Puerto Ricans, like other Caribbean islanders, know how to roast pork. Their lechon asado is legendary. Puertorriqueños need no introduction to this slow-roasted (or barbecued) pork that are famously made at lechoneras on the island. I had every intention of seeking one out when my wife and I were in Puerto Rico in 2006, but an ill-considered short stay on the island in favor of a longer one in Miami regrettably didn’t leave enough time to do that.
Last year, I came across a Puerto Rican restaurant called La Isla in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Looking over the menu, I decided on the pernil bowl that was on the lunch menu. What a revelation that was—another slow-roasted pork dish for which Puerto Ricans are known. A dieter and health-freak’s nightmare, it owes much of its substantial flavor and unctuousness to generous amounts of fat, including a fat cap that bastes the meat at it roasts in a slow oven over several hours. A bite of one of these pulled meats can leave greasy tracks on your lips and tongue, maybe even yield a generous strip of silken fat that my wife refuses to put in her mouth (but I, by inference, don’t).
We were in downtown Redmond today when we came across a second branch of La Isla, which opened only last year. Aside from its popular pollo guisado, I let my wife pick what we would share (including a house salad with island rum dressing). Hands down, it was the pernil, after she asked me about it.
It was every bit as good as I remember it, maybe even better, as the fork-tender pieces melted in the mouth, needing none of the small dishes of sauce served on the side (a Thousand Island and a vinegary and mild chile sauce, reminiscent of a tame sambal oelek). I wondered what happened to the garlicky mojito sauce, a citrusy aioli that was spectacular in its own right, that was served in Ballard. Underneath the pernil was a delicious arroz con gandules, rice with pigeon peas that was infused with pork drippings and accentuated by achiote’s earthy flavor and sweet tomatoes. Even if a standard pernil recipe calls for a substantial amount of garlic in a marinade made with olive oil and oregano, La Isla’s wasn’t pungently garlicky by any means, an unforgettable entrée (☆☆☆☆) that we will likely order time and again.
If we can pull ourselves away from the pernil, the pollo guisado would be a good choice to try. I also noted a dish that was a specialty (and a personal favorite) at Barragan’s in Los Angeles—ropa vieja (“old clothes”)—that is popular in the Caribbean. La Isla’s happy hour menu and drinks also caught our attention.
16505 Redmond Way
Bldg B, Suite A
Redmond, WA 98052