La Tarasca

Project TortillaphiliaOlympia

La Tarasca doesn’t make its expectations from you a secret. Greeting you at the door is a note informing that they do not serve chips and salsa. In fact, they do not even have chips, which really is a polite way of saying don’t even ask. Hey, fair enough, and you do get a bowl of pickled carrots and salsa served before your meal as a happy compromise. La Tarasca is strict but fair.

This pragmatism continues through the menu. As opposed to many of its ilk, La Tarasca has only one starred house specialty: the carnitas. Even the flan, described as a MUST have, is not deemed worthy of the elusive star, though it probably should be.

I’m good with all of this. I like to know what to expect, just as much as I like to know what is expected of me. If La Tarasca wants me to go with the carnitas, who am I to argue?

And I’m glad I didn’t.

The carnitas are stupendously good. I don’t toss out that type of hyperbole often, but caution to the wind, and all that — they are good enough for anyone to make the trek to Centralia. Centralia! It’s a lovely town, I’m sure, but not exactly a road-trip destination. Should they decide to rename the place to La Tarasca in the name of marketing, I’d be in full support of it.

But I digress.

These are the type of carnitas you want to get to know. Converse with; enjoy their company; show them respect. Your relationship will be short, but it will have the depth and affection you usually see with a dear family member. Just in meat form.

There’s a proper surface-bite to the pork, yet the innards melt in your mouth. The spices are delicate, with a depth you only get from proper slow cooking. It all makes for an almost mysteriously delightful experience, one of lore only found in ancient tomes.

The tortillas look and feel as rustic as they are fresh, and like good bread, I could eat them by themselves. Don’t do that, though. Wrap the meat with the rice and beans in them, and top with pico. The combination is of divine proportions.

Should the mood strike, we would seriously recommend the flan. It’s not too sweet, and the sauce adds just a little bit of zing to the party. La Tarasca might not give it a star, but I will.

In fact, I’ll give La Tarasca as many stars as I can (two). It hands down serves the best Mexican food in the Olympia area and is worth the pilgrimage for any tortillaphile. Anything else would be in violation of your nature.

Burial Grounds

The Great Coffee ChaseOlympia

I can unequivocally say Burial Grounds exudes a vibe found in few other cities. It’s about as Olympia as Olympia can get, which, in my mind, is a good thing. Your mileage may vary, which would be a little bit sad — a dash of eclecticism in your life can only broaden your horizon, and Burial Grounds is plenty eclectic.

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What you won’t find in the downtown shop is delicate, lightly roasted coffee drinks prominently featured at Sprudge or in Roast magazine. Head down to Olympia Coffee Roasting for that. The concoctions at Burial Grounds are instead positively weird. Try a Hallowed Grounds with its random stuff flavor, and you know you’re literal blocks away from your highfalutin pour-over. I might prefer the latter if I have to choose, but I also have a hard time turning down a ghost pepper almond latte.

The service is professional and friendly, and the slightly shabby interior gives the place a distinct ambiance. You’ll see people working on their laptops work and others playing multiplayer Civilization on the separate gaming wifi.

There is a somewhat vast library of books and zines to peruse, and a collection of comic books is displayed on a wall. If there is one spot in Olympia that qualifies as the poster child for a third place, Burial Grounds is it. Take a look around, and you’ll see colorful locals and white color professionals (many of whom often are the same) leisurely doing their thing. Discounts are given to a wide variety of groups (state workers, students, etc.), too.

Burial Grounds might not be a holy sanctuary for craft coffee, but it is a good representation of the heart and soul of Olympia: a bit shabby and punk, yet welcoming and chill: A place to hang out, which increasingly seems to be a rarity these days.

Well 80 Brewhouse

The Great Burger ChaseOlympia

There is more than one way to prepare an Impossible Burger, lest there be any doubt. Case in point is Well 80’s offering. Olympia’s recently opened brew-pub serve drive-in style burgers without the je ne sais quoi of Cascadia, but with their own, old-school pizazz. That’s not a slight. Embrace the simple things in life and achieve both enlightenment and a zen burger appreciation. It’ll make you a better person.

As for Well 80, it’s all about the restraint: Tomato, lettuce, cheese, and drive-in sauce make up the base toppings, and the Martin’s Famous Potato Roll bun is flavorful, if not a marvel of fresh baking.

Should you be in a crazy mood, you can order the burger — Impossible and meat-based alike — Oly Style, with mustard and grilled onions. All Out adds bacon and avocado.

And the burger is good. I have claimed you would be able to tell the difference between a meat and Impossible burger at Cascadia, but I’m not so sure if that goes for Well 80. The patty tastes similar to the real thing, medium doneness and all, and while it’s not quite a straight substitute, it comes close. If that’s a good thing or not is entirely subjective.

Well 80 delivers a classy, classic burger at any rate. Classic shouldn’t mean sub-standard ingredients, and here it doesn’t, which is a refreshing change from many other places around town.

Burger aside, I would be amiss not to point out Well 80’s other assets. The interiors are inviting and sleek, with the iconic Oly Brewing slogan, It’s the Water, displayed as a reminder that the brewery is sat on Olympia’s eightieth (of ninety-six) artesian wells. The flash-fried Brussels sprouts are excellent, close to those from perennial Portland favorite, Picnic House, and the fries have a proper bite. Intern Jon heartily recommends the pretzel.

Good burger, good space, good food in general: Well 80 plays in the top division of brew-pubs.

Dos Hermanos Mexican Kitchen

It’s too bad a small grocery market couldn’t make it in the 222, but having it replaced by a traditional, street-food-style Mexican spot? That’s something we all can gather around, and Dos Hermanos is decidedly a solid spot for authentic tacos.

Their menu is simple, and that’s not a bad thing. Tacos, burritos, enchiladas — you get what you would expect, and nothing more. (Granted, menudo on the weekend might be a curve-ball for some, but it should come as a welcome one.)

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The tacos are as simple as the menu: fresh tortillas, baked in-house, are vessels for suitably sparse, yet tasty fillings. Even the omnipresent chicken has something going for it. Here it comes in stringy, semi-spicy pieces, topped with a decent, if not overly exciting, salsa. Lime wedges are served on the side, though I only got two with my three taco meal, which, at one cent shy of $13, also gets you rice and beans.

The latter is prepared in just the right consistency and properly accompanies the tacos. Not too runny, but thin enough that you can either eat it by itself or on top of the taco. The rice has a bit of a Spanish kick to it as well.

Bonus points go to some well-thought-out interiors. A mural and a color-pop from the bar add a pinch of pizazz to an otherwise austere space. The seating is comfortable enough to warrant a special mention of its own. It’s a good locale, with a view of the market apt for people watching. And everything on the menu can be prepared vegan style to boot.

Now granted, authentic tacos aren’t that out of the ordinary these days, but they’re a bit of a rarity outside of trucks in Oly. Bless spots like the QB for taking their spin on the classics, but once in a while, the real thing is what the heart wants. That’s not what the El Sarapes of the world serve.

Dos Hermanos, then, is in a great location where they serve good tacos. Team OlyCOOL™ emphatically consider it a great addition to downtown.

This post is part of Tortillaphilia, a category for those with a special relationship with anything tortilla related!