Today the MSG150 Japantown route took us south along an obscure block of 5th where a couple lunch spots have sprung up in recent years. The first on our tour is the well hidden Mexican burrito joint Tenoch. The MSG150 crew members are all well seasoned Tenoch lunchers, so today's outing was more of a formality than an adventure. So let the formality begin.
Luncher: GearyLunch: Three tacos: Puerco en Pasilla, Pollo en Pipian, and Pisinan Roast - $7.15
Tenoch is a small, owner run lunch spot with an assembly line service model copied from Taco Del Mar. On first glance you might mistake Tenoch for being unremarkable, even if you noticed the dried flowers hot glued to the small cactus on each table. However, it is far from a cookie cutter, same-ol' burrito joint. Tenoch offers eight different meat options plus two vegetarian. Four of the meat options are traditional preparations that you are unlikely to have ever heard of. Tenoch's selection of Mexican flavors is likely only matched by a handful of other restaurants in the state.
I'm a regular and eat at Tenoch about twice a month. I usually order a burrito and rotate through the meats. Today I went with the three tacos (with a different meat in each) so I could have recent exposure to the widest range of meats possible for this review. I had the Ropa Vieja burrito on Monday so today I went with Puerco en Pasilla, Pollo en Pipian, and Pisinan Roast for my tacos. They also offer grilled chicken, steak, Pollo Adobado, and Mole Verde (chicken), but these seem so common compared with the rest. Nothing is very spicy, but they all have deep, rich distinct flavors. Ropa Vieja is shredded beef cooked with tomatoes, onions, jalepenos, and cilantro. The Pollo en Pipian is grilled chicken in a sauce made from guajillo chillies, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and other spices. I have never been able to nail down a favorite but if pressed would lean towards the Ropa Vieja or the Pisinan Roast... but man, the Pollo en Pipian and the Puerco en Pasilla were pretty darn good. Be sure to grab a free side of the tangy corn salsa made with roasted corn, carrots, cauliflower, and squash.
Luncher: EmmettLunch: Taco Salad with Pollo en Pipian - $6.95
Tenoch provides some of the finest Mexican food you can find in Seattle. I always look forward to coming to this place and never leave unsatisfied. They serve tacos, burritos, rice bowls, and taco salads, each with a choice of eight meats or two vegetarian options. I usually go for the Pisinan Roast, which is marinated pot roast with orange, garlic, vinegar, and some other mexican spices. The meat falls apart and is fantastic. Today I opted for the Taco Salad with Pollo en Pipian - chicken with Guajillo chiles, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and some other spices. Don't be shy and get the home-made guacamole and hot sauce. This sucker was tough to finish but I did it, and am glad. My stomach hates me but I care not.
On other visits, I've tried the Steak Salad (not bad but I prefer the Pisinan), the Tortilla Soup (awesome), Quesadilla (easy to make, easy to please). You can't go wrong. Also, the ladies working this place are exceptionally nice and put care into the food.
This is one of my top 5 lunch places in town. I'll be back frequently.
Luncher: AdamLunch: Burrito Bowl with Pisinan Roast - $6.95
Truely one of my favorite lunch spots in the ID. A very unassuming place that typically has quite an assuming line. The women working the counter are extremely pleasant and will eagerly listen and help with your meager Spanish skills.
At some point in the last year, I switched over to ordering the Burrito Bowl here (instead of the burrito), and I think it has to do with the fact that you can then cherry-pick what toppings you want in each bite. Normally, I would get one of the vegetarian options: one based on potatoes, and one based on garbonzo beans. Both of them are freakishly delicous, and I have a hard time deciding which to get. I went with one of the eight meat options this time: Pisinan Roast. I could see the roast sitting there looking delicious behind the window... and just couldn't resist.
Going down the toppings line, this is what my bowl was loaded with for me:
- Pisinan Roast, Rice, and Black beans
- Cheese, and a light dusting of sour cream
- Pica de Gallo, Corn Salsa, and their hot sauce (Habenero-based, I believe)
- There are other thing you can get in this, I just opted-out.
The roast was perfect: flavorful and tender. And the juice flowed around the dish a little bit and lent a great flavor to the rice. Their Corn Salsa is definitely something you need to try; it's a very simple side, with a great taste. And I love the hot-spicey food... so the habenero sauce was particularly delicious to me.
Luncher: DaveLunch: Burrito Bowl with Pisinan Roast - $6.95
look, i eat here at least once every couple weeks. it's great. the bowls are a good deal, and even if you just look at the basic combinations (10 fillings vs black/pinto beans vs red/green salsa) there are 40 burrito/bowl combinations to choose from. and i've yet to have a bad one. it's simple, fresh-tasting mexican food, and it's a keeper. as i write this, i'm looking out my cubicle window at tenoch, and a single tear of joy is coursing down my cheek.
okay, to be impartial, there have been a couple times when the rice hasn't been as warm as i might like, and it's not the most efficient place in the world so it can get a little backed up sometimes, but overall, dang. the pisinan roast is a great mix of spices and orange juice, giving a sweet and tangy kick to fall-apart-tender beef. the chicken in pipian is spicy and creamy, even though the sauce is primarily ground pumpkin seeds, not cream. the vegetarian potatoes-with-chipotle option is spicy and satisfying. seriously, i'm starting to think this is going to be a two-lunch day.
Luncher: RobLunch: Veggie Burrito Bowl - $6.95
I'm not sure how kosher this is, me writing a review without having attended the MSG150 lunch proper (and not even being in the country at the time), but I've eaten at Tenoch so many times that I'm going to write one anyway.
When it comes to good Mexican food in Seattle, a phrase from high school Spanish comes to mind: En la tierra de los ciegos, el tuerto is rey. And yeah, Tenoch is king for me when it comes to Mexican lunch spots in and around the ID. The first time you go to Tenoch and order a burrito, you look at the enormous pile of food heaped on the tortilla, and the woman behind the counter gives you a sheepish smile as she tries to wrap it because there's just not enough tortilla -- you think that there must be a new person working who doesn't know that they've dished out too much. But when it keeps happening every time you go, you realize that that's just how they roll, so to speak. And then you switch to the Burrito Bowl.
There are two veggie options for the burrito. I prefer the potato-based one a little more than the garbanzo bean one, but you get so much food that with the potato option, it's just too much for me. So I usually get the garbanzo beans. And the hot sauce -- it's so rich and smoky and flavorful -- oh my. Not really too hot. Just right. I've also tried the fish tacos, and they're pretty good, but not good enough to make me switch from the burrito bowl.
I really want to give Tenoch 4.5 chopsticks, and I think I came up with a rule for myself to round down for halves, so Tenoch only gets a 4. Why not a 5? Silly reasons, mainly. It's just too much food; I always feel way too full after eating here. And the set up is just so inefficient. It can take a while to get to the register if there's a line, and when I go to Tenoch I'm very hungry -- I want my burrito bowl, and I want it now!
Well, thanks for indulging me with the remote review from the relaxing beach town of Villa Gesell, Argentina. Lounging around the beach, writing the occasional Seattle restaurant lunch review -- unemployment doesn't get much better than this.
Tenoch Mexican Grill PhotosTenoch Mexican Grill
The Tenoch Burrito Counter
Taco Salad with Pollo en Pipian
Burrito Bowl with Pisinan Roast (Adam's Fixin's)
Burrito Bowl with Pisinan Roast (Dave's Fixin's)
Three tacos: Puerco en Pasilla, Pollo en Pipian, and Pisinan Roast
Cactus + Hot Glue + Dried Flower