Like a record needle stuck in a groove so that the word "annoy" plays on repeat for minutes on end, the kid palate gets caught on certain foods from time to time. Taco. Taco. Taco. Burrito. Burrito. Burrito. If you're a parent, be prepared for this very scenario to play out at least occasionally over the years. Be ready with a short list of universally passable wallet-friendly restaurants that serve unapologetically huge portions. A perfect case study: Puerto Vallarta at the Junction in West Seattle.
Go for lunch, and a platter with beans, rice, a burrito and enchilada is $7. The rice? Unremarkable. The beans? Skip the refried, buried in cheddar, and substitute with the healthier frijoles. The burrito? Filled with a heap of pork, then covered in a forgettable green sauce. The enchilada? Stuffed with a ton of shredded chicken, then glued together with an equally average red sauce. Smaller appetites will find tortilla soup and veggie enchiladas.
To an adult, there is little to be blown away with on the novella-length menu. But for kids who are looking for the comfort of cheese and familiar components of Americanized Mexican food, you can't go wrong.
An exception to the rule comes from the basketfuls of light as air tortilla chips. They arrive hot and salty with chilled fresh salsa and cabbage slaw. The slaw is doused in lime and specked with peppers and tomato, and is insanely good. The stuff should be served in salad bowls instead of side dishes.
The drink list includes your choice of house, ultimate, or cadillac margaritas offered in 16 oz. 'regular' or 32 oz. 'grande' glasses. In line with the super-sized menu, you can also order the 64 oz. 'gigande' margarita served in its own miniature bathtub.
The interior of Puetro Vallarta satisfies any nostalgic desire to eat in a slight dive that could easily be located to 1980s Milwaukee or Tampa. There's something comforting to be found in the universally pseudo-authentic decor, where instead of the parent you can imagine being the kid bouncing around a booth to mariachi background music.
The extra-long room has dim lighting, carpeting, arched entryways, a red ceiling, and lots of oversized carved wooden booths good for big groups. There are wall murals of different ingredients painted above each of the booths. One displays a band of peppers, another a head of garlic.
A budding 8-year-old food critic in the booth with the salsa mural across from me ordered fajitas. "I think I'm just going to have a tad more because they're really good," she told her parents. Mom and dad didn't seem nearly as enthused, but at least there would be leftovers.