Crispy, cheesy, greasy birria tacos served with a side of brown-red consommé are not by any means a new thing. And the craze that started spreading across the U.S. in early 2020 hasn’t slowed down. Are the birria tacos at Columbia City’s Taco City the best? To be sure of that, I’d need to undertake a Tan Vinh level of commitment and, sadly, I haven’t been able to do that yet. However, I will say this version is particularly good. Four crispy, crunchy fried tortillas ($13.99), stuffed with a layer of melty cheese and a fistful of beef hunks that are alternately fatty and crisp. Served with a side of much-needed limes to cut the richness, and a cup of consommé that’s greasy enough to leave a welcome sheen on your lips after each bite. I recommend cracking the lid (or taking it off) if your drive home from Taco City is longer than 10 minutes as it worked wonders in preserving crunch. Same goes for the fried pescado tacos I also ordered as a three-taco combo ($11.99), served with beans and rice. I opted for flour tortillas on the fish tacos, dressed with slaw and a squiggle of smoky chipotle mayo.
Taco City has been open since last August and features two large outdoor patios if you’re into a little al fresco dining this winter.
Of course I couldn’t go to Columbia City without stopping by Coffeeholic to grab an iced Coffeeholic Dream, a velvety Vietnamese coffee topped with a thick layer of salted cheese foam ($5.25/12 ounces). Cheese foam is sturdier than whipped cream and has a salty tang to it. For anyone who likes a sweet/salty combination such as kettle corn or chocolate-covered pretzels, salty cheese foam is for you. This time I also grabbed a 16-ounce sea salt green tea ($5.25), a refreshing drink that juxtaposes that same thick layer of salted cheese foam in the coffee drink with a delicate, floral green tea.
Taco City: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; 5212 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-717-2170; tacocitysea.com
Coffeeholic House: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 3700 S. Hudson St., Seattle; 206-722-3327; coffeeholichouse.com
From tofu banh mi sandwiches to towering pastrami on sourdough rye, here’s what else I found to be especially good in Columbia City.
10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; 3220 S. Hudson St., Seattle; 206-723-2054
It’s almost eerily quiet in this moody space, no longer filled with the click clack of pool balls bouncing against each other. Still, considering the clumps of people awaiting their to-go orders, it seems Billiard Hoang is still a hot spot for anyone seeking an affordable, tasty lunch. Lured there by the $5 banh mi sandwich, I also had my eye on the fried tofu, but was told there would be a 30-minute wait for fried tofu. “I am so sorry, we are just so behind today,” the woman working the counter told me before recommending the tofu banh mi. “It’s really good,” she said. She wasn’t wrong. Out of the three sandwiches I got — shredded chicken and BBQ pork were the other two —the tofu was by far my favorite. The tofu was crunchy and heavy on the soy, mixed with an ample amount of spicy pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber slices and nary a sprig of cilantro in sight. The bread had that perfect crackly crust and a heavy smear of mayo.
Taproot Cafe and Bar
11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; 4908 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-420-2535; taprootseattle.com
The pastrami on rye ($14) at Taproot isn’t quite the sky-high level of Katz Deli, but it’s getting there. Tender and thinly sliced, the pastrami is piled high atop a thin slice of sourdough rye, and further topped with Swiss cheese, nearly-caramelized onions, caraway-heavy sauerkraut and a spicy mustard. The sandwich was a tish soggy after my drive home, but it crisped up nicely in the toaster oven. Also lovely is the Make You Melt ($13), a similarly sized tuna melt with ample amounts of creamy, celery-studded tuna salad, apple slices and cheddar. Both sandwiches are served with a bag of Tim’s potato chips. There’s a handful of tables scattered outside the cafe, at least two of which are covered by the building’s awning in case of inclement weather.