The Panda Inn: Highly Recommended, but Not By Me
While I will not say that this restaurant is terrible, I can't say the same as so many others have: that this is one of the best Asian restaurants in this part of Washington. In fact, I actually prefer the food over at the Thai place (but it is a chore sometimes to get them to understand what you have ordered...). It is hard to resist the signs on the doors that declare this to be one of the best Asian restaurants in the region.
Your choices for rice are...rice. White Rice. If you want brown rice, you are out of luck. You can get pork fried rice, but that is $2 extra.
The sweet and sour shrimp (about $10) is OK, but it comes fried, and the sweet and sour sauce is really more like a syrup than the sweet and sour sauce that I would expect.
I will probably be back and try something else here, especially on days that the Thai place next door is closed or busy, but my first impressions have not been so very good.
Tacos el Rey: Slightly South of Downtown, and Less Expensive
Finding this place is somewhat of a challenge, as it looks like it was put into a converted neighborhood grocery store and thus is not what you would expect a restaurant to look like from the outside.
The restaurant is essentially laid out in the taquilaria fashion, where you order food from the counter, and the rest of the service is essentially self service.
Soft drinks are still available in glass bottles here, along with a bin to recycle them into. Fountain drinks are also available from a small self-service drinks fountain.
Many of the orders seem to be call-in, but there are several booths available for those who wish to dine at the restaurant.
The restaurant is part of a chain, but it is a small one with perhaps 12 restaurants or so spread through Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Favorite Dish: Burritos alone are reasonably good sized and are in the $4 and pennies range, or order vegetarian and they are $3.99 each. These are reasonably filling and quite good for the price.
- Budget Travel
Country Cousin: "Country Style" in Decorations and Food
When this establishment opened in 1973, the city of Centralia was quite a bit different than it is today. Up until fairly recently the area surrounding this restaurant was still the outskirts of town. The construction of the factory outlet stores changed all that, and now the restaurant finds itself as the centerpiece for a perfect storm of traffic in all directions.
As the name implies, the restaurant specializes in rural America themed food and decorations. Vegetarian items are not common on the menu but you may be able to find one or two if you look hard enough. One fairly unique offering on the menu is yak meat as a lean alternative to beef.
This includes a memorabilia store with toys and other items.
You will want to take a close look at the various decorations, and take some time to read some of the signs. As an example of some of the odd things you will find here, take a look at the giant sized potato peeler and cheese grater on the first booth to the left of the front entrance.
There is a fireplace lounge room on the north side of the restaurant which provides a bit different style of dining environment than the regular seating area.
Due to its location next to Interstate 5 and the factory outlet malls the restaurant is extremely busy but they always seem to have at least one or two tables available. The parking lot gets crowded out before the restaurant gets filled, usually.
Favorite Dish: If you are into large, greasy breakfasts this is certainly the place to come for those. Served until 11 am, you can find quite a number of large breakfasts here.
Be sure to check the specials menu, which changes monthly. There is a chalk board right at the entrance door
The veggie omlette ($9.49) is pretty good.
The Spaghetti and Meatballs and Garlic Bread for Lunch Special ($9.99) was reasonably good.
The $2.99 for a glass of apple juice seemed a bit excessive.
- Food and Dining
- Road Trip
La Tarasca: A Slice of Mexican Reality
This rather unassuming little restaurant is one of the top rated restaurants in Centralia on some web sites, so I thought I would give it a try. I was not disappointed at all.
Upon entering the restaurant, the owner of the establishment greeted us and led us to a table. There, she opened the menu for us, and explained where she was from in Mexico, and that the food cooked here is authentic to her state - and indeed some of her recipes have been handed down from her mother and grandmother.
She then gave us a small bowl of salsa and a small bowl of pickled carrots, and explained "We do not serve chips here. This is not what we do in our part of Mexico. Instead, this is what we serve where I am from."
She suggested that I try the carnitas (this wouldn't work for my vegetarian mother, so my mother got one of the entrees which was vegetarian). I thoroughly enjoyed them.
The restaurant owner offers specials every day.
The walls of the restaurant have an artful assortment of decorations of all manner, and chances are you will find something of interest if you search the walls and shelves with your eyes.
While the view of the street isn't much to look at, it does at least have windows.
I was quite impressed with how fast the food arrived, despite the obvious care taken to prepare the meal.
