Intentionalist: Celebrating Latino-Owned Restaurants | South Seattle Emerald


by Jax Kiel

intentionalist is based on a simple idea: where we spend our money matters. We make it easy to find, learn and support small businesses and the various people who support them through day-to-day decisions about where we eat, drink and buy. #SpendLikeItMatters

Latin Heritage Month is underway and we’re celebrating in the best possible way: by visiting small businesses owned by members of Seattle’s diverse Latin American and Hispanic communities.

Wondering why Latin Heritage Month starts in the middle of the month? September 15 marks the anniversary of the independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Additionally, Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16 and Chile’s Independence Day is September 18.

Check out these three restaurants – Cuban, Mexican and Salvadoran – to start your celebration of Latin Heritage Month and be sure to visit Intentionalist’s Latinx Heritage Month Landing Page to check out a variety of fun promotions that include Seattle Sounders FC and Seattle Seahawks prizes.

Cafe Con Leche

Photo of a sandwich made with Cuban bread, shrimp, bright green lettuce and sauce.
A Camarones Salteados sandwich made with Cuban bread and shrimp. (Photo: Café Con Leche)

Group members and business partners Pancho Chavez and Pedrito Vargas have opened Cafe Con Leche in 2012 because they wanted a place to play live music and serve authentic Cuban food. Café Con Leche and the adjoining Club Sur are now owned and managed solely by Chavez. Chavez says he wants everyone to feel comfortable in his restaurant and to feel like he’s eating neighborhood food. He wants Café Con Leche to be like neighborhood restaurants in Cuba, welcoming and full of delicious food, bright colors and great music.

Chavez’s small business allows him to provide a comfortable and cohesive environment for his employees, especially those who are members of BIPOC communities. He says that when people support small businesses like his, they support not only the families of the owners, but also the employees and all. their families. He gave the example of the chef of Café Con Leche, who bought a house for his mother in El Salvador.

The menu is packed with recipes from the Vargas family, originally from Pinar Del Río, Cuba, and Chavez takes pride in purchasing fresh, high-quality ingredients. His favorite dish is the Churrasco Timbero, which is a slobber-worthy 10-ounce Angus-grade steak with a side of moros and maduros. Chavez says he doesn’t make any money on the pan, but that doesn’t matter because his customers love him.

“I think [my favorite thing about the community] is a bit of everything… Because we are in SoDo, we can be noisy after hours, when the restaurant closes and the [music] the place opens. We can be loud and don’t have to worry about disturbing anyone. And the people are awesome. You know, we receive people from everywhere: from England, India, Africa. It’s good to meet them.

—Pancho Chavez

Antojitos Lita Rosita

Photo showing Rosa Juarez in a red apron standing next to her cart, Antojitos Lita Rosita.
Rosa Juarez standing next to her cart, Antojitos Lita Rosita, in Plaza Roberto Maestas. Photo courtesy of El Centro de la Raza.

Rosa Juarez is from San Pedro, Villa de Tututepec, which is a small town in Oaxaca, Mexico. She always dreamed of opening Antojitos Lita Rosita – driven by her family’s passion for cooking – but never quite sure how to start it. She heard about the food incubator program run by The center of La Raza and knew it was the perfect opportunity for her. She has been serving Plaza Roberto Maestas food since April 2019 and is living her dream.

It’s obvious that Juarez never gave up and still works hard every day. She wakes up at 5 a.m. each morning to prepare her food and is ready to sell at 10 a.m. in the square. Juarez said it was difficult, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, to wake up every day hoping she was making enough daily sales.

Juarez says she loves people’s curiosity for her food. She invites people to come over and ask questions about the dishes she sells, as she says it connects her to her customers. Every item on Antojitos Lita Rosita’s menu is delicious, but Juarez’s favorite – and crowd-pleaser – dishes are tinga tostadas and sopes.

“My food is an extension of my Oaxacan culture. I love showing new customers foods from Oaxaca like tlayudas which can best be described as a thin quesadilla with rich meat and cheese fillings!

– Rosa Juárez

Salvadoran bakery and restaurant

Photo showing Aminta Elgin and Ana Castro holding delicious Salvadoran food in front of the bright orange entrance to their bakery.
Sisters Aminta Elgin and Ana Castro holding delicious Salvadoran food in front of their bakery. (Photo: intentionalist)

Sisters Aminta Elgin and Ana Castro grew up in the baking business: their grandparents ran a bakery in El Salvador. Castro, still the human person, took out the baked goods and prepared to sell them while Elgin, a talented baker, helped her grandmother. In their business, Salvadoran bakery and restaurant, their roles are the same. Elgin Kitchen and Castro greets customers with a smile.

Some customers visit almost daily, and some have been visiting since the doors opened in 1996.

Salvadorean Bakery & Restaurant served as a tool for Aminta and Ana to support not only their families but also their communities in Seattle and El Salvador. They use their platform to be vocal members of the community, meet with local Latin American organizations, and even travel to the White House to fight for healthcare for all. Elgin, a big football fan, also makes a point of supporting local sports in Seattle and El Salvador.

The windows at Salvadorean Bakery & Restaurant are full of traditional Salvadoran pastries, as well as some of Elgin’s own creations. One of her personal favorites are the pastelitos de leche, which she makes from her family’s recipes.

“We love to have a bit of our culture here in Seattle. It is very nice. When you walk in here you feel like you are in El Salvador, a little corner of El Salvador. And that’s how our customers describe it.

—Aminta Elgin

Jax kiel is a journalism student at Western Washington University and an intern at Intentionalist.

?? The selected image: A plate of Churrasco Timbero with fresh bread and a drink. (Photo: Café Con Leche)

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