by Deborah Ashin
Is it really worth waiting an hour to eat at a restaurant where portions are small and the entire meal takes less than 30 minutes? La Carta de Oaxaca, an unpretentious storefront Mexican restaurant in Ballard, answers this with a resounding “yes.” It usually has a crowd of hungry patrons spilling into the sidewalk plus a dozen or more sipping outrageously good (strong) margaritas in the tiny, standing room only bar at the back of the bright, noisy restaurant.
You’re desperately craving great Mexican food in Seattle but have yet to find a restaurant that makes you shout olé!
HYPERLINK “http://Seattle.net” t “_blank” Seattle.net solution:
La Carta de Oaxaca
Quick and Easy
Why go: Great authentic Mexican food
Highlights: Chicken mole, enchiladas, margaritas
Reservations: no (except for groups of 10+)
Forewarning: Expect to wait; small portions (but small prices)
While your tolerance for waiting up to an hour may depend on how many margaritas you imbibe, my advice is to visit La Carta de Oaxaca—just don’t go on a Friday or Saturday night. Yes, part of the experience at La Carta de Oaxaca is the convivial, hip fiesta ambiance, but the stellar food is the reason you’ll come back.
Instead of Mexican kitsch, La Carta de Oaxaca is starkly decorated with stunning black and white photographs of people and places in Oaxaca. Buzzing with energy and high-spirits (the restaurant has two dozen types of tequila) dining at La Carta de Oaxaca feels like a neighborhood party. There are a few individual tables and several seats at a small counter that look into the open kitchen and offer a great view of the frenetic staff. Most people, however, prefer the boisterous community tables.
A food served at La Carta de Oaxaca is incredibly fresh, surprisingly sophisticated and relatively inexpensive. The prices are a bit deceptive because portions are very small so you’ll want to order at least two dishes per person. Oaxaca, which is located in south central Mexico, has a distinctive cuisine that is totally different from what most Americans expect. Forget about plates loaded with beans and rice or huge portions of cheese-heavy Tex-Mex. The cuisine at La Carta de Oaxaca is light and sophisticated; even traditional Mexican dishes, such as tacos, have an Oaxacan-spin, so be prepared for a culinary adventure.
Start with a basket of warm, homemade tortilla chips and a bowl of spicy guacamole (you can order this at the bar while you wait). Lighter than air meatballs grace the fragrant albondigas soup while Oaxaqueno cheese, guacamole, beans and salsa are folded into the best quesadilla you’ll eat in Seattle.
Pork tacos, with an overpowering, vinegar flavored sauce and tiny bits of meat were disappointing. Instead, go for the carne asada tacos topped with cilantro, onions and hot sauce. The homemade tortillas are remarkable. Delicate enchiladas are napped with a red chili sauce, lightly sprinkled with cheese and served with a fried egg. For something different, order the entomatadas, thin slices of grilled beef served with a choice of red or green sauce and glazed with think ribbons of crema Mexicana. Oaxaca is famous for its mole sauces and you can sample La Carta’s signature black mole two ways: in a tamale steamed in a banana leaf (chicken or pork) or the house specialty of pork or chicken served with fluffy rice. The rich, silky mole sauce is spicy with deep hints of chocolate; alas, the skimpy portion of chicken equaled about four bites. Skip the flavorless flan, topped with aerosol whipped cream.
Despite the long waits, small portions, impossible parking situation and rushed service (servers don’t have time to offer more than fast food friendliness), eating at La Carta de Oaxaca is a culinary adventure.
Chips and guacamole: $3.00
Open: Monday-Saturday (lunch and dinner); open until midnight on Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday.
La Carta de Oaxaca (Ballard)
5431 Ballard Avenue NW (at Market)
Seattle, WA 98107
Visit website: HYPERLINK “http://www.lacartadeoaxaca.com/” t “_blank” www.lacartadeoaxaca.com