Neon Taco: Nacho Borracho’s new partnership takes Broadway bar food to new level

(Image: Alex Garland for CHS)

Neon Taco icon Monica Dimas (Image: Alex Garland for CHS)

By Emily Muirhead – UW News Lab/Special for CHS

Past sugar skulls on Broadway, hanging red pepper lights and under a glowing yellow sign sits the aptly named Neon Taco.

“The idea is we’re doing Mexican street food while having a symbiotic restaurant-bar relationship,” chef and owner Monica Dimas tells CHS. “It has the best drinks with really great food to go along with it.”

This new Mexican kitchen is located at the back of Capitol Hill’s Nacho Borracho bar, which after a year of success with late night crowds has upgraded with the new in-house taqueria.

This culinary collaboration started this month just in time for Nacho’s one-year anniversary. The food is accessible to patrons through a small kitchen window where one can order and pay for food, while running a separate bar tab. It’s a model that worked for Nacho’s sister down on E Olive Way where Montana features the ridiculously delicious Kedai Makan walk-up as its related but independent drunk food (and sober eater) provider.

Dimas, 30, previously focused her cooking on pop-up gigs around the Seattle area, including making Mexican hangover soups for Nacho Borracho’s Saturday brunches. Although the bar and kitchen share a roof and patrons, they are independently run. Dimas aims to enhance traditional Mexican food with contemporary twists, surpass standards of subpar bar food, and complement the mostly Mexican-themed drinks served on tap just a few feet away.

(Image: Emily Muirhead for CHS)

(Image: Emily Muirhead for CHS)

Nacho Borracho owners Rachel Marshall and Kate Optaz  teamed up with Dimas to prove that “gut bomb” bar food isn’t the only option. Instead, the Neon Taco team tries to bring the same level of thoughtfulness to their food that goes into Nacho’s often festive drinks such as their avocado margarita or pink guava moscow mule.

“Sometimes people can fall into this trap of not understanding what great food can be,” Dimas said. “Especially at different times of the day. You don’t have to go to Dick’s to have a burger at 1 AM”

This partnership has thus far worked in harmony with the bar’s laid back vibes.

“Monica has a really calm and peaceful energy,” Marshall said. “She doesn’t bring a lot of chaos along with her.”

“Kate and I are not food people — we’re not chefs nor interested in being chefs. It makes a lot of sense to partner with someone where our weaknesses are.”

Dimas is Mexican, and grew up in a household eating her mother’s home cooking, which she credits with developing her well-rounded palate. She said her family rarely went out to eat, and so she initially never considered a profession in the food scene. Despite this, at the age of 18 she landed her first gig helping out in an Italian restaurant’s kitchen in Yakima. Soon after, she found herself outgrowing the restaurant scene in Eastern Washington, and headed to Seattle to expand her culinary horizons. She has since worked at restaurants such as Spinasse and Ethan Stowell’s Mkt.

(Image: Neon Taco)

(Image: Neon Taco)

Neon Taco offers both old school and new school tacos with more unusual ingredients. She plans to incorporate items like Chinese-style drunken chicken or sweet bread into her new school tacos, to create culinary concoctions unique to her taqueria. She only uses tortillas made by hand–  a skill she learned from her mother.

Not all of Nacho’s over-the-top style has been left behind. Neon Taco also offers soft pork rinds dressed in cabbage and fresno chiles and the Sonoran dog — a bacon wrapped hot dog with Mexican garnishes. UPDATE: Sorry for the hot dog oops! Dimas says that Neon’s lengua (beef tongue) is especially tasty.

“I feel like food doesn’t have to be super traditional for it to be authentic,” Dimas said. “Food is always evolving and there’s a reason why it changes over the course of time.”

Nacho co-owner Opatz said the response thus far from patrons has been positive, adding that the drinks pair smoothly with Dimas’ food. On occasion, Dimas will make homemade horchata or agua fresca that can be paired with alcohol from the bar.

While passionate about producing quality food and running her kitchen, Dimas said she never wants to be so invested in a restaurant that she must be there every day to keep it functioning properly. She likes the idea of a chef-driven restaurant, but said she would rather focus on growing a business that provides a great experience for employees and patrons.

Even though Neon Taco’s menu has only a handful of entree items, Dimas is confident in her food selection and preparation.

“I would rather have a simple, concise menu that is really tasty,” Dimas said. “You’re not going to get anything that’s not awesome.”

Neon Taco is located inside Nacho Borracho at 209 Broadway E and serves Monday through Friday 3:00 PM to 1:30 AM, and Saturday-Sunday noon to 1:30 AM. You can learn more at neontacoseattle.com.

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18 thoughts on “Neon Taco: Nacho Borracho’s new partnership takes Broadway bar food to new level

  1. Looks great, but I don’t understand why the early (noon) open on Fridays, but not on Sundays. I would think that there’s a much bigger lunch/brunch crowd on Sunday.

    • Weak drinks? Not sure what your definition of weak is, because holy hell. Also, those Tachos are pretty on point. Basically, sorry about your taste, apparently.

    • My definition of a “weak drink” is one that tastes as if there isn’t any alcohol in it. The margarita I had was like a flavorless slurpee. The nachos were a handful of chips with a few random bits and pieces thrown on top, slightly above room temperature. There was nothing at all remarkable about them. The staff was nice though. That’s pretty typical for Broadway. There aren’t many places I’ve been to on Broadway that make good mixed drinks; it’s safer to order beer, wine, or a straight spirit. At least you know you’re getting alcohol. Favorites in the past for strong drinks included the Jade Pagoda and Ernie Steele’s, but of course those are long gone.

      I don’t understand your last comment though. Why should you be sorry about my taste? It’s different from yours, yes, but so what? I like apple pie; my brother can’t stand it. It’s just a difference in our tastes. I don’t feel the need to put him down because of that.

    • @Blinks – i’d encourage you to go back and try it again. it’s a completely different place with the new food operation in effect. some of the best mexican snacks i’ve had not only in Seattle, but period. so freaking good.

  2. I wish that last sentence of the article were true. There’s way more info in this article than there is on all of Neon Taco’s web site (all 1 page of it).

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