A parking lot paradise 
in Ballard

Welcome to the most romantic parking lot in Seattle. No irony.

Paseo to the north, Surf Ballard to the south and moored on the asphalt island in between: the newcomer, Carmelito’s. Opened June 1, the Peruvian dessert/espresso/ice cream purveyor operates out of a Winnebago with palapa-style benches and shaded seating out front. Backed by a tall wall of flowering weeds, this wee enclave feels like the tropics but lies across the street from Shilshole Marina, less than a mile from Golden Gardens. Say hello to a Seattle summer staycation.

Carmelito’s owner Maria Ugas comes from a Peruvian family and owns her own catering business. One of her longstanding clients is Surf Ballard. When they told her of the Winnebago on their property, formerly a coffee stand but unoccupied for years, she asked to move in. Now you can enjoy a chicha morada while you’re waiting in line at Paseo. Resembling virgin sangria, chicha morada is a purple Peruvian cooler made from blue corn, pineapple, pineapple husk and cinnamon. It tastes like iced pie. When was the last time you sampled an entirely new, unexpectedly delicious beverage?

If exotic’s not your thing, Ugas’ boyfriend and business partner Kevin Murphy—who you may recognize as the lead singer from the Moondoggies—will scalp a cold coconut with a machete for you. Stick a straw in it and you’re good to go.

Be sure to come back after lunch. Ugas’ homemade desserts are explosively good. On a recent sunny afternoon, friends and I shared an affogato—toasted coconut ice cream from Snoqualmie Ice Cream lolling in warm espresso (basically an espresso-ice cream float); an alfajor—aka shortbread cookie dulce de leche sandwich; and strawberry shortcake topped with whipped cream. The last was our fave, berry-bright and creamy rich but not too sweet. Everything on the menu is around five bucks.

We sat on cushioned wooden benches watching friends come and go between Carmelito’s and Paseo. KEXP wafted from a replica antique radio on the counter, drowned out by the iron creak and bassoon-like horn of the occasional passing freight train. A soft breeze blew. Sun. This is not the Seattle anyone knows or expects, but it’s welcome.

As we basked in sugared, caffeinated ecstasy we imagined a full summer day oriented around this little Sayulita North. Espresso, fruit smoothie and the newspaper for breakfast at Carmelito’s; a late-morning paddleboard excursion with gear provided by Surf Ballard; Paseo for lunch; dessert at Carmelito’s; then a lazy stroll to Golden Gardens and an afternoon tossing a Frisbee, reading a book, napping on a blanket. Ugas says that Ballard Surf sometimes screens surf movies in the evenings, tapping a keg of local beer and turning their colorful side yard into an intimate outdoor theater. When that happens, she’ll serve specially prepped treats. Count us in.

6300 Seaview Ave. NW

6226 Seaview Ave. NW

Surf Ballard
6300 Seaview Ave. NW

Photo by Nate Watters