Braved the crowds at this popular Ballard restaurant for a recent birthday celebration. We joined the well-dressed pack waiting shoulder to shoulder in the standing-room-only bar, drinking tasty Margaritas from pint glasses almost as fast as the busy bartender could pour them.
Our patience was rewarded with a table, a basket of hot fresh salty chips and a bowl of guacamole. There is a salsa bar that consists of a half dozen really delicious salsas- pico de gallo, a green one, a light red one, a deep red one, a brown one... I don't know what kinds they were but they were outstanding, especially the brilliant red one which has a wonderful flavour unlike any salsa I've ever tasted.
The menu consists of dishes that were described by our party's La Carta de Oaxaca veteran as "not quite big enough for a meal" so we proceeded to order 2 dishes a piece.
Over the years, I've looked at the menu on the website probably a dozen times, totally excited about Oaxacan flavors and cooking, to find that the vegetarian options are really limited. I've always hoped that something else vegetarian would pop up (Vegetarian tamales? Molotes without sausage?), but the choices remain limited (and, I realize, probably more authentic for being so.)
My first dish was the Quesedilla Fritas, fried cheese quesedillas garnished with guacamole, Oaxaqueno cheese, beans and flavorful salsa. The tortillas were homemade and exquisite (would be worth ordering on their own)- warm, thick, soft, fragrant with masa. I sometimes get in over my head with quesedillas filled with stinky cheese, and was really pleased that the cheese used was mild and completely inoffensive to my sensitive little cheese tongue.
My second dish was the enchiladas, which I special ordered sans the typical fried egg on top. The Oaxacan enchiladas are different from the enchilada I am used to in that they aren't filled with anything. Instead, the fresh tortilla is dipped into a red chili sauce, folded over, then topped with onion, parsley and Oaxaqueno cheese (and a fried egg, if you like). I wasn't enamoured by the enchilada sauce- it was fruity and sweet and I would have enjoyed it more if it hadn't been.
All in all it was definitely a good evening, and it's hard not to have too good a time with large margaritas and a small fortune of salsas to choose from. But foodwise as a vegetarian, I felt a bit like I was eating from the kids menu. The food I had was good, but I felt like the meatless dishes were just scratching the surface of the wealth of the cuisine. I don't expect every restaurant to make numerous special concessions for the vegetarians, but seeing the dishes my meat-eating companions were relishing made me daydream more than a little.
5431 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107