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Best of Tacoma 2010 Editors' Picks: Food and Drink

We chose El Mercado Latino, Quickie Too, Amocat Cafe, Engine House No. 9, The Red Hot, Asado and more ...

The New Frontier Lounge is the best place to hipster watch in Tacoma. Photography by Patrick Snapp

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>>> Best Tamales In A Store
El Mercado Latino
A few millennia ago some Pre-Columbian women created what may be the first MREs (“meals-ready-to-eat”) for their warrior sons and lovers: a tasty concoction that could be easily packed over long distances, warmed in its own wrapper or eaten cold on the run — the tamale. For purists in Lakewood who want their takeout tamales the way the Mayan mamas intended, with nothing inside that steaming-hot corn husk but a layer of spicy masa enclosing some lightly seasoned shredded meat (chicken or pork) mixed with tomatillo sauce, El Mercado Latino grocery store (weekends only for tamales) is the place to go. However, be prepared. It’s a circus inside and out. Inside, kids run around in the tight aisles begging their parents for tiny toys while five butchers chatter loudly. Outside, hidden among the large groups of car enthusiasts, is a quick squeegee dude who will attack your windshield. 10816 Pacific Hwy. SW Lakewood, 253.584.0244 — Ron Swarner

>>> Best Place To Experience A Brutal Burger Rivalry
Between Jubilee Hamburger Restaurant and Burger Ranch
If you were to venture out to South 38th and Thompson, you’d see a sight that has baffled me for quite a while. Occupying the corners on either side of Thompson are two old burger joints: Jubilee Hamburger Restaurant and Burger Ranch. I can’t say for sure (so I’m about to lie), but that must mean that these joints are fierce rivals. There’s no way around it. As we all learned from Good Burger and that one period on Roseanne, having a comparable restaurant near your own is a big no-no. It’s only a matter of time before the violence explodes onto the streets, and the final battle between Jubilee and the Ranch will be decided. Pick a side; it’s gonna get ugly!  858 S. 38th St., Tacoma, 253.474.6244 and 820 S. 38th St., Tacoma, 253.472.3069 — Rev. Adam McKinney

>>> Best Impersonation Of A Vegas Nightclub
Surreal Ultra Lounge
From my extensive Vegas nightclub experience (I’ve seen Swingers), I can only gather that it takes a business-savvy extrovert to open and run a successful one.  Especially in Tacoma, where pubs and taverns run the social scene, and how many beers you have on tap is a direct extension of how big your penis is.  Not saying that Surreal has a small penis or anything (I’ve never seen it), but it is a place that surpasses any “nightclub” Pacific Avenue could’ve ever dreamt of. Cushy couches, lush curtains, toned-down house music, beautiful women and polite hosts make Surreal Ultra Lounge the closest thing you’ll get to Vegas in this one-horse town. 728 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, 253.722.5489 — Steph DeRosa

>>> Best Place To Crash Your  Car Into In Search Of A Sandwich
MSM Grocery II & Deli
Where is MSM Grocery I & Deli? I don’t know, and to be completely honest, who cares? We’ve got MSM Grocery II & Deli, we’ve got Jamal, we’ve got the BBC, and we’ve got the best selection of sandwiches, beer and convenience store mugginess you’ll find anywhere. Earlier this year some poor woman hit the gas instead of the break and barreled her car straight into MSM’s storefront. She’s the offspring of a man who’d done, basically, the same exact thing — only eight years earlier. No joke. That’s the kind of devoted clientele this renowned Tacoma sandwich institution has, and it only takes a few bites to figure out why. 2220 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.4814 — Matt Driscoll

>>> Juiciest and Smoothest Men In Tacoma
Thane Davis, Doug Mazzine
Second to Thane being crowned “Juiciest Man in Tacoma” was Doug Mazzine and his illustrious title of “Smoothest Man in Tacoma” — both co-owners of Smooth & Juicey. Without provoking Thane’s wife into uncontrollable fits of face punching (mine), I won’t go into exactly how I judged him on his “juiciness.”  Let’s just say he “squashed my fruit,” “put it in my cup” and “gave me his straw.”

