When Gabriel Chávez emigrated from Durango to Seattle he brought his family’s recipes with him. Lucky Seattle. We’re talking carne deshebrada tacos, loaded with moist braised short rib meat piqued with dried peppers and topped with the frothy tomatillo-avocado salsa. Guacamole served upon the crispy and slightly charred corn cake, totopo, which Chávez imports from Oaxaca and which taste like the earthen love child of popcorn and corn nuts. And, oh, chile en nogada: a plump poblano stuffed with a meat and fruity walnut mixture that is surely the most complex set of flavors you’ll ever wash down with mescal. All within a room decorated to simple, classy specs in whitewash and pine, and filled with grown-up grads of the Pike/Pine madness down the street.
The wood-powered grill and oven that defined Matt Dillon’s Bar Sajor now focuses on Latin American flavors—grilled Salvadoran cheese, stuffed trout, quesadillas filled with smoked pumpkin, superlative tacos, braised beef adorned with massive slices of charred pineapple and a salsa made with bone marrow. Drinks are as sunny as the space; Dillon’s a partner, but the actual chef is Taber Turpin, the guy previously behind the tiny, superb Taco Gringos on Olive Way.
The mega popular fleet of taco trucks spun off a cheerful brick-and-mortar spot in Ballard. It’s mostly the same menu—now with more platos, fried tacos dorados, and plenty of places to sit while consuming them, including a patio dotted with umbrellas. It’s hard to go wrong with the massive burritos and careful tacos, but fans of Camion’s breakfast burritos, take heed: The breakfast menu is served all day.
A lovely Michoacan family runs this teeming regulars’ haunt in Pike/Pine, where the margs come in stainless shakers, a tostada comes on the house, and the rest of the food comes cheap—super cheap during the multiple happy hours (3pm to 6pm, then again at 9pm). For all the hoopla the food really is vivid, including fresh salsa, housemade tortillas, and tacos loaded with fillings like smoky char-grilled chicken. Arrive early.
You might assume this color-splashed Georgetown cantina with the faintly industrial vibe and the courtyard patio is too enchanting and fun to be this precise—but orange-kissed cochinita pibil and grass-fed bistek tacos testify otherwise, along with (usually) the rest of the authentic Mexican menu. The salt-rimmed deal of the century, from 3pm to 6pm weekdays, are excellent $6 margaritas.
The gravitas chef Chester Gerl brought to the kitchen at Matt’s in the Market he brings to his skinny Mexican slot on Ballard Ave, where intensity of flavors and exactitude of sourcing are top priorities. Well, those and tequila. Within the stuccolike and tiled and brick walls is a noisy crowd enjoying Mexican tapas, or antojitos, along with vivid tacos topped with locally sourced pork and duck and lamb, and made from the house-ground masa of imported Mexican heirloom corn varieties. For dinner, tacos come a la carte and adorned with electric bright purple pickled onions. But if you can get in for lunch, tacos come hugged in scratch-made hard shells—sometimes crafted with blue corn masa.
Old Ballard brick walls meet the terra-cotta tiles of old Mexico in this teeming sensation, and all those people ahead of you in line agree it’s one of the best in town. Indeed the mole is lush and sweet, entomatadas come with kicky tomatillo sauce, the margaritas rock. Get yourself here, stat.
Monica Dimas's First Hill taqueria (sibling to her Neon Taco window in Nacho Borracho, Tortas Condesa, Sunset Fried Chicken, and more) is now slinging brunch, lunch, and dinner. But walkup window this isn’t. Rather, the white-walled space is lofty and lush—plants dapple the bar's back wall shelves next to bottles of Topo Chico. The menu’s grown a bit too: a list of nine tacos, much the same as they ever were, are menu mainstays alongside tortas, lots of chips and dips, elote, and other sides. As for the drinks, repeat after us. I solemnly swear to drink not-too-sweet-but-just-right agua fresca.
Pioneer Square’s basement Flatstick Pub features an array of competitive distractions—mini-golf!—and also a mighty compelling gastronomic one: tacos from chef Manu Alfau (Manu’s Bodega, Manu’s Bodegita). By day you can grab them to-go from a street-level window just east of Second on Main, in varieties like black beans and cotija, chicken tinga, or chorizo potato. Our faves are a stewy brisket, with chunks of tender beef, black beans, and slivers of pickled onion; and the stunning carnitas, loaded with explosive pork flavor and a frisky pico de gallo. Manu overstuffs these $3 babies, so come hungry.
In Rainier Valley the best tacos just might dwell inside this part Mexican grocery part taco stand. The owner's son dang near broke the internet when he tweeted that his dad needs some taco customers. The internet came through—and so did his dad's tacos, which are traditional, no-fuss, and simply good. Asada, chorizo, al pastor, and chicken tacos for just a buck-fifty, while tripa tacos are $2. Dessert? Stop by it's little panaderia with Mexican pastries.
