Paseo. Mere mention of the word gets my mouth watering. The popular Seattle restaurant, with neighborhood locations in Ballard (outdoor seating only) and Fremont, inevitably has long lines of eager diners. But even before you spot the customers, you’ll likely catch a whiff of caramelized onions and roasted pork wafting down the street.
The deliciously messy sandwiches are pretty straightforward and most share the same formula—namely, a “lightly toasted baguette slathered with aioli (seasoned mayo), fresh cilantro, pickled jalapeños, crisp romaine lettuce, and crowned with caramelized onions.” Sounds simple, right? But when it comes to the process—from sourcing their ingredients to preparing their meats—Paseo is highly secretive. I called for information and got a couple of tidbits before I was asked to leave my number for Lorenzo Lorenzo (that’s the owner’s actual name!), who, I was warned, most likely wouldn’t respond to sandwich-making inquiries.
Here’s what I can tell you. Paseo’s sandwiches come on Giuseppe rolls made by Macrina Bakery. They’re soft enough to bite, but sturdy enough to hold thick slatherings of aioli and a big stack of fillings, though the strength of the bread doesn’t help with the sliding out of the ingredients. The garlic flavor is pretty prominent, but doesn’t overshadow the cilantro and jalapeños. Meanwhile, big circles of thick-cut Colossal onions (extracted information—even the type of onion is supposedly a secret) play an important role; the key to their caramelization, I’m told by a source, is blanching them before they’re sautéed.
The Caribbean Roast is my favorite sandwich, packed with succulent pork shoulder that has a slight citrus tang. If I overlook the issue of sustainability, I also like the sandwich of Sautéed Prawns. And the Paseo Press offers some variety, substituting banana peppers for the jalapeños and delivering some good contrast in the meaty textures department.
Speaking of peppers, I’m not sure how Paseo customizes the spice level of its sandwiches other than altering the number of jalapeños, which means you’re still likely to get heat in any given bite. Though it’s worth noting that these jalapeños are pickled, so they pack less punch than raw ones.
Logistically, it’s worth remembering that Paseo is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and management rewards workers by providing an approximately month-long winter break. And be forewarned: Paseo is cash-only, and sandwiches are subject to running out by the end of the day. Finally, the sandwiches are incredibly sloppy. The lettuce starts crisp but softens up over time, adding to a slippery, sliding sandwich experience that will have you using numerous napkins and Wet-Naps. (If you’re taking Paseo on a picnic, plan accordingly.)
Admittedly, it’s fun to watch and listen to people eating their sandwiches. Last visit, I witnessed a guy with greasy hands daringly lift his beverage with his wrists, while nearby one person told another, “You’ve got some stuff on your face.” You’ll happily grease up your hands and face with any of Paseo’s sandwiches.
Not sure how to place your order? Taking them in menu order, check out all 11 sandwiches, with Paseo’s descriptions and some additional commentary.
Grilled Pork ($8.50): Cubed pork loin grilled over lava rocks and basted with Paseo Marinade until golden brown.
This patty-like pork is the densest of all the meats, giving it both the longest chew and holding together in the sandwich best of all, making it the easiest of Paseo’s offerings to eat.
Caribbean Roast ($8.50): Pork shoulder coated in Paseo Marinade and slow roasted ’til falling into succulent morsels.
This is their most popular sandwich, also known as the “#2.” Formerly called the Cuban Roast, succulent is definitely an appropriate term—the pork is incredibly tender, enhanced with a welcome touch of char. Combined with the caramelized onion, the Caribbean Roast is sandwich nirvana.
Chicken Breast ($8.50): Plump chicken breast dredged in Paseo Marinade and fire grilled to perfection.
For white meat chicken, it remains remarkably moist, though it lacks a little in the flavor department. I prefer…
Smokin’ Thighs ($8.50): Two marinated, skin-on, boneless chicken thighs; flash grilled and oven roasted.
In comparison to the Chicken Breast sandwich, you can taste the fat on this one, full of earthy flavor and easily the better of the two chicken sandwiches. It’s packed with meat and quite filling.
Sautéed Prawns ($8.95): 6 Black Tiger Prawns sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with our garlic tapenade. (Optional spice 1-5 stars.)
After the Caribbean Roast, this is my favorite sandwich. The sautéed prawns and caramelized onions create perfect harmony, the softness of the onions countered by the crispiness of the prawns. The only downside is that if you extract an entire prawn in one bite, the ratio of prawns to remaining bread can suffer.
Fish of the Day ($8.95): Delectable slices of fish, pan seared thoroughly in extra virgin olive oil & our garlic tapenade. (Opt. spice 1-5 stars.)
Pictured is a sandwich with a generous portion of Alaskan cod. The subtleness of the fish means that it easily gets overwhelmed by the volume of onion.
Tofu Delight ($8.50): Where’s the MEAT? Who cares, extra firm organic tofu cut into bite size pieces and sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with our garlic tapenade. (Optional spice 1-5 stars.)
During a group tasting, we initially applauded the availability of a vegetarian option. After tasting and comparing it to the pork, chicken, and seafood sandwiches, the most common comment was, “Why would a meat-eater bother to get something as bland as this?”
Paseo Press ($8.95): Succulent morsels of roasted pork nestled atop sweet banana peppers, draped with sheer slices of smoked ham, Swiss cheese, and caramelized onions; all melted together between a hot press. (No lettuce or jalapeños.)
This was the surprising sandwich performer of the group, earning it a bronze medal in my rankings. Shreds of their celebrated roast pork provide a textural contrast to the sliced ham, while the banana peppers add color and a spicy kick.
Ham and Cheese ($7.50): Our twist on a classic. Razor thin slices of smoke cured ham, piled high over banana peppers, covered with caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese, melted together on a hot press. (No lettuce or jalapeños.)
Like the Paseo Press, this sandwich takes a little additional time to prepare. Those who like smoky flavor will really enjoy the generous layer of ham.
Onion Obsession Sandwich ($6.00): Caramelized onions sautéed in our garlic tapenade tossed with fresh sprigs of cilantro and jalapeño peppers. (Optional spice 1-5 stars.)
I love caramelized onions, but ultimately this was simply too overpowering for me. Without protein ingredients to provide a flavor buffer, the garlic in the aioli is too prominent, and the smoky strength of the onions made it difficult to enjoy them solo.
Havana Seared Scallops ($8.95): Sizable sea scallops pan seared in extra virgin olive oil, our garlic tapenade and tossed with fresh sprigs of cilantro. (Optional spice 1-5 stars.)
Sizable is right! There’s a nice smattering of scallops across the sandwich, though it results in an exceedingly slippery and messy affair as all the components start sliding against each other.
Here’s the carnage at the end of the 11th sandwich. Note the napkin and Wet-Nap consumption.
(Originally published at Serious Eats on December 4.)