Our Favorite Restaurants 2010

All Purpose Pizza "Kid-friendly" is a hyphenated poison pill for many restaurants. Especially ones that, with some pies going for nearly $30, clearly cater to the well-heeled crowd at the tippy-toe of the Jackson Street corridor. But don't let that deter you. Yes, All Purpose's pizza is gonna be a little pricier than your average pie. But it's worth it—even with all the rugrats. Handmade sourdough is the special ingredient that takes even the most basic slice—like the titillatingly named Fromage a Trois (mozzarella, gorgonzola, shaved parm, and red sauce)—into run-your-fingers-over-the-plate-to-sweep-up-all-the-crumbs territory. Even better, the ingredients are all fresh. So while that pepperoncini may clear your sinuses, it won't leave you with the bitter aftertaste of a canned good. And if you actually are the type of person who subjects a roomful of strangers to your progeny (what, too good for a babysitter?), see that tyke-friendly mini-kitchen underneath the big screen showing the NBA on TNT? That's for you and yours. CALEB HANNAN 2901 S. Jackson St., 324-8646, allpurposepizza.com. $ LESCHIAnchovies & Olives Run by one of the city's most talented chefs, Ethan Stowell, this intimate neighborhood spot offers inventive, impeccably prepared food without the pomp of fussy downtown establishments. Distinguishing it from the other stars in Stowell's burgeoning restaurant empire, the focus here is on seafood, often showcased in unusual ways: halibut with zucchini flowers, mackerel with wild mushrooms, and bluefish with soft-boiled eggs. But there's simplicity, too, in Stowell's style, and the best dishes, like giant scallops lightly sautéed, manage to convey both purity and complexity. Come during the restaurant's version of happy hour, renamed power hour, and you can treat yourself to raw oysters for a buck apiece. NINA SHAPIRO 1550 15th Ave., 838-8080, anchoviesandolives.com. $$ CAPITOL HILLBakeman's Jason Wang makes the Soup Nazi seem like a softy. He won't swear at you if you waffle for more than half a second with your order, but you can tell he wants to. You might walk out of your first visit to Bakeman's thinking that Wang, who runs the ultra-efficient, subterranean cafeteria, is a prick. You might also think that after your second visit—and maybe after your 17th, if you make it that far. But at roughly visit 43, you'll notice a shift in Wang's demeanor. Oh, sure, he'll still flip you shit, but his eyes start to smile, as Tyra Banks might say. And even if you never develop an appetite for Wang's brusque personality, it's pretty impossible not to be drawn to his homemade meatloaf sandwiches or daily plate specials, including beef stroganoff and Seattle's most affordable lamb shank. And good luck trying not to fall prey to Wang's dessert hustle when you reach the register. You don't need that slice of pie, granted, but sometimes you'll do whatever it takes to get a guy off your back. MIKE SEELY 122 Cherry St., 622-3375. $ DOWNTOWNBakery Nouveau What gets you first about the twice-baked almond croissants at Bakery Nouveau is the smell: like warm, fresh bread, only sweeter, richer, better. Next, as you take a bite, it's the magic of croissants that surprises you—the way they manage to be crisp and flaky and chewy and soft all at the same time. And after that, you're just into it—fully committed and loving the restrained sweetness of the almond paste and the pure, luxurious kick of all that butter and all that sugar doing wonderful and terrible things to you. The twice-baked almond croissants at this little West Seattle Bakery (which just happens to be run by William Leaman, the guy who led the 2005 U.S. bread-baking team to victory at the World Cup of Baking) are far and away the best thing I've had there, but Bakery Nouveau also does a brisk trade in fresh bread in the morning (the loaves sell out fast); in plain croissants; in cookies and pastries and cakes and fist-sized pains au chocolat. But seriously, there is just no way I can walk into this shop without being drawn straight to those little almondy bastards. And there's never any point in picking up fewer than three because, at least in my experience, one of them will never survive the drive home; the second will vanish before midnight; but the third—if I can manage to show a little restraint—might actually make it to breakfast the next morning. JASON SHEEHAN 4737 California Ave. S.W., 923-0534, bakerynouveau.com. $ WEST SEATTLEBetty While its older sister, Crow, near Seattle Center, is something of a "destination" restaurant, Betty, run by the same owners, is a neighborhood joint all the way. Bear in mind, however, that the neighborhood in question is the top of Queen Anne hill—so don't come for budget dining. With your expectations properly calibrated, though, you'll find Betty the perfect spot for a low-stress, high-end meal where you can hear your companion speak low and speak