Burien, the Ultimate Suburb

Only caterpillars have managed to derail West Seattle's nicest neighbor.

Burien was named after Gottlieb Von Boorian, a German immigrant whose tireless efforts to build a new community were repaid by having his name completely misspelled. Then in 1915, the Lake Burien Railway was completed. This streetcar line ran along Ambaum Boulevard from Burien into White Center. Old people marveled at this new mode of transportation, which was faster than a stagecoach drawn by a million horses and as tireless as a platoon of Chinese men. Unfortunately the line had to be closed because caterpillars were being squashed on the rails, making the tracks slippery. Excuse me, but I call bullshit on this story. Who exactly pointed out the slippery caterpillar tracks: Ford Motor Company? "These frictionless caterpillar guts pose as grave a threat to our Republic as does the savage Hun," said a fictional 1915 Ford dealer. "Tear down the tracks! Trains can't make the world safe for Democracy! Ford's new Model A motorcar can tread through liquefied pools of ANY insect on God's earth, to deliver our doughboys safely to the Ardennes!" If you're having trouble visualizing what Burien looked like in 1920, just imagine a Monopoly board, but instead of the B&O Railroad, that space just looks like a smashed bug. Since it's fairly obvious that Burien's ancient history is malarkey, foofaraw, or at best merely bluster, let's instead focus on how awesome modern-day Burien is. It's only 15 minutes from Seattle, and from West Seattle, it's close enough for a caterpillar to crawl to without breaking a sweat, provided the caterpillar in question didn't stop to sabotage a train. In fact, West Seattleites generally prefer to visit Burien—with its Trader Joe's, cheap diners, and international sandwich district—to mainland Seattle. And why wouldn't they? Why go to the Capitol Hill Trader Joe's and risk encountering smug hipsters with their insouciance and sideburns, when Burien is so close a feeble old man with quadriceps like wet Kleenex could walk there from Roxbury Street? And for those hailing from farther away, traffic is no excuse: Highway 509 is so deserted, it may as well be a ghost road driven entirely by ghost cars. For such a small city, Burien's variety of cuisine is amazing. There's a lot of Mexican food, for starters. The bulk of these restaurants are housed in buildings that look like they used to be Pizza Huts or used-car dealerships. Most of them sell either tacos or tortas, which are among the meatiest sandwiches known to man. The torta is so meaty it was obviously invented by Mexican cavemen, who killed plenty of different kinds of animals at once by luring them into a tar pit. They layered huge slabs of woolly mammoth, saber-toothed tiger, triceratops, and gigantic dragonflies, then invented bread just so they could have something to hold onto all that meat with. The modern Mexican torta is an authentic tribute to the original, even though all the meats the cavemen used are now extinct. Tortas Locas, a Mexican sandwich shop located near Taqueria La Estacion on Ambaum, offers fine iterations of Mexico's contribution to international sandwich culture. The Cubana contains four different varieties of flesh: ham, chorizo, beef (both breaded and fried), and a grilled hot dog. This is topped with two kinds of cheese, lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions. And if that's not enough cholesterol to render a million miles of railroad track slippery enough to derail a streetcar, the Cubana's bun is slathered with mayonnaise, guacamole, and refried beans. In short, the Cubana is the General Antonio López de Santa Anna to your hunger's Alamo. If you're a conservative and think that tortas shouldn't be granted sandwich amnesty, you'll be relieved to know that Burien has plenty of Americanized sandwiches too. Hey Paison sells East Coast Italian sandwiches, as sloppy as the plots of the Star Wars prequels and filled with just as many stereotypes. When you walk into Hey Paison, the employees are supposed to greet you by saying "Hey Paison!" in a fake Italian accent reminiscent of Super Mario Brothers. Some employees are more enthusiastic, so they say "HEY PAISON!" with lots of gusto. Other employees merely mumble the required salutation. Photos of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin grace the walls, and one of the Rat Pack can inevitably be heard crooning across Hey Paison's hi-fi. The sandwiches are also classically dago: the meatball hoagie is sloppy, with fresh-tasting marinara ladled over four meatballs, lined up in a split