Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

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We dined at El Camino with expats during our first week in Seattle. It felt shockingly cold transitioning from a sweltering southern hemisphere summer. I shivered in the dim enclosed patio, a wattage that I have since learnt is standard in Pacific Northwest restaurants. We returned to El Camino during daylight a couple of weekends ago. Painted a powdered blue, the Mexican eatery is located in the heart of Fremont.

The eclectic interior is decorated with paintings, posters, poppy chairs, and tangerine and lime walls.

Wrought iron gates sectioned off the spacious dining room from the bar and patio.

We were seated by the window in a near empty restaurant. A string of festive lanterns dangled above.

An ominous bottle of habanero sauce was at every table with a salt bowl.

A beverage of sparkling wine and pomegranate juice was appetisingly sour.

In a lotus shape, saffron coloured plantain chips were on a mound of salsa fresca and guacamole. The tostones de platano macho con guacamole was a starchy alternative to corn chips.

On a bed of black beans were white corn tortillas sautéed in tomatillo cream and topped with shredded chicken, queso fresco, diced onion and a dollop of sour cream. Described as cooked nachos, the chilaquiles de chile verde was a balanced lunch.

Two tacos were grilled steak parcels double wrapped in white corn tortillas. Garnished with diced onions and coriander, the tacos de carne asada were served with a pot of tomatillo salsa, and a generous scoop of rice and beans.

It would be a lovely summer evening on the El Camino patio!


I walk through South Lake Union several times a week. The neighbourhood is busy during the week, especially on the Westlake thoroughfare from Whole Foods to Harrison. I noticed the construction site on the corner of Harrison and Terry many months ago and didn’t know it was Cactus until recently. I love the pink window frames!

Next to the trio of Tom Douglas restaurants in the Terry Avenue Building and opposite Portage Bay Café, it is an emerging dining hub. The eateries already do brisk business on weekdays but foot traffic is minimal on weekends.

Cactus is located in an elongated room with a high ceiling. A bar is at the entrance and the dining room splits to the right and left. A private function room is on the mezzanine level. Floor-to-ceiling glass filters in natural light and patterned cylindrical lampshades are elegant and muted in contrast to the colourful furnishings. Chairs were painted and upholstered in azure, lime, saffron and copper.

We were seated at a booth on a quiet Sunday lunch service. Hand painted motifs featured on each wooden table. The modern and vibrant space is welcoming and cheerful.

Mango agua fresca, a fizzy beverage of agave nectar, fresm lime, mango, mint and sparkling water was refreshing.

The other Cactus restaurants are in Alki Beach, Kirkland and Madison Park and each has a unique logo which is printed on the serviettes.

We nibbled on salsa, guacamole and corn chips while we perused the menu. The salsa casera, homemade salsa, was appetisingly piquant.

A basket of warm corn chips was plentiful for the bowl of guacamole. Avocado, cilantro, lime, onion, serrano chillis and pico de gallo mashed together as a chunky dip.

Mr S selected the fajitas with grilled skirt steak. A plate of condiments and warm flour tortillas accompanied the sizzling skillet of Spanish rice, cumin black beans and caramelised onions. There is a rustic charm in wrapping ingredients and eating it by hand.

There are two tacos per serving and the kitchen kindly accommodated my request to mix and match. Spanish rice and cumin black beans were requisite for a Mexican meal.

On a house made white corn tortilla, the pescado had a fillet of battered fish, coriander and pasilla coleslaw, pico de gallo and buttermilk crema. A little soggy, the flaky white fish absorbed the tangy flavours that were tempered by the squirt of buttermilk crema.

The second taco was carnitas Yucatecas, Carlton Farms pork in achiote marinade and roasted in banana leaves, caramelised pineapple, Cotija cheese and red onion escabeche. It is a delectable combination of tender meat, sweet pineapple and pickled onions.

Flan is a one of my favourite desserts and this three milk Cuban flan is one of the best I’ve tasted. The sepia toned custard was poised in a puddle of sticky sauce. It was firm, smooth and creamy, topped with a vanilla speckled layer of caramel.

Cactus is a welcomed addition to South Lake Union!

Marination Station. I love that the name rhymes. After our failed attempt a couple of months ago, we knew exactly where to find the permanent location of Marination Mobile. Above the QFC on the corner of Broadway and Pike, Marination Station is concealed from the busy thoroughfare.

Outside is a patio with a narrow communal bench. A laminated menu is tacked on the glass door and inside is a small space with additional seating and the ordering counter.

