See this? This is what a jalapeno popper should look like. Most Americans--and Seattleites are no different--fail to realize this, because American poppers typically come coated in a fried jalapeno skin, and yield a scalding burst of cream cheese which, nine times out of ten, burns the shit out of the roof of your mouth.
Just like Judy's.
But the popper in this portrait, popularized locally in 1979 by a View Ridge nurse named Judy Field before an ultra-exclusive neighborhood event known as "The Fritz of July," does exist in Seattle, and served as the standard in our quest for Seattle's best jalapeno popper.
5. Matador (West Seattle). Matador serves great white collar Tex-Mex fare, but their poppers, bacon wrapped and featuring goat cheese stuffing, are perilously imbalanced, with the goat cheese--grainier than it should be--overpowering everything. A rare misstep for an otherwise reliable operation.
4. El Chupacabra. We expected more than the fried version from this super cool Phinney Ridge haunt (known for its chubby burritos), but the fried version is what we got. Mind you, complaining about poppers is like complaining about pizza or sex--even when it's bad, it's good (except when the pizza comes from Zayda Buddy's, or the sex is with Jason Biggs). And at least El Chupacabra doesn't stuff its poppers with cheddar cheese, which is the cardinal sin of popping.
Chupacabra coats its poppers in grease.
3. Cactus . The Madison Park original prepares its poppers similarly to Matador, but gets the flavor proportions right, with the goat cheese properly taking a back seat to the bacon and spice.
2. Shelter. Injecting a whole lot of Maroon 5 Fremont into Bon Iver Ballard, this stunning, quasi-outdoor space features heat lamps so warm that they could cook the peanut butter and jelly poppers they serve. Sure, they're fried, but they really have peanut butter in them, and a jelly on top. While the balance of flavors is a bit off--the cream cheese is totally muted and the jalapeno only emerges post-swallow--the sheer ingenuity here pushes Shelter's poppers toward the top of the list. But they're no match for...
Shelter proves fried poppers don't have to lack creativity.
1. Treehouse. Less than a mile southeast of Shelter on Leary Way, Treehouse offers the most Judy-esque poppers in town: cream cheese stuffed in a hollowed pepper, wrapped sparingly with bacon. "Simple and perfect, like all Robert Palmer songs," observes one aficionado. Plus they go great with the Treehouse's signature "beergaritas."