In the months since fires ripped through many of the White Center businesses located on 16th Avenue Southwest between Southwest Roxbury and Southwest 98th, little has changed. Storefronts are still boarded up; blackened interiors are still visible. Many businesses are still in limbo on a way to recoup losses and move forward. Huong Xua White Center Deli, lauded by my colleague Tan Vinh as having the best roast pork banh mi in Puget Sound, has a GoFundMe set up, a little over halfway from meeting its goal. The owners of Lumberyard Bar are in the process of rebuilding across the street from their original location, with plans to be open by June. Still, there are plenty of restaurants to support as the neighborhood rebuilds.
You can get perfectly crafted espresso drinks at Moonshot Coffee (9622 16th Ave. S.W.; moonshotcoffee.com), or head down to the Taqueria la Fondita truck (9811 15th Ave. S.W.) — I am in love with the carnitas tacos from its sister location in Greenwood. A neighboring cart is the Best Roasted Corn Stand (9811 15th Ave. S.W.), a name that is in no way hyperbole. I love the fresh corn tortillas from Rosticeria y Cocina El Paisano (9615 15th Ave. S.W.; rosticeriaelpaisano.com), especially when slathered with creamy, lard-heavy refried beans and a hunk of chile-rubbed roast chicken. You can get a half chicken snipped up while you wait and served with tortillas, rice and beans for $15.
There are also two new-to-me places that have me plotting another return to White Center before too long.
The Roll Pod
11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily; 9602 16th Ave. S.W.; 206-397-3336; therollpod.com
This counter-serve spot opened in early November 2021. It’s the second brick-and-mortar for owners Anu Singh and PK Kumar, who have been operating food trucks since 2017 and a location in Bellevue since 2019. The menu is centered around kathi rolls made of roti, and bowls, each filled with your choice of meat or vegetables, rice, crunchy cabbage salad, green chutney and a fried egg. There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian offerings plus chicken, mutton and fish.
I opted for the Roll Pod ($12.95), a duo of rolls — one filled with chicken masala, the other a chana masala with chickpeas. The rolls are lovely, packed full of layered flavors and complementary textures. The roti wrap is soft and flaky, yet surprisingly sturdy — especially given the amount of filling. Both the chicken and chana masala fillings have real main character energy, so full of well-balanced spice and a good eggy finish. Default spice setting is three, which I found to be a solid medium in that it’s definitely assertive, but not aggressive. Luckily, I also ordered a mango cooler ($3.75), which was like a glass of thick sunshine, helping to defang the spice.
Carniceria El Paisano
9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; 9629 15th Ave. S.W.; 206-767-5526; carniceriaelpaisano.com
Located right next door to Rosticeria y Cocina El Paisano, this butcher shop drew me in with its huge “tamales” flag flapping in the breeze just outside. I had been in once before — pre-pandemic — but the tamales were sold out. This time I was in luck, and I walked away with pork, chicken and spicy pork tamales ($2.25/each).
These tamales are delightful. The masa is creamy and moist. They’re on the smaller side — but the filling-to-masa ratio is spot-on. The chicken was flecked with green chile, the pork a brick red. The meat is tender and juicy. I had half left over and they re-steamed beautifully the next day for lunch.
The shop is small, but it’s packed with everything one could want from a butcher shop — plenty of good, fresh-looking meat, dried chiles, fresh salsas, tortillas and more. If I fulfill my Seattle summer dreams and get a grill, this will be my first stop for carne asada. Either way, I’ll be back for more tamales.