Nestled amid art galleries and upscale boutiques in downtown Kirkland, Cactus is a gem. The restaurant specializes in authentic Southwestern and Mexican dishes, combining fresh ingredients to enhance individual flavors—there's not a refried bean in sight. Thanks to the lively color scheme and upbeat Cuban salsa music, it's hard not to feel energized and happy, especially if you're there for happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. every day but Sunday), when drinks and appetizers are all $4 apiece. To complement the music, start off with a refreshing Cuban mojito while perusing the menu. An order of Cactus' chunky guacamole with serrano chilies and cilantro doesn't skimp on size or flavor; the wild mushroom quesadilla, made with roasted red peppers and smoked Oaxacan cheese, is also delicious, if a bit small. For an intriguing hot/cool combination, try the flautas: shredded beef inside crispy, rolled tortillas served with medium-hot mole. The best part is cooling your palate with the accompanying coriander-pasilla chili slaw and sour-cream-and-lime-cream sauce—the combination is exotic and delicious. 121 Park Ln., 425-893-9799. KIRKLAND

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