Heavy Restaurant Group’s Pablo y Pablo offers quite the take on the baja-style taco. Most of the requisite parts remain: housemade tortillas with locally sourced masa, a bed of crisp cabbage, a drizzle of beach-blond aioli, pico de gallo for a little sweetness. A crustacean crown of soft-shell crab adorns the three-bite taco, delivering flavors unmistakably rich and earthy. It’s in the “Baller” column of the menu for a reason.
A local chainlet of taquerias, born from a food truck to become a civic fast food mainstay. Rancho Bravo’s tacos, nachos, burritos, and bowls are welcome soakers of booze after a night out, but also worthy of consideration cold stone sober in the light of day—especially the chorizo torta and tacos al pastor. The Capitol Hill location has a working drive-thru.
The bygone space that formerly housed pasta and pizza at Contadino has morphed into a fully fledge neighborhood taco bar on Capitol Hill. A tall menu board outlines the many taco offerings, like a trio of Deluxe tacos for $12: perhaps that's a mountain of carnitas with guacamole and pickled onions or grilled cod with pineapple salsa and coconut crema atop a perfectly thick, griddled corn tortilla—plus side of smoky-spicy beans. For those wanting something a bit more classic, there's a lineup of traditional tacos with a little less toppings action. Also: quesadillas, soups, salads, a kids' menu and, oh yes, fresh horchata and margaritas aplenty.
Tacos Chukís drags eaters by the taste buds on a tour of Mexico City. Yes there are $3.50 baby burritos and $4 quesadillas in its slight and sunny second-floor slot on Capitol Hill—but your first order of business has to be the tacos, swaddled in their corn cradles with plenty of cilantro, onion, salsa, and guacamole. And meat, like the deeply marinated adobada pork—sheared off a vertical spit and served with a slice of caramelized pineapple. If there is a single more compelling taco in this city—bring it. The original location is hidden in the upstairs warrens of the Broadway Alley building, and a second outpost feeds the Amazon lunch hordes. A third graces Beacon Hill, and oh you better believe it, a fourth and largest spot is coming for the Central District.
Late-night tacos are life-saving, booze-absorbing tacos. So if you find yourself at Capitol Hill's Bar Sue a few whiskies in, head to the order window in the corner for a trio of tacos—potatoes, asada, chorizo, grilled mushrooms and onions—or a hefty, carb-blessed torta. Drink more. Repeat.
When Seattleites crave tacos they’ll drive past a half-dozen ordinary joints in search of that particular parking lot, that particular taco truck. And everyone has a favorite: For some, Taqueria Los Potrillos in the 76 Station parking lot at Rainier and Graham; for others, South Park’s Taqueria El Rincon. As for us, we point the car toward Columbia City and slam on the brakes when we get to the tricked-out Tacos El Asadero bus just south of the old Chubby and Tubby. Here they prepare carnitas to be both juicy and crispy; here they fry our mulitas with just the right ratio of cotija cheese to chicken to exquisite grease. Portions are huge and prices loco-cheap. Best of all, indoor seating (with spinning stools!) and covered outdoor seating supply something akin to comfort. Sort of.
In a little strip mall across from the Othello light rail station, breakfast magic happens all day long. Meat (bacon, sausage, or the clear winner, chorizo), cheddar, fluffy eggs, and diced potato in a $7 package so dense it requires actual physical exertion to lift. Or, get that same combo inside a $2.50 oversize breakfast taco with a flour tortilla that’s almost criminally fluffy.
The tequila-and-mezcal-filled cocktail lounge has embraced the needs of the people, the need for tacos that is. Owner Quentin Ertel’s brought in chef Enrique Vargas, who most recently worked at Copal in Pioneer Square, with past stints at Cantinetta and Rover’s. Vargas’s menu will be concise: four taco options, guacamole, chips and salsa. Vargas hails from Mexico City and will bring in those deep, handmade flavors. The braised beef short rib taco will come with his own scratchmade mole sauce, crema Mexicana, and queso fresco. There’s also chicken adobo with roasted tomato-chipotle salsa, cochinita pibil with a touch of fennel and habanero salsa, a vegetable option, and, in the summer perhaps, a fish taco too.
In a tiny wedge of a room, at the end of the bar, a guy stands over a bowl of masa forming tortillas by hand to Latin pop beats—each one a chewy, griddled canvas for black beans, pollo adobado, or cochinita pibil, and…that’s the entire menu. Brass Tacks’ sibling operates on a colorful shoestring in Georgetown, but nobody inhaling tacos and cold beer seems to mind.
Editor's Note: Updated 9am on October 4 to reflect that the Saint has closed.