Don’t underestimate the tacos, nay, the Mexico City–style wonders procured from a counter inside the Hillcrest Market on Capitol Hill or from its sidewalk-facing window. The family-run spot may be small but the food therein is mighty: Fresh tortillas are handmade daily (and it shows) then piled with al pastor, asada, or campechano—a combo of chorizo, asada, diced potatoes, and cactus. There are really good tacos in this city, sure, but Carmelo’s is next level.
Taylor Cheney takes culinary research pretty dang seriously. The Seattle chef has traveled all throughout the Middle East to study the nuance of Levantine cuisine, applying such knowledge to Arabic-style flatbread, or saj, wrapped around the likes of chicken with za’atar spices, labneh, and fermented hot pepper paste. Cheney had run Yalla as a popup with her right-hand woman, Pinar Ozhal, for years before eventually taking over when Tortas Condesa exited the space along East Olive Way.
Brace your jaw before you bite into even half of one of Andrew Rubinstein’s labor-intensive beauties; between that deep gold outer layer and the chewiness that awaits within, your mandible’s got work to do. All worth it, in service of some of the most exacting bagels in town, coated liberally with poppyseed or sesame, or minced garlic and salt. Right now, Rubinstein operates out of Ethan Stowell’s Cortina Cafe, which looks like the world’s poshest airport concession, hidden in Two Union Square’s second-floor lobby, but he’s got plans for his own shop near the Spheres in 2020.
The super-size food stall at the base of Bellevue’s Soma Tower is technically three concepts in one: Kung Fu Tea, jianbing from a newer outfit called Eggy Pocket, and the brothy main attraction, Xiao Chi Jie. Here, an enormous cast-iron vessel yields a pan-fried soup dumpling known as sheng jian bao, a rowdy, textural variation of delicate Shanghainese xiao long bao. It’s the drinking food of your night market dreams, though the counter’s limited hours mean you’ll probably have them sober.
When Neon Taco departed from Rachel Marshall’s divey Nacho Borracho, chef Ricardo Valdes filled the late-night menu void with his own Mexican food, which stands up to ginger-strong moscow mules and potent pineapple margaritas. Valdes, who formerly held down the kitchen at the London Plane, hand grinds masa for his blue corn tortilla—easily the best thing about any of the taco offerings—on which you might find flavorful chicken tinga and shredded brisket with pickled fennel.