Inside Nada's festive design in the Arena District

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

Nada swept into the Arena District in Decemberlike an unseasonable heat wave in the dead of winter. While it's blustery outside, inside the Cincinnati-based Nada radiates warmth like a beach-front fiesta. New restaurateurs take note: Food and drink aside, Nada is a great example of a fully realized restaurant that doesn't feel corporate or cookie-cutter. It's got the right level of polish and quirk.

The atmosphere is one of the best reasons to visit. Stand in one place and rotate 90 degrees at a time. Aesthetically, no two views will be the same. There's mismatched wallpaper, red leather booths and bright blue chairs. There's tile on the floor and sometimes on the walls. It's busy, but not distracting.

Before Nada opened, I got a quick tour of the space with owner David Falk.He pointed out a few intentional design touches. Knowing them has made dining at Nada more fun, so I'm going to share a few with you:

1. You can, and should, come here with a group (the place is built for large parties), but the best seats are built just for two. Find a few tables built just for a pair along the far right wall. The chairs are always turned out as though they were awaiting your arrival. A cutout in the wall holds a candle. You've got a full view of the dining room and kitchen-so you get the vibe without being in the thick of it. You're removed just enough to feel alone, but not outcast.

2. Which brings me to the next design quirk: Take a close look at the yellow floral upholstery on the chairs. Accenting the bright blue flourishes are little creatures designed by the Boca Restaurant Group team. There's a T-Rex body with octopus legs they call rex-tapus; a part woman, part donkey known as burro-babe (you'll also see this on the menu); and a unicorn head on an antelope's body referred to as uni-lope.

3. Other design choices are less subtle: Day of the Dead skull wallpaper flanks the doorway from the dining room to the bar. Mismatched floral wallpaper lines the arched ceilings of the women's bathroom stalls. And aliens battle cowboys in a diorama above the urinals in the men's room. (Guys, definitely make a trip in here.)

Of course, the food and drink are also great reasons to stop into Nada. My go-to order: a chile-mango margarita with the right amount of creeping heat; pork belly tacos with a fried egg on top; and anything (preferably guac or queso) that comes with the house-made chips.