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La Carta de Oaxaca - Am I missing something?

OK, finally ate at Carta de Oaxaca - What is all the hype about. I was not impressed.

I had the Black Mole Tamale - All I could get was sweet, there was no underlying spice or character otherwise. Pretty bland...? Others in the group had Tacos Fritos and Tostadas - pretty normal choices, but they complained too. Overall we expected so much more, the way people go on and on about this place.

I will say that the staff and service was exellent for as busy as it was on a Friday night - that part was good.

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  1. I have to agree with this one. We ate there recently after all the rave reviews, service was excellent, good margaritas, but the food was just ok. We had one of the taco specials and the tostadas. Seemed bland to me. I had just assumed it was an off evening?

      1. re: landguy

        Perhaps we have arrived at yet another subjective impasse about what "pretty bland" or "just ok" food tastes like.

        If you think La Carta's food is "just ok", I wonder what you are comparing it to. Other Oaxacan or Mexican in Seattle? Other Mexican elsewhere? Comparisons across varying ethnic styles and traditions, I think, are inherently problematic. If were to compare La Carta to the only other Oaxacan specialist in town, El Sabor de Oaxaca, I certainly know which one I would sooner deem "just ok". Comparing La Carta to just about any other decent Seattle Mexican spot, generic or regional, I think La Carta shows very well.

        I never hesitate to accuse some Seattle restaurants, especially thai and indian ones, of offering muted, compromised flavors. La Carta, however, is far from bland. If you think La Carta's food is "pretty bland", perhaps you should smuggle in a container of MSG upon your next visit and liberally sprinkle it on.

        1. re: equinoise

          I guess I'm just comparing it to homemade versions I have eaten countless times made in the homes of different friends, one from Guatemala, one from Honduras and one from the Chiapas Highland region of Mexico, and also some other off-shoots (corn husk wrapped) I've tried in the working people's street food sections of Playa del Carmen, Mazatlan and Nuevo Laredo, and those other Tex-Mex versions while growing up in South Texas. I don't throw the Tex-Mex versions into the mix of comparables.

          Anyway, that’s my position, and if La Carta is the end all be all of Mexican food in the area, I guess some of us are just out of luck. Oh well….

          1. re: Papa Kip Chee

            La Carta might be the "end all be all" of Oaxacan food in the area. I do agree La Carta's mole negro can be too sweet sometimes and it definitely isn't spicy at all.

            What the other posters said, try the birria, entomatadas (con salsa verde), the albondigas, the posole, etc. Also if you didn't have anything with fresh tortillas you were missing out.

            Did you miss the assortment of homemade salsas along the bar by the kitchen? They're self-serve and anything but bland.

            If you want more "working people's street food" go down to Burien and check out Taqueria La Estacion. This is my new favorite "Mexican" place in the immediate Seattle area.

            (If you ever get the itch to drive south on I-5 and you want some outstanding Michoacan-style carnitas, check out La Tarasca in Centralia, just past Olympia.)

            1. re: terrier

              Thanks for the rec's. at Carta and elswhere. I will no doubt give the restaurant another try, it's not 'bad', it just didn't meet all the hype - and for ~ $45 for 3 people with drinks, you can't beat it.

        2. re: landguy

          I'm with landguy on this one. Try again and see if you find it.

        3. In my experience, some things are very good--the lamb birria is excellent as are the albondigas Other things are ,merely adequate. I think part of La Carta's initial appeal was that it was really Mexican rather than Tex Mex and had some things on the menu that--at least at that time--were a bit unusual.. I have not had the Mole Negro there yet, but have had it many times in Oaxaca, where it is rather sweet and not terribly spicy.

          1. I've been dining at Carta since it opened .. I've had countless wonderful meals there & yes, a few that weren't quite up to snuff .. that said there are things I always get that are wonderful and the Mole is one of them.. I haven't had the tamale but rather the simpler Mole w/ pork. I'll recommend the Lamb Birria, the posole, the enchiladas, and entomatades .. I haven't been in a few months so maybe there are new things on the menu .. I think that the flavors are more subtle than in either "typical" Mexican food or the taco trucks.

            1. I agree. Went there as a result of all the raves here & was wondering why, too. I found the food just ok or less...and we tried ALOT of their dishes....also the crowded and noisy dining rm was not enjoyable.

              1. As warmer weather approaches, don't miss the shrimp cocktail. It's the best I've had made from sweet bay shrimp. Fabulous!

                The posole and lamb are standouts. I also love the pork tamale. The banana leaf gives it a great flavor.

                1. Depends on what you're used to. I lived almost 15 years in L.A. (yeah, yeah, yeah) and the place is about as close as I've found, but still doesn't quite do it for me. But it gets me over my craving in the way a Fatburger is almost but not quite an In-n-Out. I really like the Posole and the Tamales here. The first time I had mole at La Carta I really liked it but on later visits, not so much. I've yet to find a good Birria in the NW and if anyone knows one please tell me.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Kevin B

                    I feel the same way about La Carta. It's pretty good--good enough to scratch the itch. It ain't Guelaguetza or Monte Alban, but it gets the job done, and it seems to be the best in the area.

