Q&A with Alberto Morales, Owner of Jose’s Taqueria:
The Art of Cooking and the Search for Inca Gold
Enjoy Lake City visited Jose’s Taqueria, for some great carne asada tacos, chorizo burritos and a chat with owner Alberto Morales. Joining us was our friend, the Mystery Diner.
Enjoy Lake City (ELC): Why did you name your restaurant Jose’s?
Alberto: I named it for my son and my brother. They are both named José. My brother is gone now; God said to him, “It’s time for you to go.” My son was born 9 months to the day that I lost my brother and I named my son after him. My son is 22 now – he reminds me of my brother. They both mean a lot to me.
ELC: Is your son interested in the restaurant business?
He is actually. I raised him working in the kitchen. I’m waiting to open up a little bar here and I’m going to make him my partner. Hopefully I can build this up to leave something for him.
ELC: How did you get started in cooking?
I’ve always liked cooking since I was a child in Lima, Peru. I remember picking up articles about food when I was 6 or 7 years old and I always liked watching my mother cooking, even though boys weren’t supposed to be in the kitchen. When I moved to America in 1981, my first job was at McDonalds in Los Angeles. Then I moved to Monterey and that’s where I really learned to cook. I’ve been cooking for 33 years now. I do mostly Mexican cooking here, not Peruvian, because Mexican is a favorite of people in Lake City, but I change it a little – I use sautéed onions, not raw. I use my own spices.
Mystery Diner: My brother travels in South America, and he said your tacos are the most delicious he’s ever had. This taco is meatier, with herbs on top, and the sautéed meat and your sauce combined with the lime are so delicious.
ELC: Besides your mother, who taught you to cook?
In 1990, I worked at the Highlands restaurant in Carmel, a very beautiful restaurant on the coast. When you work in high class cuisine, you learn to make all these foods, you work with chefs from around the world. I worked with Patrick Clark; he’s very famous from Metro of New York. I was his assistant on the line. Around the same time, I met Julia Child. I can cook Italian, French, German, English, Peruvian and Mexican.
Mystery Diner: You’re an artist, you think about the food and how it’s presented. The reason I wanted to try the sauce today is because I saw you roasting the tomatos.
ELC: How did you decide to open a business?
This is not my first restaurant. I had a restaurant in Everett but it closed when the city closed the street to build the new arena. Then I worked in different restaurants. I worked at the old Pizza Uno and somehow I took over running the place. I didn’t want to do pizza, I wanted to cook Mexican food, so then I got this place.
ELC: What are your favorite dishes from your menu? I asked the Mystery Diner her favorites and she practically read me the whole menu.
Mystery Diner: I think these tacos are my new favorite.
(Alberto) My favorites are Steak Ranchero – it’s sautéed with jalapenos, tomatos, onions and my own spices. Also I love the Tilapia which is a classic Mexican dish. It’s a white fish. In Mexico they call it mojarra. I flour and grill it with onions and garlic, add extra spices, put my special sauces on it and it’s delicious.
Mystery Diner: Or maybe this potato burrito with chorizo is my new favorite.
ELC: What are some of your most popular items?
The Cuban sandwiches and the Philly cheese sandwiches.
Mystery Diner: Those are my favorites too! Alberto makes them with a little Mexican flair with peppers in it, plus he puts chips and salsa on the side. Do people ask you for special orders?
(Alberto) Yes I’m happy to do special orders, like vegetarian dishes. I can make anything on the menu as a vegetarian dish.
ELC: What are your favorite restaurants in Lake City?
Lake City Gyros, Panda Express, and Kaffee Klatsch.
ELC: You give back to the community, such as food you provide for community meetings.
Yes, I think it’s important and I thank everyone for helping support me in my business.
ELC: What would people be surprised to know about you?
I love cooking, it’s my specialty.
Mystery Diner: Everyone knows that, Alberto, that wouldn’t surprise anyone.
(Alberto) Well, I don’t think I have anything that would surprise anyone.
ELC: – You’ve got some great stuff on your walls – paintings, books, tea kettles, photos of Frank Sinatra and Elvis.
I’ve been collecting these for years. I really like artists from the 50’s and 60’s. Marilyn Monroe is my favorite. A lot of these come from customers – a painting of the Great Fire of Seattle, old toy cars, Mayan history, dolls from Ecuador and Peru. Here is a photo of Machu Picchu, where the Incas lived.
ELC: Is it true there are still some descendants of the Incas living in Peru?
Yes, I am a descendant. My mother’s name is Incan. Her father, my grandfather, was a direct descendant of the Incas. You’ve got to see Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu was abandoned when the Incas found out the Spanish were destroying everything. They went into hiding up into the mountains far away from the Spanish. They let the forest take it over so it wasn’t seen for 400 years. The Spanish wanted the Incan gold and they did everything they could to find it. People still search for the gold, but it’s never been found.
ELC: For someone with no surprises, being a descendant of the Incas is a pretty good surprise! Anything else new coming up?
I can’t wait until I get the beer license to put a little bar in here.
ELC: So pretty soon, we could come here for a burrito and a beer!
Mystery Diner: And then maybe a shot of whiskey later on?
Jose’s Taqueria: 12334 Lake City Way NE Seattle WA 98125 206-841-6104
Open 7 days a week, 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Most menu items are under $10.00