The Watering Hole: Blue Water Taco Grill, 515 Queen Anne Ave. N., 352-2407, QUEEN ANNE
Family photos defy chain expectations.
The Atmosphere: Don't be fooled by its whimsical cartoon seafood motif, assembly-line configuration, or chain status (additional Blue Waters reside in SoDo and several downtown locations)—this is decidedly not a bland, snore-for-the-senses spot. This is simply executed and brightly seasoned coastal Mexican food served in a busy cafe-teria splashed with the requisite primary colors (heavy on the blue, of course) and a smattering of charming family photos. At the Queen Anne location, they have hard liquor and some of the best barbacoa to be found outside of taco-truck culture (two barbacoa tacos with rice and beans are just $5 during happy hour).
The Drink: While the unfortunate preponderance of Corona swag undoubtedly drives many to order an ice bucket full of mini-Coronitas ($5 for four), there's nothing wrong with their $4 happy-hour margaritas. The housemade mix is a reasonable balance of tart and sweet, and the liquor portion is generous—perhaps because the oft-harried cooks double as bartenders. The patio out back is small, but sunny and sweet—and one of the few available along lower Queen Anne's drinking corridor.
The Verdict: Typically when a restaurant proliferates into a chain, it's safe to assume any sense of personal service or attention to culinary detail will rapidly wane, but Blue Water pleasantly defies this norm. If you're looking for an elegant agave infusion, this is not your beat, but for a preshow bite and cocktail next to SIFF Cinema Uptown, this is an idyllic, budget-friendly option.