FUSION COOKING is now so commonplace that no one bats an eye at combinations like Vietnamese-French or Spanish-French, linked as they are by colonialism or geographic proximity. But Mexican-French? Bien sêr, mi amigo. Your apprehensions will vanish as quickly as your margarita upon a visit to the appropriately fusion-named Les Tamales. ("Los Tamales" or "Les Crêpes" just wouldn't be the same, now would it?)

The West Seattle restaurant has become a neighborhood favorite since it opened in 1998, with other Seattleites and tourists flocking to the outdoor patio in the summertime. The interior is warm yet sparse, and the clean and shiny feel of the small, square metal tables is muted by the dark orange paint and the glow of the diffused lighting.

The original French chef has been replaced by his understudy, Daniel Graves, and in whatever Franco-Latino culinary battles have raged at Les Tamales, the Mexicans clearly won the knockout round -- the food is best described as upscale Mexican fare with added French touches. What makes this bizarre concept work has little to do with the combining of cuisines, but is instead much more basic: fresh ingredients, with everything made daily, in-house.

The Tamales de la Casa ($5 appetizer, $11.50 entrée), the restaurant's signature dish, has a lovely green tomatillo sauce on one side and a sweet, spicy rojo sauce on the other. The moist cornmeal and tender pork filling keeps its shape inside the hand-rolled, steamed corn husks. The Duck Confit Quesadilla with asadero cheese ($8.50), a true French-Mex combo if there ever was one, is served with a very tasty cranberry/tomato coulis, but the rich gaminess of the duck confit tends to overpower it. Two salads are offered: the Ensalada de la Casa ($4.50 small, $8 large), with romaine, manchego cheese, chili-powdered croutons, and a superb lime/caper/cilantro vinaigrette; and the Ensalada de Espinaca ($6), baby spinach tossed with chêvre cheese, roma tomatoes, delectable pickled red onions, and a strongly sweet roasted-garlic/sesame-seed vinaigrette.

Though my dining companion generally disdains steak, he nearly devoured my Flanko Pepito ($13), a perfectly cooked flank steak blessed with a rich and earthy shallot, bacon, and roasted pumpkin-seed sauce. In a perfect reversal, though I'm not a big fish fan, I nevertheless found myself gleefully chomping on my friend's Huachinango Gratiné ($13.50), a moist and tender snapper fillet baked with a creamy mushroom, tomato, and cilantro sauce. Most of the entrées are accompanied by mild seasoned rice, a tangy cluster of pickled red cabbage, and smooth jalapeño mashed potatoes or simple and tasty black beans.

Dessert choices vary, but generally there are several selections ($5.50 each), consisting of homemade standbys like variously flavored cheesecakes, a coconut flan, and a chocolate mousse cake. The Pineapple Cheesecake is a real standout, boasting a macadamia-nut crust, lime tequila sauce, and cranberry-strawberry-kiwi compote.

Les Tamales has a small but well-chosen wine and beer selection, with Spanish wines and Mexican beers predominating. The only misstep is the sangria ($5 glass, $25 carafe), which is too bland and could use some fruit juice. But lest we forget, this is a tequila bar -- or rather, a tequila restaurant -- with about 30 varieties of tequila at any given time. Though this is not the kind of place where you chug shots of cheap tequila with lime and salt and do the Pee-wee Herman "Tequila" dance on the bar, the margaritas do sport plastic pink elephants on the rim. For true nirvana, order the exquisite Tequito margarita ($7): El Jimidor Silver muddled with fresh mint and lime, with splashes of simple syrup, soda, and the house margarita mix.

To fully appreciate the differences between the añejo, reposado, and gold and silver varieties, try one of the "Tequila Flights" ($11-$20), a sampling of three or four half-shots of the finer stuff. But be warned: Once you've tried the ambrosia of good tequila, there's no going back. Suddenly, ordinary Cuervo will have all the appeal of Budweiser.

Tom Robbins called tequila "the drink of outlaws," but really, at this level you should be sipping the stuff slowly. And for those who have to cross the bridge back to the rest of Seattle after imbibing at Les Tamales, just remember that the #55 bus is your friend.

Les Tamales

3247 California Ave SW, 923-3538. Tues-Thurs 5-9 pm, Fri-Sat 5-9:30 pm, closed Sun-Mon. Full bar. Cash and checks only. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up