MagoGuide Winter Tour 2013: Satiated in Seattle

The weather in Seattle seems bent on defying cliches during our stay. We have yet to see a rain drop during our sojourn in the Emerald City. The prevailing pattern is one of dense fog in the morning followed by cloudless skies in the afternoon and the harvest moon at night. Given the dreary mornings we have been working until late morning and then walking somewhere for lunch after which we shop for dinner and then hit a some bar or gastropub for happy hour. All of this allows us to max out on product and get a lot of walking done to counteract the caloric intake that comes with the territory at MagoGuide. The best lunch and happy hour places are going onto a prioritized list for dinner reviews once our third Mago Team member arrives from Planet Razorback.

Outside the 5 Spot

5 Spot

Address: 1502 Queen Anne Ave N, Seattle WA 98109— Get directions
Telephone: (206) 322-9234
Hours of operation: Open every day from 8:30 am – 12:00 am.  Now that's a diner!
Get more info....
Rostra rating: 3

We walked over to the 5 Spot diner in Queen Anne where they serve breakfast until 3 PM and alcohol until closing time or 2 AM whichever comes first (MagoGuide is unlike to find out, but if you do please let us know). The only reason Guy Fieri has not tried to ruin this place is that Rachel Ray got here first, but when we showed up around 1:30 PM there were no signs of Food Network groupies. In fact we virtually had the place to ourselves.

5 Spot has five menus (breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour, and late night nosh) and two happy hours (3PM-6PM and 10PM-close). We found the staff to be friendly and efficient, and while one might think that not too hard to do given the semi-deserted state of the diner when we dined, we have found that some of the worst service can take place during down times at establishments where the norm is a packed house.

Lucullus went for what he considers the test of a diner’s kitchen, a Rueben and fries. The actual name of this particular sandwich is Rueben’s Rueben, implying that there is indeed a patron or cook with the appellation who personally saw to this particular version. What appeared on Lucullus’ plate, however, was a classical approach done to perfection with only a blessedly slight amount of innovation in the form of a pickled hot yellow pepper twinned with the more familiar kosher dill.

The sanguich itself was built on a firm foundation supplied by thick-cut bespoke corned beef that was enhanced by an excellent marble rye grilled to a crunchy on the outside soft on the inside texture. The  sauerkraut, Jarlsberg, and Russian dressing were worthy of their fellow ingredients. The only quibble that Luculuus could devise was the choice of mustard. One was forced to choose either insipid generic yellow or squeeze bottle Grey Poupon. For a Rueben of this quality one should have a spicy deli mustard (got that Rueben whoever you are?). The accompanying fries were very good, cooked fresh rather than allowed to become hot de combat under a wilting heat lamp.

Fulvia could not decide between a Church Street Chicken Panino (balsamic vinegar-marinated grilled chicken breast with Provolone, pesto and sliced tomato) and a peppered bacon, lettuce, and tomato. She called in the waiter for a tie breaker and he strongly urged her to go for the panino, primarily due to his fondness for the house pesto. It was the right call. Lucullus hates almost all chicken breast recipes because they have chicken breast as their main ingredient–tasteless and difficult to cook to a level of tenderness any less than shoe leather. But 5 Spot knows how to cook the fickle protein to a nice salmonella free juiciness and the pesto really does elevate the dish.

Great ice tea

The distance to 5 Spot (located in Queen Anne, a fer distance from Capitol Hill where we’re staying) and our full slate of other excellent eateries mitigates against a return during this trip to Seattle. However, should we return to Seattle, Team Mago will probably nurse many a hangover at this gem of a diner, taking advantage of its extensive and varied breakfast menu.

Wall of chairs in Cactus

Cactus in Madison Park

Address: 4220 East Madison, Seattle WA 98112— Get directions
Telephone: (206) 324-4140
Hours of operation: Sun.: 10AM - 10PM, Mon. - Thu.: 11AM - 10PM, Fri. 11AM - 11PM, Sat.: 10AM - 11PM
Get more info....
Rostra rating: 3

Lucullus does not do chains, but every once in a while (OK twice and counting in Seattle) there is the exception that serves to prove the rule and keep him semi-humble. Cactus is a local Seattle Mexican chain with five locations. Fulvia and Lucullus hiked out to their Madison Park restaurant, building up a towering appetite with an extended ramble through the lovely Washington Park Arboretum with its soaring Sequoias and beautiful vistas of Lake Washington’s Union Bay.

The funky interior did not disappoint with bizarre wall and suspended mobile “art”, bright primary colors everywhere and zebra backed chairs. Our wait chic was young, pretty, and way too perky in a really good sort of way. She asked us if we had been to Cactus before and when we said that we had not, she seemed very excited about the prospect of introducing us to the establishment’s cuisine.

“It’s just a chain for Addephagia’s sake,” muttered Lucullus under his breath as she maneuvered her pulchritude away from our table with the drink orders, but his Mexican Lemonade quickly turned his attitude around. Made with freshly squeezed lemon juice, sparkling water, cilantro and jalapeño chile, it was refreshingly sour and barely sweetened–best lemonade ever. Fulvia declared her ice tea the best she had had in a long time outside the deep south.

Lucullus ordered the tacos pescado which turned out to be correctly deep fried chunks of fresh fish, coriander–pasilla slaw, pico de gallo, and buttermilk crema. Again, perhaps the best fish tacos Lucullus has encountered, certainly in a chain restaurant. Two quibbles: the otherwise corn tortillas were too small for their ingredients and thus difficult to eat without cutlery (and Lucullus always eats with his hands when gundging tacos) and they should have been doubled as most authentic tacos are.

Fulvia will cross a busy street against the light blind folded for good tamales (she won’t get out of bed for bad ones). She pronounced her roasted carnitas and red chile Cactus versions excellent. She was served two nice-sized specimens composed of New Mexico chile roasted pork, jack cheese, verduras escabeche, and red onion. The proportion of stuffing to corn meal conformed to the golden mean wherein interior and exterior ingredients blend without one over whelming the other.

A three milk Cuban flan, the best in the world

Before we could call for the check, another perky attractive female wait thing arrived with a gratis three milk Cuban flan. She said it was in honor of our first visit to Cactus (but maybe all those pictures has something to do with it?). After one spoon full Patti declared the dessert wonderful and decadent. After the second she complained that it was too rich. Lucullus does not understand this condition since one can never have enough pork or eat a dish that is too rich, but he does understand that others who are not blessed with his palate do suffer from this complaint. So he prepared to take one for Team Mago and finish the rest of the sinful custard, but Fulvia despite fulsome protestations matched him spoonful for spoonful until nothing was left on the plate.

Fortunately for both of us, we had a five  mile walk back to the Seattle Love Shack ahead of us so that at least some of Cactus’ culinary damage could be mitigated.

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Morgan Hart was launched in 2011 as a website and virtual storefront to showcase Patti's software and Morgan's content. Dedicated to slow travel, culinary excess, and ripping good yarns, MagoGuide is the digital scriptoria for the Mago Scrolls, Morgan's historical fiction series about the Punic Wars in general and one Mago of Syracuse in particular. Although Morgan has written a great deal of non-fiction over the years in the form of specialized journal articles, book reviews, op-ed pieces, and (his personal favorite) the most unpopular coffee table book in the history of the planet, he always viewed himself as a happily frustrated novelist. Get more information about Morgan's novel and travel writing at our Products page.