The Magic of Memo's at Two O'Clock in the Morning
To eat nearly anything while drunk at two in the morning is glorious. I have consumed pizza found in Dumpsters, whole loaves of bread, and, once, papier-mâché with absolute relish while under the spell that falls at this hour. It's an experience best had socially, with people who make inspired additions to your mustard-on-paper-plate drawings and tell you when you've dropped part of your hot dog into your bike helmet.
In a town where so few restaurants are open late, most of my postmidnight drunken dining has been done on sidewalks. While there's much to be said for the falafel trucks that quietly materialize when you're regretting the purchase of a drink with Red Bull in it, there's nothing like being in a restaurant at 2:00 a.m. after a Friday or Saturday night out. It's like looking into the awkwardly overlapping dreams of a hundred strangers, one of whom for some reason picks the bacon off their potato skins and feeds it to you.
Open 24 hours a day, Memo's Mexican Food in the University District provides chairs far more comfortable than the sidewalk outside Neighbours and an extensive selection of impressively low-priced dishes. There are three Memo's locations, owned by two families from San Luis Potosí, Mexico—the U-District Memo's is owned by the Osorias, and the Des Moines and Everett locations by the Pinal family. The two families ran another restaurant together in San Diego before relocating to the Northwest.
At Memo's, you order at the counter like at Taco Bell; while the prices are only marginally higher, the quality of the food is far superior. This type of restaurant, known as a taco shop (and beloved by the poor, drunk, and hungry) in Southern California, is rare in the Northwest. It's an ideal kind of place to have on the Ave, providing non-chain, super-cheap, alcohol-absorptive food all night long. (It's an ideal kind of place to have anywhere, really.)
On a Saturday night, my friend Tom and I drank cartoon-sized tanks of Paulaner Oktoberfest at Die Bierstube, then headed to Memo's in search of shredded-iceberg- lettuce adventure. The place is vast and lit like a basketball court; at 2:16 a.m., the rows of hardwood booths were all packed, save one with a table covered in a damp lace of cheddar shreds and rice. Our closest neighbors were an elderly woman wearing a bracelet from Swedish Medical Center and a group of eight scooping up forkfuls of cheesy vegetables amid conversation about breast pumps.
The outside of the veggie burrito I ordered ($3.90) bore a worrisome resemblance to the paper bag it was served in, but biting into it exposed a heavenly mixture of juicy tomato pieces, shreds of lettuce, melted cheese, and appealingly salty refried beans. The burrito was nearly the size of a Duraflame log, but I wanted five. My dining companion was less impressed by his Combo #1 ($6.55), a beef taco and enchilada. I ate an orange thing I found in his refried beans, either a cheese-flavored carrot or carrot-flavored cheese. Whatever it was, I liked it.
I felt the same way about every aspect of being at Memo's at 2:30 in the morning as I did about the orange thing. Nothing made sense, but the senselessness seemed completely appropriate. It was like discovering an aisle at QFC where everyone knows it's okay to be naked. A semiconscious lady reclined on a bench while an aggressive make-out session took place near the cash register. Someone sitting behind us announced, "We have the coolest crack-house story—it involves masturbation and eating paint chips." Most of the ladies at Memo's were dressed like they arrived in stretch Hummers, with makeup resembling violently dismembered tropical birds. Most of the guys appeared to have spent the afternoon either watching a Huskies game or running around the playground making machine-gun noises.
We ordered more food. Tom opted for Combo #5 ($6.55), with two chicken tacos; I was enticed by a laminated photo of tater tots ($1.99). Tom expressed concern that his tacos were carved completely out of a single block of cheese, but agreed that the tater tots were perfect, hot, and greasy in just the right amount. It was now 3:00 a.m., and diners were drifting out the door. Tom and I soon followed them, avoiding a man wearing a Huskies lanyard who was making dancelike thrashing motions in the middle of the room.
When I returned to Memo's on Monday afternoon, no one was in the dining area but a couple of Ave rats eating nachos and a lonely bottle of Vitaminwater. I ordered taquitos ($4.50); though the guacamole was good, during the day, the spell of Memo's is broken. I will return during the hours when carrots and cheese are indistinguishable from each other and every flat surface becomes a dance floor.