Servers at Asadero seem to acquire an extra strut in their step when they come bearing the papa loca, a nearly bread bowl–size tuber, its top cut into petal-like segments that burst, Kool-Aid Man style, through its foil baking shroud. A cumulus of toppings nearly obscures the actual potato beneath: Oaxacan and asadero cheese, bacon, green onions, butter galore, sour cream…and approximately a quarter cow’s worth of carne asada showered on top.
It’s tempting to joke about the Bloomin’ Onion having a south-of-the-border dalliance, but we’re not talking about your typical steak side piece; this potato came to play. Fatty toppings are galvanized by a crisp skin, tender interior, and the same smoky essence that lingers in the air outside on Leary Ave. It’s a fitting introduction to a menu where just about every item is laden with (or consists entirely of) high-end beef.
Asadero means “grill,” or in this case, a beloved Kent restaurant that expanded into Ballard with northern Mexico’s traditions of mesquite-grilled meats and tacos thereof. The grill is a Josper, a showy, charcoal-burning beast from Spain; owner David Orozco sprang for it because the enclosed, ovenlike setup infuses the distinct, savory smoke flavor of mesquite charcoal on an almost molecular level. (Also, crazy high heat keeps cooking times fast—handy for a place this busy.) It’s just one hint of the precision that whirs beneath Asadero’s amiable surface.
Nearly every table seemingly orders the sprawling 16-ounce carne asada. Like most things, it arrives on a massive wood platter. In Tex-Mex restaurants, carne asada usually means skirt steak; here it’s a more tender cut known as chuck eye, which Orozco describes as “the poor man’s rib eye” and the norm in Mexico. Steaks are seasoned only with salt and pepper, a simplicity that gives the senses an almost bionic ability to register every vivid detail, from mesquite charcoal’s particularly savory strain of smoke to the lush marble of American Wagyu. You’ll want a few sides: the spectacular and unadulterated guacamole, maybe a canoe of bone marrow. Definitely that potato.
Beyond the asados—various luxe cuts that might feed a small family—you can order taco platters with the same showy beef, or humbler, smaller taqueria options like the taco toreado, which essentially plunks a chile relleno inside one of the superb housemade tortillas and blankets it with chopped carne asada. You could opt for chorizo, even chicken, but after the server confesses, “I’m always secretly a little disappointed when somebody comes in for the first time and orders chicken,” who’s going to do that?
Asadero’s neighborly vibe is genuine, from wooden booths worn from the brick space’s barroom past to the help-yourself salsa bar. Tequila cocktails come in painted ceramic mugs; servers flow seamlessly from decoding prime grade versus Akaushi red Wagyu—with nary a whiff of d-baggery—to giving the family at the next table a rundown in Spanish of the nonalcoholic drink options. Most neighborly of all, showpiece cuts run maybe $40 for a three-person platter.
The crowds mean the restaurant can buy in volume (70 percent of its meat is Wagyu) and butcher its own steaks to keep costs down. But really Asadero is a reminder that salt, pepper, and basic culinary smarts can make the straightforward memorable.