Lex Petras spent 20 years behind the bar and working front of the house at local restaurants before crossing the line to attend culinary school at the Cordon Bleu and entering the kitchens of the erstwhile Artisinal, Picnic, and Bar del Corso. Today, Petras is the owner and purveyor of sin at Tacos de la Noche, a cozy taco stand next to Belltown Billiards. More often considered the stop for late night street food, Petras recently started lunch service at Tacos de la Noche, but for Petras, staying out late has kept things interesting.
Photo by Tiffany Ran
How did you come to set up shop in this little space?
I know the guy that has Belltown Billiards. I go way back. I worked at the Queen City Grill and he owns part of the Queen City Grill, so I knew it existed. I talked with him and he was opened to the idea. I went in and we came up with some drawings. He was cool with what I did. I built him a storage space to make up for what he was using it for, and there it was. That was it.
I was looking to do something in the neighborhood there. It's got too many hot dog stands over there. The location made sense, and I love street food. I talked to Oscar [Montejano], who runs the Queen City Grill kitchen and we came up with a few menu items that seem to work.
What would be your ideal street food meal?
Wow, there's a lot. I'd actually like to have the taco shop to [offer] even more authentic Mexican street food. I don't know if I have the space in the place I have now, but I'm looking at that. I'm going to try and add some soups to the menu.
Ideal street food though, I always love a doner kabob. I had that in Germany. There's just so much. It's always meat on a stick with some bread. I'm happy with just a good sausage and some mustard.
Do you see a lot of interesting things during those late night hours?
Some people imbibe a bit, maybe they shouldn't. I've been asked by several people to get a little camera and do a live feed, post some Youtube videos. There's some funny stuff that happens out there. Women have a hard time with high heels in the rain on the slope. There are some damaged knees.
I do get to see Phoenix Jones quite a bit. He's the guy that dresses up like the superhero and actually fights real crime. So he runs by often with his band of merry men. The really late night stuff, when it gets to be 3am, it's doormen, security guards, and bartenders after they've finally wrapped up their shop. I get a collection of the restaurant scene, and a bunch of big guys who'll protect me if things go bad, so that's always nice. There's some wild stuff.
I do some hot sauces. There's the seven that I have and they're named after the seven deadly sins. Wrath is the hottest. It's made with ghost chilies. A lot of people come and ask for the hottest and I have to warn them, and they say things like, "Oh, I'm Mexican," or "I'm Indian. It's not a problem," and then they end up crying on their knees in the street. It's really, really hot.
It started as 14, 15, or 16 and I wittled it down to the ones that I wanted. It's also quite a bit of sauce making. It's a once a week process. Some people told me just to have two, but I like to have a bit of variety. I got down to seven and I was trying to figure out how to name them. The deadly sins just seemed right because it was a late night operation. There's a lot of sin happening in the wee hours there.
You worked front of the house for some time, but what led you to want to start cooking?
I've always been in between. I've always hung out with both sides. I'm interested in food. I like to cook. I've always been that type of guy where if the night is slow, I'd go back there and knock out some shallots. I've always been hands on that way.
Since you've worked as both a bartender and a cook, do you prefer one over the other?
I like 'em both. I really live and breathe the restaurant idea. It's really more than a job. I enjoy it. I like the lifestyle. I like getting there early before it opens and knocking out a little egg dish if you're in a restaurant that doesn't serve an egg dish, and winding down afterwards. I like the back of the house, the production side, and I like the service end.
So when you're sitting at the bar, what's your drink of choice?
I'm a wine drinker. I like [wine from] the Loire River Valley from Northern France, either the red cab franc or the white sauvignon blanc, and I like to drink those at Bar Ferd'nand at the Melrose Market.