This Beard-nominated chef is building the very best Mexican food in Seattle

Pancita may perhaps be the only cafe in Seattle the place diners detect extra about what is not on the menu than what’s on it.

That was my experience, as I eavesdropped throughout several visits to this Mexican restaurant in Ravenna. 1 household was bummed that chips and salsa had been not served. One more table pointed out the absence of a cheesy, bitter cream-y quesadilla. An additional diner went hunting for a margarita on the menu right after he couldn’t locate a single shown with the mezcal and tequila cocktails. There is wine, however, with reds, whites and sparkling vinos all from Mexico.

Pancita | Seattle Moments Critic’s Decide | Mexican | $$$$ | Ravenna | 5501 30th Ave. N.E., Seattle | 206-526-7655| pairseattle.com | Reservations accepted also open seating at bar and a communal dining table | Sounds degree: medium | Access: no hurdles | two all-gender restrooms

Pancita, making some of the ideal Mexican food items in Seattle, is the uncompromising eyesight of chef Janet Becerra, who needs to showcase the vastness and diversity of Mexican meals and consume. In undertaking so, she’s revealing how smaller and parochial our American vision of that culinary society remains.

Pancita, which released as a pop-up just a couple of a long time back, is a stunning debut for this Kent native, whom the James Beard Foundation anointed as one of the mounting culinary stars in the region when it nominated her for its rising chef award past thirty day period.

Occur to Pancita and you could have your eyes opened to matters you have not tried out right before. Certain, if your 9-year-aged throws a in good shape, a line prepare dinner can cobble collectively a cheese quesadilla. A bartender can shake a margarita on ask for. But any vaguely Tex-Mex spot or corner pub can whip people up.

This is cooking with nuance and coronary heart from a chef who invested a few months staging at Pujol, the entire world-famed cafe in Mexico Metropolis. Becerra’s 12-14 shared plates characteristic the two classics and present-day requires on cuisines from Mexico Town, Oaxaca and Michoacán.

Most dishes are served with tortillas that Becerra tends to make from scratch by grinding the corn ahead of dinner support. The refreshing tortillas get prime billing on her menu, with the names of the heirloom corns and their rising regions outlined, like how wines and oysters are created up at other dining places.

Her pork chop could be the very best I have experienced in Seattle, with meat from a humanely raised pig from Lan-Roc Farms.

The cured chop will get seared right up until the unwanted fat that caps the finish of each slice glistens to a crispy brown. The juices continue to be sealed in the slab, so that when you bite, your mouth oozes with loaded, pork-salty flavors, with a dazzling mole verde (floor pumpkin seeds and herbs) that cuts via the body fat.

Fail to remember the desk etiquette. Somebody requires to gnaw the scrap and its collagen from the bone. It might as properly be you. Your companions may possibly glance askance at the sheen of unwanted fat on your lips, but you’ve just scored the ideal bite on the menu.

Becerra pulls a similar trick with poultry, with the crispy skin on the fixed leg and breast coated in a musky mole negro which is built with a mix of 30 substances (chilies, herbs, dried fruits, nuts and, for sweetness, crumbs of Marias cookies).

From the sea, the chef offers islets of seared scallops surrounded by a recent of weighty cream dotted with bits of corn, poblano chili and luminescent specks of orange tobiko. An homage to the southern Mexican basic rajas con crema, Becerra’s clever wink resembles a sweet corn chowder with briny notes from the sea.

Massive shared plates like that appear with a stack of all those aromatic tortillas. But the better showcase for the masa is the Mexico Metropolis street taco suadero, with a bundle of chopped-up beef swaddled in a nutty, custardy crimson-corn tortilla.

Becerra cures this brisket for two times just before earning a confit of the meat, and at last searing it to generate a bite that mimics the denseness of a skirt steak but with the unctuousness of a rib-eye.

Also popular is the tuna tostada, but that has tailed off in top quality of late. At its finest, this showcase of two fat (albacore and avocado) on a crunchy maize disc layered with Japanese Kewpie mayo and fried leeks experienced been as great as the variations served at the acclaimed Maido cafe in Lima, Peru, as perfectly as Contramar in Mexico City and Nobu in New York Metropolis.

In excess of the past couple of months? Not so considerably. On 1 go to, the tuna tostadas tasted additional like a vegan version, consisting and tasting mostly of avocado. Yet another time, the dish was a salt bomb, with the fried leeks and the Maggi seasoning annihilating all the fragile elements in its route.

It’s perplexing that a kitchen that so deftly composes bold dishes elsewhere on the menu below mishandles a seemingly simpler dish.

What has improved is the cocktail menu. The checklist once ran 12 beverages too extended. It has been pared down to a handful of agave standouts, all stellar and diverse. Most notable are the tropical Enthusiasm fruit Mezcalita and the Mezcal Tamarind Bitter, the latter brimming with hibiscus floral notes and bearing a rim that’s been salted with chamoy-tajin.

The wine record shines typically on Baja California, the primary wine-increasing area in Mexico. At close to $12-$19 a glass, most are a notch or two higher than desk-wine quality. A handful of have a fruit-forward profile comparable to a Napa vino, though other people have extra of a mineral note. The very best is a crisp, citrusy, floral palomino/chenin blanc that pairs effectively with the seafood and corn.

Tiny about the décor of Pancita reveals that it is a Mexican restaurant. The vibe is French region. That’s due to the fact this corner bistro was previously Pair, a Eurocentric little-plate idea that paired its foods with Aged Entire world wines. Pair shut down through the pandemic and by no means reopened, in component due to the fact proprietor Sarah Penn, who died Jan. 23, was battling cancer.

Penn invited Becerra, a prepare dinner from Homer on Beacon Hill and Eden Hill in Higher Queen Anne, to roll out her strategy. At the time, Penn paid out for Pancita’s startup charge mainly because she didn’t want the younger, proficient chef to get on a enormous personal debt with these types of major challenges.

By final August, Becerra’s pop-up became permanent as it turned into a sought-immediately after reservation. With Becerra and supervisor Kate Ramsey now jogging the cafe in the identical room, Pancita is a person of the most consequential eating places to open up in North Seattle in current memory, and a star-generating flip for its 33-yr-aged Beard nominee.

The greenback symptoms signify the normal price of a dinner entree: $$$$ = $35 and more than, $$$ = $25-$34, $$ = $15-$24, $ = below $15 (current March 2022)