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Octapas Café

Restaurants & BarsOlympia

I miss Obsidian. I think Olympia — the world even — was richer with it in it. Waffles and hot dogs served in a Scandinavian black metal-themed locale? I guess it wasn’t wont for this world, and its owners’ decision to transform the spot from a café into a club clearly didn’t pan out for long.

Now Octapas has opened its doors in the building, and the result is a bit of a mixed bag. The vibe is good, and I’m glad the wood paneling still dons the bar. It’s all reminiscent enough of Obsidian to keep the memory alive, yet it’s still its own thing.

Looking at the menu, things are less intriguing, and it’s hard to say what Octapas is trying to be. It’s not very downtown Olympia, with a dearth of vegan dishes, and not a whole lot in the way of vegetarian offerings either. If you’re not into eggs, your non-carnivore brunch options are limited to a couple of side dishes.

The rest is not particularly original, either, and aside from a selection of oysters — always welcomed — the menu is more Lacey than Olympia. No offense to Lacey, but… Well, you know. Different market for sure.

The aforementioned oysters weren’t bad at any rate. From Hood Canal, they tasted fresh, and the accompanying horseradish was spicy. The $2.75 a pop price point is OK, though $15 for half a dozen doesn’t seem like too great of a discount.

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Going with a carnitas breakfast burrito the day after the religious awakening at La Tarasca might not have been a great decision, but it was done in the name of science. It wasn’t a bad burrito either, just… regular. Completely average. The carnitas were decent, with a nice chew and all that, but not memorable. Should you go to Octapas with a group, you know you’ll have a safe choice, and frankly, a group decision is the only reason we’d go back, as opposed to our own sole choice. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The beignets were fine — lightly fried, and covered with powdered sugar as one would expect. They didn’t have any distinct flavors, and probably wouldn’t transport you back to New Orleans. Still, yet another safe choice.

Because Octapas is safe. There is nothing offensively bad there or even bad in general. Maybe that is why the colorful locals of yore are nowhere to be seen. During our final visit to Obsidian, people were sleeping at the bar by the window; this time there was more of a, shall we say, subdivision vibe. Which is fine. We just miss what once was, and what was once served.

Octapas is no Obsidian, and I suppose we’ll have to get our Dimmu Borgir and waffles at home instead.



La Tarasca

Project TortillaphiliaOlympia

La Tarasca doesn’t make its expectations from you a secret. Greeting you at the door is a note informing that they do not serve chips and salsa. In fact, they do not even have chips, which really is a polite way of saying don’t even ask. Hey, fair enough, and you do get a bowl of pickled carrots and salsa served before your meal as a happy compromise. La Tarasca is strict but fair.

This pragmatism continues through the menu. As opposed to many of its ilk, La Tarasca has only one starred house specialty: the carnitas. Even the flan, described as a MUST have, is not deemed worthy of the elusive star, though it probably should be.

I’m good with all of this. I like to know what to expect, just as much as I like to know what is expected of me. If La Tarasca wants me to go with the carnitas, who am I to argue?

And I’m glad I didn’t.

The carnitas are stupendously good. I don’t toss out that type of hyperbole often, but caution to the wind, and all that — they are good enough for anyone to make the trek to Centralia. Centralia! It’s a lovely town, I’m sure, but not exactly a road-trip destination. Should they decide to rename the place to La Tarasca in the name of marketing, I’d be in full support of it.

But I digress.

These are the type of carnitas you want to get to know. Converse with; enjoy their company; show them respect. Your relationship will be short, but it will have the depth and affection you usually see with a dear family member. Just in meat form.

There’s a proper surface-bite to the pork, yet the innards melt in your mouth. The spices are delicate, with a depth you only get from proper slow cooking. It all makes for an almost mysteriously delightful experience, one of lore only found in ancient tomes.

The tortillas look and feel as rustic as they are fresh, and like good bread, I could eat them by themselves. Don’t do that, though. Wrap the meat with the rice and beans in them, and top with pico. The combination is of divine proportions.

Should the mood strike, we would seriously recommend the flan. It’s not too sweet, and the sauce adds just a little bit of zing to the party. La Tarasca might not give it a star, but I will.

In fact, I’ll give La Tarasca as many stars as I can (two). It hands down serves the best Mexican food in the Olympia area and is worth the pilgrimage for any tortillaphile. Anything else would be in violation of your nature.



Burial Grounds

The Great Coffee ChaseOlympia

I can unequivocally say Burial Grounds exudes a vibe found in few other cities. It’s about as Olympia as Olympia can get, which, in my mind, is a good thing. Your mileage may vary, which would be a little bit sad — a dash of eclecticism in your life can only broaden your horizon, and Burial Grounds is plenty eclectic.

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What you won’t find in the downtown shop is delicate, lightly roasted coffee drinks prominently featured at Sprudge or in Roast magazine. Head down to Olympia Coffee Roasting for that. The concoctions at Burial Grounds are instead positively weird. Try a Hallowed Grounds with its random stuff flavor, and you know you’re literal blocks away from your highfalutin pour-over. I might prefer the latter if I have to choose, but I also have a hard time turning down a ghost pepper almond latte.

The service is professional and friendly, and the slightly shabby interior gives the place a distinct ambiance. You’ll see people working on their laptops work and others playing multiplayer Civilization on the separate gaming wifi.

There is a somewhat vast library of books and zines to peruse, and a collection of comic books is displayed on a wall. If there is one spot in Olympia that qualifies as the poster child for a third place, Burial Grounds is it. Take a look around, and you’ll see colorful locals and white color professionals (many of whom often are the same) leisurely doing their thing. Discounts are given to a wide variety of groups (state workers, students, etc.), too.

Burial Grounds might not be a holy sanctuary for craft coffee, but it is a good representation of the heart and soul of Olympia: a bit shabby and punk, yet welcoming and chill: A place to hang out, which increasingly seems to be a rarity these days.



Well 80 Brewhouse

The Great Burger ChaseOlympia

There is more than one way to prepare an Impossible Burger, lest there be any doubt. Case in point is Well 80’s offering. Olympia’s recently opened brew-pub serve drive-in style burgers without the je ne sais quoi of Cascadia, but with their own, old-school pizazz. That’s not a slight. Embrace the simple things in life and achieve both enlightenment and a zen burger appreciation. It’ll make you a better person.

As for Well 80, it’s all about the restraint: Tomato, lettuce, cheese, and drive-in sauce make up the base toppings, and the Martin’s Famous Potato Roll bun is flavorful, if not a marvel of fresh baking.

Should you be in a crazy mood, you can order the burger — Impossible and meat-based alike — Oly Style, with mustard and grilled onions. All Out adds bacon and avocado.

And the burger is good. I have claimed you would be able to tell the difference between a meat and Impossible burger at Cascadia, but I’m not so sure if that goes for Well 80. The patty tastes similar to the real thing, medium doneness and all, and while it’s not quite a straight substitute, it comes close. If that’s a good thing or not is entirely subjective.

Well 80 delivers a classy, classic burger at any rate. Classic shouldn’t mean sub-standard ingredients, and here it doesn’t, which is a refreshing change from many other places around town.

Burger aside, I would be amiss not to point out Well 80’s other assets. The interiors are inviting and sleek, with the iconic Oly Brewing slogan, It’s the Water, displayed as a reminder that the brewery is sat on Olympia’s eightieth (of ninety-six) artesian wells. The flash-fried Brussels sprouts are excellent, close to those from perennial Portland favorite, Picnic House, and the fries have a proper bite. Intern Jon heartily recommends the pretzel.

Good burger, good space, good food in general: Well 80 plays in the top division of brew-pubs.