According to the menu, there are a number of children's items available, and this is probably why the restaurant is reasonably popular with families with children.
Another item that is interesting about this place: Normally, Mexican restaurants in the USA come in two types: those that are popular with Mexican immigrants, and those that are popular with everyone else. Those popular with everyone else tend to be Americanized in some way or another. La Tarasca seems to attract a respectable number of both.
The restaurant DOES NOT have a full bar, and therefore the selection of alcoholic drinks is fairly limited. When someone comes in and asks for some very specialized alcoholic drink the restaurant owner or their workers have no hesitation to suggest going down the street to Casa Ramos near the freeway. Alcoholic drinks are not something she wishes to specialize in has no desire to.
Generally the restaurant puts up the closed signs about 8:45 in the evening, with official closing time at 9.
Favorite Dish: I have not eaten enough here to be able to say what is my favorite, but I certainly plan to eat here again and try a few other meals.
The Flan offered for dessert was exceptionally good.
The carnitas I had on my first visit here were quite good, and the Taquitos Tarascos enjoyed on a later visit were also quite good.
- Food and Dining
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- Arts and Culture
La Paz Mexican Restaurant: Hidden From the Crowds yet Close to Downtown
I think the only thing I was really disappointed in with La Paz was the fact that there are no windows at all in this place. Though, the restaurant itself is not in an extremely scenic part of town, it would be nice to at least see out.
The restaurant does have a rather odd mixed age feel. It appears to have been built inside one of the historic structures, though with significant updates made to the outside. The wooden trusses in places have been left exposed, and the interior is the retro-modern style blend that is very common in a number of modern restaurants in the Pacific Northwest these days. A fountain on the north side encases a television tuned to the latest telenovela on Univision. Seating is comfortable, and reasonably spaced.
A basket of chips and salsa is served before each meal.
This is definitely one of the most hidden restaurants in Centralia, as first of all the entrance is set back off the street on a semi-paved road that dead ends at the railroad line after 1/2 a block - it is basically a side entrance to the structure. Furthermore, the entrance to the place is mostly for the "Wellness Center" that is located near the entrance - the huge sign above the entrance says "Wellness Center" and only a small sign on the door indicates the presence of a restaurant inside. The restaurant is truly in the middle of the building (which is why there are no windows!) and completely hidden by the surrounding businesses that face outward.
Favorite Dish: The Mexican Pizza reminds me of how nachos used to be served in a few of the restaurants in Oregon in the 1980s. It is a fairly large plate of food with everything served over a bed of chips so that if you don't mind a little mess you could eat it with your fingers - though I used the silverware. The price at $8.99 is reasonable for the amount of food in this dish.
- Arts and Culture
- Food and Dining
- Budget Travel
Country Café and Pizza: No Slices, but Good Sanwiches
Located about one block directly west of the Amtrak station, the Country Café and Pizza is very conveniently located for those visiting downtown Centralia for whatever reason. They offer an assortment of breakfast items including omlettes. Lunch items include various sandwiches.
There are a huge number of local people it seems that feel the food here is wonderful.
I've been told that as long as the person who makes the breakfast dishes is still around, then breakfast is still available - though the time listed on the counter is
The restaurant is open from 7 to 7 most days, but open an hour later on Friday and Saturday nights.
Art on the walls is locally produced.
There isn't much of a view, except of the street.
Favorite Dish: The apple juice is a horrible waste of money as it is a very tiny glass for the price.
The Swiss Mushroom Burger is quite good sized and comes with a small order of potato tots or Fries, and costs $6.45.
Pizza may be good, but they do not sell it by the slice. They do have some smaller size pizzas available, however.
- Food and Dining
Thai Dish: A Decent Thai Restaurant not far from Freeway
The area of Centralia near Interstate 5 has traditionally been the haunt of quick restaurants that may not necessarily be the best food, but they are decent for freeway-side food.
Thai Dish delivers a reasonably decent meal at a decent price, with some eccentric Thai style interior decorations to fit the bill. It is a block further from the freeway than the main freeway restaurant cluster, and is primarily a sit-down style restaurant. However, it still attempts to aim at some of the freeway market by providing reasonably priced food with some takeout service.