Doug, on the other hand, became the “smoothest man” after laying thick lines of sweetness and sarcasm each time I entered his territory.  In a deep and manly voice, Doug’s words, along with his towering stature, swept me off my feet as we shared a hit of wheat grass and debated whether or not Tacoma is ready for a topless smoothie bar. 1122 Market St., Tacoma, 253.365.6706 — SD

>>> Best Little Restaurant Space That Could
701 Pacific Avenue
We’ve seen ‘em come, and we’ve seen ‘em go.  One by one, restaurant entrepreneurs envision opening Tacoma’s newest and best dining establishments at the cute corner space of 701 Pacific Ave. Then a year or so later (if that), they close up shop and haul ass outta here, leaving loyal customers somewhat perplexed as to why they are no longer dishing up lunch.  It certainly hasn’t been for lack of creative minds, fresh recipes or delicious drink specials. But if not those reasons, then what?  Is this space jinxed?  Did a past historical Tacoma figure put a curse on that corner, making sure that all dreams by both customers and restaurant owners become shattered by nightfall?  Shucks, you want your dreams shattered just come to me — I’ll do it for free. — SD

>>> Best Brunch Without Meat
Quickie Too
When I suggest people go to Quickie Too for brunch, they always whine: “But the service is slow-w-w-w-w.” Get over it. You’re not a king or a queen, and you haven’t earned the right to demand royal service. You probably haven’t earned the right to eat the best pancakes in the universe either. But you can get them at Quickie Too if you’re willing to slow down for a minute. You can get tempe and seitan that tastes 10 times better than any variety of fried pork. Bring a friend. Have a conversation. And eat the best damn brunch ever. 1324 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.572.4549 — Paul Schrag

>>> Best Non-alcoholic Drinks
1022 South
Homemade goodness in every sip.  Or in my case, every gulp.  Don’t be naïve to think bartenders Chris Langston and Corey Lund only want to get you inebriated with their self-made absinth (which would be totally fine with me), but they also create drinks that will blow your mind — without the alcohol. Hand-crafted ingredients, made into delicious alcohol-free potions and topped with fizzy water from an old-school canister are poured into a tall glass and slid in front of you.  This is by far one of my favorite stops on the nights it’s my turn to be the designated driver. 1022 S. J St., Tacoma, 253.627.8588 — SD

>>> Best Human Powered Snack Food
Jeff’s Ice Cream
Downtown Tacoma is not flat. It is, in fact, one big, steep, pain-in-the-ass hill. But if you think it takes a lot of work to cycle up that hill, imagine doing it towing a trailer full of frozen dessert. That’s the dedication it takes to sell ice cream in downtown Tacoma’s Frost Park, and that’s the dedication you’ll find from Jeff Smeed. Though he reduces his load to a cooler of free popsicles during the Frost Park Chalk Off — designated for young artists trying their hand at drawing ice cream — you can still find Jeff and his full stock riding this way and that through the hilly streets of Tacoma. — Joe Izenman

>>> Best Coffee Shop To Give The Blogosphere A Boner
Amocat Café
O. M. G. The blogosphere buildup to the opening of Tacoma’s new Amocat Café was INSANE. Don’t get us wrong, based on coffee, ambiance, location, ideals and everything else that goes into making a good coffee shop, Amocat deserved plenty of hype, but did we really need Erik “Tacoma Urbanist” Bjornson posting daily “Leave Britney Alone” style YouTube updates about every early latte and coat of paint? Did the first 47 Americanos served really need to be live blogged? OK, so none of that shit ACTUALLY happened, but whatever. It was pretty close. We haven’t seen the blogosphere get this excited about something since its parents got Cinemax back in the day. 625 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma — MD

>>> Best Place To Chat About Tacoma
Engine House No. 9
E-9 practically defines the “neighborhood bar” — surrounded by houses, businesses, trees and a nightmare parking situation — it’s a freakin’ 500-year-old firehouse, or something, constantly alive with the comfortable buzz of talking and laughter during the game, trivia night or Sunday live music. It’s the ideal place to reunite with old friends, strike up conversations with new friends about Highway 16 construction f-ups or explain your “tardy situation” with your UPS professor. The historic firehouse memorabilia is a worthy conversation starter. And there’s always the more secluded outdoor patio if you’d like to talk about more … uh, intimate things with a “friend” over a beer or bigass burrito. 611 N. Pine St., Tacoma, 253.272. 3435 — MS

