Head South of the Border with Seattle's Best Mexican Eateries
By Corinne Whiting
Seattle Local Expert
Do you love Mexican food? Who does't, it seems! We do too, and that's why we dedicate ourselves to finding the best places to enjoy Mexican cuisine in Seattle. One may not expect the northwest corner of the country to have such excellent Mexican finds, but you're in for a pleasant surprise here. We've diligently scouted out the top eateries, and we've listened to our readers and their reviews of Seattle restaurants. We share the places that get great buzz, like Azteca Mexican Restaurant, and we showcase the ones that have proven themselves over time, like Cactus. We also point out good neighborhoods for Mexican restaurants in the Seattle -Greenwood and the Redmond area, for instance. While some restaurants offer a no-frills, family-friendly ambience where the food speaks for itself, others feature more upscale decor that puts a fine-dining twist on traditional fare. In these spaces, enjoy import Mexican beers, chilled margaritas and mojitos, crisp chips and sometimes, if you're lucky, fresh guacamole made right by the edge of your table. While portions are often big enough to share, it is often hard to have restraint around such sensational fare. When the craving hits, we'll make sure you get your fix!
Taqueria El Gallo
Taqueria El Gallo enjoys immense popularity on the Eastside, thanks to the kitchen's mastery of authentic Mexican cuisine. Their potent salsa is legendary, and an extensive offering of burrito combinations has folks coming back to popular Redmond outpost for more. Fans of shrimp also relish camarónes à la diabla, which are sautéed and covered in a fiery tomato sauce. Portions are large, so patrons should either show up hungry or be prepared to split their meals. While some define this spot as a charming "hole-in-the-wall," others love the authentic atmosphere that has futbol matches blasting loudly from TVs. Most claim it's worth the trek east! (425-702-9226)
Señor Moose Café
Moose? In Mexico? This place originally opened as traditional breakfast establishment Café Moose, but the owners eventually began incorporating the Mexican dishes they missed from their 30 years in Mexico. Thus began the evolution to Señor Moose Café. The restaurant specializes in comida tipica, and diners can revel in savory delights taken straight out of Michoacan, Jalisco, Nayarit and Mexico City. A Ballard favorite that attracts crowds from near and far, the venue also features El Milagro, a "miracle" a year in the making-- a bar in the venue's back that boasts an amazing selection of tequilas and TVs for watching sports or other desired shows. (206-784-5568)
What was formerly known as Bimbo's Bitchin' Burrito Kitchen has toned down its name, gained a little more space and become a 21+ only establishment. What hasn't changed, however, are well-proportioned tacos and quesadillas, not to mention unbeatable guacamole and a famous herb-roasted chicken burrito plus, cumin-lime sour cream makes everything even tastier. The eatery also features an array of hot sauces for you burrito (from mild to smoking' hot), and the funky hangings on the wall will keep you entertained while you await your food. Add a house-made margarita or a Negra Modelo, and you've got a great meal. However, if you get a little grief from the servers, don't be put off. It's part of the restaurant's signature attitude. (206-322-9950)
Tacos Guaymas - Greenlake
Known for deliciously authentic Mexican dishes prepared with fresh vegetables, meats, and seafood, Tacos Guaymas earns high marks all around. Well-received entrees include a gigantor carnitas burrito served with a generous portion of guacamole, chile verde (pork with spicy tomatillo sauce), and fried tilapia with pico de gallo. Casual, festive atmosphere (think bright colors!) and great prices also go far to recommend the place. The restaurant has several outposts throughout Seattle (like one in Fremont on Leary Avenue), and the counter-service set-up makes this an affordable and informal option for families and large groups. The Greenlake restaurant boasts great views on sunny days. (206-729-6563)
Ask most anybody where you can find Seattle's best burritos, and they'll likely point you in the direction of this cozy gem. Sporting traditional "restaurante" style -- multi-hued walls of pink, yellow and blue, themed murals and festive decor -- Burrito Loco offers up fabulous homemade Mexican dishes. At lunch and dinner, locals flock here to sample such favorites as shrimp and pork tacos, but Loco's true star is its chicken enchilada, which arrives covered in one of their spicy special sauces. Best of all, prices are more than reasonable. Reviewers also laud the fresh salsa, BBQ pork burritos and halibut ceviche. (206-783-0719)
El Toreador Mexican Restaurant
An authority on Mexican delicacies for nearly 20 years, El Toreador uses only the finest and freshest ingredients. Tacos, burritos, and chimichangas -- they don't get much better than this. Located in Redmond on Leary Way, the restaurats serves delightful Mexican fare plus a full bar featuring margaritas, tequilas, beers and wine (kids indulge in the virgin strawberry margaritas, topped with a spiral of whipped cream). Starters range from nachos and fresh guacamole to taquitos. Combination meals mix favorites like enchiladas and tamales, chimichangas and burritos and tostados and tacos, and they include vegetarian refried beans, spanish rice and coleslaw. (425-883-7570)
Azteca Mexican Restaurant
Since 1974, this popular eatery has drawn rave critical reviews, and for good reason, as Azteca offers the region's finest takes on traditional Mexican cuisine. Portions are large, and margaritas can also be ordered especially big, if you're in a festive mood. Choose from starters like coconut shrimp and, for the main affair, a great variety of burritos, enchiladas, sizzling fajitas and combination dinners. Reservations recommended for parties of 12 or more. While some Azteca locations have recently been converted, the Azteca in Ballard remains (yet under new management). Kids enjoy the "Little Amigo" menu, while adults come for treats like the Pomegranate Margarita. (425-881-8700)
Although El Camino is a favorite gathering spot for friends to test potent margaritas, it also serves wonderful Mexican cuisine. The menu isn't extensive, but selections are flavorful and well-prepared. Along with braised pork shoulder and chicken enchiladas with mole sauce, which have earned a faithful following, are seafood options like halibut tacos and salmon with tamarind. Steak tacos are also incredibly popular with patrons, who come to check each other out amid terra cotta tiles and wrought iron detailing. Don't go if you're looking for a quiet eatery and introductory chips and salsa; instead, go for authentic food and a festive populace. (206-632-7303)
If zesty food, full-flavored and rich, constantly tempts you, Cactus stands poised to satisfy the craving. You should be prepared to wait a bit when you go, especially during the week at lunchtime when the Amazon employees descend, but the food is worth it! Offerings are consistently good and inventive. The menu is full of well-prepared delights, such as carnitas, tamales, fajitas, and pork steak adobo. You'll also find a great selection of tapas items, which could satiate your appetite on their own. The festive atmosphere adds to the good mood, and the staff is helpful and friendly too. While you wait, try a mojito! (206-324-4140)
About Corinne Whiting
Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's backpacked around Australia, taught English in Argentina and explored (so far!) countries from Cambodia and Egypt to Turkey and China. Corinne served as associate editor at Where magazine for five years; as a freelancer, she now writes for publications like National Geographic Traveler and Amtrak's OnTrak. Here in the lovely Northwest, she's attempting to debunk the rain myths, up her coffee and live music quotient and find her Zen near/on the water.
Read more about Corinne Whiting here.