‘Aloha served daily’, the cuisine is a fusion of Korean and Hawaiian influences.

Customer feedback quotes, photos and drawings decorate the stainless steel fridge. Pithy comments are scrawled on by staff.

Mr S quenched his thirst with a Hawaiian Sun tropical iced tea which was non-carbonated and refreshingly sweet.

We shared a miso ginger chicken taco as an appetiser. Tender pieces of marinated chicken are topped with their signature nunya sauce and coleslaw, and wrapped in two warm tortillas. A squeeze of lime and the taco was devoured quickly.

Mr S selected the spicy pork torta. Slices of spicy pork drizzled with their signature nunya sauce, pickled peppers and onions, and coleslaw are stuffed into a Macrina demi baguette with a thick spread of guacamole. The crusty bread soaked up the condiments and the torta was pleasantly crunchy.

I opted for the kimchi rice bowl with kalbi beef served with a sunny side up fried egg, green onions and furikake (Japanese seasoning). There was a generous amount of marinated beef short ribs. The sweet saltiness contrasted with the fiery kimchi fried rice. The creamy yolk tempered the heat of the chilli momentarily!

I recall eating an omelette with diced spam when I was a child, an easy meal cooked by my grandmother while babysitting me. I pondered the spam slider as we left.

I had a question mark next to the Mobile Food Rodeo on my calendar as Mr S was returning from a three week work trip on the same day. I hesitated when the lovely Carol offered me a spare ticket but Mr S assured me he would be sleeping off jet lag so I happily accepted.

It was cool and cloudy as we joined the queue just before midday. VIP ticket holders were to have an extra hour before general admission but they were delayed by the fire marshal inspection and thus had a cascading effect on us. Hungry and windswept, we finally entered just before one o’clock.

A barren bitumen block enclosed by a barbwire fence, about a dozen food trucks ringed the perimeter and there were a couple of canopies with stacked hay bales for seating.

The bright graffiti on the Skillet Street Food van greeted us.

We spotted a retro Jeep Fleetvan painted in Whole Foods Market green selling cold beverages. It reminded me of the British television series Heartbeat!

Next to the petite Whole Foods truck was Maximus Minimus, a pig with attitude in sunglasses!

Our first food truck was Curry Now. By the time we got our wristbands, I was shivering and in need of sustenance.

We shared a small chicken curry with rice and topped with cilantro. We ate this quickly and appreciated the spiciness.

Street Treats was adjacent and we peeked at the menu. Although tempted by ice cream cookie sandwiches we opted to purchase a salted brown butter crispy bar for later. We split this in the car and it was a sticky treat of sweet nuttiness.

A regular at Queen Anne Farmers Market, Parfait Organic Artisan Ice Cream was another sweet truck present. Street Donuts was there too.

When we were outside the line was moving steadily until we paused at Fusion on the Run. We noticed a menu leaning against a window and were intrigued by the coconut ginger chicken bánh mì.

As we were waiting for our bánh mì, a guy picked up his tacos order. On the left is ono, kalua pork with mango salsa and surfer sauce. The other two are KV fusion, marinated short rib with cilantro and onions.

A crusty baguette was filled with julienned and pickled carrots and daikon, lettuce, cilantro, sesame seeds and coconut ginger chicken. Each bite of the bánh mì was crunchy and juicy, the sour vegetables tempered the richness of the marinated chicken. This was the highlight of the Mobile Food Rodeo!

By now the crowds have at least quadrupled since we got in. Groups were huddled together, balancing plates and trays while standing. Those perched on hay bales were elbow to elbow.

We continued our rotation and walked by Lumpia World, Where Ya At and Kaosamai. After the bánh mì, we skipped burgers, sliders and sandwiches at Bistro Box, Buns on Wheels and Charlie’s Buns N’ Stuff.

The pig shaped chalkboard at The Box caught our attention! A recent addition to the fleet of local food trucks, they’re based in Kirkland.

We ordered a pork belly hum bao each and these were speedily assembled. Slow braised in soy and mirin, a generous slice of pork belly with a scattering of coleslaw was wedged between a steamed bun. The fresh and zingy slaw was a textural contrast to the yielding pork belly and the soft bun soaked up the tasty marinade.

A band entertained the crowds and later, Mayor McGinn appeared on the stage and a cupcake eating contest was held.

The sun had emerged and the atmosphere had livened up. There were some long queues so Carol lined up at Bigfood and I went searching for fries.

