Taqueria Nueve
28 NE 28th, 236-6195

Fish-centric Mexican food is my favorite, because the fish is always jazzy, instead of slathered with butter and plopped next to some rice pilaf. The fish at Taqueria Nueve is one of their many strengths, and their keen ingredient choices (pickled mushrooms, mango, cilantro everywhere, pineapple, etc.) give each dish a summer freshness.

The ceviche is perfect. Fresh, lime-marinated gulf shrimp cut into clam-sized pieces, with a clean sour taste that's potent, despite the absence of any extra marinade. (They also offer a tangy oyster or mussel appetizer.) Ensalada de nopales is a grilled cactus tossed with radishes, cilantro, lime, tomatoes, oil, and a sprinkling of the parmesan-esque coija cheese. It has a hint of vinegar flavor and the cactus is mild and tender--a B-plus only because of a little too much oil, but quite good.

Nueve offers seven kinds of tacos. Cochinita pibil--pork seasoned with recado rojo and roasted in banana leaves--consists of finely shredded and seasoned meat, topped with pickled onions that are blood-red and tart. A huge chunk of fresh, flaky halibut was in the fish-of-the-day taco, complimented by cabbage and crema. For the vegetarians, they have a grilled pear vegetable taco that I didn't like at all--the vegetable unfortunately tasted like an undercooked potato.

The hanger steak is cut from natural Oregon beef (bistee en salsa de oaxaqueno), and cooked medium rare. It was crispy on the outside and pink on the inside, juicy, and artistically sliced into chunks and placed in a half-circle. Also, for the meat-conscious diners, they serve free-range chicken and organic lamb.

Nueve's atmosphere is bright, open, and airy. All tables are close together in one room, but it's always fairly (or super-) crowded, and conversations overlap so you don't feel like the neighboring table is listening to your life story. Try going on a Monday night if you don't like to wait, or a warm weekend night if you're patient.

Expect to spend anywhere from $15-30 for a filling dinner with drinks, but don't expect to be disappointed in the slightest.