Hilltop Kitchen

Crafting food, cocktails, & community
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Photos by Elizabeth Morrow

Hilltop Kitchen is less about creating a destination and more about creating a community, infusing its vivacious atmosphere and finely crafted food and drinks into a neighborhood bar attitude, inviting folks to come down and hang out any day of the week.

The kitchen is tucked in a nondescript, signless brick building on MLK in Tacoma with lively music emanating from within the walls, announcing its presence despite the lack of signage.

Upon entering through a single, propped-open door you’ll find yourself in a candlelit den that’s buzzing with conversation, and fueled by rum, tequila, and mezcal. The decor is minimal and earthy, with tables and booths hewn from rich reclaimed wood, exposed ceiling beams with turn-of-the-century bulbs dangling from rafters above each table and repurposed truck headlights hung above the bar. Both intimate and inviting, the space has plenty of room to move around and find a spot to get comfortable and sip on a few of the Latin and South American-inspired cocktails.

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Pisco Flower

“Rum is what got me into craft cocktails when I was working at the Monsoon Room years ago. And I love mezcal. Mezcal for me speaks to what I love about fresh, farm-to-table eating and it represents this handcrafted product that is still a little raw and agricultural. I think it’s a really dynamic and interesting spirit and I’m really passionate about it,” muses Chris Keil, owner, alongside business partner Matt Schweitzer, of Hilltop Kitchen, or “HK” as patrons have begun calling it. Keil had previously been with Tacoma’s popular 1022 South.

The full cocktail menu is rich with complex and interesting libations largely inspired by the flagship liquors of rum and mezcal (a liquor made from agave, native to Mexico). “Matt and I both have traveled through the U.S. Southwest and spent a little bit of time in Mexico and I was in Belize earlier this year and I really love the food so we wanted to figure out a way to marry that with Northwest seasonal ingredients,” said Keil.

And what a beautiful marriage it has been. The food is flavorful and fresh, with a little Latin kick, the perfect companion to the handcrafted cocktail menu. The current food menu, while full of great offerings, will see expansion as Hilltop Kitchen grows. It opened at the beginning of August. “These are just our starting menus. It’s very much in the plans to develop these menus and to push and get more innovative and work with more ingredients,” Keil said. With a starting menu full of tempting offerings like the upgraded corn, grilled to perfection and topped with smoked paprika, manchego cheese, chipotle crema and lime, or the hard-not-to-devour mango and avocado tacos, which master the balance between sweet and savory, with a slight finishing kick, patrons are more than looking forward to seeing what new plates they dream up in the
coming months.

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Mango and Avocado Tacos

For those intimidated by the confusing ingredients and exotic words so often found on craft cocktail menus, Hilltop Kitchen makes it easy. The cocktail menu is split between “Goes Down Easy” and “Boozy And Odd,” giving the drinker the option for how adventurous they want to get with their beverage. Still as delightfully complex and dynamic as the more adventurous cocktails, the Goes Down Easy drinks do just that, perhaps giving a little liquid courage to try something from the Boozy and Odd side of the menu. If you are ready to give a more daunting cocktail a try, the bartenders can answer any questions you may have over what you’re about to imbibe. If you’ve finished conquesting the menu and are jonesin’ for more, don’t worry. The menu will be seasonal, which means new beautifully crafted cocktails to explore.

“We’re gonna change it up every three months. I’m just really excited to rotate it seasonally and bring in new ingredients. Incorporating these Latin American flavors into Northwest fall flavors is going to be really exciting” Keil said.

During late afternoon, HK has a relaxed atmosphere that promotes casual conversation and it’s easy to find a seat and get quick and attentive service. Evenings are more energetic, packed and exciting, especially weekends. Music is pumping from speakers, bartenders are slinging drinks, servers are whisking food and beverages off to their rightful owners, and everyone seems to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. There’s an electric buzz in the air, conversation is flowing, and laughter erupts from candle-soaked dim corners.

“My idea has always been to make a place that’s a bit more fun. Fun and comfortable,” Keil said. With an inviting, mellow vibe and brilliantly concocted menu, Hilltop Kitchen raises the bar for neighborhood watering holes in cities everywhere.

When You Go
Hilltop Kitchen
Open 3pm-1:30 am, Monday-Saturday,
913 Martin Luther King Way, Tacoma.
There is plenty of free parking in the area.

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is a South Sound contributor and a blogger, writer, photographer, designer, and author at Delightfully Tacky.
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