French roll, and looking like meaty peas in a pod. The whole thing is draped with a couple melted ivory discs of provolone. The meatballs are soft and juicy and unapologetically pink inside, and the marinara is tart enough to keep things interesting. If it's hamburgers you prefer, Paul's Da Burger Joint, B-Town Burgers, and Smokey's Char-Broiled each offer versions of the classic American sandwich so perfect, you'll have to go back again and again just to prove to yourself you aren't just being nostalgic. But what if you don't like to eat? Burien's got plenty of booze too. At Elmer's Pub (see "Irish Car Mom," page 45), the drinks are cheap and every day is Halloween. The clock is always set to October 31, the bartenders are friendly, and Slayer always seems to be on the jukebox. Elmer's, unfortunately, is BYOB: Bring Your Own Bogeyman. The alcohol also flows freely at the Tin Room, though this popular restaurant and bar can sometimes be crowded with too many dudes who tuck their shirts in. The Elliott Bay Brewhouse & Pub is larger and less annoying than the Alaska Junction original, plus it's got shuffleboard. And if you can get past its name, which couldn't be more Irish unless they called it "Finnegan McLeprechaun's," Mick Kelly's has traditional Irish fare so authentic it'll make you feel like a starving wheelwright from County Limerick on his way to Ellis Island in steerage. And if all that isn't international enough for you, there's Thai food (Yo's Bistro), Australian food (Australian Pie Company), and even a Danish bakery, for those days when you're feeling melancholy and indecisive and you'd like a pastry. But Burien isn't all about food and drink. This is a town that tackles serious issues about land use and environmental impact. In fact, the city of Burien was formally incorporated in 1993 because, strangely enough, area residents were tired of the shitty apartment buildings being built in the area. So if being pissed off about ugly apartments is reason enough to found a city, then I for one hereby proclaim my West Seattle neighborhood Doorknob Land, a modern utopia dedicated to the ideals of keeping pizza-delivery restaurants from hanging their menus from our doorknobs! The streets shall flow with the blood and pizza sauce of those who oppose us! Burien clearly gained imperial ambitions once it incorporated. And in April 2010, it annexed the southern half of the unincorporated North Highline district, also known as White Center. This land grab made Burien's population rise from 31,540 to 46,022. Annexation was hotly contested, since the residents of the North Highline area were allowed to vote on whether they'd become part of Burien. Still, Burien clearly won the day. Niccolo Machiavelli, were he alive today, would've said "Damn, Burien! Well done!", followed by "Man has built machines that can fly? Mamma mia!" This political scheme played out like a real-life game of Civilization. Luckily, the city of Burien has recently discovered bronzeworking, allowing it to station some phalanx units within the city walls so Seattle won't take over. That having been said, don't annex the northern half, Seattle! Your sniveling and anal-retentive ways will destroy the anarchic frontier character of a neighborhood that somehow juxtaposes a porn shop across the street from Full Tilt Ice Cream. Don't make White Center into Wallingford. Jesus will cry. The crown jewel in Burien's empire, though, is its skate park. Dedicated in 2001, it comprises 7,500 square feet, and it's totally rad. Its award-winning layout was designed by local skaters, and local schoolteacher Tom Sahli did much of the concrete work himself, because he realized that skating benefits students: A recent Department of Education study revealed that students who skateboard are twice as likely to be cool as students who don't skateboard at all. Burien has one skate park for its 46,022 citizens, while Seattle forces its 612,000 residents to make do with only four. Burien thus has over three times more gnarly and radical halfpipe action per capita than the metropolis to its north. Burien is a great town. The core area along 152nd Street is as charming as a ladybug that knits sweaters, and it's five minutes from the airport. Interesting restaurants are cheap, tasty, and abundant, and there's a gigantic new downtown library. If Burien's missing out on anything at all, it's that it isn't on the light-rail line. That's probably for the best, anyway, since those Teflon caterpillars that plague Burien would probably derail it anyway. news@seattleweekly.com

 
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