A tentative bite of a yaka taco, made with jackfruit, tasted an awful lot like carnitas. That’s why so many restaurants across the country are now serving the flexible fruit as a meat substitute.
It carries the hearty substance of slow-cooked pork shoulder, but with a guilt-free caloric and fat load. It was the first time I’d seen jackfruit, a tree-borne fruit found in South Asia, on a Tacoma menu.
I found it slow-cooked and braised in citrus and ancho chiles at newly opened Brewers Row in Tacoma’s North End. The jackfruit option is one of eight fillings (six meat, two vegetarian) available for tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other taqueria-themed dishes.
Brewers Row is the sibling restaurant to Cooks Tavern, which opened next door in the same building in June. It’s owned by Peter Levy of Chow Foods, which operates several Seattle restaurants, including the 5 Spot and Endolyne Joe’s.
Next door at Cooks Tavern, find table service, terrific cocktails and slower-paced meals. Brewers Row is intended for those after a casual, quicker meal. Order at the counter and be out in 15 minutes. Or, stick around for a plate of tacos and sample beverages from two dozen taps. There’s also a beer cooler full of canned and bottled beers meant for consumption on- or off-site.
It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service during a restaurant’s first month. Here’s a first-bite look at the food, atmosphere and more.
Dining room: Saturated gold and red walls, with exposed brick running along the interior wall. Funky chandeliers and chairs as comfortable as they were interesting, with stretched fabric stitched onto chair backs.
Seating: Two communal tables. A low-top with seating for nine, plus a high-top with room for 16. Window bar seating for nine. A handful of four-top tables.
The menu: Portable Mexican-themed eats, the kind you’d find at a taqueria. Those familiar with Seattle’s TNT Taqueria, the Wallingford taqueria from Chow Foods, will find the territory familiar. A chunk of that restaurant’s menu has been imported to Brewers Row. Levy said a specials menu will debut around Dec. 15 and will change every season.
Breakfast: Taquitos ($4.25-$4.75) and burritos ($6.25-$8.50). Also, pastries and full espresso service (be sure to check out the horchata latte, $3.50-$4).
Tacos and more: Eight burritos ($6-$8.75); tacos by the plate ($8.75) or platter ($10.50), four kinds of tortas sandwiches ($7.50-$9), five styles of salad bowls built in crispy flour tortilla shells ($8.25-$9), four quesadillas ($7.75-$8); chicken tortilla soup by the cup ($3.50) or bowl ($5); stuffed cheddar-jalapeno biscuits with four fillings ($5-$5.75) and two styles of nachos, one with pork al pastor ($13.50) or chile verde roasted chicken ($11).
Stuffed with what fillings? Choices include pork, beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian. Al pastor comes marinated in an achiote-chipotle pineapple marinade. The carnitas came from the same cut of pork shoulder, but were braised in a guajillo-Tecate mixture and finished on a grill. Chicken is cilantro-lime marinated. House-made chorizo is flavored with serrano, poblano and jalapeno. Carne asada and Pacific rockfish, flavored with ancho chile and cumin, also are listed. Meats come from Northwest farms. Five kinds of salsas range from mild to spicy-hot.
Vegetarians rejoice: Beside yaka, the other veg-friendly option is sweet potatoes (listed as papas dulce on the menu) with fresno chiles and kale.
Taco platter: Three for $10.50, with rice and beans. Al pastor, sweet with a pineapple chile glaze, was fatty edged and grilled until the edges sizzled. Diced rockfish carried a lime-drenched marinade. Yaka danced with flavor. Pinto beans were simmered with spices and left whole. Rice tasted of garlic and chiles.
Torta sandwich: Built on a sturdy sandwich roll that tasted a bit more dense than ciabatta, spread with Tapatio aioli and dressed with caramelized onions, cabbage slaw and sliced, raw chiles. A thin layer of pulled pork ($8) released delicious juices into the bottom bun. Pair this small sandwich with a taco or side dish.
Brew: Greatest hits of South Sound and Northwest brewers, plus cider on about two dozen taps. A fridge holds about 60 beers, most bargain priced at $2. A small corkage fee of $1 allows consumption on-site, or carry the beer out. Wines price out around $14, with a $5 corkage.
Parent note: There’s no dedicated kids menu, but Levy says kid-friendly portions include “mini-quesadillas, and the tacos are easily kid-size as well.”