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  • Courtney Jette

Coach Seating Cochinito Class Dining

April, 2020

If you’re a Spokane local then I know you already know about this next place.

During The Shutdown Project, I’ve been visiting empty establishments, fully operating businesses, and places that will not be able to return after this shutdown is lifted. Luckily, this gem of a restaurant will be here when the shutdown is lifted. While the quarantine has been in effect, Cochinito Taqueria has been able to do to go orders. And there’s no question as to why. Just hearing about their food set me on fire for some high-class tacos and tastes.

The two guys that put Cochinito in business are Travis Dickinson and Justin Curtis. They worked together at a local restaurant, years ago, and decided they’d be the perfect team to open a fine dining experience to a casual setting. They feel the flavors and quality of fine dining should be reachable by everyone. And they have definitely accomplished their vision.

“We wanted to break that fine dining mold; it’s not very sustainable, either.”

One look at photos of their food and their menu made it clear they aren’t filling just tummies, but a gap that needed to be filled in the restaurant industry. Their place is approachable and casual and brings people a comfort food experience with in-season, fresh ingredients.

The restaurant has a walk-up counter to add just a chill hint of getting your tacos at a truck. I can only hope they start a Cochinito in the Tri-Cities. I’ll be first in line…every day. And when I visit Spokane, I’ll be first in line outside those Post Street doors.

As you approach the restaurant,

you’re greeted by their fun pig logo, letting you know you’re going to treat your taste buds and be comfortable.

The term “fine dining” makes me and my wallet cringe. But these guys have bridged the gap. You can try things that usually would be on a $40.00 plate and not risk that high cost, if it’s not your thing. However, I don’t think they could make anything that won’t get cleaned off the plate. I did get to sit down with Travis and Justin but, much to my dismay (alright, I was super horrified) the audio recording of our visit disappeared a few days before I sat down to tell you all about them. However, I have a few things I managed to salvage through notes.

*Favorite menu item that you serve? J: “After 25 months of business, I don’t crave tacos like I once did, but I’ll still eat a mushroom taco every day.”

A staple on their menu, now they do rotate the menu a bit, but they also have to find the balance of keeping the crowd favorites (all of them) on the menu, too. As soon as they pull a menu item, they have customers who are disappointed to hear it’s off the menu, for a bit. A bit of other disappointing news is also, probably, not seeing their favorite staff members.

*Did you have to let a lot of staff go? T: “We laid 14 to 15 people off. Ideally, we want to get everyone back in here.” And it’s clear they have built a team that is better than a machine. “We have hard working staff that pull their own weight; we’re a pretty busy production kitchen.”

They built their business to be an “all house model”, where everyone pitches in, and everyone does everything. That was very apparent while I sat in the still restaurant as the back of the house was still moving along. They pointed out staff members who usually fill a different role, but, because of the whole situation, were now doing jobs that are typically done by another crew member. The two guys are pretty steady and calm, with a pinch of underlying confidence. And they have a good reason to be. They have created the perfect dining experience now established within the community; so, I was curious about what they may be concerned about most.

“Our staff.” They gesture to the team moving around. “We’re most worried about these guys. Nobody’s really suffering yet, these people are surviving, but if this stretches out months…” “A sudden stop to the great growth we have seen.”

Like many small businesses, they had seen a great increase in their business from their hard work. The momentum for a local business can be very time consuming…. only to come to a terrifying halt. We talked about new, small businesses and shops in their first year or two. Something a lot of owners can recall very clearly, especially the Cochinito guys. Their restaurant just hit the two-year mark. The night the shutdown order came through, it found them at the celebration for the second-year anniversary of their opening day. Imagine being the person who had to interrupt a huge party, celebrating a restaurant being open, to tell them they were now being closed.

“I remember those first few months, checking your account four times a day.” Concern for new establishments is clearly a thought that passes through the empty dining room.

“I think the overwhelming feeling is a weird vacation.”

Now, I originally planned to post this highlight on Cinco de Mayo. But crazy life and shutdowns happen. So here we are.

“What’s this line going to look like on Cinco de Mayo?” Not only is Cinco de Mayo a huge holiday for Cochinito, but I imagine it is for their families as well. Justin and Travis have been around and through kitchens that were steeped with friends and coworkers from many cultures, being engulfed in a family of friends and flavor.

“Falling in love with the food.”

Not to mention, Travis married into a family from Sinaloa, Mexico. So, you could say, they just might know what they’re doing… and they’re doing it right. All I can say is, I hope that the line was around the 10 North Post Street block location two times (with masks and six feet apart of course). The Cochinito guys were so nice. They took time away from the work day to sit and have an honest talk with me. And I know their food (their carne asada is 24 hours of straight tenderness) and business model is awesome, but that’s not all that makes a winning recipe for a spot. It’s the staff; and to get the best staff, you must have fantastic owners. They are down to earth, chill and obviously they make working for them feel more like an enjoyable time and less of a 9 to 5 job.

*Is there a moment since opening your restaurant that has been most impactful? Something that’s going to stick with you.

“Hoop Fest. I played as a kid in Jr. High, and I hadn’t really been back since. To see how great it is, and to be right in the middle of everybody; it’s such a fun time to be doing this.” “It’s something you can really be proud of your community for.”

Cochinito sits right in the heart of downtown Spokane, and during Hoop Fest their windows have a courtside view. I can imagine the crowd swallows the restaurant whole.

“We line chairs out along the sidewalk; its heat stroke, broken ankles out there, and wall to wall people.”

With things staying closed past projected end dates, and events being canceled left and right, I wonder if Cochinito will see a Hoop Fest this year. I can cross my fingers that Cochinito sees not just the Hoop Fest crowds, but also an interior crowd of all 21 staff members returning to work. They are currently at 5 staff members.

Another impactful moment they recall is how awesome it is to now be owners and to be directly helping others.

“Charity work is always great being the actual owners and seeing how much impact you can make.”

And they definitely are a community player. You can tell they support the people that make Spokane, and you can tell they love their town and they will be helping any way they can, I’m sure. It was a great time hearing these two guys talk about the passion they slow cooked, from kitchen crew to owners, and built something as fresh and refreshing as their ingredients. I can’t wait to be back and try so many things off the menu. Justin, Travis, thank you for taking the time to hang out and let me into the world you’ve created … even if it’s a little calm at the moment, it will be hectic again soon, I have no doubt. Asada site dynamite!

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