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Best of Olympia 2020: Equal Latin vs. Ramirez on 4th

Writer's Pick: Best Impossible Decision

Inside the cozy confines of Equal Latin Restaurant & Bar. Photo credit: Christian Carvajal

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Given my last name, it stands to reason Latin food is close to my corazón. Even so, despite years of living and dining in Thurston County, I'd never really warmed to south-of-the-border fare in easy walking distance of theaters and other downtown businesses I frequent. That changed in 2019, when not one but two delectable eateries opened blocks apart on Fourth Avenue: Equal Latin Restaurant & Bar in late April, then Ramirez on 4th seven months later. Both offer delicious comida prepared and served by gracious hosts in inviting environments; both are easy breezy on the wallet. Their respective flavors, however, are different in significant ways.

Ramirez on 4th, as does its mother restaurant in Tumwater, offers beloved standards you'd expect to find on any Mexican menu: carne asada, chile rellenos, tasty tortas and a wet burrito so massive you'll never mind sharing with a friend. It's simple fare that reminds me of the homestyle grub I grew up eating in L.A. I'm so fond of Ramirez's Tumwater location, in fact, that I chose it as my staff pick for our Best of Oly issue in 2017 ( This new location joins its sororal eatery, Ramirez to Go on Olympia's west side, cementing the local-legend status of owner-proprietor Maria Ramirez and her executive staff of capable offspring. Try the tamales; they're snuggly Mexican blankies for the masa-loving soul. Return on Saturday nights, when Ramirez on 4th offers karaoke alongside its after-hours menu, beginning at 10 p.m.

For a different spin on old Hispanic standards, try Equal Latin Restaurant & Bar, now enlivening the erstwhile location of Ramblin Jacks. The names of its dishes are familiar, their flavors much less so. That's because, although owner Maria Isabel Guzman hails from Jalisco, Mexico, her palate is informed by flavors from across Central and Latin America. She described her establishment as a "place that celebrates the diversity of Olympia and humans everywhere ... A restaurant that welcomes all." Yes, you'll find barbacoa, shrimp tacos and pork en salsa verde, but also a chicken tinga platter that explodes with successive strata of spices. Equal even serves burgers and pizzas with Latin American toppings, thereby convening a veritable United Nations of culinary delight. And if you're wondering how to shake off those calories, keep an eye (and ear) out for salsa-fusion-dancing classes led by OlyDance, each Thursday at 8 p.m. starting March 5. It costs only five bucks to get in, with no dancing partner required. Stick around after the class and shake your maracas till midnight -- socially lubricated, as at Ramirez, by the power of mega-macho, tequila-powered coctels. ¡Buen provecho!

EQUAL LATIN RESTAURANT & BAR, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 520 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia, 360.819.4817

RAMIREZ ON 4TH, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday, 318 4th Ave. E, Olympia, 360.878.9453,

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