Sunday, April 30, 2006

La Hacienda

Mexican food has long been one of my favorites. Along with Thai , Italian, and BBQ, I don't require much else.
The readers of Renton's monthly "Renton Reporter" recently had a "best of" reader survey.
They selected Torero's near Fred Meyer as Renton's best Mexican restaurant. I've been to that Torero's. It's okay. Competent but uninspired. I don'tusually agree with the readers of the Renton Reporter. It seems as though some places are liked simply because they're crowded, and I think Aztecas and Toreros fall into that category. Not bad, but kind of a fake festive "Hola, Amigos!!!. kind of place.
Tonight Diane and I dined at La Hacienda 711 S. 3rd St, Renton.
It's a long established place, and was the location for the very first Torero's, before it changed hands. Many customers at La Hacienda are repeat customers, and for good reason.
Service there is impeccable, and it's nice to go to a place and know that you'll be well taken care of. Two salsas and chips are brought immediately, one a regular salsa, the other a pico de gallo. Before you have even fully consumed these, the waitperson swoops in and refills the salsa.
Portion sizes are large, and La Hacienda does some things exceptionally well.
Diane had the daily special, which was a carne asada and prawns; I had steak fajitas.
The meat, for both of these, was unusually tender. Carne Asada is often too dry, but not here.
Margaritas here are popular and strong. The fajitas were nicely seasoned, and had lots of onions and yellow and green peppers.
I like the place but feel that it lacks imagination. El Agave in Skyway is a higher risk when you get there: It might be closed, or they've left the place in the hands of an incompetent waitperson, but the food is/was dazzling.
La Hacienda is a much safer choice. They're very consistent, and always good. The menu is fairly typical, not so unlike a Toreros or Azteca, but a very pleasant atmposphere, always good food, and always great service.
When I compared them to Torero's or Azteca, Diane insisted that they're MUCH better than Torero's or Azteca. I think La Hacienda is a more pleasant place to eat than Azteca or Torero's, and I like the food, but I think there are very few things there worthy of calling incredibly great.
That said, over the years I've gone there a lot, because the food is good, not too expensive, great service, and a pleasant place to dine.
So where's the best Mexican restaurant in Renton? There's more to investigate.
Foodwise, I'd still say El Agave in Skyway, if they're still in business. They have some incredible dishes there, though the place is dark and has small windows; It's the ghettto gourmet: Tilapia stuffed with crab and cheese but you might get shot before even entering the place.
Salsawise, it's hard to beat Casa Durango.
La Fuente has some incredible dishes. You can get halibut there.
La Hacienda is a good, solid favorite of many. You can't go wrong there, but I'm still looking to be dazzled. Dazzle me.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Renton has some notable Chinese restaurants.
Imperial Garden, in the Great Wall Shopping Center, the Asian mall on East Valley Highway, is considered one of the most authentic and critically acclaimed Chinese restaurants in the Seattle area. But authentic isn't necessarily what I want to eat. In Oaxaca, they eat tacos that are filled with insects. Maybe it tastes good, and maybe it's authentic, but not something I'd really go for.
Hong's Garden, at Airport and Rainier, is owned by the original owners of Chinatown's House of Hong, and is often packed and well liked by many. But not me. The hostess/owner has a continous scowl/ hostile look on her face. I don't want fake sincerity "I'm Marcie and I'll be your server tonight", or the entire crew that comes out to sing happy birthday, but an owner who doesn't appear to hate every customer who comes in would be nice. So Hong's, popular as it is, turns me off.
But then there's Stir, 151 Sunset Blvd N, Renton,
The menu is a funny mixture of traditional American Chinese(egg rolls, Sweet n' sour Chicken, Chow Mein) and more unusual selections like Mango and Halibut Salad, Roasted Duck Salad with cranberry, and some Thai and Korean influenced dishes like Spicy Korean buckwheat noodle soup, and Spicy Basil Prawns and Chicken.
I've eaten there a bunch of times, and it's always good, and pleasant.
The wok seared scallops with lemon citrus sauce is terrific. The salmon is fresh and not overcooked.
The place looks "Dennysesque" from the outside, but is comfortable inside in an almost elegant kind of way.
Service is always attentive. Entree prices range from 6.95(Eggpant with garlic sauce!) to 16.95(Sea Bass in soy ginger sauce) with most entrees between 6.95 and 11.95, so prices are reasonable.
The place is just solid. Consistantly good to very good, with a few things that are insanely great.
Maybe I'd stay away from those items you can get in any Chinese restaurant. But the "Happy Family" , available at many Chinese restaurants, at Stir is a combo of prawns, scallops, BBQ Pork, beef, and vegetables, and is far superior to most others in comparison.
All in all, Stir has something for those who don't want to take any risks, and also has something for those who want to try something new.
They also deliver within a four mile radius, with a 15.00 minimum order. Their phone # is 425-235-1818. I believe they are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and stay open til 10:30.
On my 0-4 scale, Stir gets a 3 for food, a 3.5 for service, a 3.5 for atmosphere, and a 3.5 for value. So far my favorite Chinese restaurant in Renton.

Friday, April 07, 2006

El Agave Part ll

You can't go to a restaurant just once and really pass judgement. Some places have off nights, others seem too good to be true.
With that in mind, I had to pay another visit to Skyway's previously praised El Agave, just a couple of nights after eating there before.
The food held up on the second visit. They know how to cook seafood, and use really good quality seafood. The shrimp are really superb, nicely cooked and huge.
What was lacking this time was service. It was a waitress rather than the owner who previously served us. Maybe it was the kitchen's fault, but the food was pretty slow to arrive.
Maybe there's a bad feng shui energy about the place? There's a separate little room within the main dining room, and it was dark...just seemed strange.
So, on a 0-4 scale, 0 being putrid and 4 being dining ecstasy, I'd have to say the food is a 3.5...service(average of both nights) a 2, atmosphere 2, and value a 2.
This was a Friday night, and many restaurants are full on Fridays.
El Agave had a few customers, maybe 4 tables full, and perhaps that overwhelmed the kitchen, I don't know.
The slow service this evening was a bit of a disappointment, since I was so gung ho on the place a couple of nights ago.
But the food remains far above average for Seattle area Mexican food.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

El Agave

El Agave is in Skyway at 11839 Renton Avenue, in one of Skyway's sleazy strip malls, near the Roman Casino. It's an unusual and ambitious Mexican restaurant. The menu is large and has many items not seen in other Mexican places, maybe because the owner is from the seaside state of Nayarit, unlike most of the Seattle area Mexican places, most of who's owners hail from Cuautla, Jalisco.
I had the Filete Agave, a tilapia filet topped with fresh crabmeat and cheese.
Diane, the spousal unit, had camarones al mojo: butterflied large prawns cooked in butter and roasted garlic. Both entrees were exquisite.
Another plus is the kickass salsa. Too many places have salsa that cater to gringoes. Thin, barely hot, insipid. Not El Agave. Their salsa was thick and hot.
The thing is...El Agave is out of place in Skyway, and very empty of customers. If the place were in Capitol Hill or Wallingford, it would be packed. But nobody goes to Skyway, at least not on purpose.
Skyway folks go to Renton to eat, or cook at home, and those that stay in Skyway frequent less ambitious and less expensive places, like Ezell's Chicken.
It's one of the mysteries of the restaurant world: Some places are extremely popular for no apparent reason, with bad food, bad service, bad atmosphere, and high prices...
And then there are places like El Agave: completely empty despite great food, friendly service, classically tacky green and pink walls, and a unique, seafood oriented menu.