In my recent post on Kallaloo I mentioned that I had tried to sample Columbia City’s newest (only?) Puerto Rican restaurant, El Pilon, but was thwarted by the typical Monday night closure. Undaunted, I planned another trip and succeeded in spades. Not only did I score a table at this tiny family-run restaurant, I somehow chose one of the more festive nights to be there. It was a bit of a celebration for family and friends as the daughter of the owner was heading to college far away from Seattle and the place was packed with well-wishers sending her off in style.
The wonderful thing about El Pilon is that this might have been a night with a few more friends and family, but I get the sense that this is generally the atmosphere of the restaurant. Warm and welcoming to one and all, even the new person from way outside the neighborhood. My dinner date was running late that night, but I hardly noticed because the people at the booth next to mine – one of only eight or so in the restaurant – and many from the constant stream of people walking by the table, chatted me up the whole time. The famous Seattle Freeze? SO not happening at El Pilon.
We started off with a Coco Rico, a coconut soda, and a mango fruit shake. No alcohol here – not sure if that’s a forever thing or a for-the-moment thing, given that they have been open for less than six months. From there it was two orders of the empanadillas, both the ground beef and shrimp versions. Well priced at $6 for an order of three enormous and delicious fried dough turnovers, with a side of perfectly spicy sauce.
For our first main dish we shared an order of the mofongo with shrimp, a fascinating ball of pounded, twice-fried plantains that arrives in a wooden pilon, the restaurant’s namesake, with the selected meat over the top.
Our second main dish was the fricassee chicken served with rice with pigeon peas. The chicken was tender and perfectly done, and the sauce over it was well-seasoned and absolutely delicious.
It’s not a big menu, but what’s there is fantastic and you’ll love every bit. I’ve read in other reviews that the service is slow but I say it’s all about adjusting expectations. Come for the atmosphere as much as the food, and you’ll barely notice a lag between your order and your first bite, and you’ll leave in a better mood than you arrived.