Look hard, or you’re going to miss it. The hole-in-the-wall storefront of Paseo Caribbean Restaurant stands back from the street with no sign and only a rickety pink awning extending over about two feet of sidewalk space.
Oh, and the lines might get in your way too. This Fremont sandwich shop—a fixture at 4225 Fremont Avenue North—has a reputation, and a faithful following, a mile long.
That’s for good reason. Paseo’s succulent pork and overflowing baguettes are enough to make even the primmest diner lick their figures with relish.
They’re most famous for their Caribbean Roast Sandwich, twelve inches of lightly toasted Macrina baguette slathered with aioli and laden with morsels of pork shoulder, fresh cilantro, pickled jalapeños, crisp greens and thick juicy O’s of caramelized onions. The pork’s been marinated in Paseo’s signature sweet and tangy sauce and slow roasted until it disintegrates delicately and with lingering warmth on the tongue. Ravish me.
In general, Paseo manages to keep the spicy tinges of Caribbean cuisine to a dull roar, focusing instead on the palate’s more sanguine and sultry flavors—velvety brown sugar, smoky seasonings, the occasional crisp breath of cilantro, and of course the slick and saccharine slices of onion.
Also worth a try is the Paseo Press, which lays tender pork atop a bed of sweet banana peppers, thin sheets of smoked ham, melting Swiss cheese and the orgasmic onions, and smashes it all inside two hot-pressed pieces of toasted bread.
It’s impossible to down such a masterpiece, or really any of Paseo’s offerings, without a healthy stack of napkins and a ravenous appetite. The fresh baguette halves are little more than guidelines for over-zealous helpings of pork and veggies and do little to staunch the aromatic grease rolling down the hands.
Only slightly more decorous than the exploding sandwiches are their plated versions, which nestle heaping servings of meat among a crisp house salad, fluffed jasmine rice, black beans and lusciously buttered corn on the cob. The significant up-tick in price has understandably made the classic sandwich size the more popular of the two.
If you’re searching for a dignified lunch destination, this isn’t it. Besides the dribbling juices, Paseo boasts a grand total of four tables, a consistent stream of customers, and a hustling and boisterous staff.
In fact, they’re one of the few places that can abandon attempts at customer satisfaction and get away with it. Interaction is brief; condiments and clean-up are self-serve. Paseo is a cash-only joint and long lines before and after lunch hour mean it’s a gastronomic experience you have to plan ahead for.
Not that it isn’t worth it. There’s a reason Paseo’s cameo-ed on Food Network and Esquire Magazine’s “Best Sandwiches in America.” And thanks to effervescent reviews on Urbanspoon and Yelp!, it’s no longer a neighborhood secret but one of the top food meccas in Seattle.
To avoid the shoddy ambiance, perhaps the best way to enjoy Paseo is on your own terms. You can now order over the phone, pick up your fix and head to Gasworks or another sunny vista to enjoy the savory flavors of the Caribbean and the start of summer. Here’s wishing you knee deep in the water somewhere, with a little bit of pork paradise.