A taste of exceptional everyday Mexican cuisine at Mezcaleria Oaxaca
Mezcaleria Oaxaca's on Queen Anne offers exceptional everyday Mexican cuisine.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Barbacoa de Cabrito||$13|
2123 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle
Reservations: Not accepted
Hours: Dinner 5-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday; lunch noon-3 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday
Prices: $ (plates $5-$13)
Drinks: Numerous mezcals and tequilas, Mexican beers and specialty cocktails
Parking: On street
Who should go: This convivial bar transports patrons to Oaxaca, no airfare required.
Credit cards: All majors
Access: No obstacles, but tight quarters limit wheelchair accommodation.
Mezcaleria Oaxaca's bartender is a margarita-making machine. Taking a break from shaking one evening, he sets up a tasting flight of mezcal for a couple sitting at the bar. Watching him fill three shallow clay bowls with the clear liquid piques others' curiosity. He obliges with a brief tutorial on the potent Mexican spirit.
Mezcal is a relative of tequila, he explained. Both are made from the agave plant, but tequila is made only from the Blue Agave, whereas mezcal can be made from 28 different varieties of agave (also called maguey). The core is baked in underground ovens, giving mezcal its distinctive smoky quality. After that it's crushed, fermented and distilled. Mexico's largest mezcal producer is the state of Oaxaca, which is also the homeland of the Dominguez-Perez family, owners of Ballard's La Carta de Oaxaca and now this rambunctious Queen Anne bar and restaurant.
Here, as at La Carta, you'll find exceptional everyday Mexican cooking. Gloria Perez heads both kitchens. (Her son, Roberto Dominguez, is Mezcaleria's manager.)
Warm tortillas drape like fine linen handkerchiefs, yet have enough elasticity to hold a taco or wrap an enchilada. Fragile, fried-to-order chips partner chunky lime-splashed guacamole and provide an excuse to visit the self-serve salsa bar.
Tacos Dorados are rolled corn tortillas filled with ground pork, cinnamon and raisins. Fried to a sturdy crunch, they make a handy shovel for guacamole, salsa, black beans and crumbled cheese. Brittle tostadas scoop ceviche, a brisk mix of chopped seafood, citrus and cilantro that gets an added jolt from orange-chipotle sauce.
Pozole is a powerful palliative for whatever ails body and soul. Hominy nuggets join hunks of pork in the brick red, smoke-roughened, chile-stoked broth; the meat is too big to bob, yet tender enough to be dismantled with a spoon. As with pho, you'll want to add a squirt of lime and all the side garnishes — cilantro, cabbage, onion and radish — to bolster the soup.
Oaxacan black mole is a magical mystery sauce that enhances everything it touches, notably "Barbacoa de Cabrito"or roasted goat: pliant strands of unabashedly earthy meat that carry the complex tang of its chile-spiked marinade. Alongside are wonderful pinto beans and crumbly/creamy corn masa that tastes like some ancient precursor to Southern grits.
Mole is integral, as well, to terrific chicken tamales. The inky sauce seeps deep into meat embedded in sweet corn masa and steamed in many layers of banana leaf. Chicken enchiladas are lighter, made with corn tortillas that hold their own under tomatillo sauce, scribbles of crema Mexicana, crumbles of Oaxaqueño cheese and rings of sweet raw onion.
Know that whatever you order will arrive within minutes, so if your idea is to graze, order in stages.
Expect to wait for a seat most nights. The rear dining room is a tight squeeze and some of the tables are communal. The strict seating policy, posted by the front door, requires that your whole party be seated at the same time and allows no additions to your group after you are seated. It strikes me as very sensible, given the space limitations.
If you are solo or a couple, plant yourself in the softly lit front room where yellowed pages of a Spanish text are shellacked onto walls densely decorated with shadowboxed memorabilia, religious icons, even a taxidermied turkey. Front and back, you'll find Seattle photographer Spike Mafford's stunning shots of Oaxaca.
Seating up front is limited to the bar, the kitchen counter and three tables for two — just 21 seats, all of them wide, cushioned stools bolted to the floor. Everyone else stands or leans an elbow on strategically placed ledges. From any of those vantage points you can see flames leaping from skillets on the stove, meat twirling on a spit, a woman ceaselessly pressing tortillas with hypnotic grace, and the lean, mean margarita-making machine himself in action.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com