At dinnertime, in a Hispanic neighborhood just north of LA, Ricardo Valdez’s grandparents always put out an extra chair. "You don't know who could show up at your table,” they’d say. “You should always have an extra space to feed somebody." And that idea—a communal welcome—animates the walk-up taco window he’ll open inside Capitol Hill’s Nacho Borracho.
The space is currently occupied by Monica Dimas’s Neon Taco, but that will close on March 31, according to Eater Seattle. Valdez plans to open his window, El Xolo, the next day on April 1. El Xolo will focus, like its predecessor, on tacos, with digressions into things like nachos, California burritos (french fries inside), or tlayudas (a Oaxacan dish similar to a quesadilla). But Valdez will also draw on his local cooking background—like his chef stint at London Plane—to bring a PNW tack. He calls it “Alta Northwest Mexican street food,” referencing Alta California cuisine, which blends traditional Mexican cooking with California ingredients.
To that end El Xolo will source heirloom corn from Central Mexico and grind fresh masa daily for its tortillas. But Valdez will get many of the other ingredients from regional producers—meat from Anderson Ranches in Oregon, Alvarez Farms chilis that El Xolo will ferment into hot sauces, foraged nettles, steelhead, maybe some beans from Willowood Farm—which will be complemented by decidedly non-local things. “You'll definitely see avocados, but you will rarely see a tomato that's not in season." If the “local” and “seasonal” buzzwords sound a little stuffy, prices will still reflect that Nacho Borracho is a casual bar: $3.50–$4 for most tacos.
Valdez left London Plane a month ago, hoping for more time with his wife and twin children and to eventually open a restaurant. But when Nacho Borracho owners Rachel Marshall and Kate Optaz heard he was leaving Plane, they recalled the taco and tiki nights Valdez helped run when he worked at Delancey and Essex in Ballard. So they tapped him to fill the spot in Nacho Borracho, and he figured he couldn’t pass up the opportunity and where it might lead: “Maybe it's a couple more El Xolos around town or maybe it's something larger in the future.”
The name, he says, nods to the Aztec god Xolotl, who was, among other things, the god of twins and of dogs. When conquistadores went imperialist on Central America, they turned the word xolo (dog) into a slur for indigenous people. Eventually that morphed into cholo, an epithet for Hispanic men and gang culture. Valdez grew up in neighborhoods associated with the word, but his experience was that of his grandparents’ house, warm and familial, and since xolo also invokes his own children—twins—he wanted to reclaim it: “As I dug into this concept, it really stuck out to me that the word xolo could be something cool and not negative.”