With its dangling red light-up chili peppers and colorful paper cutouts, Broadway hole-in-the-wall Nacho Borracho has become a fixture of the Capitol Hill bar scene.
Snacky bar food like the signature Dorito nachos or the Sonoran dog, a bacon-wrapped hot dog, feed the cravings of the throngs of late-night inebriates that give the place its name.
But Nacho Borracho’s bar fare will soon be revamped as Seattle chef Monica Dimas, with experience at well-known eateries like Spinasse, Monsoon, and Ethan Stowell’s Mkt., prepares to take over the kitchen.
In February, Dimas will be overhauling the menu to instead serve the authentic Mexican cuisine she grew up on as the daughter of Mexican immigrants — dishes like pork belly tacos, sweet breads, chicharrones.
The bar at Nacho Borracho will remain intact, but an indoor window will added at the back for customers to order. The new food window will have its own name and Dimas plans to create a street food-style operation so customers can enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine at affordable prices.
Dimas’ shift to running the kitchen at a bar is a little odd given her fine dining experience. But Nacho Borracho co-owner Kate Opatz says it seemed like a natural fit.
“We’ve known Monica for a while and I knew she was wanting to have her own kitchen,” says co-owner Kate Opatz. “She always seemed like kind of a badass.”
Dimas, who began to cook professionally at the age of 18, says the close-knit environment in Seattle’s food scene mimics her home life growing. She was the middle of five children in what she describes as a “cheerleader family.” Their closeness also centered around food — every night they would sit down for dinner together to take a break from their busy lives and enjoy both her mother’s food and the company.
“I remember an ex-boyfriend grew up eating boxed mac and cheese,” Dimas says with a laugh. “And when I told my mom that she was like ‘I feel so sad for his childhood.’ It’s just something not okay in our world.”
Her family’s emphasis on food stems from her parent’s growing up in Mexico, where her mother was raised on a farm.
Although Dimas did not cook often when she was younger, she loved to watch her mom try out new things in the kitchen — from making stir-fry to cooking a mean fried chicken. During the holiday season, she always prepared her signature pozole, a traditional Mexican stew.
“My mom would make these tacos, adobada tacos,” Dimas says. “It’s this marinated pork taco and she would fry the tortillas. That was definitely a favorite.”
Leslie Kelly, editor of Zagat Seattle, describes Seattle’s Mexican food scene as centering around more Americanized Mexican food: huge dishes drowning in cheese and rice and beans.
But Kelly says she’s excited for the evolution of the city’s Mexican cuisine, both with the changes to Nacho Borracho and the recent opening of more up-scale restaurants.
Dimas’ pivot away from fine dining is in line with another city wide trend: a boom in street food.
In July of 2011, the Seattle City Council adopted legislation to make street food more accessible within the city and in accordance with the policies of the King County Health Department. In 2014 alone, 173 food vending permits were granted, a 54 percent increase from the previous year.
While an eclectic street food scene is flourishing in neighborhoods like South Lake Union, Capitol Hill remains limited to nightly hot dog stands.
“I would love to see more diverse street food,” Dimas says. “It would be great if there were more tacos, but also Japanese street food, ramen pop-up stands, just whatever else is out there.”
As Dimas prepares for the grand debut of her own kitchen, she will have the chance to encourage such diversity while recreating the traditional Mexican cuisine she grew up eating with her family.
When I ask Dimas what her favorite meal to cook is, the answer is easy:
“I love making pozole.”
You can sample that an array of other new menu items starting this Sunday, but you’ll have to wait for the following weekend’s brunch to try the pozole. And don’t worry, they’re still serving a version of the nachos that made them famous too.
Nacho Borracho is at 209 Broadway E. and is open until 2 a.m., 7 days a week.
The new menu debuts February 1 and will feature a taco special in honor of the Super Bowl, with half-off tacos every time the Seahawks score.