Once known for its dive bars and community of aging Scandinavians, Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood has somehow turned into a mini mecca of Mexican food. The arrival of Chef Chester Gerl’s Gracia in February cemented the fact, with the restaurant also bringing some of the best dishes to the area.
Formerly chef at Matt’s in the Market, Gerl moved to New York City years ago, where he helped open a Mexican restaurant in the East Village, but came back to Seattle with the new concept. Gracia — Spanish for grace — is focused on dishes from central and southern Mexico. While many other restaurants in Seattle feature a focus on one of those regions, Oaxaca, no others focus so squarely on the many heirloom corn varieties that can be found in Mexico.
At Gracia, you won’t find packaged tortillas or dough made from mass-produced Maseca, the most common masa flour available in the States. Rather, tortillas, tamales, tlacoyo — an oval shaped, thick-bottomed, fried masa cake — and more are made from corn that is brought to Seattle by Gerl and nixtamalized, the long, arduous process of turning corn kernels into flour, in-house. The flavor, texture and colors are unlike any Ballard has tasted before.
And speaking of flavor, the mole coloradito at Gracia is an intense and satisfying version of the sauce that must be tried. Though not always on the menu, it appears at times on enchiladas or ladled over chicken. It hits the notes of sweetness some people may associate with mole, but it’s not from chocolate as they might think. Plantains are blended into the sauce, as is typical of the coloradito version of mole, which then dives into bitterness and then a long-lasting roasty flavor, with just enough brightness to refresh your palate and lead fork to mouth for another bite. It is sublime. And sadly, not available at weekend brunch just yet, though that menu is replete with excellent offerings.
Tacos and gorditas and plenty of other snackable options exist for those who don’t want to commit their mouths to an all-encompassing experience like Gerl’s mole. In fact, a large portion of the menu belongs to Antojitos, little cravings, with fresh seafood tostadas, fat little gorditas plumped with that same delicious masa and plenty of pork fat. And it all washes down beautifully with the margaritas you’d expect from such a well-rounded restaurant. Order a Manhattan or a gimlet or perhaps a Negroni, and all will be made not with whiskey or vodka or gin, but with a bottle from the deep bench of tequilas and mezcals that line the wall of the front bar. Sipping something you’ve not tried before is a necessity and the knowledgeable staff of bar professionals will guide you right.
There’s so much more that’s wonderful about Gracia, but part of the joy of is discovering it for yourself. Bienvenidos a Ballard.