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Restaurant review: Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe

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The pesto melt, served with soup, salad or quinoa, costs $11.95.

Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe’s owner, Chris Maykut, is used to anti-vegetarian bias — even amongst friends — that many have toward restaurants like his. According to Maykut, Chaco Canyon’s food is 90-97 percent organic, and the restaurant is committed to serving vegetarian and vegan menu items. Because of this, he believes that perhaps 70-80 percent of the population dismisses Chaco Canyon altogether. Even Seattle’s many lifestyle magazines want little to do with Chaco Canyon, Maykut said.

“It’s hard to get a review unless you have bacon on the menu,” he said.

Outright dismissal of Chaco Canyon’s food because of its aversion to meat is, in short, a shame, because it’s downright tasty. Dishes like the pesto melt — a blissful combination of mozzarella cheese, mountains of pesto and bean sprouts on ciabatta — will not leave patrons missing animal flesh. Even Chaco Canyon’s mundane dishes, like its raw hazelnut-oat porridge, will reward taste buds. However, it is vital to note that some entrees are prepared in surprising — and disappointing — ways. The pesto pizza, while made with delicious mozzarella, pesto, and tomato sauce, fails to live up to laymen’s expectations as to what pizza should look and taste like; although tasty, its crust is more akin to a cracker, and it is devoid of anything remotely close to a conventional topping.

But Chaco Canyon’s baked goods are formidable. The chocolate and vanilla macaroons delight with their sweet coconut goodness despite the latter’s apparent lack of its namesake ingredient. The strawberry tart, a wonderful amalgamation of fresh halved strawberries, lemony custard and flaky, buttery crust, will leave patrons craving more.

Perhaps Chaco Canyon’s greatest asset is the friendliness that pervades its American Southwest atmosphere. Adobe-esque walls painted with warm reds and yellows, a wall of rough ceramic tiles dedicated to the restaurant’s benefactors, and an abundance of brightly stained wooden furniture give the restaurant-cafe a sunny disposition that lights up even the dreariest of Seattle days. Chaco Canyon’s patrons contribute to the soothing ambiance as they generally spend their time thumbing through newspapers or tapping on laptops.

There are several glaring problems with Chaco Canyon, unfortunately. The prices of many menu items can raise eyebrows — 90-97 percent organic, it seems, comes at a price. The price of both my meals was $12. Portions are also somewhat laughable; the pesto pizza is kids’ meal-sized, while the pesto melt is only marginally more substantial. Students with large appetites will find themselves needing to complement their entree with a dessert — or two.

Overall, Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe is a warm and welcoming establishment with an emphasis on food quality and managed with the best environmentally consciousness intentions. However, high prices, small portions and nontraditional approaches to conventional dishes make this vegetarian paradise a poor fit for most college students.

The verdict: While Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe has elements that make it a noteworthy establishment, it falls short of being one of the University District’s great eateries.

Visit Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe at 4757 12th Ave. NE.

Reach reporter Andy Fulton at arts@dailyuw.com.

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