La Cabaña Is Seattle’s Central American Food Hub
A Greenwood restaurant acts as a community hub for local Central Americans craving a taste of home
By Naomi Tomky
June 7, 2019
On days of big soccer games, La Cabaña owner Selvin Oseguera often answers phone calls from people of a half-dozen Central American nationalities to reassure them that the game will be shown on the television at his restaurant. Oseguera is Honduran, but the restaurant serves as a makeshift community hub for people who hail from all over Central America. And Oseguera couldn’t be happier about that.
Before opening La Cabaña (Greenwood, 606 N 105th St.; 206.420.7693) in 2015, Oseguera had realized that no Seattle restaurant was serving his home cuisine or that of many of his Latin American friends. So he designed his menu to include tastes from all over Central America. The resulting cultural mash-up has the potential to be overcomplicated, but Oseguera’s almost three decades of experience in the local restaurant world make the running of La Cabaña as smooth as the sweet crema on the side of the fried plantains.
TASTES OF HOME: Selvin Oseguera serves food at his restaurant that reminds his patrons of their home cuisine
At age 21, Oseguera followed an older brother to Seattle and right into the kitchen of Chinook’s, where he started as a dishwasher. Although he had thought he would stay in the U.S. for only a few years, he worked his way up through the ranks, experiencing nearly every job in the restaurant industry, from busser to sous chef to manager, moving through the kitchens of a number of Seattle restaurants, including Ray’s, Duke’s, Palisade and Tutta Bella. Only then did he, his wife, Elena, and his sister-in-law, Nancy Karina Cerrato, begin planning their own place. While deciding on a cuisine for their restaurant, they looked at Tutta Bella’s Italian menu and Paseo’s Caribbean-centric food and finally asked themselves, “Why don’t we do our own food?” Friends from different Central American countries provided recipes for inspiration, which they added to their own Honduran menu. Now, La Cabaña diners come together over thick, warm house-made tortillas that accompany most of the dishes and are also wrapped around Salvadoran chicken stew with chayote, Guatemalan shredded beef in red sauce and Nicaraguan steak topped with caramelized onions. Because there are still few restaurants that serve any of these dishes, anyone with a craving for Central American comfort food comes to La Cabaña. It can be a tough crowd. “People come in, and they come back,” says Oseguera. “That tells me I’m doing it right.”
Oseguera’s wife, Elena, introduced him to this Honduran specialty when they were first dating. Wanting to make him a dish from home (she and Oseguera are from the same town), she landed on this shredded meat dish, but it turned out he’d never had it before! He thinks salpicón may have become popular after he left Honduras (she came to the U.S. 12 years after he arrived), but it’s now one of his favorite menu items.
The key to making salpicón, he says, is to taste as you go. “Every time, it’s a little different,” he says, so checking in on the seasonings helps achieve just the right flavor.
Note: In the restaurant, this dish is made with beef knuckle, a huge, lean, tough cut that breaks down over a long cooking time. We’ve substituted eye of round in this version for making at home.
2 pounds eye of round beef, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic
11/2 tablespoons Johnny’s Seasoning Salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 small white onion, diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 limes, juiced
1 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper, as needed
1. Place beef in a pressure cooker together with 2 cups of water, bay leaves, both garlic cloves and granulated garlic, and Johnny’s Seasoning Salt. Cook for 20 minutes at high pressure, followed by 15 minutes of natural pressure release. Remove the meat, place on a cutting board and let cool. When the meat is cool enough to handle, chop finely. Mix the meat with the onion, cilantro, lime juice and salt. Taste and add more lime, salt and pepper as needed.
2. Serve in taco shells, wrapped in tortillas or with rice and beans, topped with diced radish.