Downtown Kirkland

Like Seattle, Kirkland is a sprawling burg with many enclaves. I myself, a 20-year resident, only recently discovered that I live in the ridiculously named neighborhood of "Norkirk" when a sign announcing this fact popped up on a nearby street. The part of Kirkland most folks are familiar with is the artsy downtown. I'd vengefully call it "Soukirk" if it didn't already have a better name anchored in the town's maritime past: Moss Bay. It's accessible by car, bike, or boat and is crammed with restaurants, galleries, public art, and salons. It's a middle-brow version of Santa Monica–meets–Madison Park, with lots of public waterfront access, parking, cafes, and bikini shops. It's also a true dining neighborhood, dense with a wide variety of eateries—indoor, outdoor, take-out—within walking distance. In fact, eating and walking are Kirkland's main attractions, especially when the weather's warm, the nearby beaches are packed, and the boaters hit shore looking for brunch. You can stroll along the string of lakefront parks or wander inland a few blocks where there's a performing arts center, a summer outdoor pool, and, spring through fall, a Wednesday farmers market. Across from the market, there's a central park perfect for picnicking with your fresh market goodies. A little further on, of course, more restaurants. Moss Bay's outdoors orientation and its walkable downtown balances Moss Bay's dedi­cation to food: It offers the chance to load up on calories and a pleasant way to burn them off, all in one place. Knute Berger George's Place There's nothing fancy about George's Place. It's one of Kirkland's last surviving yuppie-free zones. Since 1976, this cafe has served up basic fare in a low-key, neighborly atmosphere right in the heart of downtown. Like other Eastside diners (think Chace's Pancake Corral in Bellevue), the ambience is '60s suburban rec room, but don't expect blandness. Open for breakfast, brunch, or lunch, George's serves up classic breakfasts, burgers, and sandwiches, including large grinders like the Godfather, with pepperoni, turkey, and roast beef. But for the full George's experience, try the Greek-inspired dishes, like eggs Karkinagri, a zesty version of eggs Benedict featuring gyro meat and tomatoes piled on muffins and smothered in feta and hollandaise sauce. Or the leg of lamb steak and eggs. Or one of the generous omelets, like the Corinthian, with gyro meat, tomatoes, onions, green pepper, feta, and a tangy side of yogurt-cucumber tzatziki sauce. Now that's a Sunday morning eye-opener. K.B. 108 Kirkland Ave., 425-827-6622. $ Lynn's Bistro Looking up from your table, you're reassured by the sight of glowing candles hanging in lamps, colorful French posters on the walls, and owner Linh Tran at work in the kitchen; all help you from involuntarily gazing at the magnetic blue-and-yellow neon of Blockbuster Video across the street. Lynn's Bistro is innately romantic and cozy without trying too hard. The grilled chicken breast with coconut curry sauce is a typical item on the distinctly French and Northwest cuisine menu. Vegetarians will be delighted by the crepes prepared with sautéed spinach and Gruyère. And for those escargot and liver pâté aficionados, you will not be disappointed; the escargot are served under a veil of minced herbs and butter, promising to enchant your taste buds, as will the chicken liver pâté washed in a grapefruit vinaigrette. Like a pint of your favorite ice cream, Lynn's Bistro will never let you down. Bon appetit! S.S. 214 Central Way, 425-889-2808. $$$ Purple Café and Wine Bar Nestled between the QFC and a cinema complex, the Purple Café is a surprising pocket of urban dining. Located in a converted garage, the ceilings are high and the natural light is flattering; additionally, there's lots of iron work, votive candles, and a pretension-free atmosphere. Living up to the cafe's name, the wine menu is extensive, offering mostly domestic selections but also a decent variety of imported wines from Europe and Australia. Diners who are not wine aficionados will appreciate the knowledgeable waitstaff. The appetizers are Mediterranean- influenced (lots of spreads, olives, and cured meats), while the entrées are mostly Italian American in genre (there's a pizza and pasta menu). Casual and snob-free, the Purple Café won't let you down. S.S. 323 Park Place, 425-828-3772. $$ Rikki Rikki Rikki Rikki is tucked away in the Park Place Shopping Center, walking distance from downtown (just east of the ballpark) and a stone's throw from the Eastside's only dedicated art-house movie screen and best independent bookstore. The decor is light, airy, and modern, with manga art on the walls and a variety of seating options: sushi bar, booths, tables, and tatami rooms. The often-bustling Rikki, open for lunch and dinner, is one of the Eastside's best Japanese restaurants, well loved for its traditional dishes and innovative and popular dressings and sauces. Besides standards like teriyaki chicken, tempura, udon