A self-described example of the American dream, Jose “Pepe" Ramos came to the United States and through hard work achieved great professional success. He left his home in central Mexico back in 1973, shortly after the death of his father, in search of financial support for his mothers and brothers. He didn’t speak any English, but within two years ascended from dishwasher to cook to chef and, finally, to restaurateur, opening a small 24-seat eatery, Azteca Mexican Restaurant, in Burien.
Some four decades later—with help from his three brothers and his mother, Camerina—Jose is now at the helm of a 35-restaurant franchise, with locations sprinkled from the Pacific Northwest to Florida. Decadent Mexican feasts—such as enchiladas verdes, shrimp fajitas, and carne asada—are the bread and butter of his success, thanks to Camerina’s family recipes. Yet, the Ramos family doesn’t hesitate to introduce new-to-the-family favorites either; for instance, they marinate and bake seasoned lamb shanks to create Borrego Azteca, and conjure bowls of molcajete from sautéed chicken and beef. Best of all, the Ramos relieve thirsty gullets with signature margaritas muddled together from housemade citrus juices and the sap of fresh-squeezed tequila trees.
Since Frank Tonkin Sr. opened his first Taco Time in 1962, each location has hand-chopped its own vegetables and concocted pots of fresh-cooked pinto beans every morning. Try the classic beef crisp burrito ($2.79) or its meat-free cousin, the veggie soft taco ($4.69), with a side of spherical, seasoned Mexi-fries ($1.69 for a regular). Watch your figure through southwest chop-salad-colored glasses, with black bean and corn salsa, pico de gallo, and mixed veggies ($5.59). Or opt for a cup of white chicken chili, another of many healthy options at just 139 calories ($1.99).
Named for the Spanish word for warrior, Casa Guerrero Mexican Restaurant battles hunger pangs with a menu of traditional south-of-the-border fare. Classic beef dishes such as carne asada and tampiqueña team juicy skirt steak with flavorful accouterments of fresh guacamole and pico de gallo, and chicken stalks appetites in a host of disguises including tacos, fajitas, and powdered wigs. The eatery's culinary crew also charbroils prawns and whole red snapper, accenting the seafood's sweetness with zesty, pepper-infused sauces. To quench thirsts, bartenders serve up fruity red sangria and concoct 16-ounce margaritas from just-squeezed lime juice.
When Andrés Cárdenas Guitrón emigrated to the United States from Mexico, he landed his first job as a dishwasher. He worked his way up the ranks to a food preparer, a cook’s assistant, and a chef before finally opening up his own restaurant. At Mazatlan, he dishes out family recipes that include grilled chimichangas, crab enchiladas, and steak picado christened in a Spanish sauce.
Radiant blue light glows through towering tequila bottles lining the bar at Blue Tequila as servers unveil an array of authentic Mexican dishes. Copiloted feast flights take off with appetizers such as beef bits or deluxe nachos piled high with fresh guacamole, sliced tomatoes, melted cheese, and a meaty base of chicken, beef, or picadillo. Tablemates then strap in for substantially portioned entrees, ranging from steaming steak fajitas to the vegetarian-friendly black bean quesadilla. After forks and knives clink victoriously against empty plates, diners qualify for one shareable serving of deep-fried ice cream, banana wraps, or Paradise chimichangas, providing sweetness only previously attainable by wrestling a pixy stick to the ground.
Gallo de Oro's chefs know that not everyone can make a pilgrimage south of the border, but there’s no reason why they can’t eat like a local anyway. That’s why the chefs take such care with their sprawling menu of traditional Mexican cuisine. Marinated and grilled chicken, strips of top sirloin, or prawns with mushrooms mingle with green peppers and onions and are ready to be rolled into fajitas. The chefs’ other specialties include braised pork loin, arroz con pollo, and burritos stuffed with chicken, beef, veggies, and pork. In addition to daily meals, Gallo de Oro also hosts dancing and karaoke nights every Friday and Saturday, as customers gather and belt out their favorite renditions of the keyboard solo from “White Wedding.”