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So often the word "tapas" is stretched; weighed down with a restaurateur's visions of grandeur until there's barely a shred of the original meaning left.

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Unpretentious Ocho Stays True to Tapas

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So often the word "tapas" is stretched; weighed down with a restaurateur's visions of grandeur until there's barely a shred of the original meaning left. Tapas have become a catchall of anything smaller than an entrée, of anything more casual than a three-course meal. Ocho bucks that trend. The small storefront in a former hot-dog stand makes no claims beyond the simple single-serving small plates that you'll find all over Spain, yet rarely in Seattle.

The restaurant was packed on a recent Monday, spilling out onto the corner patio, like a beer that was filled too high, foam pouring tantalizing down the side of a frosted glass. Tables are just close enough together for the occasional eavesdrop, but far enough apart that a couple could cuddle without making their neighbor feel awkward. The seats and tables are modern wood, but from eye-level up, the décor is lifted from grandma's house, with sconces dotting pink, textured wallpaper. Like the food, the ambience sees no reason to add unnecessary complexity.

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Ocho offers simple eating and talking food. Pa amb Tomàquet is a garlic-rubbed tomato toast that is ubiquitous in the tapas bars in Spain. Ocho's version was as it should be: a piece of bread, toasted to provide a hard surface on which to scrape the garlic, a dollop of tomato, and a slightly melted piece of cheese to hold the whole thing together. It didn't try to upgrade the toast to better bread; it didn't try to offer its own signature twist. It just was--a classic, done in exactly that fashion.

Restaurants can be complex, with multiple menus, confusing dish titles, or a specific process for ordering or eating. Ocho laughs in the face of all that, offering a single list of dishes, most simple enough that all ingredients are listed in the title (see the padron peppers, yielding a large pile of blistered peppers). Around the room, there were first dates, old friends catching up, groups laughing over savory snacks. It was relaxed, and affordable, coming out under $20 a person with tax and tip (not including drinks). It's easy to see why the only way Ocho bucked the classic theme was by staying open on Monday--and staying crowded on Monday.

Follow Voracious on Facebook & Twitter. Find more from Naomi Bishop on her blog, The GastroGnome, or on Twitter.

 
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