love from across the table. Betty handles standards like roast beet salad, steak frites, and roasted chicken with graceful ease. And the no-fuss elegance of the atmosphere makes for a great weeknight escape. MARK D. FEFER 1507 Queen Anne Ave. N., 352-3773, eatatbetty.com. $$ UPPER QUEEN ANNEBistro Turkuaz is a long, yellow breadbox ending in a blood-red wall, behind which is a magical kitchen that produces some of the most nuanced Turkish cuisine in town. At the top of Union Street on 34th Avenue in Madrona, this family-run spot is quietly fantastic. Hummus and pita and grape leaves might all be considered casual Mediterranean staples, but not here. The pace is slow, the mood mellow, and the dishes are very thoughtfully prepared. Your waitress might razz you, and her mother, the chef, may cast an approving smile at your appetite—but the biggest characters can be found on your plate. A meze platter is decked out with hummus and baba ghanouj, triangles of pita, and tightly rolled grape leaves, with all the flavors very nicely balanced. Make sure to try the acuka, a blend of red peppers and walnuts, rich with garlic and lemon. There are kebabs among the entrées, but the best dishes are the appetizers. And afterward, dessert might just have to be a piece of baklava, stuffed with pistachios and house-made chocolate. ADRIANA GRANT 1114 34th Ave., 324-3039, bistroturkuaz.com. $$ MADRONABranzino comes off like a handsome older man, charming without trying too hard. The upscale Italian restaurant is always crowded in the evenings, drawing as many loudmouthed businessmen to the bar as it does cozy couples on dinner dates. Its menu is divided into five sections: antipasti, fish, meat, pasta, and contorni. Under fish, of course, is the branzino, a European sea bass with a crisp silver skin and tender white meat that nearly melts in your mouth. Other dishes—duck confit, risotto with braised oxtail—are rich in flavor but small in size. You may want to order a side of meatballs, too. (A cheaper option still would be to ask for more house bread.) But be sure to save room for dessert; Branzino makes theirs fresh daily, and the cannoli is to die for. ERIKA HOBART 2429 Second Ave., 728-5181, branzinoseattle.com. $$$ BELLTOWNBuddha Ruksa The instant you walk into Buddha Ruksa, the servers greet you warmly, as if they've been preparing a meal in anticipation of your arrival. The air is rich with the aroma of spices, the dining room adorned with warm colors, candles, and statues of deities. Buddha Ruksa serves classic Thai cuisine, as do countless other restaurants in the city. But it's their signature dishes that bring customers back again and again. Their red curry contains succulent prawns and hearty pieces of pumpkin that come up with almost every dip of the spoon. The crispy garlic chicken, dubbed "crack chicken" by regulars, is sautéed in a savory sauce and served atop a bed of crispy, seasoned basil. Dishes such as these are intended for sharing, but you won't want to. Be prepared to battle your company for every last morsel. ERIKA HOBART 3520 S.W. Genesee St., 937-7676, buddharuksa.com. $$ WEST SEATTLECafe Flora From the outside, Cafe Flora looks a little like a converted greenhouse, which is a savvy marketing strategy: Sidewalk bystanders can peek right in and check out what everyone's eating, and it's only slightly creepy. The interior is adorned with plants and colorful paintings of birds, and the granola factor that plagues some vegetarian establishments is notably absent here. Though the menu is exclusively vegetarian, Cafe Flora doesn't rely on processed, fake meat products to come up with imaginative menu items even the most devoted flesh fiend can admit to enjoying. The Oaxaca tacos are a masterful combination of taste and texture: Creamy, cheesy potatoes come rolled up in crunchy corn tortillas and slathered in more cheese, black bean stew, and sundry salsas. If you absolutely must consume something that tastes like meat, the portobello Wellington, a flaky pastry filled with a finely chopped mushroom-and-pecan concoction and topped with Madeira sauce, is the meatiest vegetarian approximation of beef you're likely to encounter without resorting to fried foods. SARA BRICKNER 2901 E. Madison St., 325-9100, cafeflora.com. $$$ MADISON PARKCafe Juanita This 33-year-old stalwart of Eastside dining resists the glitz of its newer rivals in the 425. Owner and chef Holly Smith's attention is focused squarely on the seasonal menu, as it should be. She's upholding the tradition established by founder Peter Dow: Keep the greens local, be organic when you can, and don't let the music or decor distract from the plate. Smith's starting point is never that fancy: Rabbit, lamb, quail, or crab supplies the rustic framework upon which the more delicate sauces and purées are applied. You can always taste the source, but not with the immediacy of the kill. Local is well and good, but sometimes it's