Paseo
4225 Fremont Ave N, 545-7440.

Tue-Sat 11:30 am-9 pm; Sun noon--9 pm.

I have just returned from a trip to Fremont to eat a pork sandwich at Paseo, and am already feeling nostalgic for it. This doesn't happen frequently--most sandwiches do not hold on to the imagination with any kind of tenacity.

In its essentials, this sandwich ($6.25) is like a Caribbean bahn mi: grilled pork on a sturdy roll with cilantro and lettuce, and not stingy with the mayonnaise. However, a bahn mi is a tidy little operation, and a pork sandwich from Paseo is a lovely mess, with dripping marinade and onions that have been grilled for so long that they just give up and become a sweet, mellow tangle.

Four napkins later, I reflected that the principles of a great sandwich move across cultures: the enlightening contrast between meat and spice and mayonnaise; the choice of bread (not so wimpy as to fall apart, not so sturdy as to destroy your mouth); even the transformation of the sandwich over time, as the bread takes on the flavors of the filling.

The specific pleasures of Caribbean and Cuban cuisine are in the mix of spices, which at Paseo are not mouth-searing but balanced, and only a little hot. My introduction to Caribbean food happened over 10 years ago, when a friend took me to Islabelle, a Caribbean restaurant in Wallingford. We got a pork dinner and ate it, for reasons I no longer remember, in the car. Every single thing tasted good: The pork was juicy and spicy and a little salty, and it was served with soupy, herby beans, perfect rice, and a ball of something called foo-foo that was made of mashed plantain. We ate this meal, as I recall, with our hands, even the foo-foo, which was strange at first, but which I was addicted to by the time I finished licking my fingers.

Islabelle closed shortly after this encounter, and nothing was heard from its owner, Lorenzo Lorenzo, until he opened Paseo a few years later. Those were a few years devoid of cheap, delicious jerk pork and chicken, and we were all the sadder for it. The tiny Paseo, with its lone counter and few outside tables, was an instant hit when it opened.

The jerk chicken is quite as good as the pork, and if you order it as a dinner ($9.25) you get rice, those good, soupy beans, and a salad with pickled beets on top. The foo-foo is gone. Long live foo-foo.

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