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2017 Best of Olympia: Ramirez Mexican Store

Writer's Pick: Best Comfort Food

Authentic Mexican cuisine is found at Ramirez in Tumwater. Photo credit: Christian Carvajal

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When I was a boy in Los Angeles, I enjoyed the luxury of taking delicious, homemade Mexican dinners for granted. My father is Mexican-American, so my childhood notion of comfort food was tamales and enchiladas with fresh salsa verde at my auntie Carol, Josie or Lily's house. While theirs may not strike you as Hispanic first names, trust me, the satanic, capsaicin-laced vapors emanating from their kitchens hailed from Yucatán Peninsula chiles by way of the local tienda or, failing that, a Hispanic-run swap meet. If my aunts weren't available, any taco truck in L.A. makes killer, dos-manos burritos, and those would certainly do in a pinch. To this day I reject corporatized Mexican "cuisine" unaccompanied by the accent and cadences of Spanglish, which is why I cruise past plastic, Tex-Mex chain outlets to indulge in the real deal. Around these parts, that's Ramirez Mexican Store and eatery in the corner of a Tumwater strip mall.

There's an ongoing debate about the word authentic in foodie circles. All snobbery aside, it describes food that reminds the eater of what his or her accented grandmother made, even if her food was "adulterated" with American flavors or ingredients. So yes, the Ramirez restaurateurs concede to Yanqui tastes by serving free chips and salsa instead of pickled carrots and onions, but at least those chips are house-made and crunchy. Their salsa verde adds a bright zing of lime and tomatillo. They offer pozole soup each Saturday and menudo on Sunday. Their wet burritos are the size of newborn infants. My wife and I split one and still have enough left over for lunch the next day. If you have room somehow after lunch, feast your eyes on the case full of Mexican bakery items: sugary conchas or pan de huevo, polvorón shortbread and, if you're lucky, fresh churros dusted with cinnamon and sugar. I'm aware churros are as authentically Mexican as I am - which is to say not much, given that I speak about a hundred words of Spanish - but I grew up eating and loving churros at Disneyland, so who really cares?

"All of my family works here," noted owner-proprietor Maria Ramirez, "my three boys, my daughters-in-law, my mom, my brother, my brother-in-law and my nephew." The Ramirezes opened a Mexican grocery store nine years ago, the full restaurant two years later. It's open seven days a week. If that isn't convenient enough, try their west-side location at 2400 Harrison Ave. It's dubbed Ramirez to Go, opened in 2014 and offers special items (though none of the soups). The Ramirezes serve meals that consistently remind me of Carvajal family get-togethers, and that makes this Carvajal happy.

I asked Ramirez her secret for making mouth-watering tamales. It turns out it's really her grandmother's secret, so good luck prying that away from her.

Ramirez Mexican Store, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, 5105 Capitol Blvd. SW #C, Tumwater, 360.753.1829,

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