Marta Vega

Owner, El Pilón

5303 Rainier Ave S, 501-8167

El Pilón specializes in the cuisine of Puerto Rico, where you grew up. Who were your culinary mentors?

My grandmother was a really good cook. I learned what I could from her, but she wouldn't let me in the kitchen. When I got older, I went to friends' houses to cook.

I'm familiar with that type of grandma. I've never had Puerto Rican food. What should I try first?

I think you would probably like bacalao (salt cod) in a salad with capers, olives, potatoes, eggs, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and olive oil.

What are the essential ingredients of traditional Puerto Rican cooking?

Sofrito is very important. It's a seasoning made of onions, garlic, peppers, oregano, cilantro, and culantro. When I first moved to Seattle, I couldn't find the ingredients for sofrito, but then I discovered the Asian stores in the International District, and they have everything I need.

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You ran another restaurant on Rainier Avenue in the 1980s. How has your experience with El Pilón compared?

More people from the neighborhood come to El Pilón than they did to the restaurant I had in the '80s. Also, it's a lot less dangerous in this neighborhood than it was in the '80s. People still drive really crazy around here, though.