Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published July 3, 2014 at 4:48 PM | Page modified July 6, 2014 at 7:51 PM

  • Share:
             
  • Comments
  • Print

Heaven-sent chef adds skillful nuance to Saint’s Mexican fare

With the arrival of Mexico City-born chef Álvaro Candela, The Saint’s menu moved away from rice and beans and became a taqueria focused on Mexican street snacks.


Special to The Seattle Times

The Saint: ★★½  

Taqueria

1416 E. Olive Way, Seattle 206-323-9922, thesaintsocialclub.com

Reservations: accepted

Hours: 5-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday

Prices: $$ ($5.50-$12)

Drinks: more than 80 tequilas; many margarita variations; Victoria beer on tap; agua fresca and other soft drinks

Service: no frills, plenty of good cheer

Parking: on street

Sound: moderate in the bar; louder in the lower dining area

Who should go: a must-try on the Hill if you love tacos and margaritas

Credit cards: Visa/MasterCard/Amex

Access: no obstacles

Sample menu

Guacamole & chips  $8.50

Queso Fundido  $9

Taquitos Chilpancingo  $10

Tacos al Pastor  $10

Tacos Suadero  $11

Where to find it

Reader Comments
Hide / Show comments
íSi! MORE
My wife and I walked down to The Saint shortly after this new chef arrived. We found our food to be bland and... MORE

advertising

Passers-by can’t miss The Saint. Painted turquoise with white trim, the building forms an isosceles triangle with its vertex at the intersection of East Olive Way and Bellevue Avenue, pointing downhill.

Enter at the point low end, and you are in a small, triangular dining area filled with unadorned tables that get shifted around, sometimes by customers, as needed for the size of the party. A staircase, lined with vintage black-and-white photos of steely eyed Mexican bullfighters, leads to the bar (which also has a separate street entrance).

Upstairs, you’ll find more tables corralled under a string of Christmas lights tacked to the low ceiling, and a well-worn pine counter with about six stools. Behind the bar, narrow wooden shelves mounted on nubby masonry walls display dozens of tequila bottles glinting in the light of votive candles: an altar of sorts to agave azul.

The Saint opened on Capitol Hill as a Mexican cantina in 2008. This spring, owner Quentin Ertel found himself in need of a chef. Looking for a recommendation, he called Álvaro Candela, the Mexico City-born chef who had built a cult following doing Monday-night taco pop-ups, first at Vios, then at Sitka & Spruce.

To Ertel’s surprise, Candela suggested himself for the job. “It was a coup to get Álvaro to come over,” says Ertel.

With Candela’s arrival, The Saint’s menu moved away from rice and beans and became a taqueria focused on Mexican street snacks. Changing direction after six years might sound risky to some, but Ertel said in a phone interview he had few qualms. “I absolutely love Álvaro’s food.”

So do I.

Nuance is not something you find in a lot of Mexican restaurants. Here, it is the hallmark of every dish.

You find it in the subtle chili punch of house-made longaniza (chorizo-like sausage) that mingles with melted “Chihuahua-style cheese” (aka Monterey jack) in a cast-iron skillet of queso fundido. Four small corn tortillas are draped over the skillet’s handle, keeping warm as they wait their turn to enfold the delicious goop.

Chips are fashioned from those same corn tortillas. Quartered and fried, they provide sturdy transport for guacamole. It’s mashed just minutes before coming to the table, its color is verdant, its texture both coarse and creamy, its taste hinting of onion, cilantro and serrano pepper.

Candela doesn’t make the tortillas, but he is sourcing very good ones locally for tacos whose simplicity belies the labor and skill involved.

Pork is marinated and spit-roasted for spicy “al pastor,” or braised with tomato and orange and pulled to soft shreds for “cochinita pibil.” Morsels of salt-cured pork belly (think bacon without the smoke) enhance “alambres de bistec,” grilled skirt steak dabbed with a vibrant salsa roja that starts with oven-roasted tomatoes.

Roasted tomatillo salsa counters unabashedly rich and brawny beef belly (suadero). Fish tacos, packed with shards of garlicky, pan-seared trout, are more delicate, but no less robustly flavored.

Crushed chicharron (fried pork skin) contributes crunch to Campechanos, wherein salt-cured beef meets longaniza in a blaze of glorious smoked-jalapeño salsa. Chicharrones turn up as well in tacos stuffed with charred cactus (nopales), cotija cheese and avocado salsa. Salted radishes, and sometimes sweet raw onion, garnish many of these plates; they are welcome palate cleansers.

If I had to pick a favorite dish, it would be taquitos Chilpancingo bathed in warm tomatillo broth. Sitting at the bar, I fished the crackling, chicken-stuffed taquitos from the bowl with my fingers, lest they get too soggy, and used a big blue spoon to capture the radishes, cabbage and cotija cheese left in the aromatic dregs.

“A lot of people just pick up the bowl and drink the last of it,” said the bartender.

His advice was as sound as his margaritas, which are as good as they come. Some are sweet, some are bitter, some are smoky with mezcal; others are spiked with chili pepper or muddled with seasonal fruits (strawberries with sage at the moment).

The cocktails, like the tacos, are composed with deliberate care, exquisite balance, and fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Álvaro Candela cooking at The Saint. What a perfect match.

Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at providencecicero@aol.com.



Free 4-week trial, then $99 a year for unlimited seattletimes.com access. Try it now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Autos news and research

His passion for Pantera began as a teen

His passion for Pantera began as a teen


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►