February 14, 2011
Every neighborhood needs that low key place around the corner and the Mexican restaurant and bar, Laredos, has quickly become that for Lower Queen Anne’s “east side” community.
Laredos has dark wooden booths and bar stools, vintage Mexican art, and tall, uncovered windows so you can see all the fun from the street. With its wall of booze in the window and a sandwich board outside promising happy hour twice a day everyday, it practically begs you to “come right in.”
One of the best things about this place is that you hardly ever have to wait long for a seat and even when I’ve been as a large group with people cycling in and out at will, the service has always been great and happy to accommodate.
This may all seem sort of standard for a local restaurant and bar, but if you had seen the space before Laredos opened you would understand that it has undergone a major transformation. While Laredos is earth toned, warm, and relaxed with a sports bar atmosphere, its predecessor, Veil, was the exact opposite — white, cool, and upscale.
When you walked past Veil all you could see were its gauze covered windows. Inside everything from the chairs and tables to the bathroom door was white or tempered glass. The lighting was low like a dance club and the lounge was hip with overstuffed white leather furniture and low set tables. The food and drinks were wonderful and they had a very reasonably priced happy hour, but Veil was just out of place in the neighborhood. Its crime was being a downtown bar in a residential area. On top of that, having to compete for the fine dining crowd with the well established Crow restaurant just a block away eventually put it out of business.
When it first closed down, I was sort of sad to see it go, but with its upscale ambiance and price tag, it wasn’t as if I went there every week or even every month. It just wasn’t an everyday sort of place and that is the test of a true neighborhood joint. It’s the kind of place you go when it’s Tuesday night and you’re hungry, thirsty, and too lazy to cook.
And Laredos doesn’t disappoint. You can say what you will about Tex-Mex. It may not be the fanciest or most authentic genre of Mexican, but it has the power of comfort food and the party of the margarita on its side.
At moderate prices, Laredos serves all your favorites: enchiladas, tacos, burritos, and nachos, but with real Northern Mexican seasonings and a smokey, mesquite flavor. It may be Tex-Mex, but it’s not Azteca. Nothing will come to you on an obscenely large platter with a pound of cheese on top to give it flavor. The housemade salsas are fresh and spicy and the beans are served whole and drunken.
While most things on the menu are fairly decent, there are a few standout items that keep me coming back. On the appetizer menu, they have camarones ala diabla (formerly an entree), which is spice heaven. Served fajita-style on a hot skillet, these tasty shrimp and sauted vegetables come with tortillas for making your own mini tacos and for me this dish is a meal on its own (just don’t forget your Tums). The nachos are also tasty and a killer deal at happy hour. Maybe its the chipotle sour cream or that they don’t skimp on the jalapenos, but while the ingredients are pretty much the same as anywhere else, these nachos hold a special place in my heart. For your main course I recommend anything with the carne asada. The steak meat is so tender, smokey, and well seasoned it sort of makes me sigh. (Sorry vegetarians, but you won’t find a ton of options here.)
At happy hour, you can get a number of items on the menu for $4 and quench your thirst with $4 house margaritas and $2 cans of Tecate. If you’re a little more adventurous, I highly recommend trying the avocado margarita or the sangria wave. The former, is a wonderfully creamy slant on your typically, tart margarita. When I describe the latter as a blended lime margarita mixed with a blended house sangria, it sounds horrible and like the worst hangover you’ve ever had. Instead it is totally delicious, like a slurpie for adults (just beware of the brain freeze).
Speaking of hangovers, Laredos also has a $6 brunch on the weekends. My favorite item on the breakfast menu is the carne asada torta (again, sorry vegetarians). While they certainly aren’t giving Peso’s brunch a run for its money, Laredos again does its job and fills you up with food that is low on price, tasty, and just around the corner.