nice to have a little distance between the duck on your table and the quacking outside. BRIAN MILLER 9702 N.E. 120th Pl., 425-823-1505, cafejuanita.com. $$$ KIRKLANDCafé Paloma Finding a reasonably priced casual restaurant in which to while away an hour or two is surprisingly difficult in downtown Seattle. Café Paloma is one of the lone exceptions to that frustrating rule. This intimate little nook is maybe the size of a big garage, and that's counting the tiny patio, a perfectly charming place to sit on a sunny day so long as you're good at ignoring Pioneer Square's gaggle of transients. Even though the atmosphere is casual, everything about Café Paloma exudes understated class without succumbing to the exasperating pretension that plagues so many of downtown's pricier establishments. More important, Paloma is one of those rare places where you can open the menu, close your eyes, point at something, and order it with confidence. Every single item is a study in the kind of balanced flavors that can only be consistently attained with careful attention. The panini sandwiches contain perfectly proportioned layers of filling; it's just the right amount not to be overwhelmed by the thick foccacia, and it's hard not to resist the urge to lick the last bits of hummus and red-pepper dip from the meze platter. SARA BRICKNER 93 Yesler Way, 405-1920, cafepaloma.com. $$ PIONEER SQUARECafé Presse What Watertown Coffee—12th Avenue's other favorite haunt that opens for morning coffee and remains so for evening whiskey—lacks in eggs, Café Presse has in spades. The jeans are a bit skinnier on this side of the street, but on Sunday mornings, there are few finer pastimes than reading The New York Times while scarfing down a petite omelet and sipping on a Caffé Vita Americano, which the staff will happily refill with drip so you can get to the end of Frank Rich's latest rant. CHRIS KORNELIS 1117 12th Ave., 709-7674, cafepresseseattle.com. $-$$ CAPITOL HILLCanlis Thoughtfulness is clearly chef Jason Franey's strength. He uses great care and precision to coax the biggest flavors from even the smallest dishes. An amuse-bouche of celeriac-and-green-apple soup has the same bold flavors as the seared foie gras with pumpernickel streusel. After a little more than a year on the job, Franey's modern presentation of classic comfort foods has earned him approving nods by exacting Canlis regulars, and is drawing new fans every day. His attention to preparation and flavor profiles should not be dismissed. And don't be scared off by Canlis' fine-dining reputation; the staff is young, the menu is exciting, and Walt the piano man knows his way around a Lady GaGa tune or three. JULIEN PERRY 2576 Aurora Ave. N., 283-3313, canlis.com. $$$ QUEEN ANNECarmelita Cauliflower does not get the love it deserves. Long lumped by picky children into the same category as Brussels sprouts and lima beans, it rarely makes a menu at all, let alone earns center stage. But it should. Like mushrooms, cauliflower soaks up the flavors around it, and if cooked correctly, is so rich as to seem creamy—especially if you've stuffed it with mascarpone, beurre blanc, and other fatty delights inside a crepe. Carmelita chef Carlos Caula reveres cauliflower as if it were the vegetarian's filet mignon, throwing it into every section of the menu from soup to entrée. Caula does not believe that vegetarian food need be bland or—as evidenced by his generous use of cheeses—healthy. Carmelita doesn't always come through with the same commitment to vegan dishes, but it's perfect for proving to your relatives in town from Chicago that vegetarian really can be hearty and delicious. LAURA ONSTOT 7314 Greenwood Ave. N., 706-7703, carmelita.net. $$ GREENWOODCascina Spinasse Pasta is still the focus of this neighborhood trattoria, nearly one year after its muse, Justin Niedermeyer, split. Jason Stratton, who originally worked with Niedermeyer to launch Spinasse, is its new chef and inspiration. Whether you order cipollini stuffed with salt cod ($12), roasted cauliflower flan with parmigiano-reggiano fonduta ($13), or fine hand-cut egg pasta with butter and sage ($22), your itch for homemade Italian food will be scratched. The humble but seductive flavors and textures that Stratton creates will leave you deeply satisfied yet wanting more. And you'll score extra points with the staff if you can pronounce the name of the restaurant correctly: spih-NAH-say. JULIEN PERRY 1531 14th Ave., 251-7673, spinasse.com. $$ CAPITOL HILLCasper's A Taste of the South Don't worry—though Casper's recently moved to Aurora from its Lake City hole-in-the-wall location, it didn't leave any flavor behind. Ribs, catfish, and gator anchor the menu deep in the South, and Casper's po'boys are an awe-inspiring sight; when matched with perfectly battered okra and hush puppies, the only thing on the plate not fried to a beautiful golden brown is the sandwich's slaw and the signature