Azteca is a large, well-known chain of Mexican restaurants that was founded in Burien. Its target audience is families. Tarasco is a lone Mexican restaurant on a quiet street in Ballard that even most Ballardites aren’t familiar with. Its target audience appears to be single adults who are fond of canned Tecate.
But in 15th-century Mexico, Aztec and Tarasco were not rival restaurants, but rival empires. The Aztec Empire was far larger, but not necessarily stronger. According to Mexconnect: “The Aztecs attempted more than once to conquer the Tarascan lands, but never attained their goal. In combat they repeatedly suffered grievous losses to the Tarascan armies. For example, in 1478 the ruling Aztec lord, Axayacatl, marched against the Tarascans. He found his army of 24,000 confronted by an opposing force of more than 40,000 Tarascan warriors. A ferocious battle went on all day. Many of the Aztec warriors were badly wounded by arrows, stones, spears, and sword thrusts. The following day, the Aztecs were forced to retreat, having suffered the loss of more than half of their elite warriors.”
A similar plot would unfold if Azteca were to attempt a hostile takeover of Tarasco’s humble plot of land at the corner of 14th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 70th Street, a side street that wants to be an arterial and thus constitutes one of Seattle’s most peculiar stretches of commerce. Despite being a restaurant-bar that puts the emphasis on the bar (it was substantially dingier before a recent facelift), Tarasco’s food, while not spectacular, kicks Azteca’s ass. The carne asada is reliably tasty, and the chorizo burrito provides diners with a fine alternative to button-popping pork or beef.
Tarasco’s owner lives in an apartment above the restaurant, and recently had the good sense to hire Pauline Boitano, wife of Luau proprietor Tony Boitano (full disclosure: The ‘feeder was in attendance when this pair exchanged vows), to serve those Tecates to the colorful cast of regulars who line the bar each afternoon. There’s also pool and karaoke, but no birthday serenades for the tykes, a la Azteca.