El Parche Tacoma now open on McKinley. Get the empanadas, mojitos and steak
El Parche Tacoma owner Mario Medina has a few things to say about Colombian empanadas: They’re the chips and salsa of the Colombian restaurant world and should start every meal.
I took his advice on my first trip up to El Parche Seattle this summer. One dip of a beef empanada into the restaurant’s aji sauce – a garlicky, spiced green salsa – made me an instant fan of El Parche’s Colombian eats. Pro tip: Ask for an extra side of aji.
And now we’ve got our very own outpost in Tacoma. El Parche Colombiano Tacoma opened Nov. 17, 2021 at 6324 E. McKinley Ave. This is a second restaurant for Medina, who opened the original El Parche in Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood three years ago.
The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner Wednesdays through Sundays. The hours will be 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Like its Seattle sister restaurant, the Tacoma location is cheerfully adorned with pops of yellow, blue and red – the colors of the Colombian flag. The dining room comes equipped with booths and tables for four to six. Roll-up garage doors will make this a stellar al fresco destination when the weather warms, as will the adjacent outdoor dining space with an interesting mural on the side of the building. El Parche opened in the former home of Yellow Bird Catering. Want to watch the soccer game? Large flat-panel televisions are on both sides of the dining room.
Medina grew up in Mexico, but studied Colombian food while traveling there. Colombian cuisine became his passion – and eventually his profession. He opened his first El Parche after 20 years working in restaurants. Why not feature the food of his native Mexico? “There are a lot of Mexican restaurants in the United States,” Medina said. “There are taquerias and Mexican restaurants everywhere. You don’t see Colombian food as much.”
And so El Parche was born.
THE MENU AT EL PARCHE
The menu is identical to Seattle’s El Parche, which makes it the deepest menu of Colombian food you can find in the Tacoma area.
Tacoma is also lucky to have Colombian destination Empanadas Luis Panes at 5640 South Tacoma Way. That restaurant has a micro focus on empanadas on weekdays, with a small Colombian menu on Saturdays. Along with El Parche, Luis Panes should definitely be on your to-try list for those empanadas that come with a delicate corn crunch. At Luis Panes, a first visit should explore the cheese empanadas with arequipe, which is Columbian dulce de leche and about the tastiest caramel anything you might ever try.
At El Parche, the empanadas come in three choices: beef, cheese and chicken. On the starter menu, there’s also arepas (they’re like the Colombian version of a white corn tortilla, only thicker) with a choice of toppings, plus patacones (fried plantains), yucca frita, guacamole with plantains and more. The entree menu centers on proteins with a specialty in steak. Find skirt steak ($14.99), flank steak ($14.99), New York steak ($16.99) as well as chicken dishes, including arroz con pollo (12.99), roasted chicken ($13.99) and grilled chicken breast ($12.99). Soups and stews include sancocho with plantain and yucca ($12.99) and catfish stew ($15.99).
For vegetarians, take a look at the cheese empanadas, which are also gluten-free, and the picada veggie ($12.99).
You can’t visit a Colombian restaurant without trying the fresh juices. The menu lists eight fresh-squeezed versions served chilled or blended with milk, like a smoothie. There’s mango, guava, passionfruit, soursop, blackberry, lemonade, orange and lulo fruit ($4.99). Make it a grown-up version and try it with rum. And, as all good Colombian restaurants do, the menu also lists aguardiente, the national spirit of Colombia. This version is slightly sweet with a kicker of anise and a rocket fuel finish. Do not miss a shot of this at the end of a meal along with the milhojas with arequipe, a delicious pastry. Speaking of delicious South American pastries, here’s another stop for you to try – Old Times Bakery, which specializes in afajores and other baked goods from Uruguay, which is where owner Cristina Arreche is from.
ON A FIRST VISIT, TRY THESE
Beef empanadas with the aji sauce, of course, should start your meal at El Parche ($7.99). Shredded beef and creamy potatoes are slapped with a little cumin. Colombian aji sauce carries a heavy tweak of garlic and a moderate amount of heat, plus some acidity that adds a little pucker.
The churrasco is a solid introduction to the restaurant’s steak. Butterflied New York steak comes on a wooden board topped with a patacones (fried plantain) and also salad and rice ($16.99).
The most traditional dish at a Colombian restaurant is the Bandejas Paisa, a meat extravaganza. At El Parche, the dish comes with a wedge of grilled skirt steak, a long swath of chicharron (fried pork), a small helping of feathery soft shredded beef (called carne molida) and a big link of chorizo, which was fully of porky flavor and very lean ($16.99). The accompaniments provide a taste of broad Colombian territory: A griddle-warmed arepe, two meaty hunks of fried plantains, patacones, avocado, stewed red beans, plus well-seasoned rice topped with an over-easy egg. Bandejas Paisa is built for sharing.
From the juice menu, try the soursop with milk, which tasted like a refreshing smoothie, and a glass of lulo fruit juice. Lulo is a nightshade plant with a citrusy flavor. Kick it up to adult-level and get a mojito with any of the fresh juices. Aguardiente is a must-try for anybody who is a fan of anise-spiked spirits.
El Parche Tacoma is tucked into the middle of a neighborhood with hole-in-the-wall dining gems. Nearby are Panaderia El Trigal, the bakery with the bright pink exterior, and the Mexican seafood restaurant, Tacos y Mariscos Nayarit. El Parche is right on the edge of my favorite taco district in Tacoma: from Park to Portland along 72nd Avenue East. That neighborhood is home to Taqueria El Grande, Taqueria El Rinconsito, El Super Taco Bas, Los Tamales and Tacos Guaymas.
EL PARCHE COLOMBIAN RESTAURANT
Where: 6324 E. McKinley Ave., Tacoma; 253-507-8517
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, but check social media for updated hours