I am fortunate enough to have traveled both domestically and overseas. Apart from the spectacular scenery and welcoming locals, I am always looking for a great place to eat. I am not interested in chains or tourist traps. I want to go to that great joint where all the locals eat. One of my objectives in moving to the coast three months ago was to find those best-kept secrets…the local culinary gems of the Pacific Northwest.
A couple of months ago my daughter and I were exploring Whidbey Island, Washington, just northwest of Seattle. We were poking around Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor when we decided to duck into Harborside Village. It is a tiny indoor mall, home to about a half dozen shops where you will find a bustling little family eatery tucked in the back corner. The restaurant was lively and friendly. Our server, Jose, was delighted to introduce us to their family style menu. The food was quick and delicious. Within a few minutes, we were hooked.
Jose & Noe Ochoa
I would later find out that Jose and his brother, Noe (pronounced no-way) were the proprietors of Noe Jose Cafe. Noe spends most of his time in the kitchen cooking, but on those days you find him in the front of the house, you will be met by a 24 year old humble, sweet, smiling young man who is passionate about his food.
Jose can almost always be seen out front, greeting and serving guests. He has a personality larger than life, a charming 20-year-old, who has a gift for making you feel welcome and valued. He asks his regulars about their families and takes a genuine interest in his guests.
It’s obvious the brothers have a long history with food. According to Noe and Jose, their mother, Silvia, was always cooking for family and friends. Her reputation was so popular within her circle, a construction company asked her to become their caterer. Silvia has passed down her culinary passion and recipes to at least two of her six sons.
Both Ochoa brothers participated in Oak Harbor High School’s award-winning culinary arts program. After spending years as bussers, dishwashers, and servers in other restaurants, supported by their family, they decided to open their own eatery, Noe Jose Cafe. But the family support was more than just financial; Mom, Silvia can often be seen cooking or helping around the restaurant. Their cousin, Fabrel Flores, can also be found in the kitchen preparing meals. The staff is made up of several family and friends. This is a family eatery run by a family.
There is something for everyone at Noe Jose Cafe. They definitely have the American fare down, like chicken fried steak, hamburgers, and fish & chips, but I can never pass up the opportunity to have authentic Mexican food. My favorite is the Huevos Rancheros, it’s deliciously home-cooked and what’s not to like about the hand-made tortillas! The portions are generous so you won’t leave hungry. The spicy Chorizo Con Huevos is their best seller. Try the Quesadilla Michoacan, Chicken Taquitos or Pozole, or if you’re lucky, you will hit the cafe when their savory Albondiga Soup is the soup of the day! Breakfast is served all day. They have a lard-free kitchen, and they are happy to help tailor many of their menu items to suit vegetarians.
Noe and Jose chose the Harborside Village on Pioneer Avenue because it had previously been a successful location for at least two other restaurants in town. So far, it’s been lucky for them too. In the four times, I have visited them they seem to have a steady flow of traffic.
My take away after spending time with Noe and Jose is that you might come in as a guest, but you leave as family. They are delighted to have you at their table and want to share their passion for home cooking with you. Silvia, what a great mom you must be to raise such beautiful, gracious sons who put as much love into their food as you do. If you are looking for tasty, affordable, family-friendly food on Whidbey Island, Noe Jose Cafe is a must!
830 SE Pioneer Way | Oak Harbor, WA 98277 |(360) 682-6119 | Noe Jose Cafe