2 restaurants that taste like home

By Maria A. Montalvo | Nov 14, 2018

They say you can’t go home again. But you can eat like home again.

My husband and I were both born and raised outside of Washington. He is from New Mexico, and I grew up in Philadelphia. Both places evoke strong memories because of their history, traditions, people and, of course, food.

Everyone knows a Philly cheese steak (or thinks they do), and chiles from New Mexico (red or green? is the official state question) are known across the country.

This week, we went in search of our hometown favorites here in Washington, and the gratifying quest took us just outside of the city limits, to Everett.

Philly Ya Belly is on Highway 99, but not easy to see from the street. However, once I saw the bright red cursive spelling out “Cheese Steaks,” I was filled with anticipation.

The Original Cheese Steak ($8.49 for a small, which is not small, $9.99 for the belly buster) is as it should be – seasoned beef rib steak with melted white American cheese on a soft Italian roll. You can choose to substitute the American cheese for provolone or cheese whiz. (I grew up on provolone or American, as did all proper Philadelphians, since the Whiz phenomenon is simply a marketing ploy that lasted too long.)

The Philly Ya Belly steak sandwich is phenomenal. The meat was chopped just the right size, and the cheese was fully melted into the meat. I chose the chicken cheese steak because I am no longer eating beef, and it was seasoned very well.

The roll was soft and dusted with cornmeal, and enclosed the meat and cheese for the perfect mix of flavors in every bite – the sign of a good Philly cheese steak. You can get fried onions if you order an Onion Cheese Steak, or peppers and onions on a Pepper and Onion Cheese Steak.

We also had cheese fries ($3.49), which were crispy and salty to stand up to the yummy melted cheese. The meal made me very happy, as good food should, and the experience took me back to age 13 and the local pizza and steak place where we would slide into a booth for an after-school snack and playing video games (Ms. Pac Man and Donkey Kong), with the constant background sound of meat being chopped on the griddle.

On another trip to Everett, we went to The New Mexicans, a welcoming and comfortable restaurant in a beautiful historic building, and my husband was similarly transported back to his youth in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Deciding red, green or Christmas (both red and green), between enchiladas or tacos, and most importantly, how to make space for a sopapilla, prove to be some of the best decisions in life when you live in New Mexico.

Since there were four of us, we were able to order multiple version of the enchiladas and varying heat levels (New Mexico spicy or Washington spicy, very accurate descriptions for hot and not hot). The Red Enchiladas ($10) are stacked tortillas dipped in red chile sauce and layered with cheese, onion, and your choice of meat (or vegetarian, as we tried it), smothered in cheese and more sauce, and topped with an egg.

The Green Enchiladas ($10) stack tortillas, green chiles, and cheese with a creamy chile sauce and bake them until golden. I was really taken with these enchiladas, which were just a little different from how we usually have them. The Christmas Tree version combines both of these for $15 and comes with beans, and is, in a word, delicious.

We also tried the posole ($8), a traditional hominy stew that surprised us with the depth of flavor and the delicious corn bread that came on the side. The sopapillas, my favorite part of any New Mexican meal, were perfectly fried bread pillows served with honey, and brought big smiles to all of our faces, despite our stomachs being so full.

The cocktails were also exceptionally creative – a green chile mule or a New Mexico Bloody Mary – and are worth trying, along with the scratch-made Margaritas.

Philly Ya Belly is at 12432 Highway 99 #65, in south Everett (on the border with Mukilteo) and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Info: www.phillyyabelly.com. The New Mexicans is at 1416 Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett, and is open Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m, and Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Info: www.thenewmexicans.com.

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