Spatacos, Sapporo

In this post we proudly feature Spatacos, a unique and delicious taco restaurant in the Maruyama neighborhood of Sapporo.

The first time I came across Spatacos, it was while I walking down a residential street (about a five or 10 minute walk from the station) in the beautiful Maruyama neighborhood of Sapporo. Spatacos is not in a commercial district. It is, rather, on a particularly gorgeous tree-lined street, surrounded by houses. In this way, it is a great example of what Maruyama has to offer; it’s not densely populated, but does have a lot of restaurants, bars, and several small nightclubs tucked into a mostly quiet community.

And Spatacos itself, looks to be part of a residence. Which part? I have had the pleasure of dining here several times across multiple seasons, and I’ve learned the exact timing and location of meal at Spatacos “depends” on a few factors.

This would be a good time to suggest that you check the operating hours before you come by – the hours change based on the season. As we write this review in mid-Spring, Spatacos is only open for lunch, and from Wednesday – Sunday only. Previously, I have had dinner here twice, in Fall and Winter respectively. If you come by and they are closed, check the hours and try again. It’s worth it.

My first meal at Spatacos in Maruyama was in the winter season. I don’t have pictures from that night, but as I arrived I entered a door on what is first floor (above the garage), took off my shoes, and climbed the stairs to get my first look at the “Fall and Winter format” of Spatacos Sapporo:

There was a small kitchen. I ordered my food, and sat at one of maybe two or three mismatched tables. I think I ordered at the counter, and then sat down. The chef – a Japanese man with a talent for tacos – brought me a beer and tall glass of water. Besides my table, there was a “den” around the corner, with two low couchs and a coffee table. The walls were decorated like a comfortable, and slightly artsy home. There was music playing (maybe jazz), and CDs lined a bookcase on one of the walls.

The feeling upstairs, was like a small 1LDK apartment, converted to a restaurant. By my standards, it was very well done, and the unusual non-commercial format added to the appeal.

The food is what I would call “Mexican adjacent.” Like almost all of the Mexican food in Sapporo, it is not strictly authentic.

Going to Spatacos (and writing this review) is fun for me, as I spent a lot of my childhood in Southern California. I ate at old “photomats” that had been converted to grimy, but very authentic taco shops. I ate off of taco trucks. I have spent a fair amount of time in Mexico, and had several “levels of quality” there as well, including chicken kebobs cooked in the street, on a makeshift grill made from a metal rim from a car. I have also done all measure of high-end tacos, from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. When Mexican is done well, it is certainly it’s own kind of perfection. That perfect delivery of flavor can come at all price ranges. Sometimes “authentic” actually means greasy (and likely to make you sick). If you’ve eaten a lot of Mexican food (and I certainly have), you know I mean.

Against that very high standard, there is what we might call “Californian Mexican” food. California, shares a border with Mexico. And Los Angeles might be close to 50% Spanish speaking. The influence of Mexican culture can’t be underemphasized. But in towns like San Diego (and many others), there is a healthier, cleaned-up, “fresh” version of Mexican, that is very tasty, even as it is not a direct port from the original oily carne asada, cilantro-onion mix, served on a somewhat dry but functional corn tortilla.

To this story, enter Spatacos in Sapporo. This is a food and dining review, but it hits a note of comedy for me as we talk about Spatacos, which takes original Mexican food basics like the taco, as inspired by “California” Mexican influence, and then delivered to a Japanese customer base, by a Japanese chef. That is quite a journey for the humble taco. And when it arrives in Maruyama, it is nothing like the taco truck variety. Nothing at all.

(The do have taco trucks in Sapporo, too, but that is another story.)

Spatacos does a very healthy, light, delicious “fresh mex” taco. I know there is a chicken variety, but as I add to this post from memory, it is the chorizo taco that I remember best (it is fantastic). As you can see, he sells these tacos mostly in sets of two; but as I am a voracious American monster, I will typically order (at least) three (which gives me one each of his standard offering). The chorizo, though… hmmm, that is kind of calling my name as I think about it.

I will take great liberties here and call myself a bonified taco expert (let’s assume that is true). There have been times in my life when I would legitimately each Mexican food twice a day, at least five days a week (I am thinking of “open face” Alambres tacos, where the tortillas are in a pile, under a plate of steak and mushrooms and onions, in this moment). And “the thing” about tacos for the purposes of the distinction I am making here is the tortilla.

Mexico is a poor, simple place. It is. And the stable of food there is beans, rice, and the simple corn tortilla. Nothing could more ubiquitous in Mexico than the corn tortilla; as common to Mexico as white rice is to Japan. But here in Sapporo??? Well, let’s just say corn tortillas don’t grow on trees around here.

At Spatacos in Maruyama, you get your “soft tacos” served on perfectly delicious flour tortillas. The meat is grilled, and you’ll get some fresh lettuce (probably cabbage?), and maybe some tomato thrown in. None of this common for real Mexican tacos, but this is standard for California Mexican. I can’t say for certain if there is any fresh avocado in the mix, but I wouldn’t be surprised. And you can count on some kind of rather gourmet sauce added to each taco, which, once again, fails the test of “authentic,” but comes out tasting perfect, all the same.

All that, and a cold beer… and I’m not in California, but I can pretend that I am easily enough.

In the spring season, doing all this, at the garden tables, with a cool breeze, and the company of a good friend; highly recommended.

If you love Mexican food and want to sample some more of Sapporo’s take on the taco, we can make some recommendations. For a Tex Mex inspired experience see our review of Sapporo’s テックスメックス Rosa. And for the best tacos in Sapporo, we have a clear favorite – the Mexican food at El Tope in Sapporo is as good as it gets (and it’s really good).

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