noodles, and bento box dinners, they do especially well with fish, and not just sushi or sashimi. The refreshing snow crab salad is a mound of greens, snow peas, asparagus, avocado, and fried wontons with generous amounts of crabmeat. The ginger-crusted salmon is flavorful without overwhelming. Both are emblematic of the contemporary flair Rikki brings to Japanese cuisine. K.B. 442 Parkplace Center, 425-828-0707. $$ Ristorante Paradiso Park Lane is a narrow, tree-lined, pedestrian-friendly block of downtown with easy parking—and though just off the main drag, the businesses here feel a bit out of the way. There are several restaurants on this short stretch, the best being Paradiso, a cozy Italian eatery—with outdoor seating if you ask for it—that is unpretentious and serves great food (dinner every day, also lunch on weekdays). Meals start with delicious rolls, a fabulous vegetarian antipasto plate featuring olive-oil-soaked eggplant, and basic pasta dishes that are simple and absolutely satisfying. The capellini al pomodoro fresco is one example, a dish proving also that fresh tomatoes are usually much better than ladles of tomato sauce. A friend finds the risotto di mare irresistible, a heavy rice dish that supports its weight in shrimp, clams, mussels, and scallops. The entrées feature veal, steaks, chicken, pork, or seafood. The rich pollo alla mia maniera is a chicken breast robustly stuffed with spinach, mozzarella, and proscuitto and covered in a sweet marsala wine sauce. At Paradiso, you'll likely find yourself robustly stuffed, as well. K.B. 120-A Park Lane, 425-889-8601. $$ The Slip Think Red Mill with a full bar, near the beach. That's the Slip, a slip of a place (only five or so tables) that serves great burgers and attracts a hipster crowd just a Frisbee toss from Kirkland's Marina Park. In addition to basic one-third-pound char-grilled burgers with whatever you want on them (like slathered with a signature wasabi mayo), they get creative with off-beat indulgences: Consider the Peanut Butter Bacon Burger, which has a kind of Elvis appeal ("People either love 'em or hate 'em," says a waitress). For non–beef and peanut butter eaters, they also offer an array of salads and soups and chicken, veggie, or seafood burger options, including a supertasty grilled patty of smoked salmon, onions, and capers. And, as "Washington's smallest full service establishment," they serve booze, beer, and wine by the glass (in three sizes, 3 ounces to 9 ounces). For dessert, where else are you going to find s'mores on the menu, those graham cracker, Hershey's chocolate, and marshmallow beach-blanket-bingo campfire treats? Ah, so small a restaurant, so many options. K.B. 80 Kirkland Ave., 425-739-0033. $ Third Floor Fish Cafe Kirkland offers a number of dining spots with Lake Washington views, but none better than the Fish Cafe, a short elevator ride from Lake Street. The sunset vista of Moss Bay, the marina, and the towers of downtown Seattle off in the distance is marvelous, even with a foreground now anchored by a former NOAA research vessel that's used as a breakwater (the cafe's staff puts a positive spin on the minor obstruction by calling it a "conversation piece"). Inside, there's multileveled seating, a piano lounge, and dark-wood decor that suggests a men's club, but casual. The specialty here is seafood, and if the Fish Cafe has had its ups and downs, it's never been better than it is now. The sautéed rock cod with sesame and wasabi cream, huge Alaskan scallops in porcini mushroom broth, grilled mahi mahi with sweet potato purée and a buttery citrus sauce—all creative, delicious, and deceptively simple. For dessert, try the frozen lemon soufflé. Five- or seven-course tasting menus are also offered, and on weekends there's a bargain prix-fixe menu at $30. If you want to show off Kirkland to the out-of-towners, this is the place to satisfy their eyes and their stomachs. 205 Lake St. S., 425-822-3553. $$$ Triple J Cafe This place started out as a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, then expanded to a highly visible corner location at the T-bone intersection of Lake Street and Central Way. When the weather's warm, you can look out on streets and sidewalks thick with traffic as hordes of commuters, tourists, boaters, gallery browsers, club hoppers, and locals stream by. When it's cool, the Triple J offers a cozy haven with fireside seating. With high ceilings, abstract art, and armchairs, the 3-J feels a bit like the "Central Perk" coffeehouse set of Friends. So far, though, no gang of nitwits hogs the sofa, and more than espresso there's good food: baked goods, breakfasts (a big cheese omelet for under $5), sandwiches (a memorable BLT), salads, and grill items. Also, longish hours: It's open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. ('til midnight Fridays and Saturdays), perfect timing for a place that feels like Kirkland's living room. K.B. 101 Central Way, 425-822-7319. $

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