More than 50 years after the introduction of affirmative action, Americans are still fighting over how much diversity should be predetermined. While I don't have any say in employee hiring or college admissions, I'll always take proactive steps to ensure ethnic balance when writing my review schedule.
It's typically not too hard to assemble a good mix of cuisines, price points and neighborhoods (although 15th Avenue East is testing me this fall with the opening of Rione XIII and The Wandering Goose, plus the re-opening of Coastal Kitchen.) I'm not sure if readers pay as much attention as I do to the order in which restaurants are reviewed, but I strive not to cover two high-end restaurants in a row, or follow up one cuisine with another from the same corner of the globe.
For a million reasons, I don't always succeed: The week after I reviewed a Thai restaurant on Vashon, I reviewed a Japanese restaurant in Tukwila, for example. But I'm pretty confident that if you're not interested in whatever restaurant I'm reviewing, you just need to wait a week.
So when I recently realized I hadn't reviewed a Latin restaurant since February, I knew I had to correct the oversight. And since I didn't have any leads, I took the most scientific approach I could muster: To find a restaurant worth reviewing, I consulted census data.
Mexican restaurants pose a huge challenge for food writers because they're so ubiquitous. The restaurant section of the Hispanic Yellow Pages, published by La Opinion Hispana, runs for eight pages. Ideally, I'd visit every restaurant in the book. But the reality is that my blogging schedule keeps me in the office for at least nine hours a day: A comprehensive scouting trip isn't going to happen.
And, sadly, most Mexican restaurants are hard to evaluate from afar: Very few of them have online menus, and it's nearly impossible to size up a restaurant from the outside: What looks like a standard family beans-and-cheese joint can sometimes harbor real culinary surprises. At the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium this month, OC Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano talked about a Danville, Ky. restaurant he started patronizing in 2010.
"It's been amazing to me how Guadalajara, this little restaurant, is changing," Arellano said. "The first year I went to Guadalajara, the only hot sauce they had was Tabasco, and no, it's not going to cut it for Mexican food. That was 2010. 2011, now he has actual Mexican hot sauce on all the tables. This year, we go, not only is there hot sauce on the table, but now he has this very rare hot sauce called salsa Yucateco. You can't even find that stuff much in southern California."
Arellano ended up at Guadalajara because he was in the area for the World's Longest Yard Sale, and his only other dinner option was Cracker Barrel. But there aren't any logistical reasons forcing me to check out Mexico Lindo instead of Los Potrillos, or Muchas Gracias rather than Taqueria El Antojo.
Still, it seems like a fair bet that the best Mexican restaurants will be located in Mexican communities. While I have a general idea of where Mexican immigrants live in King County, I used census data to find the zip code with the highest percentage of Mexican-born residents. Then I entered that zip code into Yelp's restaurant page and clicked on the "Mexican" tab. Yelp is useless if you're trying to figure out whether a restaurant is good or bad, but it's a great way of finding out what's on the menu. When I learned from Yelp that El Tio served chapulines, I knew the Oaxacan restaurant was worth investigating.