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What is there to say about the mighty Paseo that hasn’t already been said? No doubt if you’re reading this, you’ve already begun to nod your head and salivate… checking your watch and counting the hours until lunch, your mind drifting away to Caribbean climes. Allow me then to simply add my voice to the chorus and sing the praises of this, our undisputed King of Cubans, Seattle’s reigning sandwich champion.
There is a tiny, corrugated tin shack way up on Fremont Ave. with red doors and no signage. Paseo doesn’t need a sign. Just look for the permanent line of people out the door and up the block most times of day, rain or shine. During the summer lunch rush, you can expect up to an hour’s wait, no exaggeration. People order piles of sandwiches and carry them out, huge grins on their faces. There are a handful of tables in the tiny stand, but unless you get lucky, you’re not going to want to wait for one of those.
Recently, on a local message board that I frequent, a question was posed which sought recommendation on a definitive last meal before departing Seattle. Where would you go? What would you eat? The universal consensus was Paseo, the legendary Grilled Pork sandwich. Massive barbequed filets of pork covered with caramelized sweet onions and black pepper, giant sprigs of fresh cilantro, spicy jalapeños, romaine lettuce and creamy garlic aioli on a lightly toasted French baguette the size of a baby. Once you start eating it, you won’t be able to stop. The bread is soft and tangy, but you’ll still have to unhinge your jaw to get your mouth around the behemoth. Onions will slide down your fingers and sauce will drip down your face, but eat without shame – you are in the presence of greatness.
All of the sandwiches at Paseo are ridiculously rich and messy, so don’t forget to bring a roll of paper towels. If you’ve been fasting for several weeks, I can think of nothing more indulgent than a Cuban Roast sandwich – tender chunks of marinated pork shoulder, juicy with a hint of sweetness. If you’re particularly lucky, you’ll run into an entirely jet black piece of caramelized onion that will knock you on your ass. Those sautéed onions are truly astonishing, so good that there’s a whole vegetarian sandwich dedicated to them. As if you needed anything more, each sandwich comes with a side of soft and buttery corn on the cob wrapped in tin foil.
If you want something a little less obscenely decadent, go for the Paseo Prawns. Swimming in sautéed garlic tapenade, the Black Tiger prawns are plump and juicy and a much lighter option than some of the other sandwich offerings. You can order the prawns on a heat scale of 1 to 5 stars, but even to the max, you’ll hardly break a sweat (Paseo is way more spicy-spice than spicy-hot). Or, if you’re really looking to go light, get the Tofu Delight and a cup of black beans (and watch out for the bay leaf).
Back in the day, I had a friend who used to shake his head at my pescetarian ways and say “You have no idea what you’re missing.” He was referring to the Midnight Cuban Press, and there were never truer words spoken. That always stuck with me, so when I finally rediscovered the joys of meat, I journeyed North, waited in the epic line and was granted an audience with destiny. Billed as “our contribution to the Fremont arts”, the Midnight Cuban Press is the pinnacle of all that has come before – huge chunks of chewy Cuban roast pork, melty pungent Swiss cheese, tangy slices of sweet banana peppers and thin slices of smoky wonderful ham. And always the onions. The entire thing is thrown into a hot press covered with tin foil and then heated to create a savory, meaty, dripping mess of smiles. If you manage to restrain yourself, you can probably get two separate meals out of the Midnight Cuban – it’s a monster. Still, who are we kidding?
Paseo is best enjoyed in the Summertime, and that means you’ve got to make haste people! Time is running out before we are shortly plunged back into darkness. But here’s something you might not know. Last year, Paseo opened a second sandwich stand way down on Seaview Ave. in Ballard (towards Golden Gardens). It’s still wildly popular with the locals, but it’s just off the beaten path enough that you won’t have to hassle with the same crush of grilled pork junkies that frequent the Fremont location. Look for the bright pink building and the choirs of angels. Either way you go, Paseo is CASH ONLY so plan accordingly. Now go eat like it’s your last meal in town.