin, the arepa). For a taste of everyday El Salvador, try loroco as a filling (a flower bud that masquerades as a vegetable), and cheese. What truly makes the dish special is what goes on top: a lightly pickled cabbage slaw called curtido, which packs a tiny punch of fermentation to brighten the dish. $2.90 each. University District, 4106 Brooklyn Ave. NE; 206.547.2369; guanacostacos.weebly.com
Taste of the Caribbean
On a high pass-through in the corner of a cavernous room painted in the colors of the Jamaican flag, a small, clear warming oven holds the island’s answer to Latin America’s empanada: the Jamaican beef patty. If the name has your mind conjuring images of hamburgers, think again. In Jamaica, where owners Carlene Comrie and Dwayne Blake are from, a patty is a thin, flaky pastry that wraps around a subtly spiced ground beef filling—almost like a stew in texture—with the traditional yellow crust beaming out from the case. The size and shape of an overstuffed Pop-Tart, it’s great as a hearty snack—as is often seen on the streets of Kingston—or as an appetizer before digging into a plate of Jamaica’s national dish: ackee and saltfish, a custardy, savory fruit and salt-dried, rehydrated fish. That is also on the menu here. $3.50. Central District, 1212 E Jefferson St.; 206.323.9112; tasteofthecaribbeanseattle.com
Trinidad and Tobago
Goat Curry and Roti
Despite being the most commonly eaten meat around the world, goat is something of a rarity on local menus, which is a loss for those diners who are missing out on the kind of long-stewed flavor that comes with the oft-dismissed meat. At this spot, run by Trinidad native Pam Jacob, the gaminess for which goat is so often derided gets lost in the curry, leaving diners with tender chunks of meat, afloat in the slow-cooked sauce redolent with cilantro, garlic, onions, cumin and habañero peppers. The heat of the spices and peppers can creep up, but the accompanying flatbreads—either the flaky layers of paratha roti or the lentil-stuffed dahlpuri roti—will help temper the bite. $19.50. Wallingford, 1715 N 45th St.; 206.696.7010; pams-kitchen.com
Moqueca from Tempero do Brasil
Arepa Venezuelan Kitchen
This simple sandwich of sorts is Venezuela’s most popular arepa (a griddled or deep-fried maize flour cake that acts as a pocket, similar to a pita), named in honor of the 1955 Venezuelan Miss World, Susana Duijm, who had the same nickname: reina meaning queen, and pepiada, an old-school compliment for pretty, curvy ladies. The U-District shop makes each arepa to order, and then fills the warm pocket with cool, creamy chicken-and-avocado salad. $6.50.
Don’t miss: The tequeños—fried, salty queso blanco (white cheese) sticks ($5.50).University District, 1405 NE 50th St.; 206.556.4879
Reina Pepiada—a chicken and avocado salad in arepa—from Arepa Venezuelan Kitchen in the University District.
Southern: Taco de Borrego
Los Tacos Nacos
In southern Mexico, weekends are for barbacoa: lamb slowly cooked in a pit until it falls apart. Now, from a strip mall in Burien, the tradition continues, almost unadulterated. The result is rich and sticky; meat in its most quintessential form. Cooked long in its own juices, the lamb comes in gluttonous piles—sometimes with bones still sticking out—atop house-made tortillas.
Pair it with: The consommé here, a broth made from the pit-cooked lamb drippings and stocked with chickpeas, can cure a hangover or a cold as well as any pho in town. $2.50 each. Burien, 14400 Ambaum Blvd. SW, Suite E; 206.453.4534
Northern: Tacos de Harina
Although Mexico’s northwest coastal state of Sinaloa is renowned for its seafood, this new Ballard restaurant (with an original, incredibly popular location in Kent) makes a mark with its beefy offerings. If you don’t want to assemble your own meal from a carne asada platter, get your tacos in the northern Mexican style—choose thinly sliced steak heaped on warm, house-made, thin and pliable flour tortillas, and then hit the salsa bar, where the habañero salsa is excellent, albeit spicy. $3.25 each.
Pair it with: Tequila, obviously. But if you’re not drinking booze, try the sweet agua de cebada ($3.99), a regional barley-based cousin to horchata. Ballard, 5405 Leary Ave. NW; 206.659.4499; asaderoseattle.com
Tempero do Brasil
Brazilian steak houses, those sparkling palaces of infinite meat, have hijacked the reputation of Brazilian cuisine in the United States. Tempero do Brasil, appropriately located in a house, shows off a different side of the cuisine: home cooking, mostly from the state of Bahia, where the vibrant cuisine mixes ingredients native to the area with those brought from Africa and Portugal. The combination bubbles to a head in moqueca, a seafood stew of halibut or prawns simmered in palm oil, coconut milk and peppers. The tender seafood gently perfumes the broth around it, while absorbing its full-bodied flavor. The result is lively and fun—much like the atmosphere of the restaurant, particularly on nights with live music. $22-$25. University District, 5628 University Way; 206.523.6229; temperodobrasil.com
Food for Thought
Pam Jacob, chef/owner of Pam’s Kitchen
“Our grandparents, great-grandparents, they came from India. When they came to Trinidad, they brought some of their seasoning and combined it with what they found there.… In Seattle, I go to the Asian market, I go to Mexican stores, I import my curries from New York. I can make anything we ate in Trinidad.”