Food & Drink

Bar Exam

Happiness Happening at Ocho

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Ocho's only been open in Ballard for a month and a half, but word of the Ten Dollar Margarita has already spread far and wide. If you ask Will—the bartender/server/master of ceremonies and possibly the nicest man in America—why this drink is already so beloved, he'll just smile and say, "You'll understand." What you'll understand about the Ten Dollar Margarita: It is big, strong, and good. The recipe: a pint glass, ice, lots of El Tesoro Añejo tequila, a little triple sec, fresh lime juice. Due to the high-quality tequila, the TDM is not at all reminiscent of lighter fluid, though it does seem fairly flammable. You can feel the happiness happening.

Zach Harjo—one of Ocho's owners and another contender for nicest man in America—knows about margaritas. He was the bar manager at La Carta de Oaxaca around the corner for years; he estimates that he made hundreds of thousands of margaritas there. People stop him on the street in Ballard to thank him for making the best margarita they've ever had, or they just yell "TEQUILA!" Zach says he really believes in the margarita—to him, it's a magical drink. (Also pretty magical at Ocho: tumblersful of Spanish wine for $5–$9 and cocktails like El Picador, vodka/maraschino/cucumber, $8.)

Ocho is a neighborhood bar with tapas (as opposed to a stylized tapas bar), created with love, cheap snacks, and no pretensions. The windowed storefront used to be Matt's Gourmet Hot Dogs; Ocho's about the size of a hot-dog stand. Zach and his partner, Gelsey Hanson, put the place together on a miniature budget, sleeping amid the sawdust on occasion. Ocho is how many lucky gold teeth Gelsey has ("She eats a lot of candy," Zach says). The ceiling's uneven, painted-over acoustical tile, and the butt end of a ventilation fan is exposed on one wall. Decor extends to gilt-framed mirrors on gilt wallpaper, custom jigsaw shelving behind the bar, and candlelight.

Word's also gotten out about Ocho's food. People have already come expecting dining, complaining about the music (which is Ballard-style country or rock and roll: "If we were playing flamenco, that'd be so lame," says Zach). The kitchen staff: one Canlis defector, one from Tilth. The kitchen's output: very garlicky, spicy-hot, and delicious. Garlic prawns ($6): good. Deviled egg with chorizo and house-pickled asparagus ($5): great. The little toasts are bigger than just one or two mouthfuls—hongos al Jerez ($3) with inky-brothed sherried mushrooms and arugula; pa'amb tomàquet ($2) with Manchego cheese and tomato jam that looks like smashed watermelon. The pan con chocolate ($3), however, is the new best thing ever, a dessert-toast that goes from sweet to salty to heat in a magical manner. Ocho serves food until midnight every night. Very soon, it'll take magic to get a seat here. recommended

Ocho, 2325 NW Market St, 784-0699.

bethany@thestranger.com

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