Every once in awhile I am hit with a craving for Mexican food that cannot be denied, and must be satisfied. Sure there are many places that serve perfectly adequate versions of the hum drum, overly done tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, but what about those who require more than a “Chipotle fix”? Well, my margarita starved friends I have the perfect place for you, La Carta de Oaxaca.La Carta surpasses and challenges almost everything we’ve grown to expect and accept from Mexican cuisine. As is the case with most of my dining adventures, I decided to try La Carta at the urging of friends. So on a chilly Friday evening, we headed over to La Carta for dinner. We arrived around 4:30pm, and there was already a line of hungry, damp people waiting eagerly for the clock to strike 5pm, and the doors to finally open. I was amazed at how quickly the place filled up. Within 10 minutes of opening, they had a wait list of about 20 people. Immediately I thought that either this place has some damn amazing food, or these Seattle folks will do anything to get out of the rain. Since only half of our party had arrived, we couldn’t be seated at an actual table, which was a bummer, considering I had patiently waited outside in line for a half an hour, in the cold, rain, but whatever, I wasn’t bitter. To the bar we went!
We approached the bar with mojitos on the brain, but settled for margaritas, since they were fresh out of mint. The margaritas were made just the way I like them…strong! They definitely do not skimp on the booze at La Carta. We also felt an obligation, in the name of research of course, to sample a pitcher of the house sangria. It was fruity and refreshing, like drinking liquor soaked sunshine. By the time the rest of our party arrived, the 30 minutes we spent outside in the rain was no big deal at all.
If you’re alone and looking to grab a bite, La Carta has many mouth watering small plates for you to enjoy. However, the key to a fully satisfying experience is to dine with a group. We ordered the succulent, Lamb Birria, a stewed leg of lamb, which was fall off the bone tender. It was served with rice, beans, and picco de gallo that was so good I could have easily had a meal of it alone. We also ordered the Tacos Fritos, Carne Asada, and Enchiladas. Each dish was delicious and packed with flavor. It was like a meat party in our mouths. Everything at La Carta is fresh and handmade, from the fabulous guacamole and seven different salsas, to the tortillas and the mole sauce. I have never been a fan of mole sauce. I’ve tried it many times in various different places and cities, and every single time, I walked away feeling as if my taste buds were just assaulted by some chocolate mutating coffee monster. Since La Carta’s specialty is their mole sauce, we ordered the Tamales de Mole’ Negro, and the Mole’ Negro Oaxaqueno. Both dishes were stellar in every way. The mole sauce was rich, yet subtle, with a light hint of coffee and chocolate. Hands down the most balanced mole I’ve ever tasted. Still, I can only eat it in small doses. Also, as enjoyable as I found the Tamales de Mole’ Negro, it wasn’t exactly user friendly. I appreciated the authentic method of wrapping the tamale in a banana leaf, however, when said leaf was piping hot and saturated with mole sauce, regardless of how delicious, it made for a messy and slightly annoying dining experience. After my tamales smack down, we moved on to the desserts.
The two house specials were Flan and Pineapple Tamales. To be honest, I have never found flan appealing. I’ve had it on many occasions, flavored in various ways, and never walked away with the desire to have it again. However, La Carta’s flan left me wanting more. It was a creamy, smooth, vanilla flavored slice of custard heaven. We were all pleasantly surprised and sad we only ordered one serving for the table. Our biggest regret of the evening though was hands down the Pineapple Tamales. Perhaps it was the pre-dinner cocktails or our lack of imagination, but we simply could not wrap our minds around the concept of pineapple flavored tamales. We all reluctantly took a much dreaded first bite, and simultaneous declared it our favorite dish of the evening. Forget everything you’d expect pineapple tamales to taste like. With a savory mixture of raisins, cinnamons, and spices, and a light hint of fresh pineapple, this dessert was so delicious we regretted not ordering more.
La Carta De Oaxaca is a tiny restaurant that packs a mighty punch. It delivers quality Oaxacan Mexican cuisine in an atmosphere suitable for just about any occasion. The menu isn’t fresh and innovative, but the care and artistry put into every dish is what elevates this Ballard neighborhood gem above all others. So the next time you’re hit with that Mexican food craving, stop by La Carta de Oaxaca for a taste of the real thing.
La Carta de Oaxaca 5431 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle WA 206-782-8722