Moving cross country to Everett mid-winter (and mid-Omicron surge) was like sprinting a marathon.
I had left Delaware — and my life on the East Coast — in late December to become The Daily Herald’s new food and restaurant reporter. After spending my early twenties as a hodgepodge journalist (I’ve written about sacred Indigenous remains, a facility that turns chicken poop into power, meatpacking plant safety violations, a gourmet hot dog shop called “Doggie Style”…the list goes on) I felt privileged to take on a beat entirely dedicated to food.
All I needed to do was get myself across the United States on a 3,800-mile route, alone. I managed to lose my wallet four hours into the journey (shout out to Apple Pay and my temporary driver’s license). Nourishment came from gas station snacks, phone calls with loved ones and, after a hellish, ice-slicked drive through central Oregon, one Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme (I know: Some food reporter I am).
I arrived New Year’s Day night and unpacked my car in the rain, trudging box after box over snow in shoes that were decisively not waterproof. Thirty-six hours later, I was sitting at my new desk inside the Herald’s Everett office, my excitement as tremendous as the post-drive exhaustion coursing through my body.
Three weeks went by and, other than teriyaki takeout and drive-thru coffee, I realized I hadn’t been doing my job.
The eating-at-restaurants part, that is.
I was surprised — and stoked — to find such a diverse representation of foods and cultures. (Some locals have told me this is a relatively new and growing phenomenon.) I expected lots of donuts and pho. But an Iraqi bakery? Birria tacos? Texas-style barbecue? A vibrant Korean food scene?
So on a late January Friday, I set out to try five highly-recommended places in Snohomish County. These restaurants are mostly Everett-based. I know I’m missing a large swath of the county, so take this list as a toe dip.
9:05 a.m.: Touba Bakery
11114 Evergreen Way, Suite C, Everett
My first sense of the morning was smell, as I inhaled butter from the flakiest croissants inside Touba Bakery. Then came sound, when owner Papa Seck called out “Good morning!” as he appeared from the back.
“Alright, my friend,” he said cheerfully as he scooped up my order, a cannelé de Bordeaux and an almond brioche feuilletée, into a white box. I thanked Seck, who is from Senegal and a master at French baking. I left his colorful, bright shop and two minutes later, I had a new car freshener: Butter.
The almond pastry, this one like a croissant but flatter (think of it as a canoe for the almond frangipane), was burnished and layered. I marveled at each careful fold before biting in, the pastry’s crispy shards and toasted almonds spilling over my sweatshirt. It is a miracle that something so buttery can taste so light.
And that cannelé. Deeply brown on the outside, the color of a perfectly-charred marshmallow. My favorite part was biting into the cannelé’s thick exterior and meeting its spongy, custard-like core.
11:15 a.m.: Alida’s Bakery
607 SE Everett Mall Way Suite 9A, Everett
(Yes, another bakery.)
My first time eating za’atar bread was at a grocery market in Brooklyn called Sahadi’s, a Lebanese-founded wonderland of fresh baked goods, halva slabs, bulk bins of fresh nuts, coffee beans and olives, and spices McCormick likely doesn’t make.
So when I heard about Alida’s and its samoon, pizza-sized naan and fluffy pita, with a za’atar crusted option, I had to get some. The naan is currently in my freezer for future uses, but the za’atar bread has since been eaten.
I only ripped off one piece this particular Friday, to save room for lunch. That bite was pillowy and chewy and the za’atar — a Middle Eastern blend of herbs and spices — made the bread earthy via oregano and thyme, citrusy from the sumac, and nutty by way of toasted sesame seeds.
Alida’s doesn’t hold back on the za’atar, which they combine with oil for the bread. Like the almonds at Touba, I gleefully scooped up fallen bits of the sesame-flecked paste. I will be back to try their samoon, pistachio baklava and other fresh-baked goods.
Noon: El Pollo Rico
209 E Casino Road, Everett
Like so many good food places, El Pollo Rico is easy to miss. The Mexican eatery is tucked away in a strip mall, no bright lights or fancy signage. As soon as I walked up to the counter, I saw a group of women manning dozens of marinated chicken carcasses on a large griddle, taking orders and running food to feed workers, kids, couples and loners like myself.
They placed the raw chicken (yellow-tinged from the marinade) on the left and moved it over once it achieved its sizzling, caramelized rite of passage.
The place was picking up as the lunch hour ascended. A Mexican soap opera played on the TV, and I didn’t hear any English other than “I’ll have the Combo 1” ($9.95) coming out of my mouth. I chose a (giant, homemade) flour tortilla that I then loaded with shreds of chicken, pinto beans, rice and salsa roja.
I could elaborate on what I ate here, but I’ll leave it at this: There’s a reason the restaurant has chicken in its name.
6 p.m. Ray’s Drive In
1401 Broadway, Everett
Recall your worst fish and chips experience. The oil-soaked batter likely upstaged the fish in the worst way. The fries were floppy. The whole dang basket begged for salt. Afterward, your plate was a battlefield of soggy batter bits and lost dreams. You wondered, “Did I even eat any fish?” and “I can’t believe I paid for this.”
My experience at Ray’s was the opposite of that. I pulled up and parked right in front of the 60-year-old Everett establishment, next to a couple already chowing down. I ordered the (still generously portioned) junior fish and chips ($8), as that was all my body could handle. Waited about six or seven minutes. They did not include forks, which I enthusiastically embraced.
Ray’s fish had structural integrity from the crispy golden batter, which was light enough to let the cod shine, but also left my fingers appropriately greasy. Every bite elicited a satisfying audible crunch. The moist (deal with it), flaky fish steamed up my glasses. Tartar sauce provided tang and creaminess and a wee pickle-y crunch.
By the end of the day, my car smelled more like fried fish than buttery croissants. Worth it.
7:10 p.m. Milkie Milkie
23830 Highway 99 No. 119A, Edmonds
I thought I was full. Then I headed to Edmonds and got bingsoo, a Korean shaved ice dessert and easily the most Instagrammable dish of the day.
I ordered the lavender-hued taro flavor, atop condensed milk-sweetened shaved ice with a flurry of crunchy coconut flakes and earthy red beans, a standard ingredient in Korean, Chinese and Japanese desserts (think of the natural, vegetal sweetness of yams.)
Milkie Milkie, which also has a location in Seattle, topped my order with condensed milk, chewy mochi and red beans, as well as a pocket of beans in the center, which I likened to Ben & Jerry’s Core ice cream pints. So much textural variation in one dessert.
The bingsoo was enough to feed two to three people, maybe even four. Whoops.
Taylor Goebel: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @TaylorGoebel.
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