For those of us who find our passion in nourishing and nurturing guests in our restaurants, there’s a strong impulse to feed and help people in times of need. We hope you will help us respond to the massive need for food, shelter and financial assistance as our fellow Americans rebuild from these devastating natural disasters. For every item sold on our latest feature menu, Cactus will donate $1 to the American Red Cross funds specifically targeted for Harvey, Irma and Maria relief. All five Cactus locations are participating we are pledging a minimum donation of $10,000 to go towards hurricane relief with a goal of $20,000.
“We hope to exceed our $10,000 donation pledge—we feel strongly about feeding and taking care of people here at Cactus, and by extension, those affected by the hurricanes. We think this is a great avenue for our customers to help their fellow Americans start to re-build their lives.” — Bret Chatalas, Co-Owner
Our latest Feature Menu doesn’t disappoint and includes plenty of old favorites and a couple of brand new dishes: Check out our Roasted Carrot Tacos with chipotle-agave roasted Sound Sustainable Farms organic carrots and our new Blistered Shishito Peppers with green-chile queso, chimichurri, red onion escabeche, Cotija cheese.
Join us over the next several weeks and help raise money for people in need. Your support will make the difference—so order up!
Kurt Cobain, king of Grunge, frontman of Nirvana and spokesman for an entire disillusioned generation, died as he had lived – in the loud, angry chaos of a bewildered genius that altered the course of modern music, exported the Seattle sound to the rest of the world and sold 75 million albums in a career spanning 7 short years. Dead at 27 by taking a shotgun to his head on April 5, 1994, he left a fascinating trail of whys and what-ifs that always attend the early end of tortured, fractured lives that thrive and die by depression, addiction, loneliness and music.
The September 24th anniversary of Nirvana’s second release – Nevermind – was equivalent of a hand grenade tossed into the charts at the end of summer 1991, with the single Smells Like Teen Spirit proving epochal in the history of rock `n’ roll. And as with any resurrection of the life and legacy of Kurt Cobain, the events surrounding the last 48 hours of his existence return as well, as fans re-imagine the singer and songwriter escaping from a drug rehab facility in Los Angeles and going AWOL on the streets of Seattle before killing himself in his million dollar home in Madrona, in East Central Seattle.
Keeping track of a man who doesn’t want to be found was especially hard in those days (1990s) without cell phone footprints and a cancelled credit card. But he did pop up from time to time, and was spotted in various locations in the Capitol Hill and Lake Washington area, which later helped journalists and investigators piece together a rough picture of what he was doing during the last 48 hours of his life.
Bret Chatalas, owner of Cactus, clearly remembers Kurt Cobain’s showing up at his Madison Park location with some friends on the night of Sunday, April 3rd. It was early spring, a cold Seattle evening, but Cobain still chose to be seated in the restaurant’s outside seating area.
“They [Cobain and his friends] were planning to go see a movie, while they were having dinner,” recalls Chatalas. “They started out with dessert, which was a bit odd in my opinion, but apparently if you’re doing heroin, you’re into sweet things…”
The staff at Cactus who served Cobain and his group say that he seemed to be in good spirits that evening. He enjoyed Cactus’ longtime menu favorite “Bananas Dulce” (still on the menu today), sautéed in brown sugar and rum, and then asked Chatalas for the movie listings. They decided to go watch The Piano, finished their dinner and left for the cinema.
But as with any humdrum life event that becomes greatly significant when it precedes a major, unexpected tragedy, Cobain’s last dinner at his favorite Mexican restaurant is now a matter of public record. 23 years on, and guests still ask owner Bret Chatalas for details about Cobain, perhaps hoping that he will remember something that the media had failed to report.
“When Cobain paid his bill and the waiter went to run his credit card, it was declined,” recollects Chatalas. (Cobain’s wife, musician Courtney Love had cancelled his credit card as soon as she heard he had escaped from the Los Angeles rehab clinic.) “The waiter asked me to go talk to him, and it was obvious that he was high on heroin. Where he was supposed to write the name of the restaurant, he had written the dollar amount.
