The front page of Rocket Taco’s website says, “Tacos are the answer. It doesn’t matter what the question was.”
OK, sure, but at Whidbey Island-born Rocket Taco, now also on the east end of Capitol Hill, I think the answer should first be queso, chips and a frozen margarita. My perfect summer evening: unwinding after work by sipping a margarita slushie and shoveling chipfuls of gooey, almost Velveeta-like (from me, that’s a compliment) queso sauce into my mouth. Rocket Taco takes the dream one step further by adding a warm house-made chorizo and potato mixture on top — mmmmm yay!
This 19th Avenue spot has seen a significant level of churn in recent years: It was the longtime home of Kingfish Cafe, then became Ernest Loves Agnes for about a year before its brief stint as Contadino, with chef Brian Clevenger. Rocket Taco opened there in February, with owner Jill Rosen at the helm. (Her husband’s name, Steve Rosen, may ring a bell from his involvement in Blue C Sushi, Boom Noodle and Elemental Pizza.)
If you’ve been to previous iterations, the layout will feel familiar: an open kitchen and tables on one end and a long bar with TV screens and booths on the other. Order at the counter from the huge chalkboard menu, and your food will be there rocket-fast. (Our drinks were being delivered to the table before we even sat down.)
The space feels airy and relaxed, and it fills up quickly with couples, young families and groups of friends chatting as “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” plays overhead. It’s a comfortable neighborhood kind of place, which is fitting, since the owners live nearby.
The tacos: Tacos come in two styles, “deluxe” at three for $12, and “traditional” at three for $9, each with eight different filling options and all served on house-made tortillas. If you’re a purist, the traditional might be for you, with both meat and vegetarian fillings served simply with cilantro and white onion. On the deluxe front, you get into major topping territory: The carnitas tacos are served with super-fresh-tasting guacamole, pickled onions and a sour cream-based “rocket sauce.”
The meats we had (carnitas, chicken, guajillo-spiced beef) were all juicy and flavorful, but lacked some heat. A pointer: Ask for their hot sauces; they’re nice and fresh and add another level of interest. Three different vegetarian options (sweet potato black bean; quinoa lentil; cauliflower chickpea) come decked out with things like avocado salsa and cucumber.
One drawback: When you inevitably want to try all the tacos, you may be disappointed to learn you must order them in batches of three of the same kind — and they’re quite filling. The best idea: Bring your friends and hold a Taco Swap to try them all.
Non-tacos: Good-sized quesadillas ($12) and fresh-and-crunchy taco salads ($12) are available, too, with your choice of all the fillings. Snack-wise, don’t miss the queso ($6) if you like cheese goo. But the guacamole ($6) is another strong contender — it’s a simple one, bright and limey, with the only visible addition being cilantro.
The drinks: In addition to the rotating specialty cocktails and margaritas — some of them frozen ($9) — Rocket Taco offers an assortment of local and Mexican beers and ciders on tap, as well as wines and house-made horchata. Mezcal fans, take note: To the right of the ordering area is another chalkboard menu listing specials, including the mezcal of the month.
Dessert: Top it all off with Mexican Chocolate Pot de Creme or Key Lime Pie in a Jar. And how can you resist churros with dipping chocolate? Just give in. They’re sugary yet salty, nicely browned and crisp. Mine were a bit underdone on the inside, but that didn’t keep me from letting out an involuntary giggle of churro-ey delight.
602 19th Ave. E. (Capitol Hill), Seattle; open Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday until 10 p.m.; 206-457-5455, rocket-taco.com/seattle