Cinco de Mayo at Ricardo’s Torero (Bellevue, WA)

Cinco de Mayo “celebrations” in the U. S. have largely been co-opted from a national commemoration in Mexico to an excuse for Americans to get loaded with margaritas. And who among us Americans don’t like Mexican food? It wouldn’t surprise me much if Cinco de Mayo were promoted by restaurants here to increase patronage. Regardless, Americans love excuses to party.

Last year, we had lunch at El Tapatio in Bellevue, only to be disappointed that there didn’t seem to be anything specially prepared for the celebration.

Tonight, we decided to try Ricardo’s Torero in the Factoria area. An encouraging sign as we walked through the doors was a cinco de mayo special written on the blackboard, carnitas de res with the works. A lady was stationed at the tortilla machine that churned out flour tortillas, suggesting in my mind that we should opt for these instead of corn.

tortilla machine

I also noticed advertised throughout the dining room that “celebrations” had been going on for five days (since May 1), including a $5.25 house margarita. The complimentary chips and salsa were pretty good, thin and crisp fried tortilla chips and a tangy, mildly spicy tomato-based salsa. With the special margarita pricing, it wasn’t the time to order any with premium tequilas (and Ricardo’s does have a good selection) and special liqueurs. Both the blended and on-the-rocks margaritas were surprisingly good (☆☆☆), possibly the best of any house margarita we’ve had even if they were served in plastic cups. They were not cloyingly sweet as many made with pre-made mixes, and were bracing with limes, even as the nation is facing a lime shortage.

house margarita

The carnitas de res plate was enormous, which we predicted and therefore made sure to split. Slices of beef were sautéed with onions and bell peppers, served with rice and refried beans, a tasty slaw, equally tasty scoop of guacamole and four flour tortillas. The meat had good beef flavor, some of the slices a bit chewy and gristly, otherwise a good entrée (☆☆½). Puffy and gluten-y, the flour tortillas were really quite nice (☆☆☆), almost like a softer naan and equally thick.

Carnitas de Res

Carnitas de Res

fresh flour tortillas

We were pleasantly surprised by our experience here, a cut above the standard Mexican restaurant.

Ricardo’s Torero
4065 Factoria Blvd SE
Bellevue, WA 98006

Cinco de Mayo at Tapatio Mexican Grill (Bellevue, WA)

After a throat-parching, warm day of hiking in the Cougar Mountain Regional Park, we headed straight to a Mexican restaurant for a late lunch. There were no Cinco de Mayo specials, except for a few drinks and snacks for happy hour, somewhat of a disappointment since many area Mexican restaurants were offering specials (off-menu) just for the celebration. There were certainly a lot of customers today. Whether typical for a Sunday or because it was May 5, I have no idea.

Our first order of business was margaritas. The house margarita (☆☆), likely made with a pre-mix, was $4 for happy hour, but the Cadillac version (☆☆½) was prepared from scratch with a premium tequila. Aside from being too sweet, the Cadillac was very nice and potent, served on the rocks, while the house was just sweet enough but watered down.

House and premium margaritas

House and Cadillac margaritas

The chips were crispy. The salsa, made from canned tomatoes, was spicy, tart and not too bad.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa

Sunday’s special was carne asada (☆☆½). The beef was thin, nicely grilled, tasty, chewy. On the side came pico de gallo, well made Mexican rice and refried beans cooked with vegetable oil rather than lard. A tasty scoop of guacamole was also included.

Carne asada plate

Carne asada plate

I requested jalapeños—by which I meant the pickled kind—but I got these instead, beautifully grilled and delicious (☆☆☆). An open flame must tame the chile’s heat. Even my wife, whose stomach can’t tolerate spicy foods, ate one and loved it.

Grilled jalapeños

Grilled jalapeños

Chile verde (☆☆½) was cooked in tomatillo sauce, with a consistency and creaminess very much like suiza, with spinach, a uniquely prepared sauce that was quite flavorful. The dish was marred by pork pieces that were not very tender.

Childe verde plate

Childe verde plate

Besides being much too noisy, a complaint that I have with many restaurants, Tapatio prices are high. The entrées were $14.50 and $16.99. The portions were huge though, so we had to take almost half home.