“It was kind of gibberish but it was still decipherable, so I accepted the check. That was the last time I ever saw him – that Sunday night. Sometimes, I wish I had held onto that check. I did try afterwards to get it back from the bank, but the check had already gone through the system and it was too late.”
So there you have it. A little piece of Seattle’s music history that will always be tied to Cactus in a small, bittersweet memory from the last hours of our local-boy, music legend’s life.
***Here is a clip from “The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain” where a younger version of Cactus’ owner Bret Chatalas talks one of the last public sightings and meals of Kurt Cobain on the evening of April 3rd, 1994:
We have created a special niche for ourselves in the Seattle food scene with consistently great food, seasonal-inspired menus and a relaxed, colorfully urbane ambiance. We started out in 1990 as a humble tapas bar, serving Southwestern, Mexican and Spanish cuisine in Madison Park. People loved the concept, the cuisine, and the service so much that we inevitably opened four more restaurants – in Kirkland, Alki Beach, South Lake Union and Bellevue Square.
In each of these locations, we maintained our commitment to seasonal menus, nightly specials and amazing, hand-crafted cocktails. Food was always made fresh, and made from scratch.
Now, we’re taking this commitment to local sourcing to a whole new level by entering a unique, organic farming partnership right here in the Seattle area.
Since 2008, Cactus has been diverting its food waste to Cedar Grove, an environment-solutions organization that transforms organic waste into compost-based products. With the addition of each new Cactus restaurant and Tavern Hall (another restaurant under the Cactus umbrella that opened in 2014), we are composting over 72 tons of food waste today.
Cedar Grove has recently launched Sound Sustainable Farms, a model farm project where we are one of the few chosen restaurants that can have ingredients planted and raised exclusively for our own use.
“With this partnership with Sound Sustainable Farms, we are closing the loop on sustainability by growing produce and planning menus based on seasonal produce grown from our own compost,” says Marc Chatalas, co-owner of Cactus Restaurants and Tavern Hall.
By raising crops locally without added herbicides, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, we’re guaranteeing the quality of the produce, while mitigating carbon footprints and environmental impacts of commercial farming.
With no middleman in the picture, our produce is arriving in its freshest possible state, on many occasions picked only hours before delivery. The short traveling distance is enabling our farmers at Sound Sustainable to pick foods at their height of readiness, when they will taste the best, instead of being forced to harvest food even before it is ripe to make sure that it will make the journey.
This shortened time gap between harvest and fork means the produce is at its maximum state of nutritional richness and flavor. And we can source heritage and heirloom produce as well, to create simple recipes that showcase the best flavor profile of each vegetable.
Over the years, our regular and loyal client base has come to expect constant innovation from us. We work hard to make sure our menus never get predictable or boring, which is why Cactus has created over 3,000 new menu items in the past 27 years – many of which have been copied all over town.
A farm-to-table partnership with Sound Sustainable was the next logical step for Cactus Restaurants because it reinforces our commitment to foods that celebrate their organic, artisanal origin in the highest standards of honest, quality cooking.
You can now get the most up to date wait times and secure your placein line before you arrive with the Nowait App. It’s totally free and we’ll notify you with a text as soon as we are preparing your table. When you arrive, you simply check in and we’ll get your sat very shortly. While we still have to drive our own cars, waiting in line at Cactus can be a thing of the past. Learn more and download the app at nowait.com
We wanted to take a moment to say thanks to everybody in the Pacific Northwest who has supported our “chain restaurant” all these years. As mentioned elsewhere, we started this business serving tapas out of a single location in Madison Park in 1990 and have been going (and growing) strong ever since. That said, the most meaningful reward for our efforts comes from YOU our customers. Getting voted Best Mexican Restaurant by the readers of the Seattle Weekly is the very top honor in our opinion. While it’s easy to be the next flavor of the week, staying relevant to the public for over 25 years is a challenge—and one we gladly accept.
It wouldn’t be Cactus without you guys. So thank you very much! If you want to see what we’ve been up to, check out the newly expanded bar in Kirkland. The sun’s out and the margarita’s are fresh!