Barber Shop

Where “the usual” means something

Cafe Lago From the regulars cozied up to the counter to the black-and-white checkered floor, Cafe Lago is like an Italian Cheers blended with Mayberry's barbershop. It's welcoming, unhurried, and neighborhoody, with the waitstaff dispensing good-natured barbs and advice as easily as Chianti and antipasti. I always feel like the residents of Montlake have convened here after walking their golden retrievers, picking up their children from daycare, and reading The Economist in the library across the street. In their khakis and Gore-Tex coats, they nod hello to neighbors who are tucked into booths that seem as familiar to them as their own dining room tables a few blocks away. (I have actually heard a customer order "the usual" here.) Cafe Lago's trim, one-page food menu is the culinary equivalent of the barbershop's blackboard permanently advertising a "buzz" and "shave." There's nothing trendy here—expect a few rustic standards done to perfection. The crisp wood-fired pizzas are laden with goodies such as roasted peppers, smoked mozzarella, and caramelized onions. The vodka-cream gnocchi is slightly denser than a cloud. Surprisingly—in a very good way—so is the fluffy lasagna. SARA NIEGOWSKIServes: dinner. 2305 24th Ave. E., 329-8005. MONTLAKE $$ Cafe Presse With all the right elements and an ample amount of charm, this cleanly elegant little sister of Belltown's Le Pichet has become a neighborhood gathering point, almost a salon in both senses of the word. Here, you can share a cheap pichet (about four glasses) of a jammy red like Les Hérétiques with your eggs and read from a wide array of magazines for sale, or watch international soccer games (check the online schedule to see who's playing). Despite its worldly airs, the place is as down-to-earth as it comes, creating equal spaces for social opportunity and intimacy. Local gallerist Scott Lawrimore is one person that's made use of this, by hosting an early-morning gathering of artists and critics every Tuesday. The same menu, with its melty croques messieurs and air-cured ham seemingly infused with butter, is available all day long. As one friend likes to ask, referring to the delicious salade verte with hazelnuts, "Lillet and lettuce at 10 p.m.?" I always take her up on the suggestion. RACHEL SHIMPServes: breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night. 1117 12th Ave., 709-7674. CAPITOL HILL $-$$ Cafe Yarmarka I was hunched over the piroshky display when I heard the woman at the register ask for a "stuffed thing" her co-worker had gotten the day before. The man behind the counter immediately knew who she was referring to as well as his entrée of choice. Near us, two more women were gossiping as they waited for to-go salads before heading their separate ways. It's easy to miss Cafe Yarmarka, tucked as it is off Post Alley. But the customers there know one another and the staff the way a good barber knows what his clients mean when they say they want it "a little shorter than Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music but not as short as in Victor/Victoria." It's the place where you become intimate gossips with total strangers through the joy of great customer service. Here the food is what brings it all together: piroshkies bursting with a stuffing for every craving, traditional Russian salads that rely more on the flavor of the ingredients than on oozing mayonnaise, and a loyal customer base that can help newcomers navigate the selection. LAURA ONSTOTServes: breakfast, lunch. 1530 Post Alley, 521-9054. PIKE PLACE MARKET $ Geraldine's Counter Forget reviews and tourist guides, and don't even consider the Internet. I learn everything I need to know about a breakfast joint by the size of the line snaking out the door as the hour flirts between lunch and brunch. If there's a seat available, it's probably for a reason. Geraldine's Counter is where Columbia City assembles for Sunday brunch, and where the rest of us wait patiently for our table or spot at the counter. The meal transcends the greasy-spoon genre with a hint of kitschy class. Perhaps incidentally, the glassware coordinates with the meal: my mug matches the avocado in my omelet, the jar of Heinz my plate—which is not heaping with hash browns and toast but instead with a generous helping of fruit. For once, you'll feel better walking out than you did on the way in. CHRIS KORNELISServes: breakfast, lunch, dinner. 