Consider getting it to go, or just keep on going
Special to The Seattle Times
Perhaps you're familiar with Malena's on McGraw Street, the taco shop that has in the past few years kept Queen Anne Hill dwellers munching on the Mexican basics. Now Malena's has a sister store in Ballard, one block removed from the Market Street bustle.
The place has a few features to recommend it, including a greatest-hits menu (hard and soft tacos, burritos, quesadillas and tostadas) served very affordably ($6.50 is the high end) with fast-food velocity to a revolving door of eaters-in and takers-out. A good many call in for orders to go, which is not a bad way to experience Malena's, since the decor within this storefront box, though clean, offers nothing in the way of aesthetic distinction.
If you're staying, you place your order at the counter, grab plastic flatware, pour yourself some water, then snag one of the 13 or so tables and wait for your food to arrive — which it may do in shifts. (The luckiest soul at our table could have finished his food by the time the rest of ours appeared.)
Then you hope that you actually get what you asked for. In our case, the nice woman who took our order got three of our five items wrong. No attention whatsoever is paid to presentation — the burrito arrives as a hulking pallid lump adrift on a white paper plate — and flavorwise, nothing you eat is memorable.
Sure, it's cheap — and cheap goes a long way, no doubt about it, in feeding a family or a hungry twentysomething. For those who can walk from work or home to Malena's, the place offers a good enough means to still the growlies. Those who live a drive away should note there's a parking lot in back. The question is whether they will want to use it or just keep driving.
Chips and salsa (charged only for to-go orders): My daughter, who is learning about adjectives, was determined to come up with apt descriptors for Malena's chips. She was nearly as stumped as her mom. "They are round," she finally announced proudly. Indeed they were. And institutional. And bor-ing. The salsa, on the other hand, offered a measure of freshness and zing.
Cheese quesadilla: Cheddar cheese between two corn tortillas, with a tangle of iceberg lettuce and some diced tomatoes on the side, delighted the 5-year-old even as it numbed the grownups. (Mysteriously, the second quesadilla we ordered for the kids was made with flour tortillas.)
Fish tacos combination plate: We didn't order soft fish tacos, but soft they were, encased in flour tortillas. The fried fish was fine, lavished with cool lettuce, onions and tomatoes, and served alongside Spanish rice and very tasty beans (not refried, refreshingly). We would have preferred the crunchiness of fried tortilla taco shells — but there you go. Good enough.
Chorizo burrito: The big brute offered, ironically, our one glimpse of refinement at Malena's: a filling of cheese, plentiful vegetables and mild chorizo that was nicely integrated and quite toothsome, if somewhat bland.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Chips and salsa (charged only for to-go orders) $1.00
Cheese quesadilla $3.25
Fish tacos combination plate $5.50
Chorizo burrito $5.00
Kathryn Robinson: email@example.com
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