I was keen to try poutine, the Québec specialty. Surprised by only a handful of people lingering at Skillet, I joined the short queue just in time for the announcement that they were sold out.

Disappointed, I returned to the area where Bigfood was parked and caught a glimpse of the Happy Grillmore menu. Yukon gold fries with garlic and Parmesan? Yes please!

Unfortunately I was defeated by the wait time. The two chefs were cooking at a frantic pace but they were limited by space. The size of the event overwhelmed the charm of food trucks.

A jungle themed food truck, Bigfood also had a long queue but we were determined to try their grilled flatbreads.

On the left is sasquatch, spicy pulled pork shoulder with green mango chutney and coleslaw. On the right is yeti, braised beef with curried fruit and coleslaw. Colourful ingredients rested on fluffy flatbreads with perfect grill marks! These were tender and luscious, the grilled flatbread was a sturdy utensil for the shredded meat and fruity condiments.

And finally, a red velvet muffin. We scraped off the buttercream and halved the dense and buttery muffin.

Another new food truck, Snout & Co. has ‘soulful food from Cuba to South Carolina’.

As we exited, we were thankful that we arrived early and mostly avoided queuing by the dozens. Hopefully the organisation will improve for next year but it is a fun event to sample the diverse food trucks of Seattle and Portland.

Mobile Food Rodeo was a fundraiser for Solid Ground.

A group of Seattle food bloggers gathered at Myra‘s on a weekday evening to meet Sarah Matheny, blogger and author of Peas and Thank You.

A former family law attorney and meat eater, she left a full-time career ‘fighting over salt and pepper shakers’ to be a stay-at-home mother. With two young daughters, she created the Peas and Thank You blog to connect to adults.

As a lawyer her diet consisted of caffeinated drinks and energy bars to sustain a hectic schedule. As a mother she was conscious of how to feed her family, and recognised she needed to change and be a role model for a healthy lifestyle.

For a while she was cooking three separate meals for dinner – vegan for herself, one with meat for her husband, and children friendly ones for her daughters. An understanding and empathetic husband suggested transitioning the whole family to a vegan diet.

Her blog is a scrapbook of recipes, family stories and photos, a narrative of an ordinary family who are vegans. She found her voice through her blog and infused it with her personality. The cookbook is a collection of recipes that are on ‘rotation’ in her home, plant-based versions of classic family meals.

Sarah was articulate and persuasive, encouraging us to try meatless meals to improve our health and lower our grocery bills.

There is a pantry section in the cookbook and Sarah brought some of the ingredients with her. My first taste of tempeh was Ann Gentry‘s BLT tartines. A fermented soy product high in protein and fibre, Sarah likes to grate it and use it as a minced meat substitute.

We sampled the tempeh from her chipotle lime tempeh tacos recipe. It was spicy and had a meaty texture.

Chipotle lime tempeh tacos were garnished with non-dairy cheese. Sarah recommended the Daiya brand of dairy free cheese which is available in different flavours and melts.

We spread Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese and sunflower seed butter on crackers. Sunflower seed butter is a delicious alternative to peanut butter, especially for children to take to school to avoid nut allergies.

Supermarkets stock many organic vegetarian and vegan products. Sarah was keen to demonstrate that vegan cooking is accessible and doesn’t require shopping at specialty stores.

Sarah baked a carrot cake and made a ‘cream cheese’ icing. She steamed and puréed the carrots, and all the ingredients are organic and vegan in the recipe. The cake was dense and moist but the frosting was too sweet for my palate.

Harlequin generously gifted each attendee with a copy of Peas and Thank You. The adorable pea theme is throughout the book and each recipe is accompanied by a family story, memory or anecdote. Sarah took most of the photos in her book. While the photos of the food are rustically beautiful, I love the ones of her family captured in moments of joy and cheekiness.

Sincere thanks to Myra Kohn for hosting and Sarah Matheny for sharing.

We stood at the intersection of Pike and Broadway, perplexed. ‘It’s a large sign on the website photo,’ I said helpfully. We were searching for Marination Station and after a couple of laps, we stopped to check the website again for directions and realised the restaurant was above the QFC and had no street frontage. Just as we were about to turn around, I noticed Poquitos. ‘Fish tacos?’ I asked Mr S. He nodded knowingly.

On the street corner the Poquitos sign is a jolly man in a colourful hat and striped jacket, and sky blue pants strumming a guitar. The interior is decorated in rich, vibrant tones. Lanterns hang from the ceiling and hand painted tiles line the walls.

