You’ll know you’re in Mexican territory the second you open the door to the new Ballard location of Asadero Sinaloa (5405 Leary Ave. N.W., 659-4499). There before you is a massive, towering Day of the Dead statue, her eerie corpse-like head festooned with orange and red flowers and a black veil, a matching necklace around her neck. Otherwise, the space that formerly contained Zayda Buddy’s and is now home to a branch of Kent’s popular Mexican steakhouse is simple but cheery, with an exposed brick wall, worn-in wooden booths, and cow artwork.
So what exactly does one expect at a Mexican steakhouse? For starters, actual steaks—from prime rib to New York strip, ribeye to tenderloin, even wagyu, all of them USDA Prime. But that’s not all. Served on individual cutting boards, the asados (grilled meats) come with a bevy of accompaniments, such as grilled cactus, pinto beans, blistered jalapeño and onion, and pickled onions on the peinecillo platter, which hails from Jalisco, one of the western Mexican states that inspire much of the menu. Tortillas alongside are kept warm in a soft, Mexican-printed fabric, and they’re lovely—housemade, soft, delicate, and dusted lightly in fine flour. Considering that you can get two pieces of New York strip steak, grilled to just under medium, it’s a steal at $26.99. The price goes down for similar platters with cheaper cuts of meat like chuck or prime rib.
If there’s not enough happening on the plate for you, head to the fixin’s bar housed in a wooden wagon, and add guacamole, raw radishes, lime, cilantro, and more salsas. Speaking of salsas, they’re one of this restaurant’s claims to fame, and indeed I found myself taken with the complex, jammy condiments, made in the molcajete style, which means the spices and pepper are ground with a stone mortar and pestle. They’re thick, smoky, rich, and spicy, and I wish they sold them by the jar.
Besides the asados, there are Prime Steakhouse Tacos, in which the meat comes already cut into strips and tucked into tortillas. Again, you choose your cut of beef (all are $16.99). We went with the ribeye, and it was a bit on the tough side, so we slathered on more of the addictive salsa.
You’ll want to try some of the unique appetizers as well, like the Papa Loca, the largest baked potato you likely will ever see. (We had to divide its leftovers into three to-go containers!) A sort of American/Mexican mashup, it comes loaded with a four-Mexican-cheese blend, green onions, bacon, and bits of carne asada; the whole thing is finished in a mesquite oven and served with a generous coat of sour cream. We also enjoyed the frijoles Manolin, a simple but satisfying bean soup, the broth of which soaks up the flavors of the bacon, carne asada, charred onions, and slivers of cooked jalapeños that bop among the whole red beans. It’s served charmingly in a larger pot, with everyone getting a small, rustic brown bowl painted with tiny flowers and a tiny wooden spoon of their own, making it perfect for sharing. For more adventurous diners, there’s roasted bone marrow with cotija cheese and cilantro, but the amount of actual marrow served in the “canoe” of bone was terribly meager.
The glassware, too, is painted thickly with pretty designs and comes filled high with a variety of margaritas, including a delicious one with a blend of orange, lime, and grapefruit juices. For those who don’t want alcohol, there will be a selection of aguas frescas; they weren’t available yet when we visited. For dessert there is but one option: chocolate flan. But it’s not quite like the silken caramel concoction you’re probably used to; instead, it has a chocolate-cake bottom, a thicker custard filling, and melted chocolate drizzled on top. The chocolate is very understated, which I appreciated, though my 9-year-old daughter did not.
The service is friendly and fast, and everyone who waited on us had Mexican accents. It was refreshing both to try a style of Mexican food I’d never experienced and to have it served by people outside the archetypal Seattle hipster. Ballard is slowly becoming the it-spot for Mexican restaurants, and this one is by far the most distinctive.