It’s 3 stars for the bustling Ballard restaurant, which offers warm hospitality, prime rib-eye for $25.99, tacos on site-made tortillas and asado.
If ever a restaurant didn’t need press attention it is Asadero El Mesquite. Since the Mexican steakhouse opened in Ballard last September, weeknight wait times can approach 30 minutes at peak dinner hour; on weekends that can triple. Its fame preceded its opening. Ballard residents who regularly trekked south to the original Asadero Sinaloa, which opened three years ago in Kent, were instrumental in coaxing the family-run restaurant to expand north.
Asadero’s head honcho David Orozco had been to Ballard once, to eat at La Carta de Oaxaca, before closing the deal to take over the former Zayda Buddy’s Pizza space. “We never expected this volume,” he says. “We didn’t even have a host. Our staff doesn’t really know how to move tables quickly because we like to let people take their time. That’s the kind of hospitality we want to provide. When people are waiting, it’s tough.”
But wait many do, and good-naturedly at that. They sit shoulder to shoulder on benches in the mesquite-scented air inside, or outside on the sheltered front stoop. “They said 20 minutes but I figure it will be longer,” one bench-sitter told me with a shrug. “The food’s really good, and you can’t beat the price for steak.” He’s right.
Asadero El Mesquite ★★★
5405 Leary Ave. N.W., Seattle
Reservations: not accepted
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Prices: $$$ (asados and other house specialties $14.99-$27.99); tacos, tortas, small plates and sides $3.99-$16.99)
Drinks: full bar; cocktails, tequila flights, Mexican and local draft beers, house-made horchata and chia-seed lemonade
Service: swift and very cordial
Parking: on street or in nearby lots or garages
Sound: festively loud
Credit cards: Visa/MC
Access: no obstacles
Consider yourself lucky to claim one of only five bar seats, or even get to the bar, positioned at the far end near the kitchen. You might order a margarita on the rocks, bracingly tart with fresh orange juice; or the sweeter, Grand Marnier-spiked Mazatlan Drive, served in a martini glass.
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The brick-walled, wood-trimmed room is divided in two equal parts. The bar side has several high-top tables and allows no minors; the other side is all booths that hold two, four, six or more. It’s common to see extended Hispanic families, little ones and all, sharing asados.
Essentially a mixed grill of meat and vegetables, an asado is a traditional style of feasting in Sinaloa, where Orozco’s family originated. “In some parts of Mexico, they put everything in the fryer. In northern Mexico, we like to throw everything on the grill,” he says.
Here that’s mostly beef, skillfully cooked and high quality. The rib-eye, strip, tenderloin and zabuton steaks are prime grade or better. The carne asada uses a pound of Mishima Reserve wagyu chuck eye. The prices ($23.99-$27.99) are half what you’d pay at a fancy steakhouse.
“I get the meat high-end steakhouses get and sell it at a very good price,” says Orozco. “You face a lot of skepticism to be a casual restaurant with high-quality meats.”
No doubts on my part. A 12-ounce rib-eye (Niman Ranch prime, $25.99), seasoned with nothing more than salt, pepper and smoke, was one of the most tender, best-tasting steaks I’ve had anywhere. The carne asada chuck eye, sliced thin like skirt steak, was equally supple and full-flavored.
Beef also stuffs tacos and tortas. Very good house-made flour tortillas captured the copious juices running from rosy, charred slices of tenderloin. Corn tortillas are also an option; just this month the restaurant began making them in-house as well.
Tortas are beef sandwiches built on torpedo-shaped sourdough rolls. The contents of the torta I had — coarsely chopped Wagyu zabuton piled high over Anaheim pepper and black beans — were far superior to the quality of the bread, however.
For those averse to red meat, the chicken asado rivals its beefy companions. A chicken breast pounded to a quarter-inch thickness and grilled could end up as dry as the Sonoran desert, but this one doesn’t, thanks to the grill master’s expertise and a long soak in a marinade that includes pineapple juice, garlic and rosemary.
As the centerpiece of an asado, the meat sprawls across a large wooden board. Its accompaniments include fire-blackened scallions, jalapeño and nopales; roughly mashed salsa de molcajete made with fire-roasted tomato and red pepper; and a bowl of nondescript pinto beans. Carne asada includes a bonus link of spicy chorizo. One asado will easily feed two or three, especially if you order additional sides.
Some of the best of the ancillary choices: a long bone of near-liquid marrow sprinkled with cotija cheese; doraditos, crisp, smoky little corn tortillas filled with meat, melted cheese and beans; Papa loca, a gigantic baked potato splayed and piled with the works (grated cheese, bacon, scallions and chopped carne asada); and taco toreado, a meat-and-cheese-stuffed Anaheim pepper presented on a fresh tortilla, ready to roll up and eat like a burrito.
Frijoles manolin is a big bowl of bean soup bolstered with beef, bacon, onion and jalapeño. It’s wonderful, but awkward to share with no ladle or individual bowls provided, just small wooden spoons for dipping.
At the complimentary condiment bar you’ll find other embellishments — pico de gallo, cilantro, radish and cucumber — along with more salsas — mild-to-medium tomatillo or habanero-hot. You won’t get tortilla chips here; instead, corn tortillas, charred to a smoky crunch, come with guacamole, fresh and simply prepared with lime and chopped scallion.
Salsas and guacamole are made from family recipes, as are most things here. The dessert recipes come from Orozco’s grandmother. Corn flan is the one not to miss.
Since my visits, the restaurant unveiled an expanded menu and drinks list. It’s added tequila flights, fish tacos and asados showcasing prime short ribs (12 ounces, $22.99) and A-5 wagyu rib-eye imported from Japan (8 ounces, $65). I doubt the wait will get shorter anytime soon.