El Meson is a sizzling tapas spot where friendly and helpful waiters hustle back and forth to your table to deliver your Spanish saffron meatballs before they cool and whisk away the ***image1***remnants of your garlicky roasted peppers. The hot tapas and specials are the way to go here, specifically the almost obscenely meaty mussels and almost dinner-sized salad made of mixed greens, reduced raspberry vinaigrette and different kinds of goat cheese (who knew there were four types?). And forget about salsa-we're here to declare aioli as the condiment of the future. It seems so simple: a little garlic, maybe some capers and a ton of mayo, but when owner/chef David Huertas couples it with blue crabcakes or fiery chile-flecked potatoes, he transforms the everyday into the transcendent. After one taste, you'll want to order everything on the menu just as an excuse to dip it in the savory stuff. Be careful, though: Your bill can pile up as quickly as the empty dishes.
213 Washington Ave., 983-6756. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday. $$-$$$.
SFR Pick: Any of the specials, lamb brochettes.