There are booths and tables in the main dining room, a bar area and a lunch counter for take-away service. We had a view into the kitchen from our table where tortillas were being hand rolled and pressed.

We sipped on margarita and a sangria style punch while waiting for our guacamole and corn chips. Made to order but not at the table, the guacamole was fresh and zingy, with just enough heat from the jalapeño.

We added salsas to our order to go with the remainder of the huge bowl of corn chips. Roasted tomatillo made two ways – the spicy green was serrano pepper with cilantro and lime, and the mild red was chipotle, garlic and onion. I preferred the chunkier red salsa, the corn chips were a sturdy vessel and there was no dripping!

The fish of the day was rockfish and Mr S opted for battered over grilled for the fish tacos. A serving of three, the plate was overflowing with shredded lettuce and cabbage, and covered with stalks of cilantro. Crispy batter and succulent fish, the tacos were satisfying without being heavy.

I have the same ambivalence to pork as Mr S does to tofu. With the exception of Chinese roast pork with crackling, I find that pork is a filler protein and does not have a flavour that appeals to me by itself. I like pineapple in savoury dishes so I picked the al pastor tacos. Marinated Carlton Farms pork with onions, pineapple and cilantro, these tacos were tender and juicy. The intense grilled flavours were moderated by the sweet pineapple pieces and thick strips of caramelised onions.

We shared a side of rice and beans. Cooked in a mini cast iron dish, these were a good palate cleanser after the al pastor tacos!

Our bill was presented on a clipboard with an adorable stamped outline of the Poquitos sign.

Quiet on a Saturday afternoon, I can imagine the restaurant lively and thriving in the evenings. Maybe a jolly man in colourful clothing will entertain the crowd with tunes on his guitar!

After a long drive on the ‘other side’ (on the right and on the Eastside!) this Memorial Day long weekend, we stopped in Kirkland for lunch. We meandered along the waterfront and got a table at Milagro Cantina. It is a spacious restaurant – there is booth and table seating, a large bar area and a patio for al fresco dining. It is dark inside – shades of brown is the dominant theme, accentuated by a fountain of petrified wood with a flame centre and a pretty collection of stain glass lanterns hanging in the middle of the dining room.

The restaurant is mostly empty for Sunday lunch and the service is brisk. Small and flimsy in appearance, the menu is surprisingly varied, traversing from Tex-Mex to coastal Mexican. We decided to share the guacamole sampler and some tacos. The first is guacamole de la casa – roasted poblano peppers, garlic, tomatoes and cotija cheese; the second is guacamole de mango – with mango and pine nuts; and the third is guacamole de granada – with pomegranate seeds and almonds.

On wooden paddles, the tres guacamoles is served with red and green salsa, pickled vegetables and tostadas. The earthenware are filled with bright reds and greens. While the tres guacamoles were colourful, they were disappointingly bland. All three guacamole had the same avocado base, disguised as different by their toppings and desperately in need of seasoning. The red salsa and pickled vegetables fared better. The red salsa is syrupy, fragrant with smoked paprika. Mr S loved the heat of the red salsa and happily blended it with the guacamole, of which I’ve abandoned.

We were expecting sturdy triangular-shaped corn chips to scoop up the dips but to our surprise, a wire basket of brittle tostadas are placed on our table. The huge discs of toasted tortilla are dusted with spices. Despite the heavy coating, it was devoid of flavour. I ate some of the plain shards and it had a faint sweet taste.

At four dollars each, the tacos are good value and we ordered the barbacoa, camarones, pescado and chorizo. Our waitress asked if we would like the tacos in a combo and we decided to try one. Buttery rice and black beans bulk up the meal but if we knew it would cost fourteen dollars, we would have ordered an extra taco instead!

We picked a seafood and a meat taco each. A classic fish taco, the pescado had chunks of grilled mahi mahi marinated in coriander and lime on a bed of cabbage slaw and topped with pico de gallo and mayonnaise. Similarly, the camarones is filled with fried Baja style shrimp. Crisp vegetables, creamy sauce, soft and fluffy tortilla, fresh seafood – these were gobbled up quickly!

I love the complex flavours of chorizo – slow cooked in sugo, stirred through pasta or barbecued and sliced to snack on with toothpicks. Unfortunately the chorizo taco was ordinary, I could not identify the meat in the oily, salty pulp. My favourite taco was the barbacoa – the beef was tender and juicy, and pairs well with the pungency of the onions and coriander.

The opulent décor could not conceal some challenges on their menu but it has the potential to become a destination restaurant on Lake Washington!

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