Maybe a street-level space in a boxy, newly constructed micro-apartment building isn’t the first place you’d think to go for some of the best tacos on Capitol Hill. But think again. Chávez, headed by chef Gabriel Chávez (late of Cantinetta), exceeds expectations on every level. The interior is glowing, lamplit and buzzy, with hand-painted Mexican tiles and heavy wood furniture; and the food—an edited list of Durango, Mexico–inspired fare—is roundly delicious.
Chef Chávez uses what’s likely the pig’s most tender cut—its cheeks—and cooks them slowly, then dresses the meat in a deeply satisfying mole with softened nopales (cactus) for contrast ($11). A charred poblano pepper hits all the savory-sweet notes with its filling of pine nuts, raisins, ground pork and walnuts ($13). The tacos here are exceptional; each utterly delicious and distinctive. The camarones (shrimp) version, with chipotle and fresh tomatoes, is smoke and sunshine, contrasting with the darkly savory short rib tacos. Best of the bunch: softly scrambled egg tacos with lightly sweet cactus folded in. (All tacos are three for $13.)
Tajín seasoning on the margarita rim kicks up the flavor Photo Credit: Easton Richmond
You’ll want to order the perfect house margarita ($11)—slightly hot from chile-infused tequila blanco, mixed with freshly squeezed lime juice and served with a Tajín-seasoned and salted rim. But even better than the food and the cocktails is the service. It’s what sets Chávez apart. Owned and managed by the team behind the three Cantinettas, Chávez has service that is so good—and so much better than similarly priced restaurants in the city—that spending time here feels not just pleasant, but relaxing. Floor managers oversee the bar seating for walk-ins, relieving the hover-and-pounce stress of nabbing barstools. Waiters offer tastes of wines quickly and often; bartenders replace cocktails that aren’t just right without a blink. Parking nearby is a nightmare, but I’d go so far as to say it’s worth the trouble. Capitol Hill, 1734 12th Ave.; 206.695.2588; chavezseattle.com