After nearly three years of pop-ups, chef José Garzón will finally serve his Latinx street food at a permanent location — at Black Cat Bar in Belltown, starting this Wednesday.
Garzón grew up in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but spent 12 years in Florida and 14 years as an internationally touring musician; his food has influences from all over South America and the Caribbean. The food menu at Black Cat Bar will initially feature the greatest hits of his pop-ups — his Argentinian chicken milanesa (fried cutlet) sandwich, a Cuban ropa vieja (shredded beef) bowl, a pork belly bowl with a fried egg and cucumber relish, and a lomo saltado (peruvian steak) dish with yakisoba noodles. He describes the food as what you’d want to eat in Latin America before going out to the club.
“Garzón is the restaurant of my dreams, the kind of restaurant I like to go to,” Garzón says. “It’s loud, it’s colorful. The food is spicy and greasy, and everyone knows your name.”
Garzón settled in the Seattle area after getting burnt out on the touring lifestyle and worked at fine-dining restaurants including the Barking Frog in Woodinville. He soon realized that style of restaurant wasn’t his calling. He says meeting Melissa Miranda, who was then doing pop-ups for what would become Musang, and collaborating on events with Shota Nakajima made him realize the potential of pop-ups. (Garzón went on to compete on the Food Network show Raid the Fridge in 2021.)
Garzón and Stefanie Hieber, who he met working in restaurants in the area, started Garzón with pop-ups in Lake Stevens in 2019. It went on to become one of Seattle’s hottest food pop-ups in 2020 and 2021, serving food at Fair Isle Brewing in Ballard every Thursday for nearly the last two years (the last pop-up at that location will be on February 24). That’s where he and Hieber refined Garzón’s style — the loud reggaetón music, the floral tablecloths, the themed emo nights. “Garzón wouldn’t be here without Fair Isle Brewing,” Garzón says.
In the summer 2021, the pair expanded their business with Ekéko, a food truck serving “drinking snacks,” greasy, satisfying food you might want to eat after going to the club, which is still regularly popping up at the Growler Guys in Seattle’s Maple Leaf neighborhood.
Garzón says Black Cat Bar owner Dustin Haarstad became a regular at Ekéko over the summer and invited Garzón and Hieber to do pop-ups at his bar. Eventually, they worked out a deal for Garzón to permanently serve food in the space.
Garzón says the service at the space will be casual, but with “the quality and the plating of a fine dining restaurant.” Diners will order and pick up food at the counter, but dishes will be plated with a careful eye for presentation. He says he’s inspired by restaurants like Nakajima’s Capitol Hill karaage restaurant Taku and Portland restaurants Gado Gado and Oma’s Hideaway, which serve food in a similar style.
Garzón will be operating with a limited menu and hours for the next two weeks then will be open Wednesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight, starting March 2.
In the future, Garzón says he’d like to open a separate restaurant with his own cocktail menu, but he plans to keep serving food at Black Cat Bar for the foreseeable future, even if he opens another restaurant. Ekéko will keep serving drinking snacks throughout King and Snohomish counties.
“We’re here for the long run,” he says.