Matador
2221 NW Market St, 297-2855
Mon-Fri 4 pm-2 am, Sat-Sun 11 am-2 am; happy hour daily 4-6 pm and 10 pm-1 am.a

I keep promising to reduce my intake of Mexican food. The rice, beans, guacamole, sour cream, tortillas, and chips just put me in a bloated food coma, no matter how delicious dinner was, and cause me to regret the whole meal. But I always break my promise. My most recent violation was at Matador in Ballard, on the corner of old Ballard Avenue and NW Market Street. With its candlelit patio extending the upscale border-saloon vibe onto the sidewalk, and a happy-hour special that's a steal--a lengthy menu of $4 versions of their Tex-Mex specialties, which pack in a lot of flavor for a little cash (and the plates are a bit smaller, which translates into regret-free dining)--the temptation was too great.

I grabbed a sidewalk table with three friends last week, on one of the first warm nights of the year. We had missed the 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. happy-hour run, but settled in for the post-10:00 p.m. bargain. The plates, despite the price, are big enough that we had our friendly waitress bring them in shifts.

The Fire Jumbo Prawns definitely lived up to their name, as all three tasters dove for beer after a bite and declared the habanero and tomato-sauced crustaceans hot, hot, hot. The Tex Mex Spring Rolls, a crisp fusion snack of yummy little fried rolls stuffed with chicken, corn, and black beans, came with both a chile sesame sauce and avocado sour cream.

The steak tacos were so delicious we ordered their cousin, the shrimp tacos. Both featured pillowy tortillas stuffed with pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and well-seasoned meat. The tacos, and our last plate--Ancho-Chipotle Wings, sticky and spicy, and complemented with ranch dressing--were the night's winners. At four bucks a plate, I'll definitely be back for more promise breaking.

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