Mojito Cafe

7547 Lake City Way NE (North Seattle), 525-3162. Mon-Thurs 8 am-9 pm; Fri 8 am-1:30 am; Sat 10 am-1:30 am; Sun 10 am-8 pm.

On New York's Upper West Side you find, every few blocks, a restaurant showcasing the unlikely combination of Latin American and Chinese food. No doubt it represents either a reality of immigration or else some canny reading of demographics; but these places, I tell you, serve an arroz con pollo that is not to be believed: chicken both tender and spicy, with crispy skin, served with equally tender rice, swimmy beans, fried plantains (sizzling on the outside, melting inside), plus a few squirts of sauce so hot it makes your nose run.

If I haven't found the equivalent here in Seattle, mostly it's because I haven't looked. I didn't want to have a run-in with some Pacific Rim interpretation. But now I know about Mojito Cafe.

Mojito is a bright little slice of a restaurant in the triangle formed where Lake City Way runs into Roosevelt Way. It's all Latin and no Chinese, from the music to the colored tiles on the tables to the stacks of glasses, each containing a slice of lime, waiting to be filled with the eponymous drink. The waiter, hanging out at the kitchen window while the cook plates some food, bangs absently at a pair of conga drums.

Guiso de pollo ($10.95) is a variation on my perfect chicken dish, a whole side of stewed chicken--the dark meat falling off the bone, the white meat a touch dry, but softened by a heap of stewed tomatoes and onions. With it, you get a pile each of rice and black beans, and two plantain fritters, each with a dollop of something like aioli. Don't you just love plantains? That taste somewhere between sweet and not, mostly like fruit but also sort of like bread? Next time, I'll have the pollo a la parrilla, the marinated and grilled version. (Let's just say I was too afraid of failure to order it this time.) If the steak aliñado ($14.75) is any indication, it will be moist, spicy, and delicious, with avocado sauce (thinner than guacamole, but just as good), plantains, and yucca.

There are two salsas on the side, one "hot" and the other "spicy"--and one of them is the telltale orange of habañero peppers. I drank a beer, wiped my nose, and stole another piece of steak from my husband's plate. Rain beat against the windows. Inside, it was warm. The waiter sang a little tune.