Copal is a new Mexican restaurant in Pioneer Square that probably spent a few months too many on its interior design. The space is somewhere in between a five-year-old’s piñata party (but with more alcohol) and the living room of someone who watches a lot of “desert chic DIY” how-to’s. If you removed the furniture and replaced it with racks of boutique clothing and whimsical measuring spoons and displays of artisan rocks, nobody would notice.
But like Halo Top and all-natural deodorant, Copal is a very pretty face with not a lot of substance to back it up.
The menu is pretty basic, and not one we’d recommend if you’re wanting authentic Mexican food. Some dishes are plain but fine takes on classics, like the guacamole that they call a “smashed avocado plate” (which doesn’t come with tortilla chips, because those don’t exist here), and the street corn that needs a Clueless-type intervention where the popular elotes teaches this one how to look and behave. On the other end of the spectrum, the roasted chicken has so much cumin that it’s unclear whether that’s intentional or an accident.
That said, not everything at Copal is disappointing. A couple of saving graces come in the form of killer barbacoa tacos and a Campari-tequila slushie that we always want to be sitting poolside with. If you do end up here, these things will make you happy enough - but we’re talking about tacos and slushies, so of course they will.
We wouldn’t go out of our way to eat here unless we had a situational reason to, but Copal does have some advantages in that department. An early-in-the-game date would go well over a couple of snacks and margaritas, it’s a convenient place for happy hour with coworkers, and the setting would be great for that engagement shower you unwisely took charge of planning. If you go in knowing what to expect, Copal is a perfectly acceptable spot for any of those occasions. At the very least, it won’t make you angry enough to throw something at a wall. Unlike a pint of Halo Top ice cream.
Cubes of watermelon with cucumber, jicama, mint, olive oil, and little slivers of some kind of fresh green chile. It’s nice on a hot day, but the olive oil didn’t really stick to anything except the bottom of the bowl, which made everything just taste like a bowl of raw produce.
This is essentially guacamole that’s been stripped of its fun qualities and replaced with queso fresco, fresh radish slices, and local flour tortillas. It’s low on the lime, onion, cilantro, and excitement, and needs chips badly. If you’re here and you can’t continue the meal without some form of avocado in your stomach, get this and strategically save some for your tacos.
Corn with jalapeño aioli (didn’t taste like much), cotija cheese (there wasn’t enough), cilantro, and too many flicks of the wrist with the shaker of chile powder.
The chorizo in this is pretty decent, but the puddles of grease are too puddle-y.
Our favorite thing here: the pulled beef is super tender and smoky, the red salsa on top is great, and we could eat a dozen of these with a boozy slushie to wash it down. To activate the barbacoa taco expansion pack, add some of your hoarded smashed avocado.
If you like mole, you will be disappointed with these. Not because the mole is bad, but because you only get a little dollop underneath some basic chicken tinga.
This is a roasted half-chicken that comes with pickled cabbage, some kind of green mayo, and tortillas to make your own tacos (which end up being kind of unnecessary). The chicken itself is fantastic, but the sauce on top tastes like someone tripped and knocked over an entire container of cumin into it. If you’re into that, you’re going to have a good time.