>>> Best Direct Hop Infusion
Parkway Randall Mondays
The Pacific Northwest loves India pale ales. Imperial IPAs, double IPAs, floral IPAs, sweet IPAs. Hops upon hops upon hops upon hops. And when you can’t get enough hops, what do they do? Dry-hop. The already hop-ridden beer gets filtered through a pile of fresh hops at the brewery. But wait: what if you want to dry-hop any beer on tap for a special occasion? Well then you need a Randall, the countertop dry-hopper, from keg to hops to glass. But what if there is no special occasion? Well, then somebody better invent one. And thus Randall Mondays were born at the always hop-happy Parkway Tavern. No holiday, no event, no party. Just beer, through hops, into your face. Oh, yes. 313 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.383.8748 — JI

>>> Most Interesting Deck View
Masa
Chain-smoking meth heads showing butt crack as they pour oil into their beater in the Shuck’s O’Reilly Auto Parts parking lot. Clowns making babies cry during the Sixth Avenue Farmers Market. Interesting parking jobs in front of the Liquor Store. Clean shots of passenger-side cleavage at the stoplight. Ah, the unforgettable views from Masa’s top-floor deck above Sixth Avenue. However, during the weekend nights, all eyes are on the skimpy outfits on the deck. Those views beat out any setting sun, wave-filled lake or baby kitten. 2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.254.0560 — MS

>>> Best Sexy Coffee
Satellite Coffee
OK, I realize the term “sexy coffee” in Pierce County likely brings to mind Lakewood baristas with tassels on their nipples and tip-jar peep shows, but I’m talking about REAL coffee here, and REAL sexiness. There’s no doubt Satellite Coffee, in any of their locations, offers the sexiest cup of joe you’ll find. First of all, Stumptown beans — and the top-notch coffee they create — can’t help but put you in a sexier mood through taste bud and caffeine titillation. Secondly, from Tacoma’s sexiest male barista as voted by you, the reader, in the Volcano’s annual Tacoma’s Most Sexy Issue, Zach Marvick, on down the line, Satellite owner Pat Brown employs some of the most talented and fun-to-look-at shot-pullers T-Town has, in a real, Tacoma sort of way. Plus, nothing gets me in the mood like a Sputnik Donut. Just sayin’. 817 Division Ave. #B, Tacoma, 253.953.7773 – MD

>>> Best Place To Get Drunk And Catch The Bus
O’Malley’s Irish Pub
There’s a bus stop right out front of O’Malley’s, perhaps Sixth Avenue’s downest and dirtiest of hip hangouts. This is both extremely convenient and a little confusing sometimes. On the positive side, after spending any amount of time at all at O’Malley’s, sucking down stiff pours and smoking cigarettes out back, one is likely to need a ride home that doesn’t involve driving — and for this the bus stop is very handy. On the confusing side, however, it’s often hard to tell who’s simply down on their luck, missing their teeth and waiting for the No. 1 outside on Sixth Avenue, and who’s catching a momentary breath of fresh air before heading back in for six more Coors. It’s probably a moot point, though, as Pierce Transit’s clientele and regulars at O’Malley’s are often one in the same. 2403 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.3144 — MD

>>> Best Lush History
Harbor Lights
Don’t quote me on this, because I may or may not have been under the liquid persuasions of Harbor Lights’ bartenders when I heard the original version of this story.

If you’ve ever been inside the humble lounge of Harbor Lights you’ve probably noticed the glass cabinets lining their walls that house decorative liquor decanters — each one a collectible, and in its original state (unopened) worth a lot of money. As a matter of fact, Harbor Lights could probably settle all of Ruston’s arsenic debts with the sales of such bottles. That is, if they were in their original state.

According to tales from current Harbor Lights’ bartenders, one past owner/bartender slowly and secretly drank the liquor out of every bottle during his time there. No one became privy to his anonymous alcohol ingestion until well after he had left Harbor Lights. 2761 Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253.752.8600 — SD

>>> Best Indigestion
The Red Hot
The most brilliant ideas in life are often the simplest, and in many ways the most obvious. The Red Hot’s combination of stellar craft beer and hefty, unique hot dogs is just such a scenario. Who would have thought Tacoma would love to horf all-beef hot dogs covered in a variety of awesome toppings — from the standard yellow mustard, chopped onions and relish, to cream cheese, bacon, chili, sauerkraut and more — and wash it down with one of the finest selections of beers you’ll find? Oh, anyone with half a brain, you say? Well, The Red Hot beat ‘em to it. Grub up. 2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.779.0229 — MD

