West 5

Halfway through West 5's thick, caramelized-onion-slathered meatloaf-on-white-bread sandwich ($8.95), my friend's friend—whom I had just met and who had no clue I was an on-the-clock restaurant reviewer—put the thing down, came up for a breath, and said, "Is everyone's lunch as good as mine?" I had been meaning to ask the same question, but was unwilling to break from my rich, tangy roasted corn and green chili tamales ($10.95)—nor the excellent smoky sauce that tops them—long enough to do it. Across the table from us, our mutual friend nodded enthusiastically but kept right on scooping up, even more enthusiastically, his "Astral mac 'n' cheese" (small, $7.95, large $9.95). Made with round, mini-rubber-ball-like pasta and oven-baked with five cheeses, the dish—probably West 5's most popular—is pretty much out of this world. Still, I wouldn't have traded anything for my tamales (generous, the plate was four deep), which are made in-house daily with distinguishing vegetarians in mind (they're lard free). West 5's lunch service is brand new, but it's right in line with what they've been offering at dinner: bar food that Mom would approve of. And as my friend's friend can attest, the bartender's Bloody Marys ($5.50) are best right around noon. 4539 California Ave. S.W., 206-WE5-1966, www.westfiveweb.com. WEST SEATTLE

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