Tooting the Tasty Horn at Ooba Tooba

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© Ooba Tooba
If you're not taking an actual vacation this spring to avoid the rain, at least let your mouth escape the boredom.
There's been sooooo much hoopla in the media the past few weeks about (dare we even type his name and thereby add to the pathetic spiral of enablement) Charlie Sheen (ugh, chunks in mouth at the mere mention) and his scum-sucking ways. This anomaly has just recently surpassed the insanity of Britney Spears' crazy train circa 2008, and it seems to be continually gaining steam. This raises a larger question (well, one of many really): What good could be done if all the cumulative time spent on Ch----- never mind, not typing that again--"him"--was instead redirected into something useful? "Useful? Like what?" you ask. Well, let's jump out on a limb here and aim high, like, say, world hunger.

If all the resources, salaries, air time, Internet buzz, blogger energy, TV coverage, psychologists' hours, and so on and so forth were pooled and directed at attacking even one country's hunger problem as a global pilot or model, what would happen?

Well, for starters, you can only imagine that death rates would decrease, overall sustainability of the local economy would stabilize, there'd be less petty crime, an, inherently, quality of life would begin to rapidly rise, thereby setting an example to neighboring countries of what's possible. But what else? You could extrapolate the idea of worldwide awareness about solving the hunger problem to the awareness of the greater benefits of that country's culture and food. Previously overlooked and underappreciated cuisine would suddenly be exposed for its unique flavor, and of course every last health benefit of every indigenous species known to that part of the world. This in turn would create a whole new line of exportable, consumable food products, meaning a brand-new pocket of job creation, international commerce and, BAM! You have the next craze of 2012!

Of course knowing humans, we'd ruin it within the year, completely raping the land of the new-found cuisine, delicacies and endangered hybrid apricots only found in the foothills of some Yucatan mountain range. The economy would once again flounder, and they'd be worse off than when we started. Sounds like fun, no?!

They say the road to hell is paved with the best intentions, so maybe it's safer to just stick to sampling international cuisine from the comfort of the local dim sum places, pho houses, and taquerias while watching E! News on mute with a Corona in hand. To that end, a perfect square meal that's seemingly straight from the roots of Latin America can be had at Ooba Tooba Mexican Grill in Bellevue (555 108th Ave. N.E.) without nearly as much agricultural destruction or global crisis.

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© Ooba Tooba
Tacos, burritos, what's coming out of your speedos?! You've got troubles; you're blowin' bubbles! If beans don't agree, then just get the greens!
With four locations up and down the Eastside now (including one inside the Microsoft campus, for those of you out in the boonies of tech world), Ooba's pairs fresh ingredients with south-of-the-border flavors in what they describe as not being "from a specific state or region in Mexico, it is an eclectic mix of food we've carefully chosen over the years that our customers love."

The food, besides actually being healthy without really being touted it as such, actually tastes good. What a concept! The grill marks are from an actual grill, not some freaky factory grill (Burger King chicken salad, are you listening???), and this is a place where ordering fish tacos doesn't yield something previously frozen and breaded to within an inch of its life.

The clear favorite on the menu is Ooba's Grill Plate ($10-$12), accompanied by just what you expect (beans, rice, and pico) but with an added bonus of a grilled veggie of the moment. Everything in the dish is served DIY style, so you can create your own, perfect-for-you tacos of chicken, skirt steak, and fish of the day or fresh salmon. Another frequently ordered item is the Rajas Quesadillas, which have fire-roasted poblanos and onions between the sheets (of tortilla that is) with melted jack cheese and the must-have sides of sour cream and habanero salsa. If you're a vegetarian (so picky! Just kidding) you can always try the wilted spinach quesadillas.

Obviously this isn't exactly a white-tablecloth kind of joint, but it shouldn't be, it's about the food here. They saved money and show their pragmatic roots with the poly-coated plywood countertops, and the interiors on the whole have character much like a beach-town taco hut without trying too hard. Most weekdays you'll find the downtown Bellevue lunch rush streaming in and out of here like a well-trained river that the Ooba's staff respond to like Pavlov's bell; they just keep the grilled goods coming. If the Honey-Do list includes tasks in downtown Bellevue next week, add a lunch break in there and stop by for a classic burrito or the daily special. Whichever it is, make sure there's a glass of sangria nearby to wash it all down.

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