Casper's Moppin' and Dippin' sauces. Draw on the butcher-papered tables, sip on some of the city's most authentic sweet tea, and transport yourself straight to the Everglades. NICK FELDMAN 15226 Aurora Ave., 361-3757, eatmoregator.com. $ SHORELINEChen's Village Don't let the exterior deceive you—Chen's is a true diamond in the rough in terms of Chinese food north of the ID. What Chen's lacks in ambience it makes up for in quality food and service. I strongly recommend ordering the sweet-and-sour pork, which melts in your mouth. Chen's makes everything to order, which could mean a bit of a wait. But it's well worth it. If you want to feel the local essence, head to Chen's bar in the back of the restaurant. Regulars emphasize they're "here for the beer" (meaning the $2 Buds during happy hour), and the crowd comprises fellows who might have worked with the late Capt. Phil Harris back in the day. LAUREN LYNCH 544 Elliott Ave. W., 281-8838, newchensvillage.com. $ QUEEN ANNEChinoise Café On a winter weekday, Chinoise Café might not have a crowd gathering in the window like Ototo Sushi across the street. But come summer, when the patio is open, those looking to grab a seat must wait to enjoy steaming plates of swimming rama, Vietnamese pho, and moshu pork. Inside, the cozy restaurant fits 20 tables at most, with a sushi bar taking up the majority of the room. Most of the tables are situated near the bathroom and kitchen, which could mean either pleasant or not-so-pleasant smells. I recommend grabbing the window booth. If you've come early enough for happy hour, the drinks are tremendously cheap, and the sweet-potato fries (served alongside horseradish dip) are better than any American restaurant whips up. You can order your food to any desired spiciness, and rest assured that the servers will keep refilling your water glass if you've made a daring decision. LAUREN LYNCH 12 Boston St., 284-6671. (Also 2801 E. Madison St., 323-0171.) chinoisecafe.com. $ QUEEN ANNEContinental Restaurant and Pastry Shop If I could only eat at one restaurant in Seattle for the rest of my life, this U District institution would be my choice, hands down. The Lagos family has been serving simple, traditional Greek diner food to starving students and cantankerous professors since 1974, and the decor, service, and quality virtually never vary. Breakfast is served all day and always comes with a warm smile, a huge heaping of oregano-flecked Greek fries, and the knowledge that whichever way you ordered your eggs, the veteran line cooks in back know the precise margins between easy, medium, and hard. Dinner fare is equally reliable, with classic offerings like souvlaki and gyros taken to exceptional levels with house-made pita and tzatziki. HANNAH LEVIN 4549 University Way N.E., 632-4700. $ UNIVERSITY DISTRICTThe Counter doesn't offer a menu per se. Instead, the modernist burger spot presents you with a pencil and a clipboard filled with a colossal array of options. With over 300,000 possible combinations, each burger the kitchen cooks is as unique as the customer who ordered it. Sure, it's a small-scale franchise, but what sets The Counter apart is its dedication to the local- and organic-food movements. With its "Market Fresh" program, many of the meat, cheese, topping, and bun choices are sourced locally, and the beef itself is a wonder, more Montana steakhouse than fast-food patty. And for herbivores, the veggie burger is made in-house and fresh every day with 11 vegetables, brown rice, and Japanese-style breadcrumbs. The options might seem overwhelming, but there's really no way to go wrong. NICK FELDMAN 4609 14th Ave. N.W., 706-0311, thecounterburger.com. $ BALLARDThe Cutting Board offers a non-fussy approach to Japanese cuisine. A walk-up counter to place your order, a self-serve water station, and just five wooden tables make up the dining area. J-Pop plays softly overhead, interrupted every few minutes by clanking pots and cooks yammering to one another in Japanese. It's like a cafeteria, but cozier. The Cutting Board serves the sort of food a mother makes lovingly for her children when they get home from school: yakisoba, udon, and best of all, big bowls of beef curry accompanied by croquettes, tonkatsu (deep-fried pork), and menchi katsu (deep-fried hamburger). Wash down your hearty meal with a Kirin beer, and it's guaranteed you'll have the best nap of your life when you get home. ERIKA HOBART 5503 Airport Way S., 767-8075, cuttingboardseattle.com. $ GEORGETOWNDelancey is still a young darling with a long wait, and its sheen of newness has not yet worn off. That said, this hyper-popular pizza restaurant is home to some of the best wood-fired pies in town. Lest you be distracted by the hip crowd, the entranceway of this minimalist spot will greet you with a view of the oven's fiery belly, which heats up the whole place, ruddying the cheeks of owner/proprietors Brandon Pettit and author Molly "Orangette" Wizenberg. The crust is easily the best thing about their pie: The airy, char-marked pillows of dough possess a cracker-like texture in places. Most often these crusts are laid with simple toppings: House-made fennel sausage or finocchiono are two good options, and there's a plain margherita as well. One evening's special, a pie with nettle paste and guanciale, sounded fussy, but the salty pork cheeks played nicely against the nettles' herbal notes. A warm radicchio salad tasted like a bitter, blackened Caesar, touched with hits of anchovy and fat slices of Parmesan. Situated on a quiet Ballard side street, Delancey's decor is spare, with grown-up-sized middle-school chairs, a '70s-era Danish-modern light fixture, and flat wooden slats displaying wine bottles against the walls. ADRIANA GRANT 1415 N.W. 70th St., 838-1960, delanceyseattle.com. $$ BALLARDEasy Street Cafe caters to both the health-conscious and those with rock-star hangovers by serving traditional diner food with the right balance of freshness and grease. The Low Rider, a breakfast sandwich packed with veggies and eggs and served with a generous amount of hashbrowns, is the real steal here for $4.95; pair that with strong drip coffee and you'll leave feeling invincible. I'm partial to their Salad of John and Yoko, which besides being really fun to say is a good-sized lunch featuring veggie bacon and avocado. But what separates Easy Street Cafe from the rest is its ambience: Couched within one of the city's best independent music stores, it boasts reliably good tunes in the speakers and dependably tatted, badass (and really nice) servers. It'll make you feel like West Seattle's the place to be. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR 4559 California Ave. S.W., 938-3279, easystreetonline.com/cafe. $ WEST SEATTLE JUNCTIONElliott Bay Cafe Although the Elliott Bay Book Store is relocating, the Elliott Bay Cafe will remain in the basement of its beautiful brick Pioneer Square building, where it's carved a brightly lit cave to serve its brilliant food. The Cafe specializes in inventive, organic-based comfort food; try a breakfast risotto with coconut milk, a three-cheese grilled cheese, or the grainiest granola around. There's also a daily offering of fresh pastries. The Cafe just recently became a CSA drop spot, meaning you can subscribe to pick up locally grown, organic produce from the cafe each week as well. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR 101 S. Main St., 682-6664, elliottbaycafe.com. $ PIONEER SQUAREEl Mestizo The rallying cry at this newly opened joint on First Hill is traditional, not Tex-Mex. And if the line of authenticity is drawn at the fajita, then El Mestizo earns its stripes—no overstuffed burritos or sizzling platters of meat to be found here. Instead you'll find homemade tortillas, sauces, and salsas; an embrace of ingredients you'd actually find in Mexico (mole, of course; conch, even better; meat braised in banana leaves: Who knew?); and the rigor to pull off a well-cooked ribeye topped with adobo. Mestizo is nuevo, so there are kinks—some typical (service can be slow), some not so much (something's up with the ventilation, which means you may end up smelling of carne asada long after your meal), but none that can't be forgiven after a sugar-cane Coke and the moistest slice of tres leches this side of León. CALEB HANNAN 526 Broadway, 324-2445, elmestizorestaurant.com. $$ FIRST HILLEmmer & Rye Chef Seth Caswell proves that rustic cuisine doesn't have to mean simple. Dishes like grass-fed beef Bolognese with pork and organic orecchiette ($14) and gathered mushroom tart with Cypress Grove goat cheese, leeks, spinach, and pears ($14) are less precious than the more refined cuisine at Tilth, but the seasonally inspired, locally derived menu at Emmer & Rye is conceptually spot-on and tasty as hell. The old Victorian house that Julia's once called home is a perfect stage for upscale farmhouse dining. Small and large plates come in half or whole portions, which makes it easy to sample a bunch of items without breaking the bank. Make sure to save room for cheesecake—it's Caswell's grandmother's recipe and it's garnished with fresh berries. JULIEN PERRY 1825 Queen Anne Ave. N., 282-0680, emmerandrye.com. $$ QUEEN ANNEFort St. George Ketchup rice, mayonnaise spaghetti, and deep-fried hamburger patties are staples at Fort St. George. The food here is exactly like what you would get at a Denny's in Tokyo: Japanese interpretations of Western cuisine, also known as yoshoku. To Americans accustomed to pretty plates of sashimi and sushi, it can be unglamorous, even gross. But to the immigrants, exchange students, and those who've spent time abroad who eat at Fort St. George regularly, it's pure comfort food. Sure, it looks and feels more like a dive bar than a restaurant. But nostalgia can make even the strangest places feel like home. ERIKA HOBART 601 S. King St., 