South in Seattle, the Mexico way - El Sombrero, Columbia City's newest eatery, appears destined to be a hit

El Sombrero, on Rainier Avenue in Columbia City, is South Seattle's (maybe all of Seattle's) newest Mexican restaurant. It is just a week old.

It is an offshoot of the popular Torrero's restaurants, owned by brothers Daniel and Andres Rodriguez. It is a family affair, with Daniel Jr. and wife Yadira at the helm when we were there, and all but three workers were family members. That may be one of the reasons for the friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

The restaurant occupies the space that formerly housed Deux Tamales, a French-Mexican fusion restaurant, and retains the blood-red and dull-mustard color scheme.

A full bar graces the south wall of the restaurant, and black velvet is also available on the north wall, in Mexican-themed paintings in that medium. Artificial flowers and, yes, a large decorative sombrero, also adorn the walls.

"The family has been in business since 1974," Daniel Jr. explained. It is a large family from Guadalajara, Mexico. There are nine brothers, each of whom has a separate restaurant in the Puget Sound area, from Olympia to Bellevue to Seattle.

Daniel has been in the restaurant business for 30 years, literally since he was a child. Yidra has 15 years of experience.

"We're not rich," Yidra said. "We started as hard workers-dish washing-and we still work hard."

The cooks, who, Yidra explained, prepare everything fresh, come in at 6 a.m. to prepare for the daily 11a.m. opening.

"Everything is made from scratch," Yidra said. "We don't buy anything pre-made." She said that is because their first concern is the customers' satisfaction.

The restaurant was doing a good business when we arrived between 8 and 8:30 p.m. but the staff was still friendly and attentive.

The menus are the large, triple-fold kind found at many restaurants. The prices generally range between $7 and $11, with a few items higher and below the range.

An unusual item caught our eyes. Have you ever heard of Borrego? This is in the list of daily dinner specials (seven dinners, one for each day). Saturday's special is lamb shank marinated in a special sauce and baked. Is it great? You may have to get there earlier than we did to find out. By the time we got done talking, drinking margaritas and crunching chips, we were too late. They were sold out. Darn!

The specials are available every day, but on special day they are $1 less. We got an order of steak ranchero, the Friday special, for the special price. It was strips of steak in sauce with vegetables served with rice, beans and tortillas on a really big plate.

I chose a combo plate with a chicken enchilada and a chili relleno. The third member of our party had a combo with a tamale and a chili relleno. Both these combos arrived on even bigger plates than the special!

A chorus of yums ran around the table, and we dug in. My food was delicious, the chili relleno was mild and flavorful and the beans were particularly wonderful. The consensus at our table was that El Sombrero was destined to be a hit.

"We're extremely happy to be in the neighborhood," Yidra said, "and people have been very nice to us." She pointed to a large bouquet of cut flowers on the end of the bar that had been sent by one of the other neighborhood restaurants. "We feel welcome. That's the best thing."

El Sombrero, 4868 Rainier Ave. S., is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Phone 725-1418.

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