La Cabaña Restaurante

2532 Beacon Ave S (Beacon Hill), 322-9643. Daily 11 am-9:30 pm. $.

If you're fed up with the blandness of Seattle's yuppie pseudo-Mexican restaurants, La Cabaña's strangely comforting mariachi music, dark wood paneling, carved wooden chairs, taxidermied deer, and hideously gaudy paintings of cowpokes and Aztec warriors will remind you that you're in a "genuine" Mexican American restaurant.

La Cabaña offers the usual combination platters of tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, etc. ($6.95-$8.25), as well as a good selection of beef, pork, shrimp, chicken, and egg dishes. The "Especialidades de la Casa" come with rice, beans, and flour or corn tortillas, and you can be assured of getting plenty of chips--the usual variety with two kinds of salsa, plus large ones doused with cinnamon for dessert. The more adventurous could try the Menudo ($7.95), a "traditional Mexican soup" featuring beef tripe and pig's feet, or just stick with the tried-and-true Chicken Fajitas ($9.95) or the Picadillo ($9.95)--shredded flank steak in a yummy red sauce. Wash it all down with a glass of sangria ($2.95) or a trusty Mexican beer, and you can hardly go wrong. MELODY MOSS

Cookbook Cafe

9614 14th Ave SW (West Seattle), 763-5229. Mon-Sat 7 am-9 pm; Sun 7 am-3 pm. $.

Cookbook Cafe advertises country cookin' and outdoor seating in their strip mall parking lot. Inside, this cozy diner bursts with knickknacks, floral patterns, and a display of old cookbooks (such as House Husbands of Uppity Women). I intended to order the Early Bird Special ($1.99), the bargain that draws the crowds from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., but the Big Mess ($6.25) appeared instead. The Big Mess and the Really Big Mess ($6.75) feature superb potatoes (fried up and flavored with plenty of thyme), eggs, biscuits with pasty country (chicken) gravy, homemade bread, and a heap of sausage topped off with more gravy and cheese for the "Really Big" folks. "Really Big" involves some stirring and sifting through all that gravy to find the food, but gravy glue sticks, ensuring lack of hunger for a good five hours after consumption. The Cookbook Scramble ($5.75) pooh-poohs food separation and piles potatoes, cheese, and Italian sausage together, garnished with two eggs. Thanks to Judy, the lady in charge, eating at Cookbook Cafe feels like hanging out in Aunt Audrey's kitchen: crafts galore, a pie beckoning from the counter, and lots of love via the coffeepot. RACHEL KESSLER


3426 NE 55th St (Ravenna), 527-8600. Sun-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm. $$.

Salute has a long, convoluted history dating back to 1984. Suffice it to say that the current Salute in Ravenna--run by longtime Salute dishwashers/busboys Tony Eren and Gao Le--is not to be confused with Salute of Bellevue. In this eclectically decorated 55th Street establishment, Tony waits tables while partner Gao cooks, and the key word here is accommodating. If you need to have menu items carefully explained, if you're undecided, if you want to mix 'n' match--all is forgiven. Best of all, the food is so good that even old standbys like Fettuccine al Pesto ($9.50) seem innovative. The Vitello Saltimbocca ($14.75)--thin-sliced veal with prosciutto, lemon, sage, butter, and white wine--is juicy and savory. The Spaghetti di Mare ($16.50) offers an unusually flavorful marinara sauce with impressively fresh clams, scallops, mussels, calamari, and prawns. Desserts are excellent; a special white and dark chocolate mousse terrine ($6) is especially heavenly. MELODY MOSS

Cyndy's House of Pancakes

10507 Aurora Ave N (North Seattle), 522-5100. Daily 6 am-4 pm. $.

Paneled in fake woodgrain and upholstered with red vinyl, the dining room at Cyndy's invites you to mellow out while awaiting your $20 psychic-energy reading at the joint across Aurora. It may be best to sit at the bar, bolstered by swivel chairs, and view the high-talent kitchen, where they flip the best pancakes north of the C.D. The Banana Pancakes ($5 for a stack of six, $4 for three) float on your tongue like a tropical dream, and the Bacon & Eggs ($5.50) ain't half bad, either. Crepes (more commonly called "Roll-Ups") are a feathery deal for about $4-$6. A whole continent of hash browns comes with egg orders, and you can choose country gravy or turkey gravy on anything. TRACI VOGEL

Bamboo Garden Vegetarian

364 Roy St (Lower Queen Anne), 282-6616. Daily 11 am-10 pm. $$.

Just one street north of Seattle Center, on a lot adorned with bamboo shoots, lies Bamboo Garden. The friendly staff and comfortable, unassuming atmosphere make this restaurant a must-eat for vegetarians and vegans, and an entirely worthwhile change of pace for the curious. Inside, punked-out high school vegans and kosher-conscious octogenarian anarchists enjoy plates of "chicken" and "pork" prepared with fresh vegetables or fried taro root. The focus is on your health: All "meat" items on the extensive menu are soy or vegetable protein substitutes; many dishes are "heart-friendly"; and brown rice is always available. Significantly less healthy--but much, much higher in alcohol content--is Bamboo Garden's sake, guaranteed to have you and your dining companion downright giddy about having to walk back to the bus stop in the cold rain without an umbrella. JASON PAGANO

Price Scale (per entrée)

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