chef Manny.jpg
Photo by Geoffrey Smith
Chef Manny takes South-of-the-Border fare to new places by using great local ingredients.
Have you tried the pinche good food at


SoCal-Bred Poquitos Chef's Got Your Goat

chef Manny.jpg
Photo by Geoffrey Smith
Chef Manny takes South-of-the-Border fare to new places by using great local ingredients.
Have you tried the pinche good food at Poquitos on Capitol Hill? That's some fine So Cal-influenced-Northwest-farm-to-table-inspired fare there. And we're tipping our cap to chef Manny Arce on that front.

The native from the Golden State infuses the menu at this not-your-typical-Mexican restaurant with a fine dining sensibility. In this week's Grillaxin Q&A, chef Manny fills us in on his mission to create dishes that showcase local ingredients, including a goat dish called birria.

SW: Tell us about your culinary background. Was there a meal or a bite that made you want to become a chef?

I don't have a culinary background, I just thought, hey this sounds like fun, I'll be a chef. Kidding! I started cooking during high school at an independent pizza place owned by a young surfer. The job allowed me to hangout with my friends and make money. When I graduated high school, I realized cooking was something I really enjoyed and held my attention, so I decided to go to culinary school (Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Los Angeles, located in Pasadena).

Read more on the jump!

I graduated, worked at few independent restaurants, traveled, came home and realized, "Hey, I need to start making some real money." So I took a corporate job working for Compass Group as a sous chef in San Diego. Another opportunity and my wife brought me to Seattle. I started another corporate job. I also staged at Union with Ethan Stowell and Jason Stoneburner and realized this was more of the direction I wanted to take my career.

So many chefs talk about being influenced by their grandmothers. What if granny's a lousy cook?

Grandma was an amazing cook, but honestly, I started cooking to feed myself. Both my parents worked a lot so, the influence came from just wanting to eat interesting food instead of frozen TV dinners or fast food.

What was the process for developing the menu at Poquitos?

Well, I grew up in San Diego, Calif., so a lot of ideas came from memories of food I had eaten down there, as well as from many family vacations to Mexico -- mainly coastal cities and beach towns. Also, there were menu items that (owners) James and Deming wanted to see, a lot of time was spent researching and finding specific chiles and spices. As far as sourcing, there is an abundance of quality produce (Alvarez Farms, Full Circle Farms, Willy Greens, to name just a few). The same goes for livestock with Mad Hatcher, Carlton Farms, Painted Hills.

Why has it taken ethnic restaurants so long to catch on to the whole farm-to-table thing?

Well, quite honestly, quality and sustainable meat and produce cost more, and ethnic food is mostly always deemed as cheap. That's usually because most ethnic foods are peasant food -- or the common people food, and are usually made with the cheapest cuts of meat or scraps.

Are you a fussy eater?

Not at all, I'm pretty adventurous.

What kind of restaurant does Seattle need more of? How about less of?

That's really all a personal opinion. I don't need to elaborate on that, but there is definitely enough pizza in this town, as well as pho.

Poquitos is already famous for its margaritas. Why is there no menudo on the menu to cure the hangovers we're gonna get drinking those?

I tried menudo on the menu as a special, granted it was in the middle of summer and it didn't sell. But maybe I'll give it another shot.

What is it about menudo that makes it a hangover cure?

It's really just a feel-good meal.

You've got some great tattoos. Do you think Seattle is the most tattooed chef city in the world?

I think Portland gives us a run for our money, but they're definitely more accepted here.

What would you order if you were sitting down for your first meal at Poquitos?

I'd order the Birria - not a lot of people are serving goat, and we get ours from Quilceda farms, which produces a great product.

Check back for part two of this week's Grillaxin for a recipe from chef Manny.

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