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. Seemingly every table has a 16-ounce carne asada draped on top of it, and the flawless prep and simple seasoning (just salt, pepper, and the savory smoke of mesquite charcoal) give you an almost bionic ability to register every vivid detail of the meat, which is mostly American wagyu. Even more exciting than the self-serve salsa bar: the screaming value on these high-end cuts of meat.
It’s cavernous and packed from brunch through dinner, but the real joy of Barrio lies in its cocktail menu—predictably attentive to tequila, but with some truly inventive surprises along the way. A seat at the bar doubles as an education on Mexico’s agave-based spirits, especially smoky mescal, currently lighting up Seattle’s drink menus. Try a flight or just come on a Monday, when every single tequila and mescal is half price.
Tom Douglas is up to his old tricks in this bright Belltown space—showing us exactly how crisp pork carnitas need to be to render nachos impossible to resist, just how festive orange paint can make a metal chair, precisely how many tortilla makers must be visible in back to convey maximum authenticity. It’s very casual, with plenty of margs and other cantina cocktails, and full of flavor—from the achiote rubbed pork shoulder for stuffing into tortillas to the mescal-smoky caramel dipping sauce for the churros. When the flavors work, as in those nachos, good luck pushing the platter away.
The month the Hernandez brothers revamped the menu at their flagship restaurant in Renton, the cellphone bill hit $600. The mole sauce wasn’t quite smoky enough, the green tomatillo sauce didn’t have that limey kick, so they called their mother, back home in the northern Mexican state of Durango, and went over her recipes again and again. And oh, that green sauce. Smothering a plate of enchiladas with its sweet and tangy richness, it’s worth all the premium daytime minutes it required. Same goes for the carne asada plate; a huge helping of seasoned, just-charred skirt steak and perfectly dirty red rice and lard-free beans sends you, flip-flops and all, to the south of the border beach village that recharges your batteries every November. What makes one neighborhood Mexican-American restaurant better than the next? Fresh (not canned) ingredients, locally made tortillas, killer salsa, original family recipes—and the cellphone bill to prove it.
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.
“In Mexico, people don’t just eat tacos and burritos and rice and beans.” That’s Angelica Villasenor’s mission statement for her restaurant on north Capitol Hill, which serves regional dishes and sizzling, perfectly seasoned steak from the same ranches that supply the city’s high-end beef temples. Next up in exceeding your expectations: The chile en nogada, a sauce-drizzled poblano pepper stuffed with three different meats, plus a world of texture and nuance from green apple, three types of nuts, and the traditional pomegranate seeds on top. Villasenor brought driftwood from her native Guadalajara to assemble the whimsical tree in the middle of the dining room. What she didn’t do was invest in PR, so this companionable spot on 10th Ave remains an undersung gem.
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. That heirloom corn shows up all over the menu—perhaps in crispy gorditas or killer duck huarachitos—and deepens this food you thought you knew. Brunch too.
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.
It’s the newest taqueria on the block, and unlike Monica Dimas’s other joints—Sunset Fried Chicken, Westman’s—it’s no mere walkup window. Spacious digs on First Hill beget a bigger menu than the original (now-retired) Neon Taco, graced by nine tacos, like one with slabs of crispy pork belly and fresh salsa that test the max capacity of a corn tortilla, plus sandwiches, mole pork ribs, and sides aplenty. Don’t sleep on the agua fresca either.
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 of Manu’s Bodega. 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.
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 a 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.
This little splash of colorful Mexican authenticity brightens a particularly gray patch of Leary Avenue with deep dark moles and notable seafood preparations, reminiscent of owner Kathleen Andersen’s 20 years in Mexico. But the joint’s real distinction is its stunning way with breakfast: entomatadas with eggs and black beans, huevos rancheros, and the city’s best chilaquiles, simmered in green or smoky red salsa and topped with cream and cotija cheese. Great coffee too.
Ethan Stowell does Mexican? Well, yes but this family-friendly taco and margarita joint is Mexican the way Stowell’s kid-focused Frelard Pizza Company is Italian. Let’s just say there’s a play area upstairs and the menu includes a cheese quesadilla and a salad of cold watermelon topped with fizzing, crackling Pop Rocks. Margaritas come fast, and tacos come heaped with well-seasoned meat. They’re legitimately good—even the “mom taco” made with crunchy hard shells and ground beef—but there’s a reason the nachos and street corn show up on every table. If you’re bringing kids, call ahead to book a table upstairs by the play area; they fill up fast.
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 opened recently in the Central District.
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.