Years ago, chefs Gabriel Chávez and Emran Chowdhury worked side by side dishing out Italian fare at Cantinetta. Then came their big breaks: Chowdhury opened Bellevue pizzeria Mercato Stellina in 2011, and Chávez followed in 2015 when his eponymous restaurant brought authentic Mexican food to Capitol Hill. Now, cue the emotional music—it’s time for a reunion. On Friday, December 1, both Chávez and Mercato Stellina will open their second locations in an adjoining space just steps away from Pike Place Market.
But Chávez and Chowdhury aren’t the only Cantinetta players involved—former Cantinetta owner and co-founder Wade Moller will run the two restaurants and Joe Obaya, Cantinetta’s former head pasta maker, will handcraft Mercato Stellina’s pasta in house.
Lucky for us, the pasta-making station is completely encased in glass, meaning lookie-loos can watch Obaya’s meticulous process, which he picked up while traveling around Italy and learning from the country’s top pastaios. It’s basically a sun-dappled dream straight out of Master of None. Pizza, of course, makes up a bulk of the menu, from more traditional flavors like salame piccante to those with a Seattle slant, which use fresh ingredients from the market. Vendors include Frank’s Produce and Uli’s Famous Sausage, but even Beecher’s cheese curds make an appearance in a crunchy-gooey Dungeness crab mac and cheese.
The restaurant itself is moody—in a good way—with a dark wooden bench extending along the entire back wall, oversized subway tile and metal shelving at the bar, and plenty of mood lighting in the form of glass chandeliers and Edison bulbs. And once we escape the rainy season, Chowdhury looks forward to opening up an enormous patio. Also on the agenda: plans to dry and sell Obaya’s pasta so diners can cook up their own shells sans fancy Italian machinery.
Some of Mercato’s style elements extend to Chávez’s smaller and cozier space, where tables are few but counter space is plenty, perfect for watching Chávez man the grill in the open-concept kitchen. Even more notable are the nods to his heritage: A photo of Chávez’s grandfather hangs one corner, and hand painted cow skulls are sourced from his hometown, Durango. As is the case in Capitol Hill, Durango wields a heavy influence in the kitchen, where Chávez cooks the food he grew up eating, like barbacoa tacos and gorditas. At the new location, however, access to the market means the Pacific Northwest’s seafood takes center stage, from octopus to salmon to fried oyster tacos.
Chávez and Mercato Stellina share the same address, 2001 Western Avenue, perfect for accessing the market—or avoiding the tourists all together—and heading up the hill away from the hubbub. The two also have the same hours: 11am to 2:30pm for lunch and 4:30 until 9pm for dinner.
This article was updated December 1 to reflect Joe Obaya's correct title as former head pasta maker at Cantinetta, and current pasta maker at Mercato Stellina.