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Seattle’s Mini-Restaurant Queen Dishes Up


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Seattle’s Mini-Restaurant Queen Dishes Up

Seattle Chef Monica Dimas is turning the food truck trend on its transient head.

August 24, 2017

“Honestly, I just want to eat tacos,” Chef Monica Dimas says from her small home kitchen in Seattle’s Central District. Dimas opened her first mini-restaurant back in 2015, with the goal of cooking the simple food that she loves to eat. Similar to the food-truck business model, Dimas operates her three mini-restaurants (Neon Taco, Tortas Condessa, and Sunset Fried Chicken ) inside of bars and on the street. She also has plans to open two more later this year.

Honestly, I just want to eat tacos.

After working the fine-dining scene in Seattle, Dimas found herself longing for work that showcased the simple food that is close to her heart. Opportunity came knocking in 2014 through a collaboration with the owners of Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Rachel Marshall and Kate Opatz. Dimas came up with a unique business model — opening a “mini-restaurant,” Neon Taco, nestled inside the established Capitol Hill bar — reducing the overhead costs that brick-and-mortar restaurants have to contend with. “It’s more akin to opening or owning a taco truck,” she says. The model has proven a success — Dimas has since opened two more restaurants inside bars on Capitol Hill.

Dimas says she creates a menu for bar patrons who are looking for quality food that’s affordable and quick. She draws inspiration from the home-cooked meals her mom made for her growing up.

 “We always had fresh tortillas on the table,” Monica says. “And I felt like using those tortillas in our tacos would make such a huge difference.”

Monica’s focus is simple: Making the food that she wants to eat, every day.

“I want to be able to go to my restaurants and actually want the food I’m cooking there. “It’s a little selfish, but I think it works,” she says with a wry smile.  

Corn Tortillas

Tortillas are one of the simplest recipes in Mexican cooking, but when made fresh at home they can elevate a meal. While Dimas uses a mixture of yellow and white masa for her restaurant tortillas, the Maseca brand — found in many Mexican kitchens — was used in her home growing up. Over the years she’s improved upon the recipe –– adding some moisture and “bounce” to the typically-dry tortillas with a little baking soda and extra water. “It’s a feeling versus a full ratio,” she says, describing the texture like Plya-Doh.  

Ingredients

  • 2 cups masa flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • A few pinches of salt
  • 1-and-1/2 to 2 cups water

Preparation

  1. In medium-sized mixing bowl, mix together masa flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Pour water into mixture, starting with 1-and-1/2 cups. Mix together with a spoon and then use your hands to knead until thoroughly combined. The dough will likely be too dry — add more water until it feels like wet Play-Doh.
  3. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Once the dough has rested it should be pliable and not stick to your hands –– the texture of a soft Play-Doh.
  4. Roll dough into balls, roughly the size of golf balls. If you make the dough balls bigger, make sure the tortillas are thicker when pressed.
  5. Cut the inside of a sandwich bag or gallon size bag into two separate plastic sheets and place the dough between these when pressing the tortillas. Using a tortilla press, rolling pin, or your hands to press the tortillas. Make sure the tortilla is an even thickness on each side. You may need to turn and press the tortillas again.
  6. Peel the tortilla from the plastic and drape it over your hand. Lay the tortilla into a dry skillet or nonstick pan and cook for two to three minutes on both sides.
  7. Store tortillas in a cloth to keep warm as you continue cooking.

Red Roasted Salsa

Dimas’ salsa can be made from five simple ingredients –– Tomatoes, chiles, garlic, onion and cilantro. But once you have the basics, there are endless variations to play around with.

For a milder salsa, add fewer chiles. Summer is a great time to use heirlooms for a slightly sweeter acidity. Roast or grill the tomatoes to add a smokiness to your salsa.

If you prefer your salsa a bit chunkier, add less water. Want smoother salsa? Throw it through a food processor. Try swapping out tomatoes for tomatillos!

Ingredients

  • 3 Roma tomatoes, rough-chopped
  • 3 serrano chiles, rough-chopped
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1/3 of an onion, chopped
  • 1/2 a bunch of cilantro, rough chopped, leaves only

Preparation

  1. Heat a little oil in a pan. Lightly cook the tomatoes, chiles, and garlic.
  2. Add water until mixture is almost completely submerged. Bring to a boil, lower the temperature and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Once tomatoes and serranos are soft, mash with a spoon.
  4. Add in cilantro and onion and cook until slightly tender. If mixture is too chunky, add a little extra water.
  5. Salt to taste.

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Sarah Strunin

Sarah Strunin is a filmmaker and video journalist from Oakland, California. After graduating from UCLA in 2013 she worked as an Associate Producer on the feature documentary Company Town. She has made Seattle her home for the last four years. Before joining the Spark Public team, she interned at KCTS 9 on the EarthFix team. She freelances on the side making short documentaries, music videos and experimental film. Since moving to Seattle, she spends much of her time dreaming about the sun

More stories by Sarah Strunin

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