Posts Tagged ‘Mexican’

La Carta de Oaxaca-11/14/11


Location: 5413 Ballard Ave NW



Tues-Sat: 11:30am-3pm


Mon-Thurs: 5pm-11pm

Fri-Sat: 5pm-12am

La Carte de Oaxaca is one of Ballard’s most well known restaurants. Most of the time, when I’ve told someone about this project, the first thing they ask is “Have you been to la Carte de Oaxaca yet?” After 6:30 on any given night (except Sundays), rain, snow, or shine, you will see people standing outside Oaxaca, waiting for a table. Its small space is packed with as many tables as they can safely get in there. There’s one long communal table, about a dozen two person tables, and a short counter that overlooks the open kitchen. A tiny bar sits at the back of the dining area. The bright white walls are covered with beautiful photos of Oaxaca, Mexico.

J and I arrived at 5:30 on Monday night to find Oaxaca already a quarter full. By the time we left, about an hour later, seating was down to a few seats at the communal table. The clientele varied from young hipsters to couples out for a night out to two construction guys sitting at the counter. If you go to Oaxaca after 6:30, or anytime on the weekend, expect a wait.

Compared to the typical Mexican restaurant, Oaxaca’s menu is small, mostly a selection of dishes unique to the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Meat is a main ingredient, as are peppers. If you don’t like spicy food, Oaxaca is not the place for you, Everything from the salsas at the complimentary salsa bar to the guacamole to the beans and entrees have a heightened level of spiciness. Their drink menu includes a list of mezcal, tequila, and specialty cocktails.

The Service:

The guy who waited on us was friendly and helpful and the food came out pretty quick.

The Drinks:

I ordered the Teq-Caliente, a shot of pepper infused tequila. It was a good tequila with an extra spicy kick. The drink was very spicy but not in an undrinkable way like the cocktail I had a Paratii. The initial burn faded quite nicely.

J chose the Chimayo, Sauza tequila, crème de cassis, and apple juice. Great. Sweetness complimented by the sharpness of the tequila. An unexpectedly tasty combination.

The Food:

We started with an order of Guacamole and chips. Delicious, creamy avocado paired with light, salty tortilla chips.

To go with the guacamole, we got an order of Tacos Carne Asada, beef in fresh, homemade tortillas topped with cilantro, onion, and hot sauce. The carne asada had a distinctive, smoky flavor. J said they were the best tacos he’s ever had. The tortillas were incredibly light and fresh. A squeeze from the lime wedge nicely enhanced the flavors.

I had the Lamb Birria, stewed leg of lamb served with beans, rice, pico de gallo, and tortillas. The lamb was tender and pleasantly spicy. The black beans, cooked in a variation of a mole sauce, were the best Mexican style beans I’ve ever had. The rich, spicy sauce was rounded out by a touch of crema Mexicana. The rice was the only item in our meal that was merely okay. Lightly spiced and well cooked but nothing special.

As an entrée, J ordered the Entomatadas, grilled, thin sliced beef with homemade tortillas in a tomatillo sauce with Oaxaqueno cheese, onion, and crema Mexicana. The meat was so deeply flavored that J found himself sucking the juices from the meat before chewing it. Nothing extra, like salsa or quacamole, needed to be added because the mixture of meat, crema Mexicana, and tortilla was  perfect.

The Price:

Chimayo: 8.00

Teq-Caliente: 6.00

Guacamole: 5.00

Tacos Carne Asada: 6.00

Entomatadas: 11.00

Lamb Birra: 9.00

The Verdict:

La Carte de Oaxaca really deserves the accolades. It elevates Mexican food to the level of some of the best restaurants in Seattle. The depth of flavor. The freshness of the ingredients. The variety in the menu all make it the best Mexican restaurant in Ballard and one of the best in the city. There’s a reason why people are willing to wait out in the pouring rain for a table. We will go back, no doubt about that.

One thing to keep in mind, though,  when you do go to la Carta de Oaxaca, is that this is not your typical Mexican restaurant. The huge platters of cheese laden food are replaced with small plates of authentic Mexican food with hardly any cheese. Going to Oaxaca has more in common with going to a higher end Seattle restaurant, like Poppy or Staple & Fancy, than, say, Azteca.

Naturally, Oaxaca is our favorite Mexican restaurant in Ballard followed by Senor Moose, more for their breakfasts than dinner. Technically, that puts Malena’s Tacos next but going outside the project guidelines, I would say I like the taco truck, El Camion, better than Malena’s.


Malena’s Taco Shop – 6/25/11

No Website

Location: 2010 NW 56th St


Tues-Sat: 11am-9pm

Sunday: 12pm-7pm

We needed something quick yet filling for lunch on Saturday since J was headed to a friend’s house for a guys-only afternoon/evening of gaming and drinking. We chose Malena’s Taco Shop mainly for its location and price.

Malena’s is located a block north of Market Street in a spare space that reminds me of a teriyaki joint. Lots of tables. Large menu on the wall. No nonsense service. Authentic but slightly Americanized food. I suppose their primary customers come for the food not the atmosphere.

