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Tabu has served "nuevo Latino" cuisine and traditional Spanish tapas since 2001. Shamefully enough, it wasn't until this fall that I dined at this Ashland eatery. The restaurant just never came to mind whenever I've fancied south-of-the-border fare.

A friend suggested dinner at Tabu after we attended Ashland's Festival of Light the Friday after Thanksgiving. Just one block north of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Pioneer Street, the restaurant operates on the second floor of a downtown building.

The dining room was full — of course — that particular evening. Booths are tucked into alcoves around the room, and tables fill the center. We opted to take dinner in the lounge rather than sit at tables near the entrance or the wait station.

The lounge was full, as well. I recommend reservations at this night spot, especially for parties of four or more. It was good fortune that led us to a small, cafe table at one end of the lounge. Bartender Chris Hart greeted us immediately, and we didn't have to wait long to order cocktails.

Tabu's dinner menu starts with small plates, or tapas, of such delectable bites as grilled, marinated portobellos served with warm tortillas, goat cheese, chili oil, Argentine chimichurri and organic greens; prawns simmered in escabeche, a Spanish-style, guajillo chili sauce; hot wings tossed with a tropical habanero glaze and served with Latin slaw; nachos with queso fundido, black beans, olives, green onions, cilantro and roasted salsa; and more. Tabu's ceviche — a seafood appetizer — is available on weekends. Prices range from $5.95 to $10.95.

Entrees feature fajitas, tacos, tamales, chilies rellenos, enchiladas and burritos — all created with chef Jeven Showers' inclination toward unique Latin and Spanish cuisine.

Tacos are served with pan-seared mahi-mahi or grilled ahi, along with cabbage, pico de gallo, chipotle cream, escabeche and tomatillo salsa, and the fish and chips feature tempura mahi-mahi, sweet-potato fries, Latin slaw, lime, cilantro and jalapeno tartar sauce.

Showers' pork barbacoa is made from slow-roasted pork shoulder and served with black beans, rice and a habanero-orange reduction.

Tamales are housemade; chilies rellenos can be filled with roasted vegetables or slow-cooked brisket and cheeses; and the burrito is a full-meal deal made with chicken, shrimp or beef sauteed with onions, peppers, corn, garlic, cabbage, beans, rice, ranchero or tomatillo sauces and cheese, then baked and finished with jalapeno cream and salsa.

Also look for baby back ribs in chipotle sauce and a coffee-crusted, Argentine-style steak. Entrees range from $13.95 to $19.95.

With all of that to choose from, my friend ordered the chilies rellenos ($13.95), and I selected the enchiladas ($14.95) with chicken and tomatillo sauce. The enchiladas can also be served with beef or three cheeses and ranchero sauce.

We almost had finished our cocktails when the entrees arrived sizzling-hot to our table. Perfect timing.

The enchiladas were the best. They were made with shredded chicken rolled up in flour tortillas, doused in green sauce, baked in a boat-shaped dish and topped by small dollops of sour cream and pico de gallo, with black beans and rice on the side. My friend ordered her chilies stuffed with roasted vegetables, which also came with rice and beans.

Look for a selection of salads and soups at Tabu. Grilled chicken, steak, prawns or calamari can be added to the Caesar or the house salad, and there is a grilled ahi and citrus salad and a blackened-chicken tostada. Salads cost $8.95 to $14.95.

Soups include chicken or pork pozole made to order, or vegetarian black bean topped with cotija and jalapeno cream. Gazpacho is available during warmer seasons. Prices are $3.95 for a cup to $7.95 for a bowl of the pozole.

Tabu clears the tables from the dining room at 10 p.m. and transforms into a festive nightclub where patrons can dance to tropical beats. Tapas, or small plates, are served until 1 a.m. A happy-hour menu is available from 5 to 7 p.m. in the bar only.

Tabu has moved to the top of my list of south-of-the-border restaurants in the Rogue Valley. The food is delicious, the atmosphere is casual and the prices are not too expensive.

Dinner is served from 4 to 9 p.m. daily. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Live, late-night entertainment is at 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Tabu is at 76, N. Pioneer St. Call 541-482-3900 or see www.tabuashland.com.

— Laurie Heuston

Tabu offers a full-service bar with tequila flights and a myriad of cocktails. - Photo by Kayla Young