Bang Bang Kitchen’s cornmeal pancakes and Frito pie are reason enough to ride the light rail to Othello station, but there is more to like about Yukiko and Miki Sodos’ latest restaurant romp. Bang Bang’s festive, light-filled setting, its veg-and-vegan friendly Southwest-inspired menu and its roster of well-made tequila cocktails make an appealing package.
The Sodos sisters may be best known for breathing new life into Café Pettirosso after taking ownership of that Capitol Hill mainstay in 2011. But two years before that they opened Bang Bang Café, a counter-service only, burritos-and-bagels joint that’s still a fixture in Belltown. “Little Bang Bang,” as they call the original, allowed the Albuquerque-raised siblings to import pallet-loads of the red and green Hatch chile peppers they so missed from New Mexico.
Those chile shipments from the land of enchantment increased with the opening of Bang Bang Kitchen in January. When it comes to chilies, the most pressing question in New Mexico is “red or green?” Bang Bang’s brawny burrito and the daintier enchiladas arrive Christmas-style, meaning they have both.
The green chile has a sunnier, sweeter disposition; the brooding, intriguingly bitter red delivers more heat. They bring out the best in each other and they flatter whichever meat filling you choose for your burrito or enchilada. My first choice would be the exceedingly tender red chile brisket, followed closely by the green chile chicken.
Chile powder from New Mexico’s historic village of Chimayo accounts for the intense red color and hint of smoke in the “red chile chili.” It’s made with coarsely ground beef and no beans, the way they like it in Texas, home state of chef Abe De Leon, who cooked previously at Eastlake’s Little Water Cantina. The side of cornbread is good, but not as memorable as the cornmeal pancakes — buttery, sweet and almost fluffy enough to float. Four crispy little chicken drumettes, honey-glazed and chile-stoked, tether them to the plate. The green chile butter on the side is essential to the experience. Don’t skimp.
The pancakes are on the Friday-through-Sunday brunch menu, introduced this month. Those wings fly solo at Happy Hour and dinner, with Frito pie as their wingman. A concession-stand staple in the Southwest, Frito pie is not actually pie, but a crunchier, saltier cousin to nachos.
Eating this hot mess of ground beef, beans, cheese and chips — presented in a ripped open Fritos bag — requires a fork, not just your fingers. It’s equally enjoyable when you swap the meat for calabacitas — a traditional New Mexican sauté of diced squash, corn and jalapeño — and you can kid yourself it’s better for you.
Several items on the menu are vegan or vegetarian or can be tweaked to accommodate those needs. The sisters joke that their vegan-consulting chef is Yukiko’s husband Shawn Kock — who is vegan, but not a chef.
“Shawn’s Vegan Mac,” long popular at the Belltown Bang Bang, is on the menu here too. While this mac sans cheese may not convert mac and cheese strict-constructionists, the elbow noodles were pleasingly firm and the satin-textured soy-based sauce had a mild chile sizzle. I ate it happily.
I found the vegan jackfruit al pastor taco the most compelling of the hard-shell “Mama’s tacos,” easily besting the more mundane ground beef and chicken versions. You can sub an Impossible Burger for the Painted Hills beef patty in the green chile cheeseburger, as iconic in New Mexico as espresso is here. The burger is refreshingly normal-sized, made with top-notch ingredients but pretty basic — cheddar, grilled onions, lettuce and a roasted green Hatch chile on a toasted Grand Central potato bun. Have it with fries or better yet, with a side salad that is a thoughtful, lively mix of lettuces and more tossed in an orange juice-spiked vinaigrette.
I’d steer confirmed carnivores toward the steak, a thick, flavorful shoulder cut from Painted Hills called teres major. It was nicely grilled and more tender than the dull knife would lead you to believe. At $24, it’s the priciest menu item, but it included a big, charred Anaheim pepper, red chile sauce, rice, beans and tortillas. Two definitely can share it.
I was disappointed by sopapillas, another pillar of New Mexico cuisine. The fried dough was properly puffy but could have been lighter. The use of vegetable shortening instead of lard makes them vegan and might account for their general blandness. Soggy bottomed at brunch, when large crescents were overstuffed with scrambled egg, potatoes, beans and chile sauce, they fared better at night, when smaller squares were dusted with powdered sugar and served with honey for dessert.
I much preferred the fried ice cream, a baseball-sized scoop of vanilla encased in a crunchy shell of cinnamon, honey and cornflakes.
If you sit at the bar, you’ll notice bar manager Dayri Garcia (whom you may recognize from Café Pettirosso) has amassed many agave spirits. He uses them to great effect in margaritas and other cocktails. The “Garden Coffin,” a drink that’s cheerier than it sounds, mixes muddled cucumber and mint with tequila, lime and simple syrup. It’s a highlight of Happy Hour, which stretches from 4-7 p.m. daily throughout the restaurant, not just in the bar.
Both Sodos live in Seattle’s south end. The cultural diversity of the neighborhood reminds them of Albuquerque. When Huarachitos closed last year, they saw an opportunity to expand the Bang Bang concept in Othello. Architectural designer Christine Chaney (whose projects include Wallingford’s Art of the Table) used color and light, concrete, wood and textiles, to create a look you could call Northwest by way of New Mexico. An artist friend channeled the sisters’ childhood memories into dreamlike murals.
The result is a gathering place that feels warm and welcoming to all. Every neighborhood should be so lucky.
Bang Bang Kitchen ★★
4219 Othello St., Seattle
Reservations: accepted for parties of six or more
Hours: dinner 4-10 p.m. daily; brunch 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday-Sunday; Happy Hour 4-7 p.m. daily
Prices: $$ (soups/salads/starters $7-$11; dinner mains $10-$24; brunch mains $11-$15)
Drinks: full bar features long list of agave spirits
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles