Perfect Summer Streets

Cruising Seattle's less-populated promenades for good food and people watching.

With last year's opening of El Chupacabra (6711 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-706-4889), my summer nights were pretty much lost in a wash of hoppy pale ales, pomegranate margaritas, and fat, spicy Mission-style burritos. Those three elements combined with the open-air deck and sassy service kept me firmly in the bar/restaurant's seductive, tattooed grip. The loudness and hominess give it the vibe of a punk-rock living room, but these punks also know how to shake a serious margarita and roll the best burritos in Seattle. Plus, on a cool summer night, it's difficult to argue with a joint whose jukebox boasts both Hank Williams and the Stooges.

But El Chupacabra is just the gateway to one of my favorite Seattle intersections, 85th Street North and Greenwood avenue north, a multiculti nook that has escaped the yuppifi- cation and fast-foodization of other gentrifying neighborhoods. Olive You (8516 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-706-4121, offers garlicky Mediterranean deliciousness, while the OK Corral BBQ Pit Stop (8733 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-226-0398) serves up the finest hush puppies this side of Alabama. In the summer, Olive You opens its doors, creating a natural flow to the sidewalk's foot traffic, and the OK Corral comes as close to feeling like a picnic as you'll want. With your taste buds completely overwhelmed, you may want to walk off your meal by strolling through any number of Greenwood's antique shops. There's no point in naming any one specifically; they're all spectacular.

In terms of summer people watching, I don't know that there is a better place than setting up camp outside of Victrola Coffee & Art (411 15th Ave. E., 206- 325-6520, Most times, a friendly dog will be there to lower your blood pressure, and eavesdropping on the good conversation of others can prove more interesting than actually talking to them. Up the street, Horizon Books (425 15th Ave. E., 206-329-3586) offers a jam-packed selection of used titles. The overflowing shelves often mean that the book finds you. It was this happenstance that introduced me to the work of John Gardner last summer (I accidentally kicked a copy of The Collected Stories of John Gardner that was on the floor).

If you're feeling a little chill and want to get off Seattle's main drags, a slow-paced walk through the Japanese Garden (1502 Lake Washington Blvd., 206-684-4725) is always a calming experience. You can relax on one of the stone benches and take in the blooming wisteria, or watch the vibrant fish dart back and forth in the shallow ponds. If you're inspired to plant something of your own, City People's lush garden store (2939 E. Madison St., 206-324-0737) is just around the corner. It, in turn, will put you in the mood for the greenhouselike great room of the elegant Cafe Flora (2901 E. Madison St., 206-325-9100, a few doors down. It offers the finest upscale vegetarian food in the city. Just slurp a few Fish Tale pale ales while you scarf down a plate of mashed potato–filled Oaxaca Tacos. Listen to the water trickle from the fountain in the middle of the room and ease back as the summer sun glints off the glass.

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