Hilltop Kitchen

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913 Martin Luther King Way
Tacoma, WA 98405
(253) 327-1397


Credit Cards Accepted, Full Bar, Late Night, Outdoor Dining, Vegetarian-Friendly, Wifi

Northwest Military Review Reviewed by: Adrienne Kuehl

It might be cliché to say, but "highly anticipated" is the only way to describe the early August opening of Hilltop Kitchen in the former Tempest Lounge space at 913 Martin Luther King Way in Tacoma. Fans of Chris Keil from his time at 1022 South now have a new place to enjoy his and co-owner Matt Schweitzer's thoughtful Latin-inspired craft cocktails and food.

Stepping off the street into the currently sign-less building, an inviting, congenial space awaits. Gorgeous lacquered tables made from 100-year-old fir line the walls, with a minimalistic and slightly industrial interior and ambient lighting from the back bar and candlelit tabletops. The relaxed mood makes it the perfect place to enjoy conversation and stay a while.

"I'm most proud of the dedication of the entire Hilltop Kitchen team; everyone has worked long, crazy hours to bring our ideas to life," says Keil. "We wouldn't be able to do this without all of their hard work."

It has paid off. The space is decidedly their own, as are the food and drink menus, devised collaboratively by Keil and Schweitzer. The Latin inspiration comes from their individual travels in Latin America and the Southwest, as well as their love of mescal and rum.

"Good mezcal reflects our values about the artisanal and handmade in addition to being the liquor analog to farm-to-table food," said Keil. "Rum, for me, is fun and dynamic; it can be whimsical in tropical drinks, and can hold its own, working well as a replacement for whiskey in some classic cocktails."

The cocktails have Keil's signature attention to detail, with a hint of humor and whimsy. All priced at $10, patrons choose between the "Goes Down Easy" menu or "Boozy & Odd," which are accurate descriptions of either.

>>> Hot Peach Mess rum cocktail / photo credit: Adrienne Kuehl

The Hot Peach Mess, a rum cocktail served on the rocks, was balanced and complex in flavor with lime and peach, a good starter drink. Or begin with Kittens! (yes, you read that right), a fresh and zesty blend of mezcal, elderflower, ginger and sparkling wine. Move to the Improved Tradition, a fiery concoction of Jamaican rum, crema de mezcal, maple, allspice and bitters.

What surprised me most about Hilltop Kitchen was the food. The menu, divided up between small plates, shared plated, side plates and large plates, is pretty much all vegetarian, and a good part vegan, or easily made vegan. Vegetarian or not, diners will not miss the meat. The food is bright, satisfying and pairs well with the cocktails.

The Upgraded Corn ($5), a grilled corn on the cob with chipotle crema, smoked paprika and manchego cheese is crave-worthy, as is the salted watermelon salad ($10), two of the best dishes I sampled. Slightly salty watermelon, with tomatoes, toasted almonds and arugula are awakened by a hint of chili oil. The dish is an experience in itself.

Also a must-order is the Queso Fundido ($10), basically cheese fondue on steroids, which stretches with cheesy goodness when delivered by tortilla chip to your mouth. The mango and avocado tacos ($8) are seemingly simple, with mango, avocado, lettuce and toasted pumpkin seeds, but are taken to a higher level with a salty, spicy, sour combination of queso fresco, garlic vinaigrette and lime, respectively.

Heartier, protein-packed dishes include frijoles Cubanos ($5), a spiced black bean dip served with tortilla chips, as well as the pupusas ($8), toasted, hand-made corn tortillas filled with cheese and served alongside black beans.

According to Keil, Hilltop Kitchen will hopefully be opening for lunch in a couple of weeks, and in the distant future, possibly even brunch. A happy hour menu from 3-7 p.m. featuring $6 cocktails rolled out this week.

HILLTOP KITCHEN, 3 p.m. to midnight (for last call) Monday-Wednesday, 3 p.m. to 1:15 a.m. Thursday-Saturday

LINK: Happy hour

LINK: Fall 2013 food and cocktail menus

LINK: 2013 Best Bartender


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