This article can also be found at Seattle Dining!
In 2014 Seattle mourned as Paseo, the city’s beloved Caribbean sandwich shop of 21 years, abruptly closed its doors amid legal troubles. Although Paseo did eventually re-open under new ownership, it did so without any assistance from Lorenzo Lorenzo, the original mastermind behind the secret marinade recipe that made Paseo a bucket-list destination for many foodies around the nation.
Meanwhile Lorenzo’s sons, who had previously been employed at Paseo, had other plans; they branched out from the brand new Paseo and opened their own unaffiliated restaurant in 2015 as a fresh take on their father’s secret recipes – they called the new joint Un Bien.
Now the important question is, which restaurant makes the better Caribbean sandwich? The new-and-improved Paseo, with its brand new ownership and greater degree of efficiency, or Un Bien, the offshoot started by Lorenzo’s own sons? With eerily similar menus and nearly identical rustic charm (right down to the same pigment of pink paint that adorns the walls), it almost seems an odd thought that there would be any stark differences between the two at all.
Un Bien boasts two locations: one right on Ballard’s busy 15th Avenue, and one in Shilshole – which, funnily enough, is in the exact spot that Paseo used to call home to its second-ever store. Unsurprisingly, the line during the dinner rush at Un Bien tends to get quite long due to all the hype that’s been built around it, but that’s nothing that can’t be fixed by getting there 15 minutes before dinnertime. The food arrives at warp speed and the sandwiches come wrapped in a couple layers of paper to temporarily conceal the mess that inevitably ensues after the first couple bites.
The Caribbean Roast sandwich, which is perhaps the most famous menu item at both Un Bien and Paseo, is a medley of aioli, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, romaine lettuce, caramelized onions and marinated pork slapped together on a Macrina baguette. The marinated pork is juicy and cooked to absolute perfection while the tangy accents of the aioli perfectly complement it to pack a significant punch. The romaine lettuce adds a delicate crunch while the pickled jalapenos and caramelized onions provide a slight kick. And of course the baguette that holds it all together, which is lightly toasted on the outside and fluffy on the inside, mustn’t be forgotten. Perhaps most notably, it is essential to proceed with caution when eating the second half of the sandwich, as it is so unavoidably messy and bursting at the seams with the juicy pork that a fork is absolutely necessary in order to consume the last bits of the delicious flavors.
Like Un Bien, Paseo has two shop locations – the original shop on Fremont Avenue as well as its new SODO installment. The Fremont shop is the same old lovable tiny pink shack it’s been for years, but unlike in the past, it now often times plays host to an underwhelming number of hungry patrons loitering in front during the dinner hour. The efficiency at which the new Paseo operates, however, is vastly better than it was in its earlier days. One no longer has to wait an illogical amount of time just to get a sandwich and perhaps more importantly, they now take credit cards.
When it comes to the new Paseo’s food, however, it is (drum roll please…) an utter disappointment. The pork is dry and barely contains a hint of Lorenzo’s marinade that originally made the shop famous, while the aioli is curiously reminiscent of plain mayonnaise. Peculiarly, and at least in one episode, the caramelized onions were nowhere to be found on the Caribbean Roast sandwich, indicating that someone may have simply forgotten to add them. In the same dining experience, another sandwich seemed to make up for this fact with an overdose of onions that conversely made it far too oily.
Also potentially important to note is the fact that, more often than not, the Paseo sandwich completely stays together through to the end. (This is, in fact, not a positive note for anyone familiar with the original Paseo sandwiches that, similar to Un Bien, featured fall-off-the-bone pork stuffed into the baguette). Perhaps the icing on the cake, however (or, the aioli on the sandwich if we want to get technical here), is the mob of angry yellow jackets in the summer months that tend to like to hang out near the picnic tables while looking for any extra sandwich morsels lying about.
In summary, are the new Paseo’s sandwiches bad? Not at all. In fact, Paseo makes a good sandwich when compared with the average sandwiches of the world, but they simply don’t measure up to what they were under the guidance of Lorenzo Lorenzo. And while Paseo can rightfully brag about being slightly cheaper and supplying a slightly larger sandwich than Un Bien, ultimately if you find yourself craving the delectable flavors of pre-2014 Paseo, you’re better off stopping by Un Bien for its wondrous masterpiece that is the Un Bien Caribbean sandwich – even if it is one more dollar out of your pocket.