by Joel Smith & r & Where has Molly's been my whole life, besides buried in the dust of last summer's Third Avenue street improvements? How many times I've driven past the little unassuming building with the pitched green roof (it used to be an IHOP) and the scody-looking dog on its sign and dismissed it as a mere greasy spoon, a waffle house for guests at the somewhat questionable motel across the street.

I was wrong about all that. True, Molly's is no Mizuna or Moxie, but for what it is - a nice little three-meals-a-day family restaurant - it's surprisingly good.

We dropped in on a rainy day last week and curled into one of the red leather-ish booths near the window. Over our heads hung baskets of fake plants, small framed mirrors; the windows were dressed in some scrunchy grey-green fabric. Pretty typical mom and pop stuff. So was the crowd. Dudes in cowboy hats, small families, couples chatting quietly. It looked like we weren't the only ones escaping the weather.

We ordered hot chocolate, and our server returned with veritable goblets of the stuff, plus a bowlful of marshmallows. This was a good start, but it was going to take more than that to take the sting out of the cold rain soaking into our clothes. We ordered nachos and onion rings and spoke of large sandwiches yet to come; our waitress warned us that the nachos were huge and that we were going to leave feeling violently full.

The dome of nachos arrived -- large, yes, but not the biggest we've seen (that honor still goes to the Season Ticket). They were, however, delicious. And pretty visually appealing, too -- a m & eacute;lange of yellow corn tortilla chips, avocado, cheddar cheese, beans, beef, tomato, onion, black olives, etc. We tore the dome apart to find a lot of un-melted cheddar and broken little chip bits within, but it didn't stop us from devouring it. Nachos can easily be boring and plain; these were flavorful, spicy and rich, and surprisingly good.

For an entr & eacute;e I went with the pork chops ($6.50). I was underwhelmed, but then pork is the vanilla of the animal kingdom. Though juicy, it was a little tough and characteristically lacking in flavor. This was perhaps the only dish that performed to our low expectations. The accompanying French fries, on the other hand, were quite good. Rough and golden-fried, they offered just the right amount of resistance to the tooth. Sprinkled with salt and pepper, they were ample recompense for the chops.

Zack, our firefighter friend, finished off most of the mammoth, crispy onion rings we'd ordered for starters, deeming them "belligerent and numerous," and moved on to his Reuben sandwich ($7). He, too, was slightly underwhelmed -- though Luke stole a bite and proclaimed the rye bread exemplary.

Luke was man enough to order the gargantuan Molly Monster ($8.50), a burger so heavily encumbered by toppings that it ceased to even look like a burger. It arrived in two sections.

Not unlike the monster created by one Dr. Frankenstein, this one's been culled from the choicest parts of tasty standards (bacon, cheddar, ham), all sutured together with a French roll to create a hellishly tasty beast.

Molly's uses steak patties - meaning they don't have the benefit of easy flavor from all the fat ground beef has - so the preparation, cooking time and selection of accoutrements is key to create a transcendent burger from high-quality (though temperamental) meat. Molly's manages this delicate dance well. The bastard was so big, the patties hung about half an inch on one side of the roll and at least a full inch off the other. Luke remarked that he thought at first the burger might try to kill him. Yet in the end, all it wanted was his love. He was glad to oblige by destroying it.

We finished with bulging stomachs and a look of pleasant surprise pasted to our faces. We were too full, even, to polish off the tiny complimentary muffins that come with each dish. Walking out, we noticed the sign that reads, "You'll never leave hungry." True that.

Luke and I returned the next day for more cocoa and a pair of burgers, which both hit the spot and lifted a few eyebrows. Nothing extraordinary this time, but they certainly beat the kind you might find at a Denny's. I think I'm going to keep going back until I exhaust their handful of specialty cocoas. Or until this muscle-clenching winter weather finally loosens its grip.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
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