Adobo Taco Lounge, a First Hill bar on the way up Madison from downtown, would be a good place to stop for a beer or a margarita on the way home from work. It has pool tables and an attractive neon sign. The interior is appropriately dark and smoky, and the music is loud. Unfortunately, the Mexican food is uniformly disappointing.
Adobo's menu is — not surprisingly — heavy on the tacos, offering eight varieties, from codfish to carne asada. For the indecisive, there's a taco sampler offering one each of chicken, beef and pork. The tacos are available only in a meal-sized portion consisting of three, although one or two tacos would be the right size for an after-work snack with a beer (there is a smaller pork taco special during happy hour). The house condiment, a bland garlic sour cream, is ubiquitous, and every table has a couple of bottled hot sauces to choose from.
There's a Caesar salad ($5.95 large, $3.49 small) and appetizers including taquitos ($4.95), buffalo wings ($5.95) and calamari ($5.95). The bean dip ($4.95) is served with warmed flour tortillas; watching someone try to dip with a soft tortilla is amusing, especially after you or the dipper has put away several beers, but chips would make more sense. Many of the appetizers and salads are $3 during happy hour (4-6 p.m. and 9-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).
The big three wines — chardonnay, cabernet and merlot — are available by the glass, and there are six beers on tap, but most people ask the bartender to dip into the illuminated wall of booze to mix a cocktail; there are more than 30 tequilas to meet your margarita and sunrise needs.
Unfortunately, the kitchen at Adobo seems to be under the impression that there is no dish that can't be improved by adding another spoonful of sugar. The side of pinto beans was tooth-dissolvingly sweet and undercooked, and the beans sat alongside a mound of overcooked rice. The chicken in the fajitas was likewise unapproved by the American Dental Association. Then, as if to compound the sucrose abuse, the Adobo kitchen undersalts.
The case isn't hopeless: The taquitos and flautas were nicely fried, and clearly they're trying to do something more interesting here than at the typical burrito chain. With a little restraint, recipe tinkering and a big crossed-out sugar-cube sign in the kitchen, there's no reason this couldn't become a destination for food as well as drink.
Adobo is packed solid on Friday nights, so obviously the place does have its charms. One draw is margaritas, made from fresh-squeezed limes, that are tangy and, amazingly, not too sweet. Another is live DJs, Thursday through Monday (open mic on Monday), spinning an eclectic mix of tunes.
Service quality varies inversely with the number of patrons. For an early dinner, it was prompt and friendly. Friday night in the bar, we had to wait 20 minutes to order food, but at least our drinks came right away.
Adobo doesn't serve dessert. Maybe they've run out of sugar.
Potato flautas: This appetizer, garlic mashed potatoes wrapped in a tortilla and fried, was only slightly too sweet. The menu advertised a honey-tomatillo salsa, and it's probably just as well that we didn't get any, since the last thing anything at Adobo needs is honey.
Taco sampler: An assortment of three tacos (adobo chicken, poblano beef and ancho pork), some unidentifiable greens, and beans and rice. It was difficult to tell the difference between the three meats underneath the veneer of sugar.
Chicken fajitas: Served on a nice sizzling platter but sizzling with sweetness, even the decent guacamole couldn't save this mix of chicken, onions and pepper.
Margarita: Now we're talking. The right amount of tequila, fresh-squeezed lime juice and a salty rim added up to a tart margarita worth drinking.
Itemized bill, meal for two:
Potato flautas: $5.95
Taco sampler: 8.50
Chicken fajitas: 9.95
Fat Tire ale: 3.25
Matthew Amster-Burton can be reached at email@example.com.