With colorful décor, fresh and spicy flavors hearkening to the Baja region of Mexico, and a menu that won't empty your wallet, the Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club (on the southern edge of the University of Washington campus, along the shores of Portage Bay) is a haven for a casual dinner or lunch.

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Seattle snowstorm blues got you in their grip? Bank account saying “Heck, no” to a trip to Baja? There’s a cheaper way to at least take your taste buds on a sunny vacation: the Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club.

With colorful décor, fresh and spicy flavors hearkening to the Baja region of Mexico, and a menu that won’t empty your wallet, the cafe is a haven for a casual dinner or lunch.

The menu: Tacos and side dishes are the dominant theme. An order of tacos gets you three corn tortillas heaped with chopped fresh cabbage or grilled onions, a main topping ranging from a variety of seafoods to organic yams, and one of several tasty sauces drizzled on top. Mix and match with cups of side dishes, including rice or black or pinto beans. There are fruity alcohol-free Mexican drinks, as well as margaritas and bottled beers.

What to write home about: My personal weakness is the side of chili mashed potatoes. It’s spicy, with the sweetness of potatoes; I eat it with chips, instead of using salsa. The enchiladas mariscos, a tortilla wrapped around chopped shrimp and mahi-mahi, is topped with a cream sauce spiked with chipotle. Not too hot — just right. If you’re a vegetarian, the yam tacos (tacos de boniato) are a treat.

The setting: Housed in a small building on the southern edge of the University of Washington campus, along the shores of Portage Bay, it hums with a mixture of UW students, families and professionals just off from work.

The interior features vibrant paintings and brightly colored walls. It’s family-friendly, too. Items such as quesadillas can keep the little ones happy, and the floor plan is open enough that you don’t worry about wiggly children bumping the diners next door.

The cafe really shines in the summer, when diners can sit outside on the deck or pop downstairs to rent a kayak for a tour of Portage Bay.

Summing up: The bill for two, including nachos, a side of mashed potatoes, an order of shrimp tacos and another of enchiladas mariscos, plus a soft drink, came to $39.79 with tip. A meal — and deal — to brighten any day.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com