Seattleites—especially Seattleites who moved here from Mexico or California—will often tell you how hard it is to find good Mexican food in the city, but you have to know where to look. Villa Escondida in Belltown, called “among city’s best Mexican” by the Seattle Times, is one of the only Mexican-owned Mexican restaurants in the downtown area.
Villa Escondida is family-owned and family-run. Owner Jose Perez first opened the restaurant on Capitol Hill with help from his cousin in 2014, before moving to the Belltown location three years ago. Family members including Jose’s wife and mother make up most of the staff at the restaurant, where pretty much everything on the menu is fresh and house-made.
Jose was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and moved here with his family in 1998, “just like a lot of people, looking for a better life.” He started what would become his career at the age of 16 and worked different jobs in the food industry. “At some point I got tired of it. Just wanted to do something different,” he says of his decision to open his own restaurant. “We know how to cook. We love doing it, for sure. My mom always taught us how to do it. So it’s just, why not do it ourselves? Instead of working for somebody else, we could work for us.”
The new Belltown location is a perfect spot for the restaurant—spacious, with a great street front patio—but the building came with its share of problems. Jose has had to deal with ceiling leaks and other issues, which are inconvenient for any tenant, and especially destructive for a small business.
Frustrated with constant problems, Jose was connected with the Office of Economic Development’s Lease Education Program. The program helps small business owners understand the terms of their commercial lease as well as their rights as a tenant. In Jose’s case, he also benefited from receiving these services in his first language of Spanish.
Jose sees Villa Escondida as a place where everyone can feel welcome, and where people can come to celebrate Oaxacan community and culture. It’s also important to him to support his community by providing steady paychecks: “We keep growing as a business, and we keep providing opportunity for people who need a job.”
Running the restaurant takes a toll on Jose, especially because his long hours at Villa Escondida mean that his three kids are often asleep both when he gets up for work and when he returns home at night. “I just keep telling them, the purpose of doing this is you guys. I want you guys to have a better life…That’s what makes me keep going.”