                    Which brings me to a broader point: I'm sick and tired of the naysayers (not pointing a finger at anyone in particular) who insist that "there is no authentic Mexican in Seattle," or other comments along those lines. Sure, you can get better Mexican in L.A. than you can here, but that doesn't mean automatically dismissing the notion of eating Mexican food in Seattle. Same goes for Thai and pizza, incidentally--there might be better stuff in other cities, but there's some good stuff here too if you know where to go. Enough with the blanket "there is no X in Seattle" screeds.

                    1. re: Earl of Sandwich

                      re: enough with the blanket "there is no X in Seattle" screeds.

                      When I first moved to Seattle in 2005, I wondered why people would make these generalizations. I thought there was some sort of "Portland-Seattle-Vancouver" solidarity in place: "If you can't find it in Seattle, try this place in Vancouver."

                      After being here for three years, I find myself defending those that use the "there is no X in Seattle" generalizations.

                      Yes, there are some good restaurants here, sure, but for every good one, there's just a dearth of inferior ones. Most cities have a "food bell curve", a number of adequate to good places at the center of the range with the usual outliers on either side. The curve in Seattle looks like a long tail with left shift: a number of good ones at the high end and a hole bunch of crap on the way down.

                      I think the reason the PNW board here has the volume it does is because most of us chowhounds have become wary, indeed exasperated, of finding great chow.

                      I have no inhibition on spending a lot of money if the food is worth it, but I've had few experiences that would nullify my solidarity with those who are brave enough to admit the truth: "there is no X in Seattle".

                  2. I feel the same. I took my work group out for lunch because it had gotten such rave reviews and was a little disappointed. Our meals were fine, but nothing to write home about. And I admit too that I found the decor a little spartan for my taste.

                      1. re: GreenYoshi

                        Interesting to know Thaiku is owned by the same people. I had an equally bland dinner there with friends two weeks ago... But, like I said w/ Carta- they had a hustling staff, great decor and atmosphere, and a cool little bar in the back 'Wan Fu' or something...

                      2. I really like the place. My preferred Mex is not Mex at all, but Tex Mex, and there is no good Tex Mex in Seattle. La Carta is real Mex and it is much different in style; I had to get used to it. I think La Carta has good margaritas, salsa bar, tortillas, and I have liked most of the dishes we have tried. We always get the molojtes, my personal favorite. But hey, I don't like some of the places in Seattle that other people love, so it's good we all have choices!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: cocktailhour

                          "there is no good Tex Mex in Seattle."

                          Who have you tried?

                          1. re: jaydeflix

                            most places I have heard of. I used to live in Texas and have pretty strong opinions about what qualifies. Do you have anything you like I would try it!

                            1. re: cocktailhour

                              I'm originally from El Paso, also lived in Houston and Dallas for a while. Despair of finding Tex-Mex here, sorry. At best there's some decent Mexican food, at worst there's rice-filled burritos. Nothing like a good queso (I guess Northwesterners turn their noses up at Velveeta.)

                              1. re: terrier

                                I completely agree. People here don't understand the importance of cheese. I stop at a Tex Mex every time I go back to Texas to have queso. And I don't understand rice in burritos AT ALL.

                                And I thought the AUstin Cantina was terrible. The ambiance was good, the food, nothing like Austin Tex Mex.

                                1. re: cocktailhour

                                  Having moved here from Houston 18 months ago, my wife and kids are going crazy for some OK Mexican food. The only two places I've found worth going back to are Rosita's in Green Lake and Mama's in Bell town. Rosita's has a tortilla lady making fresh tortillas and Mama's has good crispy tacos.

                          2. re: cocktailhour

                            I highly recommend the Tex Mex at Austin Cantina in Ballard.

                          3. Personally, I really like the mole at Carta, but if you're looking for Mexican with a little more bite, try Senor Moose, located nearby (sorry I don't have the address at hand). I cant speak to authenticity, as my only trip to mexico was on my honeymoon (and we stayed in the whole time), but the menu has offerings from several regions and doesn't stint on the spice where it's appriopriate for the dish. Lots of complexity in eash dish as well, not just heat for heats sake.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: terryh

                              5242 NW Leary Ave (Leary Way after it sneaks into Ballard from Fremont).
                              When you go, ask first about the tacos de papa. They're off the menu, but this just ain't right and I aim to do something about it, with your help.

                            2. I too was not impressed. Definitely not worth the wait.

                              1. Why all the hate?

                                The mole is hands down the best I've had in Seattle. The salsas, are the most intricate I have ever experienced, period.

                                Granted, the tacos al pastor are a bit delicate for my taste (like my tequila, I like them down and dirty).

                                Keep the context in mind, this is regional Mexican food, and not some a southern Californian taqueria; a true gem for Seattle.