Tapatio Mexican Grill
Loehmann’s Plaza
13720-C Factoria Blvd. SE
Bellevue, WA

Dinner at El Rodeo (Moses Lake, WA)

Eastern Washington has many Mexican restaurants, even in the small towns of the Palouse. One could say that here they are as ubiquitous as pizza, hamburger and Chinese restaurants. After a day of driving over halfway across the state, hiking and marveling at Missoula Flood remnants, we wanted margaritas, so that meant Mexican food.

Yelpers seemed to like El Rodeo a lot, so we headed over there.

First off, the margaritas. Generously portioned, there are three kinds to choose from: regular, gold and platinum, distinguished from each other by the quality of the tequila. The platinum also has Grand Marnier in the mix, which the others don’t. I’ve gotten to appreciate margaritas on the rocks instead of blended, still my wife’s preference.



The menu is essentially Tex-Mex. But the chef’s specials are entirely seafood-based, incorporating shrimp, scallops, octopus, and scallops in various combinations. Also on the menu was a dish I really went head-over-heels over in Orick, molcajete. Continue reading

Dinner at Diego’s (Redmond, OR)

Flatiron steak dinner

Two years ago, when we stayed at the WorldMark in Bend, the receptionist recommended a pub in nearby Redmond called Diego’s Spirited Kitchen, serving fare with a Mexican twist. The waiter at Diego’s back then suggested the flatiron steak, one of their most popular dishes. That turned out to be an excellent choice.

On our return to the restaurant tonight, we both ordered the steak for dinner again. It is a wonderful steak (☆☆☆☆), beefy, tender, bathed in a knock-out sauce reduction and topped with a blue cheese butter. The knife practically glided through it, offering little resistance except for the air between fork and mouth.

Their salsa served with tortilla chips is a very nice version, too.

Margaritas are a house specialty with choices of ten different premium tequilas running the gamut from serviceable to premium. The drinks themselves are as simple as one made with a mix to one made with genuine ingredients (lime juice and orange liqueur) and, of course, tequila of choice. We ordered our ‘ritas blended, but afterward the waiter suggested that we try it on the rocks, which won’t dilute the tequila’s potency and flavor. The wait staff here has been very good both times.

Diego’s Spirited Kitchen
447 SW 6th St
Redmond, OR 97756

Adobe Room (Taos, NM)

Like Doc Martin’s, the Adobe Room is part of the Taos Inn, a bar where you can also order snacks. Since we weren’t too hungry, we just decided on a basket of tortilla chips and margaritas. The salsa (☆☆☆) was pretty good, thick, tomatoey and spicy. The chips also came with a side of nice guacamolé. There were many margaritas from which to choose. We went all-out with the Grand Reserve (☆☆☆½) made with Cuervo Reserva Familia, Grand Marnier, agave nectar and lime juice—a bracing, potent and delicious cocktail, pricey enough to seem like we paid for dinner.

Molcajete at La Hacienda (Orick, CA) – CLOSED

Two different Hispanic locals gave us the same recommendation: a shop keeper in Arcata and an employee at a gas station in McKinleyville. The tip was that La Hacienda in Orick was the best place in the area to have Mexican food. As we drove through Orick, situated within the Redwood National Park boundary, at first we passed the restaurant, it not being particularly noticeable, but we found it when we turned back. What a revelation this place is because Orick is such a small town just south of Redwoods National Park, one that you might usually ignore and the last place you’d expect to find terrific Mexican food.

We started off with a nice basket of tortilla chips. Several kinds of salsa were available at the salsa bar, which I always appreciate for giving the diner choices.

Chips and salsa from the salsa bar

Chips and salsa from the salsa bar

And how could we turn down a margarita? And served in a classic margarita glass!



The entrée that appealed to me on the menu was one called Molcajete (pictured at the top), named after the stone mortar in which it’s served. This version was a stew of carne asada, bacon and shrimp in a salsa-based broth with sliced avocado and roasted chiles. I’d never had anything like it. The broth was complex, savory from the meats and seafood, piquant with divine roasted chile flavor and tart from limes. The molcajete vessel was large, so I was doubtful that I could finish it all. Not to worry. Suffice it to say that I long to have it again.

Update: The poor economy in Orick, which was affected by the closure of six sawmills, has forced the closure of La Hacienda. If any reader knows if and where the chef, who I believe is Erick Torres Montes, has opened another restaurant, please let me know. It’s a shame to lose a chef this talented to bad fortune.

La Hacienda (**CLOSED**)
121137 U.S. Highway 101
Orick, CA 95555