Lake City and its eponymous main drag, Lake City Way, are not known for an overabundance of culinary artistry. So when Mr. Villa started serving authentic, delicious Mexican fare several years ago at the severe south end of the strip, Lake Citians understandably went cuckoo for loco-puffs. Yet despite the presence of hard hooch and some fine margarita-making, Mr. Villa has always lacked one key ingredient: a sit-down bar.
Lil Scoop Mr. Villa's bar, located three miles from Mr. Villa.
There's still no bar at Mr. Villa's, but Mr. Villa's owners now have a bar. It's called El Norte, and it's located three miles due north on Lake City Way. Hence, if Mr. Villa's tables are filled to capacity, your choice of whether to "just sit at the bar" will, for the first time in history, involve weighing the cost of chafed inner thighs, a big bottle of Evian, and a pair of double-knotted New Balance.
El Norte has been open since Cinco de Mayo, following a months-long struggle to obtain a liquor license--a struggle directly attributable to its startlingly durable predecessor, the Rose Garden, an infamous dive bar which finally closed in the Spring of 2009 after police batted nearly a thousand on a string of undercover drug buys.The Rose Garden catered mainly to strippers, bouncers, rappers, burners, recently-released convicts enjoying their first beer on the outside, crack addicts, and crack dealers. So prominent were the latter two constituencies that the bar posted a "no crack pipes" warning on its menu board. This did nothing to deter such lip-blistering stimuli, as the bust bore out.
The transformation from Rose Garden to El Norte is the aesthetic equivalent of being held upside down by your ankles. The shape of the interior is the same, but the lights have been dimmed, the walls painted blue, and the floors finished in shiny wood. It is a sexy bar on one of Seattle's fustiest thoroughfares, serving draft Modelo in glass goblets and a multitude of tequilas and mezcals procured by a 6'4" bartender named Rick with riding boots and skin-tight jeans who could totally whoop the lead singer of Midnight Oil in a Renaissance Faire rumble.
El Norte's kitchen consists of but a small grill back behind the bar; the menu is consequently limited to small, simple plates that run between five and eight dollars. Think of it as a sheltered taco truck (there's a patio out back for when it's nice) where you can sit down and party, only one where a plate of carne asada tacos comes stuffed with three times as much steak and salsa as you'd get at a Winnebago window. The tacos are filling and delicious, the ceviche contains fresh-caught halibut, and the nachos are spicy and surprisingly light. Sitting at Mr. Villa's bar, it turns out, is well worth the walk.
El Norte, 13717 Lake City Way NE, 517-5660 LAKE CITY