The Service:

You order, pay (Malena’s only accepts cash and check) and get your drinks at the counter then they will bring your food to you. The woman at the counter was a bit brusque but our order did arrive very quickly.

The Drinks:

J and I ordered fountain drinks.

The Food:

Our meal came with chips and a very good fire-roasted tomato salsa. I also requested a side of guacamole, which was fresh but bland. The only thing in it seemed to be avocado and a bit of cilantro. It definitely needed salt, pepper and some cumin.

J chose the Carne Asada Burrito with guacamole. The burrito was huge, stuffed to the gills with seasoned beef and veggies and wrapped in a homemade tortilla. J told me the ingredients were great but the burrito wasn’t wrapped tight enough so halfway through eating, it fell apart.

I ordered the Steak Fajita Combo, which came with beans, rice, and tortillas. The steak tasted nice with the spicy char I expect from fajitas. The mix of onions and peppers were cooked perfectly, leaving them with a nice crunch. Otherwise, I really wish I could order fajitas without beans and rice. I rarely eat them and the ones at Malena’s were not particularly good. Also, the tortillas, once they cooled off, got very dry and brittle.

The Price:

Fountain Drinks: 2 @ 1.75 ea.

Guacamole: 1.50

Carne Asada Burrito: 7.75

Steak Fajita: 7.00

The Verdict:

Malena’s Taco Shop serves acceptable, cheap Mexican food that is far above the normal fast food options. The ingredients are obviously fresh and reasonably tasty. It’s relatively authentic but obviously slightly Americanized. I think if Malena’s opened now, it would most likely be as an okay taco truck rather than a brick and mortar restaurant.

Frankly, if I’m in the mood for quick Mexican food, I’ll go down the street to the El Camion taco truck where I can get better tasting and more authentic Mexican street food for only a couple of dollars more.

I honestly don’t think we’ll go back to Malena’s Taco Shop. It wasn’t horrible but not really good enough for a return trip.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , , ,

The Matador – 3/14/2011


Location: 2221 NW Market St



Happy Hour:

4-6, 10-1

This time around J and I decided to have a real dinner at the Matador. We’ve had their great happy hour food but had never gotten around to eating dinner there. We chose a Monday not just because it’s our tradition to have a “nice” dinner on the 14th … our first date was on January 14th so we celebrate it on the 14th of every month with some fine dining … but weekdays tend to be a whole lot less “douche-tastic” at the Matador.

The Matador is an open, airy place with a long bar and hipster, Spanish-chic décor. Lots of iron, red draperyand bull-fighting posters. Their menu runs toward fancy Tex-Mex, not authentic but tasty with fresh ingredients. They have a huge selection of tequilas from $8 shots to one $100 shot. While their happy hour doesn’t include drink specials, the food is surprisingly delicious for the price ($4 and $5). The atmosphere during Friday and Saturday evenings does tend toward a singles meat market so we always go during the week.

The Service:

Our server was very friendly, knowledgeable and polite. She really liked the octopus ring J always wears so I think she paid special attention to us.

The Drinks:

J ordered the Bartender’s Margarita, Sauza Gold, triple sec, fresh lime juice, a float of cranberry juice and Grand Marnier, which was very good.

I had my usual, a Pomegranate Margarita, Sauza Gold, triple sec, lime juice and pomegranate juice with salt. Their pomegranate margaritas tend to be a bit sweeter than I like but it’s one of the better pomegranate margaritas in town.

The Food:

We ordered our favorite dish at the Matador for an appetizer, the Tex-Mex Spring Rolls, shredded chicken, corn, black beans and herbs wrapped and fried in spring roll wrappers with avocado-sour cream and sweet chile-sesame sauces. The spring rolls were awesome as always. Never greasy always fried perfectly with a great, ever so slightly spice. While I like the avocado-sour cream sauce, the chile-sesame sauce is my favorite with its honey sweetness followed by a spicy afterburn. Even the bed of cabbage, carrots and hot sauce that the spring rolls rest on merits attention for the freshness of the vegetables and the fact that we actually eat it.

For an entrée, J had the Carne Asada Fajitas, sizzling steak, onions and peppers with a side of tortillas, black beans, cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo and guacamole. His opinion was that it was a good, tasty fajita that kept surprisingly warm throughout dinner.

I ordered the Beef Tenderloin Medallions, quick seared beef with blackening spice, port sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, tomato relish and seasonal vegetables. The blackening spice imparted a spicy bite that complimented the port sauce. The tenderloin was seared well with a nice pink center that reminded me of seared tuna but it was a little dry. The port sauce helped but not much. I really liked the garlic mashed potatoes, which were left a bit chunky with the skins mixed in. I could have done with a stronger garlic flavor though.

The seasonal vegetable turned out to be brussel sprouts. I don’t like brussel sprouts but I tried these in the spirit of giving them another chance. J described them best when he took a taste. “What I imagine a sweaty foot tastes like.” Enough said.

