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Mezcaleria Oaxaca

Seattle WA (Queen Anne)

2123 queen anne ave n, seattle WA 98109
mon-thurs 5-11pm, fri-sat 5pm-12am

Mezcaleria Oaxaca - taco review

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Rating: 87
Price: $$$

During my 2011/2012 West Coast New Year's Taco Sabbatical, I ate a great many things that I normally don't purchase in Wisconsin. Avocados, hummus, non-poisonous Goldfish crackers, Thomas Kemper Root Beer... the list could go on for literally dozens of words. To maintain a sense of normalcy and groundedness, I also attempted to eat the same foods I eat on a daily basis in Wisconsin: carrots, yogurt, and tacos (the foundation of The Zipper Diet - currently I have a projected 176-year life expectancy, which should increase as soon as I stop finishing each meal with a basket of fried cheese curds). The tacos in San Diego impressed, but did not astound, so I returned to the taco-headquarters of Edmonds to continue my quest for the world's perfect taco.

Luckily, my business associate Shana had recently moved to Queen Anne, a neighborhood of Seattle never before mapped by the predictive taco indicator. Shana is the business associate with whom I visited the fanciest-restaurant-I've-ever-eaten-at (unfortunately I can't remember the name, but it is where I had the most-delicious-food-I've-ever-eaten) where she's an expert chef and generally culinary genius. When she suggested her neighborhood taqueria, Mezcaleria Oaxaca, her credibility preceded her and I instantly agreed.

Upon arrival, she also revealed to me that this is the sister restaurant to La Carta de Oaxaca, a Ballard restaurant to which I've been multiple times during my pre-tacosmog-youth, and have idealized in my mind so highly as delicious that I am actually terrified to return for a review, in case my fond childhood memories are shattered. However this also proved to raise my expectations for Mezcaleria Oaxaca to quite high levels, which obviously could work significantly to their disadvantage, because I've never made any claims to objectivity or bias-free reviewing.

After sitting down in a cool booth next to a cool picture (which was available for free in postcard form, an offer I took advantage of due to my obsession with free postcards), we put in an order for some chips & guacamole which we complemented with a trip to the salsa bar. The guacamole itself was fresh and tasty, but I think it could have used a bit more lime, as the avocado was mild. The chips were especially salty, teetering on the edge of no-longer-deliciously-salty, so more of a citrusy tang could have worked well (I'm still thinking of Cafe Coyote's guacamole from a few days prior, which was really spot-on). Nonetheless, the guacamole was enjoyable if mild.

The three salsa options were pico de gallo and two reds. The pico de gallo was mild and fresh with particularly vibrant onions, a blazing white standing out from the crowd. There were a couple small peppers in the mix. My general opinion of pico de gallos is that they can be horrible, and they can be good, but they really can't be great - there's just not enough flavor going on to excite the tastebuds. Mezcaleria's pico de gallo was definitely on the upper end of the spectrum, and I can't really suggest anything to improve it. The smoky red salsa had a medium spice level and a slight bitter undertone. I've never been a smoky-salsa-on-chips man - I feel its better used to offset an al pastor taco or something tangy like that - so like the pico de gallo I'd rate it as perfectly acceptable without any suggestions for improvement. The final salsa was a tomato-y red. Mezcaleria's boldest impulse was making it spicier than the smoky red, which is highly unusually at any taqueria. It worked really well, maintaining a good amount of flavor while having a fairly high spice level. It had a slight amount of salt in it that may push the chips over the edge of the saltiness-spectrum for some, but I thought it was a reasonably delicious level.

For my main course, I ordered the tacos dorados. These were rolled & fried pork tacos (taquito-style) with black beans, guacamole, Oaxacan cheese, and crema. As served, I ended up just kind of piling everything on top of each other and using the rolled tacos as spears to pick up black beans. While this proved to be quite successful, it also masked individual flavors and made my first bite was quite confusing as I attempted to figure out what flavor came from what. Something within the mix had a pervasive, slightly sweet flavor - not a sugary sweet, and not a citrusy sweet, but some other underlying sweetness of unknown origin. After trying a few different things separately, I figured that the sweetness was coming from the pork, which was quite a surprise yet somehow reassuring.

If I were asked what characteristic typically defines Oaxacan-style Mexican food, I'd say 'smoothness' (and be very impressed with the questioner). It's characterized by Oaxacan cheese and crema, and also often includes trace amounts of guacamole. Mezcaleria Oaxaca really nailed the smooth aspect of everything. The sweetness took away from pork's typical kick, and even the black beans were predominantly smooth, with both bitter and savory both as an afterthought. This also perhaps explains the reduced lime content of the guacamole. Unfortunately, as a man who desires profound experiences (and/or to watch Seinfeld reruns) at every moment, smoothness has never had a large appeal to me. It makes for food that I enjoy, but never really get super-excited about. Mezcaleria Oaxaca is excellent at what they do but lacks the opportunity to really impress me.

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