Cocina Esperanza: the Closest Thing to Sunshine and Real Guacamole North of the Border

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My roommate grew up in California, which she repeatedly reminds us is the golden state for its sunshine, flashy caricatures, and real Mexican food. Despite her Seasonal Affective Disorder and consequently her determination to wear flip-flops in all weather, what she claims to miss most (more than natural light) is good, homemade guacamole. So when I settled on Cocina Esperanza for this week's Bottomfeeder, I knew I had to bring her along to judge the authenticity of this place.

Now I'll admit, I'm skeptical when it comes to Mexican restaurants in greater Seattle. Most sport names like Las Margaritas and will top every other entree with grated cheese. But if there's one thing you can rely on no matter the degree of authenticity, it's the platter of chips and dip. Immediately we're greeted with menus and a basket of corn chips. The salsa is thick and creamy, almost like gazpacho, and we scarf it down before the waiter even has time to fill our water glasses.

My theory is that the best way to judge fine cuisine is to sample the most basic dish. So I order fish tacos and my roommate requests the enchiladas with a side of guacamole. When I ask her about her initial impressions of the cozy neighborhood joint, she grumbles and says: "anyone can throw some chips and salsa into a basket."

As we settle in (and while we're waiting on our second round of "appetizers"), we begin to notice the homey atmosphere of Cocina Esperanza. The walls are painted spice-orange and lined with cherry wood. Colorful paintings are interjected with sombreros and carved wooden plaques. The bar is strung with paper-cutouts and fairy lights, and from the wood paneling hang miniature donkey piñatas. What is usually eccentric and cliché seems like refined decor in this intimate restaurant.

Though we'd told the waiter we were in a hurry, the food arrives half an hour later on giant serving-style dishes. My meal includes four soft tacos stuffed with seasoned bake potatoes, fried cod, cows-milk cheese and sharp cubes of tomato. Ogling my plate, I don't even know where to begin.

But each disc is deliciously fresh. I inhale three of the four tacos in what has to be less than five minutes. My roommate seems to similarly be enjoying her enchiladas--four rolls stuffed with chicken and pinto beans.

While Cocina Esperanza is slightly out of the way for nachos and a cold beer, it doesn't disappoint. Even my roommate, who can find flaw with just about anything, reluctantly commends this place for its fresh, simple cuisine. That's right: This place gets Diva California's stamp of approval.

 
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