When Wilfredo and Elvi Reyes moved to Kent 10 years ago, they couldn’t find any food from their home country of Guatemala. Wilfredo says even though he met many Guatemalans living in Kent, he couldn’t find a single Guatemalan restaurant anywhere in the Seattle area.
Wilfredo worked in demolition and his wife cleaned houses for several years, but after a while, they’d had it with the lack of Guatemalan restaurants in the area.
In June 2019, they opened Antigua Guatemala Restaurant in a strip mall in Kent, and Elvi started cooking the dishes she ate at home while growing up in Guatemala: tamales cooked in banana leaves, tostadas and Guatemalan-style steak. The dishes mainly include ingredients used by Indigenous Guatemalans since before Spanish colonizers took over Central America but also have some European and even Asian influences. The couple named the restaurant after Antigua, the old seat of colonial power in Guatemala that’s now a symbol of the country.
Wilfredo still works in construction but also helps run the restaurant. Elvi never cooked professionally before opening the restaurant, but her food is delicious and gave me a sense of comfort that might come from her background as a home cook. The flavors in her dishes were balanced and subtle, and I felt like I could eat her food every day.
When I ate at Antigua Guatemala Restaurant on a recent Sunday afternoon, about half the tables were filled, some with families in white-and-black church clothes that looked like the outfits I saw when I visited Antigua with my family as a kid. Upbeat salsa music played through the speakers. The walls were decorated with photos on canvases with symbols of Guatemala: the volcanic lake Atitlán, the resplendent quetzal (Guatemala’s national bird) and a yellow colonial-era church in Antigua.
The “tamalito chipilín” ($2), a small tamale made with masa and two indigenous Central American plants, chipilín and loroco, was subtly sweet and grassy. The tamalito was covered in a sauce Elvi makes daily, with grilled and steamed tomato, caramelized onions, garlic and chicken bouillon. The sauce added smokiness and just enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the tamalito. Wilfredo says Guatemalan food is full of indigenous ingredients because many Guatemalans — almost 44%, according to the 2018 Guatemalan census — are Indigenous, despite centuries of colonization.
The “paches” ($4) were just as good as the tamalitos and resembled a tamale made with potato instead of masa, cooked in a banana leaf. The pork pache I got came with a jalapeño nestled in the meat, which gave the dish a nice bite to offset the subtle sweetness imparted by the banana leaf.
I was skeptical about the “tostadas de chow mein” ($4.95), chow mein served on top of a flat tostada, but was pleasantly surprised by how the crispy tostada contrasted the soft noodles and chicken in the chow mein. Wilfredo says this dish is the product of Chinese immigration to Guatemala, which started in the late 1800s, and tostadas de chow mein are ubiquitous in the country.
The “churrasco chapin” ($20.95) was a glorious entree of New York steak, house-made longaniza sausage, rice, black bean paste, potato salad, a piece of queso fresco, guacamole and tomato salsa. The steak was sliced thin, in the Spanish style, and Wilfredo says it’s marinated with tomato and garlic, among other things, and grilled over charcoal on low heat to maintain tenderness. The result was one of the best steaks I’ve eaten.
Wilfredo says business has been slow, especially during the pandemic, and the restaurant almost had to close a couple of times over the past year. Even so, the restaurant caters events for free for Guatemala Village Health, a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides clinical care to people in rural Guatemala with poor access to health care. He says about 40% of his customers are Guatemalan Americans. But he says he thinks business has been slow because most Americans don’t know anything about Guatemalan food.
I think that needs to change.
Antigua Guatemala Restaurant
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday; 120 Washington Ave. N., Kent; 253-236-4437; antiguaguatemalarestaurant.com
Fire Tacos de Birria
Check Yelp and call ahead for hours (changes often); closed on Mondays; 105 First Ave. N., Kent; 206-778-8169; Fire Tacos on Facebook; firetacos_birria on Instagram.
Fire Tacos de Birria serves birria tacos and intricate agua frescas out of a trailer a block away from a railroad crossing in Kent. The clanking passing trains can make ordering a yelling match, but the tacos are satisfying and the agua frescas are refreshing. There’s nowhere to eat on-site except a bench next to an abandoned warehouse, but it’s a good option for takeout.
When I called Fire Tacos de Birria at around 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, they were already out of lamb. The person on the phone told me the truck either has lamb or goat birria every day, but they run out early. So if you want something other than beef, call ahead and go early.
The beef birria tacos ($3) with house-made tortillas and tender stewed beef were great. The beef birria quesataco (3.50), a grilled taco filled with cheese, is a good option for those who want something crispier and cheesier. And the consomé ($3), the beef and chili pepper broth normally served with birria tacos, had a nice, almost refreshing, saltiness and acidity.
Fire Tacos de Birria serves agua frescas ($5) made with things like watermelon or cucumber and lime rimmed with chamoy (fruit paste) and what looked like Tajín. There are also more expensive ($10) versions of agua frescas topped with fresh fruit and house-made candy and sometimes specialty drinks like rose lemonade — all great drinks to cool off on.
11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Monday-Friday; 5-9 p.m. Saturday; 120 Washington Ave. N., Kent; 425-301-3292; musashiswa.wixsite.com/musashis
The newest location of West Coast sushi chain Musashi’s opened under a new apartment complex in Kent in early June and it’s a good choice for affordable sushi. Right now, the restaurant is takeout only, without even a bathroom for customers. So call ahead and get in and out.
The dinner sushi nigiri set ($14.45) comes with maguro (tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), prawn, salmon and albacore nigiri and four pieces of sushi rolls. The set I ordered came with two pieces of plain salmon roll and two pieces of what tasted like plain hamachi roll. The quality of the fish is good for the prices, and the pieces of fish on the nigiri were twice the size of those at some other sushi restaurants. A decent, filling sushi dinner for around $15 is hard to beat.
The chūtoro (medium-fatty tuna) nigiri ($2.35 per piece) was also good and a steal for a normally expensive cut of fish.