>>> Best Bar That’s Better Than Your Living Room
Tempest Lounge
Coffeehouse charm (plush couches, lamps, end tables, a thousand Marilyn Monroe photographs) but with tasty adult beverages, the Tempest Lounge is the perfect, amicable bar. It’s better than your living room by virtue of its capacity, drink selection, queer-friendly vibe and hip scene, and just as cozy. Beyond the front room sits the hidden patio where the heat lamps make it a popular late night spot for last call and two giant, gooey chocolate chip cookies. 913 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253.272.4904. — MS

>>> Best Place In Puyallup To Find 15 TVs Tuned To The Game 
O’Henry’s Sports Bar
Texas ain’t got nothing on Puyallup, yo. You know how they’re always saying everything’s bigger in Texas? Well, it’s true, but the same could be said for Puyallup. Trucks, guts, asses; it’s all super-sized in P-Town. That’s why it should come as no surprise that watching the game at O’Henry’s in Puyallup is such a rich and culturally awesome experience, which also includes way more big-ass TVs than you could possibly kink your neck to.  Oh, what? The 15 TVs aren’t enough? Let O’Henry’s whip out the 72-inch projection screen so you can see Hasselback get sacked or the Mariners fail to score any runs in even greater enormity. This is not a place for quiet conversation, my friends. 715 River Road, Puyallup, 253.445. 1724 — MD

>>> Best Reason To Leave Your House On A Monday Night
The Swiss
Mondays suck … it’s a well-known fact. The party-of-a-lifetime hangover is still ripe and pounding. Your boss’s view of what is priority is far from the top of your priority list. You can cure that horrible case of the Mondays at The Swiss. Tacoma’s most popular watering hole has been hosting free Monday night live blues since the beginning of time. Listen, blues on a Monday make sense, and so does The Swiss’ large beer selection.1904 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma, 253.572.2821 — MS 

>>> Best Place To Forever Immortalize Your Alcoholism
Paddy Coyne’s Irish Pub
Joining the Paddy Coyne’s Irish Club is pretty easy to do; it just involves a lot of drinking. The Irish-themed bar has a list of 25 drinks (from a pint of Guinness, to Magners Irish Cider, to Bushmills, to No. 25, the Irish Trash Can) and if you down all of them (over the course of however many visits it takes) you’re officially in — meaning you get an official Paddy Coyne’s Irish Club Membership card, a member’s T-shirt and 10 percent off future guest checks. If you do it TWICE (cycle through the 25 drinks, that is) you receive a Paddy Coyne’s Irish Club member’s jacket. If you do it FOUR TIMES, you score yourself a real-deal plaque inside the Pacific Avenue bar so future drunks can salute you. If you do it SIX TIMES, your liver actually explodes. So worth it. 815 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.6963 — MD

>>> Best Bar Burger
Asado
The biggest victim of the Weekly Volcano’s frantic go-go lifestyle is easily our diet. It’s much easier to grab a bag of Pirate’s Booty and a can of Diet Pepsi before a show than to make dinner plans. The only problem with this low-brow approach is the resulting dusting of white cheddar we find sprinkled across our 253 T-shirts when we reach our destination. Fortunately, we’ve stumbled upon Asado’s burger. Priced under $10, its thick chorizo and ground sirloin patty covered with white cheddar on a chewy bun with sweet potato fries riding shotgun carries us through the night. It’s interesting enough to stand out from the bunned pack, but traditional enough to grub on without feeling like you should be wearing dry-clean-only slacks. 2610 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.7770. — MS

>>> Best Place To Hipster Watch
The New Frontier Lounge
God bless hipsters. They fight the drudgery of the world through irony and mustaches, and overstocked thrift stores have never been more thankful. In Tacoma, while the thought of “hipsters” here may have seemed far-fetched not long ago, packs of artistic youths in tight pants now run freely, often gathering at The New Frontier for some of the best musical bookings in town, tall boys of PBR and American Spirits smoked out front. If you doubted the existence of hipsters in Tacoma, venture on down to The New Frontier and see how wrong you were. 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma, 253.572.4020 — MD

>>> Best Out Of The Way Noshing
Sorci Italian Café and Enoteca
Sumner is not a thriving metropolis, a jet-set scene or a hipster hangout. However, in this out-of-the-way town some very fine food can be had at Sorci’s Italian Café and Enoteca. Traditional and nuevo dishes are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sharing knowledge of wines and bottled beers, Sorci’s three-year veteran Andrew Braeger performs beautifully as server and menu tour guide, suggesting pastries made in-house, bruschetta and a grinder with pork, apples, ancho chili and cilantro mayo.  1012 Ryan Ave., Sumner, 253.891.8400 — Jennifer Johnson

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