Julio Vasquez Jr. calls his family’s food at Restaurante Casa Mixteca “from way down south.”
That’d be southern Mexico, in Oaxaca, where tlayuda, memelas and chapulines (aka grasshoppers) reign supreme. It’s also a region where diners will find black beans, several distinctive mole sauces and quesillo cheese.
Out of the dozens of Mexican restaurants here, few serve a broad Oaxacan menu. That’s probably because the founders of a bulk of the local Mexican restaurants, such as Moctezuma’s, El Toro, Azteca, Mazatlán and Mis Tres Amigos, hail from the same area in Jalisco in central Mexico.
The five-page menu at Restaurant Casa Mixteca in Lakewood features the greatest hits of Oaxacan food with dishes I’ve yet to see in the South Sound, plus other regional Mexican dishes.
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Vasquez runs daily operations. His mother, Lourdes Vasquez, is chef. Vasquez Jr.’s sister Libier Vasquez runs the family’s restaurant of the same name in Burien. His father, Julio Vasquez Sr., operates the Don Julio store inside B&I specializing in Oaxacan items that Vasquez Jr. drives up from California once monthly (he says the tlayuda shells alone are worth the drive).
Here’s a first-bite report. It’s this paper’s policy to skip criticism of food and service during a restaurant’s first month:
Way back when: For eight years, the family operated Casa Mixteca as a tiny stand inside the B&I Shopping Center. They closed in 2016 in favor of a 40-seat Burien restaurant closer to home in South Seattle. The South Sound called again when they found the 28-seat restaurant spot, former home of Filipino turo-turo restaurant Mother Lily’s Kusina, on Pacific Highway Southwest (near Lakewood’s Korean dining district). The family opened Restaurante Casa Mixteca in early February. The menus at the Burien and Lakewood restaurants are identical.
Tlayuda: The most popular Oaxacan export. A large, flat corn tortilla spread with black beans and topped with cabbage, tomato, avocado and a choice of meats or veggies. Sausage, steak, pork or cactus ($11.99-$14.99)
Other highlights: Molcajete ($19.99); Oaxacan tamales ($1.50-$4); chilaquiles ($11.99); tortas ($7.50); molotes ($8.99); huarache ($11.99); masita con barbacoa ($10.99); chicharron in red sauce ($11.99) and burrito dipped in mole negro ($10.99).
Get the: Mole negro ($12.99), a true Oaxacan specialty. Here, it’s a slow-cooked chicken leg and thigh, in a chocolate-heavy sauce that zigged a little sweet and zagged somewhat spicy, with rice, beans and housemade corn tortillas about three times the size of what you’d expect.
Memelas looked like open-faced tacos, but were handmade, thick corn discs spread with black beans, chopped onions, cilantro and Oaxacan cheese, flanked by thinly pounded pork in a tangy marinade ($10.99).
Lightly fried empanadas in corn tortillas, one filled with Oaxacan quesillo (a mild white cheese), the other with shredded chicken, accompanied by a salad with sliced avocado and a pool of garlicky beans ($10.99).
In lieu of chips and salsa, all meals come with free soup.
About those grasshoppers: Chapulines are taking the United States by storm. Here, find them served on a platter with tomatoes, onion, cilantro and handmade corn tortillas ($10.99).
Dining room: Table service, limited seating with seven tables.
Restaurante Casa Mixteca
Where: 11109 Pacific Highway SW, Lakewood; 253-212-3305; facebook.com/casamixteca.
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.