Ten minutes into my first dinner at Mezcaleria, the Queen Anne sister restaurant to Ballard’s excellent La Carta de Oaxaca, I could no longer feel my tongue. That’s a plus in my book; spice is nice. If heat is your thing, too, Mezcaleria should be on your short list of restaurants to try. Start with the excellent michelada, essentially a Bloody Mary made with beer, served with a clever candied tamarind-hot pepper swizzle to chew on while you drink ($7). Then ask the bartender to walk you through a mezcal taster, running from sweet and herbal to smoky, hot and burning (three pours for $15), while you cool your palate with freshly mashed guacamole and warm, just-fried chips ($5).
Like La Carta, it’s hard to go wrong at Mezcaleria; the food ranges from good to great. But it should be considered a requirement to get at least one order of the barbacoa ($13) for the table: The roasted goat meat is pull-apart tender, the gaminess is present but not overstated, and it’s served with soft masa and pickled onions. Or go in an entirely different direction: The best fish stew you can buy in this town for $13 can be found here, heady, aromatic, and filled with prawns, Dungeness crab legs and catfish simmered for hours. Just spicy enough, it’s outstanding. Tacos and chile rellenos are as good as you’d hope, but this is really a place to order outside of your Mexican safety zone. You’ll be rewarded.
Lunch Wed.–Sat., dinner Mon.–Sat. Queen Anne, 2123 Queen Anne Ave. N; 206.216.4446; mezcaleriaoaxaca.com $