Restaurant: La Carta de Oaxaca
Last visited: July 21, 2013
Location: Seattle, WA (Ballard)
Address: 5431 Ballard Ave NW
Phone: (206) 782-8722
Transit: NW Market St & Ballard Ave NW
Price Range: $10-20
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: n/a (didn’t try enough)
- Since 2003
- Family owned/operated
- Oaxacan cuisine
- Local favourite
- Busy/line ups
- Moderately priced for Mexican
- Vegetarian options
- Sister restaurant: Mezcaleria Oaxaca
- Cocktail/wine/beer list
- Hours: Lunch: Tues. – Sat. 11:30 am- 3p m
- Dinner: Mon. – Thurs. 5 pm – 11 pm Fri. – Sat. 5 pm – 12 am
**Recommendations: Mole’ Negro Oaxaqueño, Posole and people like their Margaritas and nacho bar, but I didn’t try them.
La Carta de Oaxaca isn’t serving just Mexican food, the food they make is distinctly Oaxacan. Oaxaca is a small region in the Southern tip of Mexico near Central America. It is notorious for its food and predominant ingredients include corn, chillies and chocolate. They are especially proud of their mole and you can find the most varieties of mole in this Mexican city. In Seattle, this is where to try it.
I discovered it while researching Mexican restaurants in Seattle and it came across as a local favourite. It was named “Best Mexican in Seattle” by various notable local media, which isn’t always trustworthy, but locals I spoke with seemed to agree. On the other hand, I read some “overhyped” and “overpriced” public opinions, but all across the board people generally agreed – the mole was a “must try”. Regardless of people liking it, the place was full and lively. Note, if you can’t find a seat here you can also try their sister restaurant Mezcaleria Oaxaca. It’s nearby and a solid choice for Mezcal drinkers.
I started off at Cafe Besalu, then headed to Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery and D’Ambrosio Gelato for dessert. I had Canlis planned for dinner, but I couldn’t help but to pace around the idea of mole at La Carta de Oaxaca. It wasn’t quite a “must” until I was in a kitchen store and randomly started talking to the Mexican staff member. Anyway, I asked him what he thought of La Carta de Oaxaca, and mentioning the name made him weak at the knees. He was a fan. In fact, he told me their mole was better than his mother’s, and he whispered it when he said it. I was convinced. Being that Vancouver, BC (my hometown) doesn’t have much mole, let alone authentic Mexican food to begin with, I knew it had to be part of Follow Me Foodie to 2 Days in Seattle.
On the table:
**Mole’ Negro Oaxaqueño – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- The house specialty. Black mole’ with chicken or pork, served with white rice and tortillas. $11
- Arguably, mole originated in Oaxaca and they have the most varieties of it in all of Mexico, so they take pride in serving and perfecting it.
- Black mole is a special occasion dish and it is time consuming and labour intensive to make (often a day’s worth of work).
- It needs to be made days in advance so the flavours have time to meld.
- There are short-cuts, but if you made the whole thing from scratch it would include home made tomato paste, chili paste, cocoa bean mixture, spice mix, and chicken stock.
- Every cook will have their own recipe with a different blend of spices, so in the end there isn’t one “right” way of making it.
- It’s one of those recipes where it’s all in the touch too – see more about the process here.
- An excellent one will have each component homemade, the right balance of sweet, salty and spicy, and no overpowering or dominant spice.
- The La Carta de Oaxaca mole takes 6-8 hours to make and there are more than 12 kinds of chilies and 14 ingredients used.
- Chiles are one of the distinct qualities of mole.
- An authentic Oaxacan mole uses an ancient regional chile called chilhuacle.
- It’s one of the rarest and priciest chilies in Mexico with a smoky quality, medium hot spiciness, and tobacco and cocoa flavour.
- It was a rich mole with lots of flavour and I couldn’t necessary pick out the ingredients, but it was sweeter than most moles I’ve had.
- Along with the special chilies, it also had toasted, ground and blended almonds, plantains, oregano, onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, tomato, chocolate, thyme, possible sesame seeds and more.
- It was sweet and mild-medium spicy, nutty and tangy and it had depth and complexity. I think they held back on spices for the clientele.
- It was sweeter than I expected, but sweet from chocolate rather than sugar.
- The chunks of pork shoulder/butt (?) were tender with a good amount of fat (not too lean or fatty).
- The rice was cooked in chicken broth and it was good even without the mole sauce.
- The warm corn tortillas were fresh and home made, thin and very foldable.
- The experience reminded me of Birrieria Zaragoza, but to be honest I felt like the Pollo en Mole from El Barrio (now closed) was almost as good.
While most people unfamiliar with the cuisine would start making fajitas and tacos with the tortillas, it is actually meant to be eaten like this – with the hands. Just like Indian, Middle Eastern and much African cuisine, the tortillas are torn and used as utensils to scoop and pick up pieces of meat.
- Pork and hominy stew, served with tortillas, sliced cabbage, radishes, cilantro and onion on the side. $10
- They were very nice to offer me a sample of their posole which is another signature dish.
- This was not representable of their posole, but based on the sample I would order a full one.
- My favouite pozole to date has been at Grand Electric.
Tacos Carne Asada (right) – n/a
- Beef in fresh, homemade tortillas, topped with cilantro, onion and hot sauce. About $10
- This was my neighbours tacos… and no, I didn’t ask to try one.
I have been to La Carta and had their taco as well as their mole. As for the mole, my “complain” would be the meat wasn’t stewed in the mole itself, rather, it felt it was cooked separately and then mixed together before serving. As a result, the meat didn’t soak all those flavours.
As for the taco, the first thing you will notice is the tortilla itself. In this case, they make it to order and the end result is not like most taco shops north of the 49th, given they usually get mass produced. Also, is the fact they use a single tortilla. As for the meat itself, unlike a lot of local shops where the meat felt it was stewed, it had some caramelization and crispiness to it. Overall, it was quite different to taco most people are used to. The only complain? It was expensive….
Never had good mole in Vancouver; and store bought mole is just plain bad. Kim’s assessment of the meat being cooked separately, than put in the sauce doesn’t meld the flavors(akin to adding cooked chicken to jerk and heating it up). Regardless, chocolate is Mexico’s great gift to us and I would love to taste La Carte ‘s mole.