Back when IRON HORSE (407 E. Sherman, 208-667-7314) first set out tables, the outdoor spots were a welcome relief from bar smoke and -- for the bust-a-move crowd -- loud music and body heat. Best way to go? Arrive on an ugly-sounding Harley with friends, order something like chicken strips, and wash it down with a red beer on a hot summer day.
Down at BELLA ROSE (213 E. Sherman, 208-667-9640), it's a more urbane experience with tea and scones or home-style quiche. There's TITO MACARONI'S (CdA Plaza, 208-66-PASTA) for Italian food, PITA PIT (320 E. Sherman, 208-664-1738) for healthful sandwiches (consider ordering to-go and eating in the nearby park). JAVA (324 E. Sherman, 208-667-0010) is a favorite for sharing bagels with lox and a chai latte over the Sunday paper. BRIX and its cousin, THE BEACON (both at 317 E. Sherman, 208-665-7407), span pub food to upscale with style.
The latest to hop into outdoor dining is CRICKET'S STEAKHOUSE AND OYSTER BAR (424 E. Sherman, 208-765-1990), which had plastic white tables last summer but recently expanded its out-front dining. Order an awesome Bloody Mary for indoors, the back patio, or out front.
MOOSE MARKET (401 E. Sherman, 208-664-7901) added its lounge, a cozy wine-bar area for sampling from more than 300 varietals, 40 microbrews and a smattering of appetizers.
How apropos that THE WINE CELLAR (313 E. Sherman, 208-664-WINE) now offers dining al fresco: Known for its Italian-inspired menu downstairs, the Wine Cellar's new streetside Tango Tapas area serves dishes like scallop ceviche, Caesar topped with Marcona almonds, gazpacho soup, and puff pastry-baked Moorish pork with fruit salsa ($3-$10).
Any drawbacks to CdA's continued foray into outdoor dining (besides shooing flies and potential sunburn) are a matter of perspective. The crowds definitely bottleneck in spots, but remember: When the tourists leave -- after infusing local businesses with much-needed revenue -- it's still your home and a great place to live.
-- CARRIE SCOZZARO
CASUAL Tortilla Dreams
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & e Leon Foods on Francis has been the source for authentic Mexican fare since opening two years ago. Now, people are so grateful that DE LEON MEXICAN DELI is open downtown that they're willing to put up with a few inconveniences. Air conditioning not working yet? Spicy food is perfect for a hot summer day. Paper plates, plastic forks? No problem.
The menu offers Mexican favorites -- tacos, burritos, chiles rellenos -- either a la carte or in combos. I ordered the combo plate with two roasted pork tacos, beans and rice ($8). The refried beans were tasty and the rice was actually a bit spicy -- and I ate all of it. The chunks of pork were flavorful, served on four corn tortillas. At the fresh salsa bar, I loaded up my plate with freshly chopped onion, shredded lettuce and chopped cilantro and jalape & ntilde;o salsa.
Mexican 7UP ($1.50) looks and tastes like soda used to, because it's made with sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. Another option is "Aguas Frescas" ("fresh water" in Spanish), the icy-cold drinks made every morning combining fresh fruits, sugar and water, or the horchata made with rice, sugar and water and flavored with cinnamon. (Think of it as a deliciously less-sweet chai.) And Heroes and Legends' full-service bar is just through a doorway behind the counter.
Manager Mario De Leon is rightly proud that De Leon is known for making fresh tortillas in their store on Francis. "We buy only Washington flour," he says. "It's my mom's recipe ... Other tortillas, you open the bag, you smell the preservatives ... ours use very little preservatives." Washington State University buys De Leon tortillas exclusively for use on their campus. Says Mario: "We support the local wheat farmers."
-- M.C. PAUL
De Leon Mexican Deli, at 825 W. Riverside Ave., is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch (generally 7 am-6 pm), but they'll stay open later and on the weekends if there's a game on. No phone yet -- "We're waiting for a phone and fax" -- so just stop by.