How could one not stare at each and every patron of Peso's, as they sashay to the powder room or lift a pint glass to a spotlessly tanned face? Upon stepping inside the curry-colored, iron-worked building, I was greeted with such full stares. My attempt to disguise myself as a Regular Girl didn't fool anyone. I began to wonder if I had forgotten to put on my pants.

As I pushed past the palpable gaze of khakied men and Lycra-enhanced women, I told myself that they were watching the game, not me. I did not belong at a Queen Anne nuevo-Mexican happy-hour meat market.

After an uncomfortable eternity spent trying to ignore the fact that I was being ignored by the entirely-female-between-18-and-24 waitstaff, I dragged myself through the X-ray laser-beam sightlines of several barstool roosters and headed straight for the bartender. I located my voice and ordered a Negro Modelo and the Sea Scallop and Tuna Ceviche ($7.50). What is with Seattle's compulsion to poke tuna into every nook and cranny of its cuisine? Ceviche, at least as I knew it from South America, is best with flaky white fish or spookily fresh shellfish, diced up as tiny as can be with equally bitty jalapeños, tomatoes, onions, and fresh citrus juices, which "cook" the raw fish. Peso's rendition, while pretty and generously portioned on tender Bibb lettuce leaves, lacked zip. Do not order it, and maybe, just maybe, it will go away. I picked out and ate all the avocado, then tried to negotiate my way into a new seat in the dining room, hoping the remains of my ceviche would magically disappear. (Unfortunately, the plate followed me to my table like an unwanted dog.)

Peso's bar boasts an unbeatable happy-hour menu, three TVs, lots of silently appreciative men, and a sprinkling of well-maintained ladies. Still, once I entered the dining-room side of the restaurant, shielded from bored gazes and put into the competent care of a new, friendly waitress, gratitude buoyed my flagging spirits. She didn't even appear horrified when my companion (female) and I (also female) ordered five appetizer plates. Our Chipotle-Sesame Beef Bites ($6.75), which promised to fuse Polynesia and Oaxaca (what were we thinking?!) fell more to the side of overly sweet (is this Polynesia's fault?). The fish tacos ($9.50 for a platter), while not offensive, were ho-hum, although the tasty black beans and poblano rice they came with were far better than the bland, cheese-smothered belly-ache that is typically presented as "beans 'n' rice." There was no denying that Peso's prawns doused in fiery habañero sauce ($7.50) were indeed fiery; while the buttery roasted leeks and corn they were served over were mighty toothsome, the fire lacked depth, producing that strange "ring of fire" burning sensation on the outskirts of my tongue while leaving the middle kinda left out and lonely. My tongue felt sad.

Taste-sensation disappointments were offset by two menu items that cheered the old tongue up considerably. Peso, bless his soul, simmers a mean pork roast (a.k.a. Carnitas, $9.95) in chiles, cinnamon, orange, and oregano. One could happily fill up on this substantial, flavorful dish, and the value is unbeatable. And then there was the Ahi tuna, blackened "Oaxaca style" ($8.95). I've never been to Oaxaca, but apparently they know what to do with tuna there: this fish, encrusted with crushed herbs and peppers, was perfectly seared, retaining that brilliant, tender red interior, bursting with fine flavor. Thank you to the line cook, who knows how a lady likes her oily fish.

While Peso's is not my scene, what I came away with (besides a weird post-traumatic muteness) was the answer to the problematic Margarita Equation: Peso's generous margaritas ($5.50) possess an undeniable beauty and power. Fresh, strong, and oh-so-easy, it seems that well-constructed margaritas, as a rule, draw a wolf-like singles crowd. Ah well.

Peso's Taco Lounge

605 Queen Anne Ave N, 283-9353. Open daily 4:30-midnight. $$

Price Scale (per entrée)

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

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