It’s hard to know in which order to experience Chávez and Mercato Stellina, two adjoining restaurants that opened last December and sit steps from Victor Steinbrueck Park. Do you start with a mezcal cocktail ($12) and made-to-order guacamole ($11) at Chávez, before moving next door for delicate squash-filled ravioli with pearls of saba ($20) at Mercato Stellina? Or do you begin with a glass of Prosecco ($10) and creamy burrata with bread ($13) at Mercato followed by really great tuna tostadas ($14) and braised pork tacos ($16) at Chávez?
Obviously, you don’t have to cram both experiences into a single meal. But to do so kind of makes sense: These two restaurants, both owned by Cantinetta cofounder Wade Moller and born out of the chef lineage that descends from there, feel like two halves of the same whole, despite the different cuisines.
That may be because of the way the careers of the chefs at both restaurants are intertwined. (A hallway at the back near the kitchen can even take guests between spaces in the newly constructed building.) Chávez’s first location opened in Capitol Hill in 2015, the passion project of Mexican-born chef Gabriel Chávez. The food at both of these restaurants is intended to be an upscale version of what the chef grew up eating in Durango, Mexico. Chef Chávez worked alongside chef Emran Chowdhury at Cantinetta years ago; the latter opened the original Mercato Stellina in Bellevue in 2011 and now helms the kitchen at the Pike Place Market location as well. At this new Mercato Stellina, he’s working alongside former Cantinetta head pasta maker Joe Obaya, whom you can watch as he meticulously cranks out pasta in his windowed studio. Although the pizzas are fine ($8–$20), it’s Obaya’s pastas that really stand out—try the cacio e pepe ($19), which gets tossed inside a giant wheel of Parmesan before arriving at the table.
With fewer seats and an informal environment featuring Mexican art and photos, Chávez feels more casual; Mercato Stellina has sparkling chandeliers and a more upscale vibe. Choose your own adventure wisely.