You will find a mixture of reviews on the web about this restaurant. The food is not quite as good as some of the other Thai restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. However, the list of alternative places to eat in Centralia isn't very extensive, and this is certainly a one of a kind establishment in this community. The mixed reviews seem to be either realistic (the place is surviving a market that doesn't necessarily support traditional Asian food) or unrealistic (the place isn't like the Thai restaurants in Seattle or Portland, but this isn't Seattle or Portland - the restaurant must survive based on what sells in this community and to the traffic going through on the freeway).
The Thai iced tea is quite large here!
Generally the place closes at 9 at night, so you should be prepared for a somewhat earlier closing hour than you may be used to in the larger cities as well.
Vegetarian food isn't necessarily easy to find in Centralia either, but there is a shot list of menu items here.
Don't be surprised if you don't see too many people here, or even none. While it is true the restaurant has mixed online reviews, the other reason is that it is close to the freeway, and seems to have a reasonable amount of takeout traffic.
It should be noted that Thai Dish is closed on Mondays!
Favorite Dish: I enjoyed the vegetarian Pad Thai that I received for $8.95, and the Thai iced tea hit the spot, and was quite large.
- Road Trip
- Food and Dining
Burgerville: Centralia: Pacific Northwest Chain Serves Intermediate Market
Bergerville started in Vancouver, Washington, and has since spread to a number of different locations in Oregon and Washington. According to a number of interviews with the family that owns the chain over the last few decades, they have no interest in expanding outside what they consider their region, and their region is considered to be a scattering of places in Oregon and Washington.
The Centralia restaurant is as far north as the chain goes, as of this writing.
For some years Burgerville had the slogan "where you go when you know" and I would say that slogan fits them perfectly. Most fast food restaurants serve cheaper food - say in the $1 to $2 range per item. The next step up is a full diner with items in the $10 range. Burgerville hits the $3 to $7 range.
The Centralia restaurant is open 7 days a week, from 7 am to 10 pm. According to Burgerville's web site, it has been in operation since 1976, and was one of the first to add a drive through window in 1978. It was the first to add a salad bar in 1979.
Also according to the web site, it is one of the growing number in the chain that feature free WiFi service.
Favorite Dish: The best item to search for in any Burgerville is whatever happens to be in season. For example, if stawberries are in season, you can get fresh strawberry milkshakes rather than shakes made from flavoring syrup. If Walla Walla onions are in season, you can get some wonderful onion rings. The sweet potato fries are typically amazing.
All of these items only appear for a season when they are in season, and available fresh to the restaurant.
- Road Trip
Casa Ramos / Rosa's Cafe / Azteca: Casa Ramos / Rosa's Cafe / Azteca near freeway
Casa Ramos was not a restaurant I had heard of before, so I was hoping for some establishment that had some decent and unique local food. After all, most of what is next to Interstate 5 are chain restaurants.
It turns out Casa Ramos is in fact part of a chain: while the huge sign visible from the freeways says "Casa Ramos" and the sign at the entry says "Rosa's Cafe", it is in fact a chain restaurant, and part of the Azteca chain of "Mexican" restaurants operating in the Pacific Northwest. It says so on various pieces inside the restaurant, including the menus and naptins. So, while it is a chain restaurant, at least it is a somewhat local group of chain restaurants. Also, based on the "Casa Ramos" name, possibly this particular part of the family which operates Azteca has some independent selections on its menu.
Unlike the mass market "Mexican" restaurants, the Azteca series of restaurants seem to be a aimed a little closer towards providing actual artwork and decorations that are made in Mexico and are somewhat unique from one restaurant to another. Full-wall murals, fountains, and carvings of Mexican birds are scattered through the restaurant, and the central room of the restaurant is decorated to have the appearance of a courtyard among buildings in Mexico.
Tables and benches are decorated in a similar fashion.
There is a bar at the southern side of the restaurant. Associated with the bar there is an outdoor patio, but unfortunately it faces the parking lot and Interstate 5, and therefore has all the noise and few redeeming features. Yet, it seems popular on sunny days.
Favorite Dish: Both the Enchalada Espinaca ($10.25) and the Vegetarian Macho Burrito ($8.95) are quite good, though the Veggie Macho seems to be a slightly better value for the money.
Getting a strawberry lemonaide ($2.75) seems a bit expensive for what you get though.
Sales taxes in Centralia are currently running 8%.
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