Counter Points

Seattle's Walk-Up Windows and Counters Are Booming

New spots deliver soup dumplings, nachos, and late-night Lebanese flatbread.

By Rosin Saez October 22, 2019 Published in the November 2019 issue of Seattle Met

Carmelo’s Tacos

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.

Xiao Chi Jie

The super-size food stall at the base of Bellevue’s Soma Tower now ships its frozen creations up and down the west coast, but there's no beating a fresh batch of its brothy main attraction—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.

El Xolo

Across town at his Ballard restaurant Raiz, chef Ricardo Valdes slings family meals for takeout. Here at his counter isn't slinging family meals at Raiz in Ballard, he's 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.

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