Fill 'Er Up

The Rocket Restaurant—nee Lloyd's Rocket—supplies great service and even better ribs.

Amidst the usual drinking and eating haunts of Capitol Hill, the Ethiopian restaurants of Jefferson Street, and the colorful array of Asian diners in the International District sits the once dilapidated Lloyd's Rocket Service Station. And they want to feed you. No, you won't be force-fed varieties of gasoline; this service station has been transformed by new owner Paula Carson into the Rocket Restaurant, an oasis of sorts in an unlikely place: the triangle where Boren Avenue South, Yesler Way, and 12th Avenue South converge. From the early 1970s to the 1990s, this building was alive and kicking as a service station owned by Joseph Lloyd and considered a beloved neighborhood fixture. After his death in 1996 and some years of dilapidation—with the exception of phenomenal graffiti from neighborhood kids involved in "Panels for Progress"—Carson purchased the building with big dreams of transformation. With respect for the building's past, Carson gutted the 1940s vintage service station but retained the building's shell for the actual restaurant. Garage doors line one side of the lounge, and the interior of this restaurant is now cozy, funky, and functional. Panels of dark wood and splashes of deep red color the interior walls; small tables with colorful inset glass decorate the narrow front area and spill into the dimmer lounge in back where you can also find a small bar built where the station's hoist once stood. Vibrant turquoise, purple, and orange napkins embellish the decor of each table, and large windows give diners a view of the neighborhood, complete with the occasional sketchy character sauntering by (though the wait staff is watchful for any shady behavior outside). But even as inviting as the Rocket's decor, live music acts on select weekdays, and large screen TV are, it's the combination of soul food, seafood, and spices that will lure Seattleites to this unique corner. One of the most notable lunch options is the "ahi tuna in a glass slipper" ($11.95), consisting of generous amounts of pan-seared rare ahi combined with chopped cucumbers and celery and thick slices of fresh avocado. Seasoned with a light wasabi dressing, arranged festively, and served in an oversized martini glass, this dish is perfect for a lunch on the lighter side. Dinner is undoubtedly where the chef does his best, though. Lightly battered calamari ($11.95) is chewy without being overly resistant; it's served with both cocktail and sweet and sour sauce, and presented beautifully on a gargantuan plate made for sharing. The coconut shrimp ($11.95), served on petite wooden sticks, are a favorite of the restaurant's staff, and though the breaded shrimp are flavorful and fresh, the excessive coconut flavor can be overwhelming. By far one of the most delectable and generously portioned dishes at the Rocket is the barbecued ribs plate ($19.95, with perfectly crunchy fries and great coleslaw). The meat is so tender it slides off the bone, and the accompanying barbecue sauce captures the ideal balance of tang, smokiness, and consistency. The messiness involved in making your way through this entrée is well worth it. Drink specials aren't especially impressive or particularly cheap, but they won't break your pocketbook, and you probably won't mind spending a little extra to wash down an extraordinary meal in an unexpected place. Maybe because the casual, history-rich service-station spirit is still alive and strong, the good-humored wait staff isn't afraid to joke with customers or to offer suggestions on what to order and even shame you into eating ribs "the real way"—greedily, with gusto, and with bare hands. And just like those ribs, the Rocket, along with its owner and renovator, is sure to be embraced with gusto by the city. The Rocket Restaurant, 110 Boren Ave. S., 206-223-4757, CENTRAL DISTRICT. Lunch 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun.; dinner 5–10:30 p.m. Tues.–Sun.; Brunch begins at 10:30 Sun.; Closed Mondays.

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