Taco Salvation

Six bucks gets you the full Taco Gringos experience: three $2 tacos, one of each rotating variety at this tiny Capitol Hill storefront. You need cash; the two guys toiling behind the counter, cooking on a conventional oven in a closet-sized kitchen, don’t deal with plastic.

The tacos available at any given time will be supremely tasty but not necessarily “authentic.” (The name on the door hints at TG’s agnostic bent.) Served on a single, saucer-sized soft corn tortilla might be stewed rabbit, goat, merguez lamb, beef tongue, peanut chicken or pork chile verde. The vegetarian option, maybe braised kale or roasted portabella mushroom, will be more delicious than its meaty counterparts. (Remember: one of each.) Apply the lime wedge that comes in your paper taco boat. Don’t overlook the house-made salsas, three different types freely available in plastic squeeze bottles. They’re pungent, tangy, super fresh and rich. The green’s the best.

You don’t need to be drunk to enjoy Taco Gringos, though its bar-adjacent location and night owl hours (8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday) are a beacon to drinkers. They swarm the counter, sit on the three foldout theater seats, or more likely stand outside on the sidewalk, scarfing.

Seattle needs places like Taco Gringos—inexpensive, consistent, high quality, low stress, walk in, walk out. Closed more than it’s open, open only during the night’s most critical juncture, the place is unobtrusive but integral to the neighborhood—part mirage, part oasis, a booze-fueled fever dream granted corporeal form. It’s been around for years and still seems only partially real. It could only have only been borne of necessity.

Co-owners Michael Pitts and Taber Turpin are both professionally trained chefs. Before they opened Taco Gringos in 2007, they cooked at Campagne in Pike Place Market.

“We’d get out of work, go drink, then 2 a.m. rolls around, we come out of the bars, and it’s like, ‘Man, I don’t want a hot dog. I don’t want a piece of pizza,’” Pitts says from behind the counter on a recent, busy Thursday night. “This was before all these late-night food things started catching on. We were like, ‘I want a taco.’ We bitched about it for a couple years and finally we were like, ‘Why don’t we do it?’ Then we found out we weren’t able to go out and party anymore. Like, wow, we kind of screwed up on that one.”

So the atmosphere at Taco Gringos is bittersweet. You sense that Pitts and Turpin would prefer to be on the other side of the counter. But they’re begrudgingly dedicated. By the time they stop serving, prep for the next night, close up, and get home, it’s after 4 a.m.

They’re martyrs for the cause. The cause is good times, and the fruits of their sacrifice are tacos.

Photo by Nate Watters.