The new spot opened by the sons of the former Paseo owner also serves a great big drippy Caribbean roast.
Most people say Paseo is as good as ever since it reopened, maybe even better: These days they never run out of bread, and they finally take credit cards.
But the sons of the original owner — the marvelously named, if legally troubled, Lorenzo Lorenzo — have just opened their own sandwich shop less than three miles to the northwest. It’s got a familiar tropical-pink paint job, and the only significant difference on the menu is that they’ve moved the Caribbean roast-pork sandwich — which both restaurants describe as “slow roasted ’til falling into succulent morsels” — to its rightful No. 1 spot.
But which is better: Paseo under its new ownership, with its sandwich painstakingly reverse-engineered? Or brand-new Un Bien, literally the son(s) of Paseo?
4225 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, 206-545-7440, paseoseattle.com; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 11 a.m.- 8 p.m. Sat., closed Sun.-Mon.
7302 15th Ave. N.W., Seattle, 206-588-2040, unbienseattle.com; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun. closed Mon.
The shutdown and bankruptcy of Seattle’s most-famous-ever sandwich purveyor last winter is now the stuff of local food legend, and the ensuing social-media freakout was possibly as big as the one following the news that we’re destined for earthquake doom.
Paseo, of course, was revived by entrepreneur Ryan Santwire, who paid $91,000 for the business but didn’t get the recipes. With the help of a group of rehired former Paseo workers — “the same people who’ve been cooking the food for eight years,” he noted at the time — he re-created the sandwich in what he felt was all its original, messy glory.
The world agreed, the lines out the door resumed, and there was much rejoicing.
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What does Santwire think about the latest development?
“Paseo’s Paseo for a reason,” he says. He’s right, though you could say that reason is the father of his new competition. “I think their food is nice,” he says, “but ours is more savory. I don’t have anything bad to say… Paseo, the proof’s in the punch.”
Santwire hints that soon there may be more punch, too, with a second location in the offing in Sodo. Meanwhile in Fremont, he says, they’re busier than ever but getting through the line faster, thanks to increased kitchen capacity and other improvements.
Julian and Lucas Lorenzo both worked for their dad at Paseo but say he’s not involved with Un Bien. “We can ask him a question or two, but he’s doing his own thing,” Julian explains. “He’s actually retired now.”
As for the sandwich, “It’s definitely our take on it … We’re trying to make it [with] more flavor. And we’re still trying to keep the secret under wraps.”
Have they tried Paseo since it reopened?
“No,” Julian Lorenzo says. “Growing up with it, being involved with it since we were young, it’s still kind of a sore spot. I can’t bring myself to try it.” But he sounds utterly sincere when he says, “We don’t want to wish any ill will on them — we definitely don’t want it to be a competition thing. They’re doing their thing and we’re doing ours.”
But really, they’re both doing the same thing when it comes to the Caribbean sandwich. So how do the two stack up?
With the Paseo version, true to its origin, stacking up isn’t the point — it’s a veritable explosion of a sandwich, a fully engrossing occupation. The two layers of paper wrapped around it are powerless to stop its leaching pork fat and juice, and when someone gets up after eating, a small tabletop grease slick marks that customer’s sojourn.
Paseo’s Caribbean roast comes, as it always has, on an oblong Macrina roll, but most who attempt to engulf it resort to plastic cutlery, as big hunks of both the marinated pork shoulder and roasted onion fall out with impunity. The romaine lettuce virtually disappears under the onslaught; jalapeños occasionally surface, lending a spicy kick throughout.
The outdoor picnic table in summertime is a communal experience, as if everyone has taken the same drug together. Last Friday, an Uber driver from Ethiopia remarked to no one in particular, “Man, that’s good.”
As two guys who had been talking about startups departed, one asked if anyone needed more napkins. (Uber-driver answer: “Mmmph, yes, please.”) Long silences fell, utterly comfortable ones.
Not far away, the fledgling enterprise of Un Bien occupies the former site of Burger Hero. (Before that, it was Lunchbox Laboratory.) Perhaps in tribute to the patriarchal cash-only days at Paseo, the credit-card interface was on strike, wreaking havoc on a lunch rush continuing past 2 p.m.
“This is an experience!” said the father of a family of tourists in line. Meanwhile, a co-worker of the gently frustrated cashier offered him a hug. He accepted, even though, he noted, “You know I don’t like to be touched.” He used to work at Paseo; the bread here is also Macrina, he said, “Same as we used at Paseo for, oh, 20 years.”
The Un Bien Caribbean roast is a more manageable encounter. While it could never be called tidy, dripping as it does, it maintains a semblance of the sandwich form, and it’s even possible to get all the elements in one careful bite. It’s got spice from jalapeños too, but the meat’s marinade is slightly more citrusy-sweet. One could argue that this sandwich has more nuance, more complexity.
If it’s a slightly smaller sandwich for the same $9.75, it’s still more than anyone should probably eat in one sitting. (One guy dining with a large group interjected into a discussion of ferry schedules, “I don’t care — I’m huge, I’m gonna eat the whole thing.”)
So is bigger better? Or do the Lorenzo brothers hold the secret? We’re lucky to live in an embarrassment of such riches that we can try two superlative sandwiches and decide for ourselves. Though I wouldn’t recommend doing it in one afternoon.