Photo: Daniel, Ricardo and Sarife Sanchez
Story by Elizabeth Lopez, owner of rue Santé
Strolling along the Phinneywood corridor on a cold, grey day, I never expected to find myself steeped in the warmth of Mexican authenticity, but that’s exactly what happened when I walked into La Conasupo. Despite its narrow footprint, the aisles are well-stocked with an array of imported Mexican specialty foods and snacks including hard-to-find candies, sweet breads, cakes, aguas frescas (fresh waters like hibiscus and horchata), chips, and – something to put all those candies in – a large selection of piñatas. “Where have you been all my life?” I thought to myself.
This unassuming shop epitomizes a typical, traditional Mexican tiendita (a small neighborhood market) and wandering the aisles transported me back to my childhood, living in Mexico. Just beyond the grocery treasures, is a surprise within a surprise. Like a speakeasy with an invisible door, a much larger space lays hidden from passers-by and cursory shoppers. The real gem of La Conasupo is its surprisingly spacious, and incredibly popular taqueria restaurant. In-the-know regulars enter through the back door to enjoy this best-kept culinary secret. But you don’t need a special code word to be granted access to the delicious tingas (shredded meats in special sauce), quesadillas, barbacoa (Mexican barbeque) and other mouthwatering delicacies. Die-hard fans travel from far-away places for their specialty dishes. Luckily, we just have to walk beyond the grocery aisles and take a seat.
I sat down with Ricardo Sanchez, the owner of La Conasupo, on a busy afternoon. In the background, the staff prepared for the dinner rush. The origins of La Conasupo date back to 2001, Ricardo tells me. It was founded by two Mexican businessmen. At the time it was one of the only authentic Mexican markets in the area. Over the years, it slowly expanded to include a restaurant, which distinguished itself by serving authentic recipes from Puebla, Mexico, like it’s signature lamb barbacoa dish and the carnitas. La Conasupo thrived through the years without publicity, fuss, or fanfare; it grew solely by word-of-mouth and reputation. In addition to take out and in-house dining, customers can pre-order half and whole prepared lamb for banquets and large gatherings.
Ricardo purchased La Conasupo in January of 2021 and although he is Colombian, it’s clear that he’s proud of their Mexican menu as he describes their platos fuertes (signature dishes) and the fresh meats they source from local farms. “Nothing is frozen” he says. The tortillas for their quesadillas and the sopes are made in-house daily. Another claim to fame are their legendary portions – the 13-inch quesadillas, 10-inch sopes and generous meat servings in every dish – so you’d better come hungry.
Few restaurants were spared from the impacts of Covid, no matter how popular or delicious their cuisine. Although It must have been challenging to take over a restaurant in the middle of the Pandemic amidst lost sales and staffing issues, Ricardo thanks his take-out business and loyal customer-base for keeping them afloat during the worst of times, despite not having a website or being on any online ordering platforms. That’s a testament to their quality and service. Aside from their loyal “Mexicano / Latino” (Spanish-speaking) clients, Ricardo says few “Americans” (non-Spanish speaking) know the restaurant exists primarily because of the language barrier, and this is one of the many things he would like to change. He credits Google and Yelp reviews for what little awareness there is in the neighborhood, while he works on expanding his reach to welcome the community.
Like many other US immigrants, Ricardo is looking ahead to a future full of opportunities. He immigrated to the United States 17 years ago with his two sons. His oldest, Daniel, manages the kitchen and helps the family business run smoothly alongside his wife, Sarife, who works the register front of the house. As a new owner, Ricardo’s approach has been thoughtful and strategic. He hasn’t changed much of what’s been working well for decades, but he’s passionate about process improvements and quality assurance. He and his son have been working hard to consolidate their grocery offerings and to modernize labor-intensive hand processing in the restaurant by investing in new equipment. He plans on debuting a comprehensive website once his throughputs improve, to ensure they can continue to offer quality and service.
The future is indeed promising. Food this good shouldn’t be kept a secret. Ricardo has dreams of franchising his taqueria concept and sharing his Mexican cuisine far and wide. For now, you’re invited to the table just beyond the grocery aisles, at La Conasupo Taqueria and Snack Shop.
La Conasupo Taqueria & Snack Shop
Open Monday – Sunday from 9am to 8:30pm.
8532 Greenwood Avenue N.
Seattle, WA 98103