383-0662. $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTGeorgetown Liquor Company Never mind that it paraphrased a bit of ad copy originally written for ladies' deodorant ("Strong Enough for a Carnivore, Made for an Herbivore!"), Georgetown Liquor Company will serve you the best vegan sandwich you've had in Seattle, and will do so with absolutely no airs. Georgetown Liquor Company is where you would have eaten if you grew up a little punk-rock, obsessed with Atari, and determined not to kill critters for sustenance. There are free video games, a jukebox that doesn't know anything but 11, and Field Roast rather than flame-broiled. And everything tastes delicious. Located behind Stellar Pizza off Airport Way, GLC is easy to miss—as is the service, best described as "charmingly distracted." But you didn't come to be pampered. You came to eat a $10 Darth Reuben with Emmenthaler swiss cheese on marble rye and play Space Invaders until your eyes cross. CALEB HANNAN 5501 B Airport Way S., 763-6764, georgetownliquorcompany.com $ GEORGETOWNGreen Leaf Perched next to the I-5 overpass that divides the International District, Green Leaf delivers a quick meal that will fill you up. Across the board, the dishes are presented beautifully, and there's no scrimping on size. Regulars here are often fiercely loyal to their dish of choice, whether that's the pho (with perfectly spiced broth that some say is the city's best), the remarkably large vermicelli noodle bowls that teem with meat and veggies, or the Seven Special Courses of Beef for Two. I'm partial to the specialty fried-duck noodle soup, which comes with fresh veggies and egg noodles. Those in the know also revel in Green Leaf's hole-in-the-wall anonymity, touting it as a Tamarind Tree without the hype. If you can, try to get a table upstairs; the natural light and kitschy wagon-wheel benches make for a better environment than the dim, crowded-feeling dining room on the lower floor. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR 418 Eighth Ave. S., 340-1388, greenleaftaste.com. $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTGuanaco's Tacos Pupuseria Housed in a bright green, orange, and purple building off the Ave, Guanaco's Tacos Pupuseria's shack-like feel, servers, and menu come straight from the heart of Central America. Guanaco's is famous for its pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish made of corn or flour tortillas stuffed with meat, cheese, and veggies, but it's the lunch combos that make eating here special. All the tacos, burritos, empanadas, tamales, and soups are light, but the combination of any of these with a traditional pupusa satisfies all the necessities of a good Latin American meal. And their Fresco de Ensalada, a mix of juice and freshly minced fruit, is a refreshing and sweet finish to a Salvadoran masterpiece. PARISA SADRZADEH 4106 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., 547-2369, guanacostacos.webs.com. $ U DISTRICTHana Urbanspoon lists 206 sushi joints in Seattle and the surrounding 'burbs. With so much competition, these restaurants tend to microspecialize. One has the best salmon nigiri, but the tuna leaves something to be desired. Another might feature inventive appetizers, but serve bland rolls. Hana, however, is the best all-around achiever. The salmon is tender, the tuna fresh and fatty, and the rolls filled with flavor. It's not the absolute best at any individual sushi item, but being solid across the board is important, especially when you're eating out with friends and their varied tastes. Add to that Hana's well-deserved reputation for outstanding service and affordability, and you've found yourself sushi heaven. LAURA ONSTOT 219 Broadway E., 328-1187. $ CAPITOL HILLHarvest Vine is a mecca for small plates. Seat yourself at the bar and witness a succession of heat-infused conceptions. Employing tiny cast-iron skillets, nimble-wristed chefs sauté individual dishes. From your close vantage point, you'll be privy to the best views and smells emerging from this very open kitchen. One longstanding favorite: the garlicky whole miniature octopus. Another: a delicate spinach sauté, spiked with sherry, pine nuts, and golden raisins. This second dish has been on the menu seemingly forever, and though sautéed spinach might not sound tempting, it's a must. Another classic, also very good, is squash soup served with a spoon full of foie gras, with which you are meant to savor both flavors at once. Harvest Vine's wine list—including their specialty, sherry—is one of the best in the city. The service, too, is stellar. Desserts are often artfully crafted studies in sweetness; this is an especially nice place to enjoy a traditional caramelized, sugar-topped flan with a glass of port. ADRIANA GRANT 2701 E. Madison St., 320-9771, harvestvine.com. $$$ MADISON VALLEYHector's Restaurant It's easy to pass Hector's without a second glance, given the array of more