Feliks Banel: ‘Beacon of tacos’ shutting down in Wallingford

Jul 12, 2024, 11:20 AM | Updated: Jul 13, 2024, 1:01 pm

News broke Wednesday afternoon that the iconic Taco Time restaurant in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood will close in just a few days. The restaurant has been in business there for 50 years.

Signs on the doors went up last week, and a story in the Seattle Times offered a few more details. This location of Taco Time, west of I-5 on North 45th Street in Wallingford, is shutting down for good this coming Monday. An employee told the Seattle Times that business had never really bounced back since the COVID pandemic.

This building is distinctive, essentially a mirrored glass box. It’s hard to overstate how unusual it looked when it was being built at the corner of North 45th and Corliss Avenue North sometime around late 1989 or early 1990. This newer building replaced an earlier, more conventional Taco Time, which originally opened for business in the 1970s.

People who know this location of Taco Time love it for the regional chain’s tasty food: Crispy Bean Burrito, Veggie Soft Taco, the recently renamed Tater Fries, and even the oddly appealing hot sauce (which seems to rely on corn starch for its surprising amount of surface tension).

But the unusually futuristic – which, for some, also reads as “1980s and dated” – architecture is part of the appeal in Wallingford and has been for nearly 35 years.

Some Seattleites have for decades called it the “Bauhaus Taco Time” and pretended that it was designed by late Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who first found fame in 1920s Germany. Others, on social media Wednesday, say they called it the “Taco Club” or the “Taco Palace.”

One commenter said her family called in the “Flash Cube Building” and wondered later how many people would know what she was talking about (vintage photography accessories, in case you were wondering).

Circa 1990, a certain irritating radio historian dubbed it the “Taco Pavilion” and concocted an apocryphal tale that the structure was left over from Expo ’86, the world’s fair in Vancouver, BC. In Terminal City’s celebration, the building had functioned as the “Taco Pavilion” during the fair; once the fair was over, it was surplus, sold at auction, and then moved by truck to Seattle. Please note that this story is NOT TRUE.

A spokesperson for Taco Time Northwest told KIRO Newsradio Thursday that the Wallingford location is owned and operated by a franchisee, and thus the spokesperson was unable to provide information about closure, the architect who designed the building, or any further details. KIRO Newsradio ask to be connected to the Wallingford owner, and Taco Time Northwest offered to forward a message.

Meanwhile, longtime customers Stephanie Dobler and Bill Woityra made a special burrito-seeking visit Wednesday after hearing the news and paused from placing their order to speak with KIRO Newsradio.

“It’s the end of an era,” Woityra told KIRO Newsradio. “This is going to be one of the last opportunities to come by the Taco Time in Wallingford.”

“I grew up eating Taco Time . . . and I’m very sad it’s leaving,” Dobler said. “The Fish Baja with the Wild Alaskan Cod is a huge deal, so I’m incredibly sad.”

“The architectural style I think is very significant,” Dobler continued. “And I hope that they do not tear it down.”

Next up for the Taco Time location in Wallingford is an outlet of the burrito chain Chipotle.

In an email to KIRO Newsradio, Chipotle spokesperson Annie Gradinger wrote from Newport, California, “We are currently scheduled to open a new location in Seattle this winter. It will be located at 2212 N 45th Street and feature the brand’s signature Chipotlane, a drive thru pick-up lane that allows guests to conveniently pick up digital orders without leaving their cars.”

One likely casualty of Taco Time’s departure is the giant cactus-shaped sign at the corner of 45th and Corliss. The cactus likely predates the 1990 structure since the building almost entirely blocks the view of the sign from the west.

North 45th is a busy thoroughfare that functions as Wallingford’s main street, and some retailers located there have appeared to struggle in recent years. The beloved Wallingford Bartell Drugs closed down a few months ago, while the old Guild 45th Theatre was torn down last year and is now a vacant lot (though new development is planned there). Another popular taco spot that had operated at the old Winchell’s Donut House for many years – Rancho Bravo Tacos – also shut down abruptly in the past few weeks.

While multiple Taco Time locations remain in operation around Puget Sound – including that Wallingford doppelganger in Auburn – the final day at 45th and Corliss is this Monday, July 15.

“This was always just this beacon of tacos,” Stephanie Dobler said. “Every time I was in the neighborhood, we had to come. I’m very sad.”

You can hear Feliks Banel every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. Read more from Feliks here and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks. You can also follow Feliks on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Feliks Banel: ‘Beacon of tacos’ shutting down in Wallingford