Since the Matador is one of the only restaurants I’ve ever seen offer it, as a dessert, we decided to each have a shot of Mezcal, a smokier relative of tequila that neither of us had ever tried. I choose Monte Alban and J ordered El Zacatecano Reposado. J described the El Zacatecano as almost liquor in its heft and smoky flavor. I tried a sip and found it spicy with a stronger taste than I like. My Monte Alban was much lighter with floral, piney flavor. Very different compared to tequila. A weightier taste almost like a good whiskey. I wouldn’t mind trying it again.

The Price:

Bartender’s Margarita: $8.00

Pomegranate Margarita: $8.00

Tex-Mex Spring Rolls: $8.75

Tenderloin Medallions: $17.95

Carne Asada Fajita: $15.95

Monte Alban Mezcal: $7.50

El Zacatecano Reposado Mezcal: $10.00

The Verdict:

The entrees were good if a bit over priced. The drinks and the appetizer were tasty and the mezcal was a neat, special occasion addition. I don’t think either of us is in any hurry to do a full dinner at the Matador again because of the price but we will definitely continue to go there again and again for their happy hour menu. The Tex-Mex Spring Rolls alone will bring us back.

Our recommendation, go for the happy hour and the margaritas but pass on dinner.

Senor Moose – 01/21/2011


Location: 5242 NW Leary Ave


Breakfast: 8-3 7 days a week

Dinner: 5-9 Sun – Thurs   5-10 Fri – Sat

The husband (hereafter known as “J”) and I have had breakfast at Senor Moose a couple of times but never dinner. We decided in keeping with our idea of trying new things at restaurants where we’ve eaten before, we would try their dinner menu.

Senor Moose specializes in Mexican food rather than the Tex-Mex stuff you get at Azteca. Their breakfasts are cut above the usual breakfast fare. Their dinners go along the same theme of food that is relatively unfamiliar to the average gringo.

Senor Moose is a very popular Ballard breakfast joint … if you don’t get there right when they open, expect a good wait … I figured this might also go for their dinners so we arrived about 20 minutes after they opened at 5pm. When we left about an hour later, the dining room was nearly full.


The waiter was relatively helpful if a bit slow. It seemed like the time between taking our drink order and when we actually ordered food was a bit longer than normal. J, being the nice guy he is, suggested the guy was giving us extra time with the menu filled with unfamiliar items. I felt his timing left a bit to be desired.


We each ordered the Reposado Margaritas. Hands down the best margarita I’ve had in a long time. The mix of tequila to lime to agave was perfect. J agreed with me. It was hard not to drink it fast because the temptation to order another one was strong.


Since I am a fan of guacamole, we decided to try theirs. The waiter also offered a selection of home-made salsas with the guacamole and chips so we said yes to that as well. The guacamole, which was the freshest I’ve ever had at a restaurant, was both chunky and creamy with a great mix of spices and tomatoes. The chips were lovely as well, light, warm and nicely salty. The salsas came in small cups (a peanut based salsa, salsa fresca, chipotle salsa, and two salsa verde, one cooked and one fresh). They were good and the presentation was cute but in the end … as in when the check came … they weren’t worth the amount we were charged. I’ve had better, fresh salsas at La Carte de Oaxaca for free.


J got the Alambres, a mix of shredded beef, chorizo, bacon, green bell pepper and poblano chile topped with cheese and fresh salsa verde. He loved it. The flavor of the meats melded together yet he could pick out the flavors of each type. It was all seasoned well and was not too spicy. He also felt that the green bell peppers were cooked exactly right as they didn’t overwhelm the dish. He would, given the chance, order it again.

I went with the Mole de Papantla, braised beef covered in mole served with mashed sweet potatoes and a salad of romain lettuce, cabbage and tomatoes. The mashed sweet potatoes were lovely, smooth, slightly buttery and salty. The little bit of salad was crisp and fresh. The beef mole though … The beef was tender enough but something about the flavor of the mole just didn’t sit well with me. There was almost a sweet metallic taste to it that put me off. Being that I’m no expert on the flavor of mole, that sweet aftertaste might have been expected for the type of mole I chose. I can’t really fault the chef for my disliking this dish. It just wasn’t to my taste.


Reposado Margaritas – $9.50 each

Guacamole, Salsas and Chips – $9.50

Alambres – $15.95

Mole de Papantla – $14.95

The Verdict:

While both J and I felt the margaritas were worth every cent of the $9.50, the rest of the meal seemed a little over priced for what we received. The salsa sampler, in particular, was way over what I would’ve been willing to pay. J’s felt his entrée, while really good, wasn’t any better than one he could’ve gotten cheaper. The local taco truck down the street has food just as fresh for far cheaper.

Granted, we will go back to Senor Moose for their breakfast, which is creative and more reasonably priced, but I doubt we’ll go back for dinner. Or at least a full dinner. We may occasionally go in for their fabulous margaritas and a side of guacamole. Boy, those margaritas were good.