Pretty much everybody knows about Ballard Brothers Seafood and Burgers. The restaurant, which began as a festival booth in 1987 and took over the old Ballard Skipper's in 2007, is not really a secret. But you might not know two important secrets about it: (1) There's a new hidey-hole bar in the back, and (2) it is very fucking weird in there.
Although his main bag is high-quality fish and chips, owner/founder Drew Greer is famed for his drool-worthy Cajun blackened salmon sandwich ($11.95), hailed by everybody from Tom Douglas to the New York Times. Delicately crispy on the outside and succulent inside, the salmon is generously tartar-sauced, loaded with grilled onions, and served on a soft bun. That sandwich and the flaky, double-fried seasoned french fries it comes with are what's up.
A decade after settling into brick-and-mortar life, Greer made an observation: "My kitchen crew was making great Mexican food on the side, for themselves. Why not sell that, too?" So two years ago, he added Taco Mama's to the same space, in the manner of a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, doubling his menu with Mexican street-food staples.
Wait, who's Taco Mama? "Nobody. It was the name of some taqueria when I was a kid," Greer laughed. "It wasn't taken, so I grabbed it."
The Mexican half of the menu reps hella seafood, naturally, and as with the festival-food half, that's your best bet: halibut tacos, popcorn shrimp quesadillas, and tortas with your choice of seafood. (Get the salmon one, duh.) There's a fun salsa bar, if you want to jazz things up. The Mexican fare isn't especially authentic, but it's tasty, cheap, ideal drunk food. Which leads me to the latest addition: the bar.
Greer has christened it Ballard Bar & Grill—a third business under the same roof—but my friends and I call it the Salmon Cupboard or the Seafood Closet. It's a wooden walled-off room in the back corner, and inside this room is a surreal, Hunter S. Thompsonian chaos.
They do various comedy/karaoke/music nights, along with the beloved Scratching Post open mic, resuscitated from the long-lost Mr. Spots Chai House, so... lots of fodder for weirdness. Recently, a group of college kids from what I decided was Idaho, in tight Wranglers and turquoise belt buckles, performed a kind of intricate country-fried pavane while somebody sang "What Is Love" by Haddaway. Another time, a thousand-year-old woman wearing alien-eye sunglasses thrust her face directly into mine and grinned at me in slow motion. Greer is a real fuckin' character, too, and he's usually behind the bar.
Here's what you do with this place. Show up at like 8 p.m. on an event night. Order the blackened salmon sandwich because you have to, and get an extra order of fries because you'll want more. Maybe some fish tacos, too. Steal the vinegar bottle with garlic cloves stuffed in it, meant for the fish and chips, from the salsa bar and dose your sandwich and fries with it. Gobble it all up and get shit-housed on Evan Williams (on well!) or whatever trashy frozen cocktail is happening in the mixer machine. Let Greer chat with you. Delight at being drunk in a pantry inside of an old Skipper's, like you're Milhouse in his pup tent in the backyard. Bask, eat your fishes, and enjoy the show.