You have to show up early to get a stool at Carmelo's Tacos, located inside Hillcrest Market, but the tacos at this Mexican street-food stall are worth it.
The fresh corn tortilla, made just after sunrise, was tossed onto the plancha, brushed with oil and more oil and left to sizzle to a blistering, charred finish. It was moist and chewy. And when the warm masa was stuffed with chorizo or pork, the fat drippings transformed the tortilla into something else all together — a taco shell that tasted like pork rinds.
If only those gimmicky Taco Bell shells could taste this good.
A few weeks into its run, Carmelo’s Tacos, a Mexico City-inspired taco stall located inside a convenience store (Hillcrest Market), is already generating buzz around Capitol Hill.
On a recent Wednesday, I figured I was a step ahead of the game when I hit the taqueria around 11 a.m. for lunch — only to find out upon arrival that I was late to the party.
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Carmelo’s Tacos was already packed. Every one of the 11 stools was taken, with others standing or waiting for a seat. The cashier barked out orders to the two cooks frantically working the flat-top to keep up with a flurry of asada orders.
This was five minutes after the doors opened.
On this morning, every patron appeared to be of Latino descent, a fact the staff boasted about after the lunch rush.
“This is our people judging us and loving us. That is a good sign for us,” said Miguel Cruz, son of the owner and the family spokesman.
His publicity-shy father and owner, Carmelo Gaspar, has worked 27 years as a prep cook at Cactus while always lamenting that he wanted his own taqueria one day.
But he worried about the financial risk of opening a restaurant in a city littered with them and didn’t want to subject his kids to cruel Yelp reviews.
Then last year, his father surprised the family by announcing, “We’re going to do this,” recalled his son.
So far, so good. A family friend had to be hired to help in the kitchen since lunch has been booming. And those Yelp reviews? Five stars so far.
The menu: Five taco options: three meat and two vegetarian options. Each order comes with cilantro, onions, salsa verde, salsa rojo and a lime wedge. It’s not posted on the board menu yet, but you can also get any of those protein or veggie options in a burrito or quesadilla. The taqueria will do a special taco of the month, including, in the coming weeks, a brisket taco, suadero.
The food: The campechano taco — featuring a medley of chorizo and steak and bulked up with creamy, buttery cubes of potato — was a satisfyingly meaty bite, with tangy and spicy flavors from the fixings. Or try the asada, with slivers of beef that are charred and salty, the flavor of street food. Less compelling, the al pastor taco was juicy on one day but bone-dry on another visit. Its vegetarian variation was more like a veggie stir-fry stuffed in a corn tortilla. More substantial was the vegan taco with mushroom, refried beans, garlic, guajillo chili and onions.
Price: Tacos are $2.50 to $2.60, quesadillas around $8.20 and burritos $7.49.
Carmelo’s Tacos, 110 Summit Ave. E., (Capitol Hill, inside the Hillcrest Market) Seattle; Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight; Sunday 4-10 p.m. (hours may change; call ahead); 206-659-0159, no website