Come for the drinks, stay for the drinks.


909 Madison, 332-0772 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (bar open till 2 a.m. every night) AE, DC, MC, V / full bar NOTHING'S more hip than the Adobo Taco Lounge, the First Hill watering hole/Mexican restaurant opened by the people who brought us Belltown Pizza. The neon sign bleeding its brazen light onto Madison Street sets the tone from the sidewalk, where an unmarked door leads into a barroom so unrelievedly red it seems to leach every vestige of natural daylight from three counties. Once your eyes adjust to the bloody dark, the place begins to emerge, and you see that it is, as you suspected, a Joint. You know the clues: a bar (over there's the unshaven bartender), pool tables (de rigueur for a place that's open till 2 a.m.), and booths (for illicit behavior, should the need arise). Not immediately evident is the food, which worldly diners might assume hails from a mixed lineage of Filipino and Mexican. Nope: The "adobo" in question refers not to the Filipino stew but the chile pepper. Ostensibly this pepper appears in some of the tacos, taquitas, flautas, and fajitas dispensed by the kitchen. Good luck detecting it. Despite the lurid splendor of the setting, the food at Adobo Taco Lounge is almost entirely bereft of flavor. With the chips, which when fresh are crispy and fine but will very likely be stale, comes salsa as bland as a baby's bathwater ($1.50). The guacamole ($1.75) is a creamier version of the same. Potato flautas ($5.95), fried corn tortilla roll-ups stuffed with garlic mashed potatoes, are little comfort bombs without much to recommend them in the seasoning department except the pot of honey-tomatillo dipping sauce they're paired with. The tostada salad ($6.95) amounts to a heap of romaine scattered with pinto beans, cotija cheese, and the meat of one's choice in a numbing toss that explores the far reaches of dull. The worst offender on the starter list is the fried calamari ($5.95), which manages to be both soggy and tasteless. A pot of roasted garlic sour cream helps but can't be expected to supply all the kicks. When you ask the waiter what's really great on the menu, and you mean really great, he'll tell you they're known for their fajitas. But when the chicken fajitas ($9.95) arrive on their sizzling platter with onions and peppers, you'll optimistically wrap them up in their tortilla blankets, dress them with sour cream and guac, take a hopeful bite—and ask someone to pass the salt. Prawns mojo de ajo ($11.95) has terrific saut饤 prawns to recommend it, along with fresh green beans gently wizened from the deep fryer. Unfortunately the rice heaped beneath the dish is starchy and sere, and bores the rest of the plate into submission. God help them, even the signature tacos are a yawn. They come with coleslaw on flour tortillas in several promising variants—shredded poblano beef ($7.50), roasted chicken in citrus-adobo sauce ($7.50), cod with fresh fruit salsa ($7.50), and ancho chile roasted pork ($7.50) among them—alongside forgettable chipotle pinto beans and Texmati rice. The fish and beef tacos, the best of the lot, are just average. The chicken and pork are, well, not. THE FOOD at Adobo Lounge is so dull it's almost fascinating; it's a sort of perverse achievement. It's not easy to take a cuisine known for its complex fire, serve it in a setting of true atmospheric distinction, amid cocktails of, ahem, substance—the margaritas will happily kill you— and render it almost entirely nondescript. There are a couple of exceptions. The chicken quesadilla ($5.95) is more than just a tequila sponge, with melting cotija and pepper jack cheeses livening up the chicken and flour tortilla. The adobo-style buffalo wings with roasted garlic sour cream ($5.95) are indeed buffalo wings of the white-trash-Super-Bowl-party genus, slathered with barbecue sauce and tough to boot, but they pack the kind of slow-fire punch that tells you adobo chiles were indeed in the room when they were being prepared. You may be thinking that two pretty good dishes and a few merely average ones do not an endorsement make. But this is where you would be wrong. The setting, a barroom so democratically, darkly inviting that a patron reportedly threw down a $1,000 tip last month, is the real deal. The service—attentive, witty, and generous—is of the sort deserving of happy $1,000 surprises. So the food's no good; that just means more money to spend on margaritas.

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