El Cabrito

11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 14631 Ambaum Blvd. S.W., Burien; 206-849-5449

Leticia Sánchez started making moles with her grandmother when she was 5. By the time she was 9, she was butchering chickens to help her grandmother cater weddings in the towns around Oaxaca City in Oaxaca, Mexico.

But when Sánchez moved to Seattle in 2004 when she was 21, even though she was an accomplished cook, she had to start at the bottom of the restaurant hierarchy: as a dishwasher in the kitchen of the Washington State Convention Center. Sánchez eventually became a prep cook there, then went on to cook at several Seattle restaurants like the now-shuttered Italian restaurant Palomino (where she met her husband, Artemio Coria Díaz), Elliott’s Oyster House near Pike Place Market and Barrio on Capitol Hill.

But it wasn’t until 2014, when she and her husband quit their restaurant jobs to start a food truck, that she started professionally cooking the moles, molotes and other Oaxacan dishes she grew up making with her grandmother. They named the truck El Cabrito, which means “little goat,” something Díaz’s family called him for being jumpy as a kid during his time growing up in the mountains of Guerrero, the state north of Oaxaca.

Since December 2019, El Cabrito has been a brick-and-mortar business, a restaurant in Burien that serves some of the best Oaxacan food I’ve ever had. Since the pandemic started, the truck has been reserved for occasional private events.

Molotes (fried masa dumplings filled with potato and chorizo) are one of my favorite Mexican dishes, and I could have eaten a dozen of these fried torpedo-shaped masa dumplings at El Cabrito, which come three per order ($9). A crisp veneer of corn dough gives way to soft potato and chorizo. The salsa made with fruity, smoky morita peppers burns, and the lime-serrano avocado salsa, though still hot, serves as a kind of balm along with the crema. The queso fresco and cabbage sprinkled on top bring crumble and crunch.

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And the enchiladas with mole coloradito and pork ($13) were deeply satisfying, everything imbued with the beautiful sauce made with numerous chilies, sesame seeds, almonds, plantains, tomato, cinnamon, clove and more, which all together tasted like a good dark chocolate or cup of coffee: toasty and sweet, tangy from the fruit and just a little bitter. 

Sánchez says though Oaxaca is famous for its mole negro (black mole), the mole coloradito is eaten more commonly, mole negro being saved for celebrations. Like everything else on the menu, it’s food her grandmother made for her growing up. 

Every week, El Cabrito has specials, like rock fish ceviche, pork gorditas and banana-leaf green mole tamales in the winter.

 In the future, when she has more staff, Leticia says she’d like to be able to take the food truck to more festivals and markets around Seattle. For now, we all must drive to Burien.

Burien Fish House

11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 133 S.W. 153rd St., Burien; theburienfishhouse.com

If you’re like me, you’re sick of getting your heart broken by fish and chips. You’ve gotten your hopes up too many times, in search of flaky, fresh cod or halibut, juices locked in by something light and crispy, only to be let down by a dense layer of beer batter or gummy fish meat that smells like a port on a hot summer day. Now, you rarely order fish and chips from new restaurants. And when you do, you stop the hope from rising so that it doesn’t hurt so much when the fish lets you down. 

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Jaded as I am with this dish I love, I was initially skeptical about the two-piece halibut fish and chips ($16) I recently ordered from Burien Fish House, a counter-service restaurant in a Burien strip mall. 

But the light, porous beer batter clinging to the fresh halibut (without even a hint of fishiness) was everything I was looking for. And even the tartar sauce, bright with fresh dill and lemon, was exceptional.

For those who want a batter that’s even more shatteringly crisp, Burien Fish House offers panko-breaded fish and chips, though I think the more forgiving texture of the beer batter pairs better with the soft potato in the fries. For another option, the fried cod is just as good as the halibut, with larger, softer flakes in the fish. And it’s a little more affordable, at $12 for the two-piece fish and chips.

If you’re craving panko-fried fish, I recommend ordering it wrapped in a flour tortilla, topped with pico de gallo, in a fish taco — you can get a corn tortilla, too, but it won’t be as soft and won’t contrast as nicely with the crispy fish. For variety, get the “Pirates’ Trio” ($17), which comes with a halibut, cod and salmon taco. Order a side apple-mango salsa ($1.50) to add more zest to the tacos.

Burien Fish House renewed my faith in fish and chips. It can for you, too. 

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