KENT — For the past 17 years, Tropical Hut catering, on Rainier Avenue South, has served whole roast pigs, fabulously bronzed beasts, seasoned simply and packed snugly in tin foil and cardboard for birthdays, Super Bowls or backyard feasts.
But at 60-ish pounds, a few hundred dollars and served whole, the pigs were strictly a special-occasion affair, requiring a couple dozen friends.
That changed last year, when Tropical Hut’s owners, Jocelyn and Robert Tuazon, opened a second location, a sit-down restaurant in Kent to supplement the catering spot.
Now, on weekends only, you can get that pig — lechon, a national dish of the Philippines — in regular portions, $14.95 a plate.
Cleavered into mostly bite-size hunks, the pork is veined with fat, tender without falling apart. Each portion is crowned with big shards of burnished-copper pork skin, crackling-crisp. They’re like carnivorous potato chips; I wish they served them by the bowl. It comes with a humble little dish of beige sauce. Made with soy sauce, vinegar, breadcrumbs and grilled pork liver, it’s bright and compulsively dippable.
The whole thing cries out to be eaten with your fingers.
Tropical Hut cooks about a dozen pigs a weekend, Jocelyn Tuazon said, mostly for special orders, with some saved for the restaurant. They’re all cooked in one big oven that can fit six to eight pigs, at the Rainier Avenue location. Instead of roasting slowly, overnight or longer, at minimal heat, they’re blasted at 500 degrees, for about five hours, Tuazon said.
Plates of lechon are only available Saturday and Sunday, but the pork finds its way into other areas of the menu.
Lechon sisig ($11.95) arrives on a sizzling cast-iron platter. It’s a small-dice hash of lechon and onion, splashed with soy and citrus. Crisp and caramelized on the bottom, it is first-rate leftovers.
On another sizzling platter ($11.95) come rings of calamari, seared with button mushrooms and swimming in dusky cream sauce. It’s got a saltwater-stroganoff vibe — very rich, a little odd, warmly comforting.
Lechon also sometimes shows up in pancit noodles ($9.95), glass vermicelli, smoky and lemony, wok-seared with carrots, celery and scallions.
Tuazon, 49, emigrated from the Philippines about 25 years ago. Her parents taught her to cook back home in the Quezon Province just south of Manila, and the family opened a restaurant there last year that her sister runs.
Here, her husband roasts the pigs at the Seattle location, while she runs the restaurant in Kent. It’s an unassuming spot, behind a salon, between a strip mall, a convenience store and a National Guard armory. She’ll treat you like an old friend, steering you toward favorite dishes and asking if she can take a selfie with you. Those pictures might end up as decor — one corner of the restaurant is charmingly decorated with hundreds of snapshots of customers, pasted into a collage that reads “Tropical Hut.” Look for Seahawks tackle Germain Ifedi, who ate at Tropical Hut last spring and got memorialized on the wall with Tuazon.
It’s a family affair. The Tuazons’ two sons also help out at the restaurant, although maybe not as much as promised. Their eldest son was supposed to manage the new location, Jocelyn said, “but you know how the kids here are …”
“He needs to learn how to cook,” she joked. “I make my own egg rolls [Lumpia Shanghai, cigarillo-thin, crisp and juicy with ground pork, $5] and they don’t know how to make that. They can learn, but still. Making egg rolls is a lot of work. Everything is a lot of work.”
Tropical Hut, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 1-8:30 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; 24602 36th Ave. S., Kent; 206-212-4481