by Jenny Kuglin
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Is it a cursed location? Are there too many Mexican joints on Capitol Hill? Whatever the answer may be, the new co-owner of Villa Escondida, José Perez, doesn’t seem worried about the address of his first restaurant. He likes his tiny, tucked away spot at 219 Broadway East, Suite 14, and doesn’t know why the last place at that location, Torteria Barriga Llena, closed. He also knows that Tacos Chukis is right above his head, and he just doesn’t care.
“I’m making the food we love,” Perez told me as I munched away on some Birria de Res, a slow-cooked beef stew. “We spent five hours making that meat,” he said, pointing at my full mouth. “That’s my wife’s recipe. The last place that was here was fast food; we are letting people sit down and enjoy it.”
Perez’s restaurant, Villa Escondida has been open two months, and he says that business is picking up. Right now, Perez is mostly relying on word-of-mouth and some five-star Yelp reviews to bring people in the door; he hopes that once people get a taste of his family’s food, they’ll keep coming back for more.
“I didn’t even know Yelp existed until I opened this place,” he said. “It’s a little scary. You don’t know what people are going to say.”
But, so far, Perez doesn’t have much to worry about. The reviews have been favorable toward Villa Escondida, with several mentioning the mole, spicy salsas, and tasty black beans.
“One guy comes twice a week now. He’s trying everything on the menu,” José said. “One day we even sold out of the birria (a spicy Mexican meat stew). People know about it and are asking for it. About nine people asked for it that day after we ran out. Now we know to make more. It’s very popular.”
And I know why. The birria was salty, spicy and seriously tender. José said that they simmer it in a sauce made with “a lot of spices and at least three different dried chilies.” Served with fresh corn tortillas, homemade salsa, and beans and rice, it was a very satisfying lunch.
It’s not just the recipies of Perez’s wife, Maria, that are on the menu at Villa Escondida. While she lays claim to several of the most popular dishes, it’s actually Perez’s mom, Gloria, who provided the recipes for everything else.
“This is the food I grew up eating,” said Perez. “These are all my mom’s recipes. This is what she cooked for us. This is our food.”
And it truly is a family restaurant. No one works at Villa Escondida who isn’t family. While I was there, Perez was at the register and Gloria cooked my birria. Perez, his brother, or Maria man the grill when Gloria isn’t there. As I ate my lunch, one of Perez’s three kids showed up, his three-year-old little girl. He also has a nine-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter.
“They all want to help,” he said. “My kids are really excited for Cinco de Mayo. They want to help get people in here and I think they’re going to do something special.”
I have to admit: I want them to help get more people in the door too. I liked the food and I liked José. I like the idea of a true family restaurant surviving on that strip of Broadway and a family making a life for themselves in that seemingly cursed corner restaurant. But it’s going to be a tough road. The spot is fairly hidden and there is a lot of competition.
“I just hope people come because they really like the food,” Perez said. “I just want it to be good enough for people to come back.”
This is Perez’s first restaurant, but not his first time in the business. After moving from Mexico when he was 14, he realized that he had a passion for food. He’s worked in many restaurants in Seattle, usually as a cook.
Right now, Villa Escondida is open from 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. They serve an interesting breakfast menu, full of everything from biscuits and homemade gravy to huevos rancheros. The prices for breakfast range from $5.49 to $10.99. Lunch and dinner prices are in the same area. You can get a beer with your meal, but Perez is still waiting for the ability to sell liquor. He plans to have later hours once that happens.
“This is my dream. To have my own place,” he told me, laughing. “And it’s nice to have my family all here. We’re not sick of each other yet.”