When you first walk up to Situ Tacos, you’re immediately struck by its pastel pink exterior, which stands out amidst the muted neutral color palette of its Ballard Avenue surroundings. 

Owner Lupe Flores had to negotiate with the Ballard Historical Board, which has jurisdiction over the neighborhood, to paint the walls pink stucco in tribute to her Chicana culture.

“We had to stay within the classic Ballard look, but it was important for me to have pink stucco because that screams Mexico,” she said. Artist Sean Barton, who is responsible for many hand-painted signs around town, painted the sign reading “Lupe’s Situ Tacos” over the doorway in a bold tattoo-inspired gothic font with roses.

Lupe, who drums for the bands Wild Powwers, Tacos!, and LORBO, first started her Situ Tacos business in 2020, cooking the unique two-bite-sized crunchy tacos her Lebanese-Mexican grandmother taught her how to make. They’re stuffed with fillings like hushwe (Lebanese-style beef browned in butter), garlicky potatoes, and harissa cauliflower, then fastened with toothpicks and deep-fried. Since she couldn’t work her usual jobs as a bartender or musician due to the restrictions of the pandemic, she began delivering tacos to people’s doorsteps and hosted pop-ups, eventually taking up residency inside Jupiter Bar in Belltown.

Not pictured: The queso blanco you absolutely should order, too. BRITTNE LUNNISS

In May, Lupe opened the new brick-and-mortar shop in Ballard in the former Bitterroot BBQ space, which she completely transformed from a dark smoked meats den into a colorful, feminine, glamorous haven with a sprawling patio. Outside, Bitterroot’s glass barber pole, which once housed a pig, now displays an elegant 3D-printed black rose created by sculptor, designer, and musician Michael Walsh.

Inside, the walls are covered with more hand-painted signs and flowers, all done by Barton, and the tables are decorated with bright floral-patterned vinyl tablecloths. Customers order at a candy-colored “storefront inside a storefront,” which resembles a Mexican food stall, strewn with faux bougainvillea. A neon sign above the entrance to the hallway leading to the back bar reads “The Club Is Open,” a reference to the Guided by Voices song “A Salty Salute.” In the hall, a series of infinity mirrors reflect back a sparkling gold disco ball, illuminated by a soft fuchsia glow, and the bathrooms are coated in purple and gold glitter.

Every half hour, a Rainforest Cafe-esque animatronic parrot, made by local renaissance man Ben Verellen, who owns Bar House and plays in Helms Alee, lights up and squawks one of nine unique catchphrases—“Don’t eat the fucking toothpicks!” “Situ Tacos, a better way to go!” “Full of tacos, are you? Time to go? Well, fare thee well.”

“I named him after my uncle Armando because he was kind of a silly goose,” Lupe explained.

During my recent visit, a soundtrack of LCD Soundsystem and Siouxsie and the Banshees played on the stereo while Lupe whirled around the kitchen like a dynamo, stirring pots, dumping garlic into the bowl of a food processor, pouring potato kale soup into containers, and greeting people passing through with a friendly “baby” and “honey.”

Sad Girls Por Vida: Situ Taco's Kat Wilkinson (left) and Lupe Flores. BRITTNE LUNNISS

The newly expanded menu is suffused with Lupe’s signature humor. The “Sad Girl Shot,” a shot of El Jimador tequila paired with a hunk of Tillamook cheese, is a nod to her and her general manager Kat Wilkinson’s pandemic pop-up days. “We just drank tequila and ate cheese and tried to tough it out for a couple of years there,” she said. Conversely, there’s also a “Smart Girl Shot,” a shot glass filled with white wine instead of tequila for times when you’ve had a few too many but still want to knock back a round with friends.

Multiple signs are emblazoned with the motto “Don’t eat the fucking toothpicks,” which has become both an inside joke and a necessary warning, because, believe it or not, many people have tried. “I get DMs about it later. One guy threatened me with his lawyer,” Lupe said with a sigh. “Not only do we fucking tell you about it every time we bring you tacos, there’s signs everywhere. There’s a T-shirt I made that has it. But also, don’t eat wood. You’re a fucking adult, get your shit together. I can’t believe I have to tell you this.”

Seriously. Don't eat the toothpicks. (PEOPLE HAVE TRIED!!!!) Brittne Lunniss

In addition to Lupe’s classic tacos, the menu also features a rotation of Lupe’s famous soul-soothing soups—one of her favorite things to make—plus crispy taquitos, tangy Mexican coleslaw, chips, fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, gooey queso blanco with hatch chiles, refried bean dip, and nachos. Everything is lovingly seasoned to perfection. Drinks include batched margaritas, aguas frescas (which can be spiked with vodka or tequila), bloody Marias, boozy slushies, and beer. The bigger location has enabled Lupe to offer a new brunch menu from 9 am to noon on Saturdays and Sundays, including chilaquiles, huevos rancheros, huevos divorciados, breakfast burritos, and breakfast tacos.

Lupe’s family served as a major influence on the space. She plans to plaster one of the walls with old-school family photos that look like “if the Manson family was in the mafia.” And the glitzy back bar will be named Tilda’s Bar in tribute to Lupe’s eccentric great-aunt Matilda. “She was kind of a bad girl,” Lupe said. “She was the only musician in the family, and she decorated her house in all fake gold and chain-smoked and taught me how to gamble.”

A boozy Situ Slushy. BRITTNE LUNNIS

And, of course, the biggest influence of all is Lupe’s eponymous situ (Arabic for “grandmother”) Delores Flores, who sat her down and taught her how to make her trademark crunchy tacos as a child. Lupe describes her as a strong, “bossy” matriarch who ran multiple businesses. “She’s been dead for 20 years now, but I feel like she would be really proud,” Lupe said before pausing. “Or she might be really mad. She was kind of grumpy.”

Like her situ, Lupe espouses an attitude of warmth and hospitality blended with a healthy dose of sass and grit, honed through nearly a decade working as a bartender next door at the beloved dive Hattie’s Hat. She has no qualms about kicking anyone out if they’re bringing “bad vibes” or causing problems for her employees. “Solo bartending for eight years makes you tough, even in Ballard, and you have to put up with a lot of shit,” she said. “You need to learn to take no shit. And so I’ve tried to impart that to my girls. We’ll be nice, for sure. But we’re definitely no nonsense.”

Situ's nachos are big enough to share... but you won't want to. BRITTNE LUNNIS

Having worked in the service industry since she was 16, Lupe also tries to maintain a non-hierarchical culture of “fun and trust and equality” in the kitchen. She beams with pride when talking about her staff, which has gone from three employees to 22 and is mostly made up of women. “I feel like when people are happy at work, it makes for better food and a better environment,” she said.

Now that she’s hired more staff, Lupe, who has been at the restaurant every day for the last four months, will also be able to step away more often to spend time on her music career. She’s set to play an album release show with Wild Powwers at Neumos on July 6 and will embark on a West Coast tour with the band.

Situ Tacos has already received an effusive response. Lupe’s parents recently visited for the first time, and she said, “the amount of crying was unreal.” The Ballard community has embraced it with open arms: People constantly wander in, captivated by the pink exterior, and rave about the flavorful food and share their own family memories with Lupe. Some customers have even eaten there daily since the opening.

“I feel fortunate enough to be able to spread my culture and my upbringing, the way I was raised, with the greater community, and I’ve gotten so much love and appreciation back tenfold,” Lupe said. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done by far.”

Situ Tacos is located at 5239 Ballard Ave NW. See Lupe Flores in action when Wild Powwers play Neumos Saturday, July 6, with Constant Lovers.