Puerto Rican restaurant La Isla opened its doors in the Redmond Town Center (RTC) on July 1, replacing an Eddie Bauer store on the ground level.
It follows fellow RTC newcomers Fuji Steakhouse and decor store Mac & Mabel, which both opened in June.
The restaurant was previously located less than a 10-minute walk away in the Redmond Square retail area, which had been acquired by Legacy Partners and MGRM LLC in late 2016 to be developed into a roughly 600-unit, multi-family apartment building. The project would be the company’s fourth in Redmond, following Riverpark Apartments, Milehouse and The Triangle Apartments. According to Mark McKallor of Legacy Partners, construction is set to start in summer 2020. McKallor also said some tenants in Redmond Square will be operating their businesses up until that time.
“Most people got a notice to vacate, and we were one of them,” La Isla general manager Luigi Valenciana said.
Construction for La Isla’s new RTC spot finished in April, but the business had to wait another 90 days for a liquor license and other permits to be issued.
La Isla’s first-ever location opened in Ballard in 2004. At that time, Valenciana was running his own Latin-inspired restaurant elsewhere in Seattle, initially named Mojito Cafe but later changed to La Casa del Mojito. Nine years later, La Isla expanded to Redmond.
Valenciana’s accolades as a restaurateur (in 2004, his restaurant’s mojito beat out three other finalists from Miami in a national cocktail competition) attracted La Isla’s owners, who sought his input on revitalizing their concept.
“At a personal level I’m passionate about this business,” Valenciana said. “Latin Caribbean is a key part of the vision, so we’re revamping all of our recipes so we can stay as close as possible to the traditional sauces and marinades.”
The first thing he did at La Isla was correct the mojito recipes.
Valenciana hinted at future expansion throughout the state and said the RTC location will be designated as La Isla’s flagship, where management will receive training and learn what it means to bring the flavor of the Latin Caribbean alive.
“It’s been interesting, it’s been a lot of educating people about our concept. We are the only Puerto Rican restaurant in the state of Washington and it’s been taking a lot of educating people about the difference between a Mexico restaurant and other Latin American restaurants,” he said.
For example, diners won’t find any corn items — including chips (and salsa) — and there are no avocados for guacamole. Valenciana stressed that another staple Redmond restaurant-goers might expect, hot sauce, has been intentionally left out of the La Isla experience. The pure Caribbean flavor, not the heat, will speak for itself, he said.
“Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Colombia, they’re considered the Latin American Caribbean. So the base of their food [is] rice, beans, pork, fish, seafood and poultry, but a lot of pork and plantains,” Valenciana said.
The plantains take a lot of different forms at La Isla; they’re stuffed with meats, turned into pastes to supplement other dishes or turned into cups.
“I say about 80 percent of people have been receptive about it, and 20 percent are iffy, but once they decide to stay and taste the food, then everything changes,” Valenciana said.
In other town center news, Charming Charlie’s is having a closeout sale; the company, another victim of the so-called brick-and-mortar retail apocalypse, declared bankruptcy and will be closing all of its 260-plus stores nationwide. According to Jessica Morgan, marketing director for RTC, incoming stores include Goldfish Swim School (set to open Aug. 1); Fidelity Investments, youth fitness hub My First Gym, fashion boutique Colors of Redmond and a temporary sales office for Talisman Apartments.