Pre-pandemic, Lupe Flores was drumming in the bands Wild Powwers and Tacos! while also working as a bartender. While she’s still playing music every day, about four days into the pandemic Flores says she lost her mind a bit.
“I was like, I can’t sit here anymore. My girlfriend is an art therapist and she was like, pick what you’re good at and do that.”
Flores started making tacos with her grandmother at age 3, a special Lebanese/Mexican taco that is “sewn” shut with toothpicks before being fried crispy. Flores loves them and says everyone she has ever made them for asks her about them.
“Like, 20 years later asks me about them,” she says.
Situ Tacos was born, named for her grandmother who she called Situ, Lebanese for grandmother.
“It’s one of the real happy things that has happened [since the pandemic began] and I needed that. This is also for me,” she says.
Flores isn’t the only one getting joy from pop-ups. From Bigfoot-themed hot dogs and ramen kits to Latinx street food, Seattle’s pop-up scene is getting hotter by the day. In fact, this is the third pop-up article I’ve written since August and some days I feel as if I haven’t scratched the surface. There are at least 10 pizza pop-ups alone!
Erik Jackson, owner of White Center’s Good Day Donuts, started hosting pop-ups a few months after opening his doughnut shop. At first, it was a way to build a little buzz and a base of people wanting to come to a doughnut shop on a Friday night.
Musang, Phorale, Brothers & Co, RoughDraft Burger Shop and Cookie’s Country Chicken all hosted some of their first pop-ups at Jackson’s shop. Now, Jackson hosts a pop-up every Friday night, every so often stepping in as the chef making everything from fried chicken to porchetta.
When it comes to saying “yes” to an aspiring chef hoping to host a pop-up at Good Day, Jackson says he looks for someone with a little “grind.”
“I have to see some underdog, people who just want a chance or a place; a new cook or trying a new cuisine,” he says.
Food that isn’t available in White Center is a bonus. Plus, they need to be able to bring some of their own people, so it’s not all just Jackson promoting the event alone.
Like Flores and her Situ Tacos, Jackson says he thinks a lot of these pop-ups are the result of COVID. “I think people don’t have much consistent going on, so they have a lot of free time to work on recipes.”
That free time to pursue passion is great for Seattle-area diners looking for a new experience or another way to support a local chef. Here are four to keep an eye on.
The menu at Situ Tacos is simple; beef or potato tacos, guacamole, pico de gallo and Mexican slaw, but the flavors are incredibly complex. The potato tacos are creamy and slightly spicy, contrasting wonderfully with the crispy, fried taco shell. Beef tacos, called “hushwe,” are a Lebanese recipe with ground beef and butter, luscious and made even better with a scoop of the limey guacamole. Flores makes around 400 tacos per event, which are usually at breweries. She’ll fry tacos for you fresh or bag them up with easy instructions for frying at your leisure. Get at least five for yourself and don’t skip the sides.
For Nekojiru’s Stephen Mark Toshio Toyofuku, a wrist injury followed by repeated surgeries forced him out of the full-time line cook game. Once COVID hit, his pop-up was a way to keep cooking while keeping his health in check. Named for one of his favorite Manga artists and her drawings of anthropomorphic cat characters, Nekojiru the pop-up is all about exploring Japanese comfort food with dashes of Hawaiian flavor, giving a nod to Toyofuku’s Japanese roots and growing up in Hawaii. He also considers it to be “all about collaboration,” and welcomes chefs with similar flavor profiles to pop-up under the Nekojiru name. One of those chefs is Dan Schacher, who specializes in ramen kits.
Schacher likes to highlight different flavor profiles. A recent pop-up at Opus Co. featured kits for Meyer lemon shio ramen with fresh noodles and a beautifully delicate lemon broth. As we head into winter, Toyofuku will be offering a menu filled with Japanese curry, karaage and oden, a Japanese fish cake stew.
Geofrey Redd of Bigfoot Long’s has been quietly perfecting his footlong hot dog concept for a little over a year, hosting his first pop-up just two weeks before being laid off from his job at downtown’s Rider when restaurant dining rooms shut down mid-March. He prefers to call his events “sightings” in line with the Bigfoot theme, making 100 dogs per sighting. The dogs are from Rainshadow Meats, and Redd partnered with Tallgrass Bakery to make specialty buns for each dog.
I loved the Green Mile, which features a footlong dog on a Parmesan-crusted French roll topped with guacamole, and the Footlong Seattle Dog, with a buttered brioche bun, farmers cheese, caramelized onions and jalapeño relish. Redd is also a visual artist and author, creating intricate hand-hammered yarn art — with a specialty piece for each menu item and a life-size Bigfoot outside each sighting for you to selfie with.
Jose Garzòn and Stephanie Hieber started popping up as Garzòn in February 2019, taking things full time last summer. At first all their pop-ups were in Lake Stevens, but they’ve got a weekly residence on Thursdays at Fair Isle Brewing in Ballard through November.
Garzòn grew up in Ecuador but he’s lived in the U.S. for 20 years and before becoming a chef, he was a musician, traveling the world. His menu is directly influenced by his upbringing and his travels, marrying Latinx street food flavors with everything from gyoza to fried rice. The guisada gyoza filled with stewed ground beef were a crispy, saucy dream come true, as are the crispy pork belly rice bowls. Garzòn creates a larger menu each season, choosing three to five items for each event. Plus, he says brunch may be on the horizon.