attractive restaurants and boutiques that make up downtown Kirkland. But you'd be wise to skip them in favor of this peculiarly charming gem. Hector's exposed-brick walls, funky furniture, and carpeting are similar to what you'd find at a retirement home, albeit an expensive one. (This is Kirkland, after all.) The restaurant specializes in gussied-up variations on American comfort food; standouts include the tenderloin beef stroganoff and the crab havarti melt with sweet-potato fries. Hector's menu changes with the time of day. But if you ask nicely enough, your waitress can probably swing putting through a croque madame dinner order. ERIKA HOBART 112 Lake St. S., 425-827-4811, hectorskirkland.com. $$, KIRKLANDHidmo The atmosphere at Hidmo can be somewhat schizophrenic. That's due in part to the eclectic musical tastes of the owners. On any given night, they might host a local hip-hop showcase or a performance of traditional African music. But Hidmo is steadfastly welcoming, the kind of place where asking the staff for a menu recommendation might earn you a trip to the kitchen, where one member of the sisterly duo who own the place will sit you down for a crash course in Eritrean cuisine. First, there'll be spiced lamb in spicy pepper sauce, coupled with a discussion of the greatness of Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, which more often than not can be found playing on the nearby television/VHS combo. Then lentils stewed with chiles. Once you've got the gist, you can order like a regular. The entrées come in constellations of simple green salad, meats, and veggies sitting atop a flat pancake of injera bread. It's a deceitfully humble presentation. Hidmo is the place that pretense forgot. VERNAL COLEMAN 2000 S. Jackson St., 329-1534, hidmo.org. $ CENTRAL DISTRICTHi Spot Partially housed in a proud Madrona manor, the Hi Spot looks as though it'd trend toward the highfalutin set, the type of place that serves tea, crumpets, and caviar to well-heeled women in pearls and pumps. It's anything but (although, this being Madrona, the ladies by the lake are welcome as well). Rather, the Hi Spot offers an exhaustive menu filled with highbrow spins on lowbrow classics, such as green eggs and ham, French toast, and Greek omelets. It's like a greasy spoon without the grease, and with much better coffee; in other words, quintessentially Seattle. MIKE SEELY 1410 34th Ave., 325-7905, hispotcafe.com. $ MADRONAI Love New York Deli Seattleites aren't exactly spoiled with options when it comes to the feel and taste of a New York–style Jewish deli, and that was exactly the reason Jon Jacobs created one. Each of their four varieties of rye breads are hearth-baked daily and sliced fresh, and hold up a perfectly crusty exterior that conceals their soft center. With heaps of corned beef (reminiscent of the legendary Carnegie Deli) piled between generous marbled slices and slathered with Russian dressing, the cozy deli is responsible for one of the city's best Reubens. The accents—matzo ball soup steeped in chicken-heavy broth, savory knishes, and Dr. Brown's soda—only add to the authenticity. I Love New York is richtiker chaifetz. NICK FELDMAN 5200 Roosevelt Way N.E., 523-0606. (Also 93 Pike St., 381-3354.) ilovenewyorkdeli.net. $ U DISTRICTIn the Bowl To eat at In the Bowl is to be overwhelmed by the menu. There's also the tricky internal debate you'll likely have over whether or not to pony up extra cash for the faux duck. Does it actually taste like duck? Being a vegetarian, do you even know what duck is supposed to taste like? How will it improve your spicy eggplant and udon noodle stir-fry? Why would you pay more for something that is just aspiring to be meat? If this happens, relax and visit the bathroom. One of Seattle's finest, the restroom at this venerable Capitol Hill vegetarian noodle house is as soothing as a meditation hall in a Buddhist monastery, only it's painted Technicolor blue. But above all, remember that meat substitutes are not why you're here. You've come to pick from a vast selection of cheap stir-fry options, each of which can be altered spiciness-wise depending on your tolerance for feeling as if your insides are being slow-cooked. Just in case the fire down below gets too intense, a small dessert of rice pudding and milk accompanies every order. VERNAL COLEMAN 1554 E. Olive Way, 568-2343, inthebowlbistro.com. $ CAPITOL HILLIsland Soul There is indeed soul in this laid-back Caribbean restaurant in Columbia City. It's the kind of place where if you ask what the coconut corn muffins taste like, you're likely to get a small plate of them gratis. You will then know that they are fabulous, especially when warm, adding a slightly exotic twist to Southern U.S. cuisine. Lunch here is particularly good, and reasonable: Eight dollars will buy you a superb fish sandwich, like one with red snapper transformed by a spicy pepper, onion, and carrot vinaigrette. Island