4872 Rainier Ave. S., 723-2080. COLUMBIA CITY $ Pan Africa Market There are a few hideouts in the market where, for whatever reason, the tourists just don't seem to venture. Pan Africa Market is one of those places. The lunch crowd is mostly working locals, come to sop up stews, meats, and veggies with Ethiopian injera bread while chatting with the waitstaff and watching the foot traffic on First Avenue. With its burnt-orange and yellow decor, friendly owners, casually arrayed tables, and generally relaxed atmosphere, this refuge from the market madness has a familiar neighborhood feeling. Like the best old-timey barbershop, you're there not just for the service but for the sense of connection. All the better that it's one of the few places downtown to get a great sit-down, fresh-cooked, no-fuss, no-teriyaki meal for cheap. MARK D. FEFERServes: lunch, dinner. 1521 First Ave., 652-2461. PIKE PLACE MARKET $ Rosticeria y Cocina el Paisano Tucked into an unassuming storefront in White Center, this neighborhood restaurant has all the appeal of an old-school barbershop. The vibe: plastic-booth and fluorescent-light casual. People come for the community as well as the fine service. You might, however, come from so far north that the counter staff will need to call someone out of the kitchen to translate for you. Supplied and operated by the owners of the butcher shop next door, El Paisano's goat stew is some of the most fall-off-the-bone flavorful meat in the city. Their campechana with octopus, which might sound intimidating, is simply a tender, eight-legged take on shrimp cocktail. Pork tacos are small tortillas folded over handfuls of pulled meat, hardly gussied up at all and perfectly delicious. Like an every-two-weeks haircut, you might return again and again for your regular, once you figure out what that is. ADRIANA GRANTServes: lunch, dinner. 9615 15th Ave. S.W., 763-0368. WHITE CENTER $ Salumi Artisan Cured Meats There are plenty of neighborhood barbershops that can throw the clippers on the number-two setting and send you on your way, a ten-spot lighter. But then there's the place where everybody knows to go (usually via word of mouth) to get the cleanest lines and the closest shaves. In Seattle, even though there's a sandwich spot on nearly every corner, the place where everyone knows to go for the best cured meat between two slices of bread is Salumi. Just like the hottest barbershops, you're gonna have to wait. Better arrive early to claim a spot in a line that all too often snakes out the door. Hot sandwiches like porchetta (slow-roasted pork) and meatballs get snatched up fast, and for good reason. Salumi's cured-meat sandwiches tend to be more readily available than the hot options, so if the hour is long past noon, you can always order a sandwich piled high with hot sopressata or salami and fresh mozzarella. Catch up on local gossip at the community table, and leave feeling satisfied—just like you would after seeing your favorite barber. AJA PECKNOLDServes: lunch. 309 Third Ave. S., 621-8772. PIONEER SQUARE $ Silver Fork Every neighborhood should have a comfortable place like Silver Fork to hang out and shoot the breeze. At this soul-food joint, people know each other. Extended families are in abundance, and some booths even accommodate eight or more. Lines can be long, especially if you encounter the after-church crowd, so take a number, throw your hat on the rack, and strike up a conversation with your neighbor. Never mind the wood paneling and mirrored-tile aesthetic. It's about the buttery comfort food and classic R&B on the speakers. There's a coffeepot on every table, and some of the creamiest grits in the West. For lunch, try the artery-twitching "!!Soul Burger" (as the menu puts it), which throws a hot link, bacon, and cheese over the hamburger patty. Skip the salad and try the perfectly golden French fries instead. DEL ENGENServes: breakfast, lunch, dinner. 3800 Rainier Ave. S., 721-5171. RAINIER VALLEY $ Volunteer Park Cafe & Marketplace You get the feeling, sitting in Volunteer Park Cafe, that no one around you is a first-timer, or even a 10th. An air of belonging fills the room, and it's not (just) ritzy-neighborhood entitlement. The cafe is just that comfortable: Walls painted a rain-banishing yellow, tabletops with glassed-over flour sacks, slate floors. The icebox cakes and chocolate-toffee cookies on the counter look like they belong on someone's windowsill in a black-and-white TV show; and even though the lunch menu on the blackboard includes a roast-beef panini with caramelized onions and gorgonzola in it, and though owners Ericka Burke and Heather Earnhardt bake not one but two quiches-of-the-day, it's all solid American food, as comforting as it is well prepared. The neighbors have clearly taken to Volunteer Park Cafe like a neighborhood barbershop—a visit is never just about the haircut. They stick around and chat. They come in on weekend mornings with their newspapers. They bring their kids for their first cherry-almond scone. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: breakfast, lunch, dinner. 1501 17th Ave. E., 328-3155. CAPITOL HILL $-$$

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