Soul is also one of the few places in town where you can get plantains, either the luscious ripe variety or crispy tostones. Largely undiscovered by the aging hipsters who converge on the neighborhood, it isn't as crowded as some Columbia City hot spots. That leaves more room for the rest of us. NINA SHAPIRO 4869 Rainier Ave. S., 329-1202, islandsoulrestaurant.net. $ COLUMBIA CITYThe Italian Spaghetti House has a cozy waiting area, ornate murals, and a cavernous, congenial atmosphere that screams "special event" to a largely working-class patronage. They've got free breadsticks for you while you wait for your food to arrive, and spumoni for dessert. This being a restaurant with "Italian" and "Spaghetti" in its name, they've also got pasta. But that's not why you come. You come for the pizza, which ranks among the best in town. (With the Fiddler's Inn within walking distance, northeast Seattle rates as something of a stealth pie paradise.) The crust is neither thick nor thin; it's just right. And while not all the ingredients are fresh (the salami and pepperoni sure are, though), canned mushrooms taste better than they have a right to atop these amazing slices. MIKE SEELY 9824 Lake City Way N.E., 523-2667. $$ LAKE CITYJones Original Barbeque and Catering A few years back I came to the somewhat painful realization that the best barbecue in the world is not made by my mother. That honor belongs to the entirety of North Carolina. In my dreams, that entire state is a smokehouse, the vaguely sweet smell of commingled spice and vinegar pouring out from the stacks, settling eventually in Seattle after it drifts across the country like so much nuclear fallout. All this is a roundabout way of saying that the highest compliment I can pay Jones Original Barbeque is that every time one of the staffers places a large hot-link sandwich in front of me, I miss North Carolina a little bit less. Jones' rep in this town is considerable; this is probably why it can skate by with side fixings that are merely passable. But then, making a potato salad or the like that's worth writing about requires a different skill set. And no one needs the folks at Jones to learn how to do anything other than what they're already famous for. VERNAL COLEMAN 3216 S. Hudson St., 725-2728. (Also 2454 Occidental Ave., S., 625-1339.) jonesbarbeque.com. $ COLUMBIA CITYAt Joule, you'll witness husband-and-wife team Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi in their open kitchen, tending to their many small creations. Their menu is esoteric and familiar, offering comfort as well as challenge. Joule's "mac and cheese" dish is black truffle-flavored spaetzle, with the gooiness of the loose noodles offset and enhanced by smoky truffle oil and a crumb topping. In another dish, cauliflower is spiced with North African dukka: nuts and currants with cinnamon and cumin. The cauliflower is perfectly cooked—tender yet crunchy, and exhibiting its distinct cabbage-like flavor. Though you might be content to sample several smaller dishes, the Dungeness crab–stuffed cannelloni is a fine full-sized entrée, and the wine list is also great, offering strong local and imported selections. For dessert, a tiny carrot cake arrives dressed in a pouf of ginger-tinged mascarpone, with sour slivers of kumquat in its own marmalade. ADRIANA GRANT 1913 N. 45th St., 632-1913, joulerestaurant.com. $$$ WALLINGFORDKau Kau Barbeque is a dream restaurant for the Atkins crowd. More than a few locals have decided it's alright to make a meal out of chopped bacon (they call it roasted pork). And while the chicken and duck hanging in the window initially lured me in, the quality-to-price ratio ($7.60 a pound for pork) has kept me coming back at least once a week for another box of meat for dinner. CHRIS KORNELIS 656 S. King St., 682-4006, kaukaubbq.com. $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTKingfish Seattle is peppered with inventive and quirky dishes featuring delicate flavors; it's one of the advantages of living here. But sometimes a girl just wants a piece of deep-fried chicken with a side of butter-soaked collard greens and sweet potatoes. The Kingfish Cafe offers food inspired by owners Laurie and Leslie Coaston's Alabama ancestors. The key to good Southern food is fat, a notion that Kingfish embraces with aplomb. Even the menu's veggie options—macaroni and cheese and griddlejacks (a fried black-eyed-pea-and-veggie cake)—comprise enough dairy fat to make you gain 20 pounds just by inhaling the fumes. To tide you over at the bar while you wait, Kingfish offers the city's stiffest mint julep—adorably served in a Mason jar. And whatever you do, order dessert, even if you don't think you have room for it. Kingfish is so famous for its cakes, people have been known to order a slice with brunch. If ever there was a reason to own pants with an elastic waistband, Kingfish is it. LAURA ONSTOT 602 19th Ave. E., 320-8757, thekingfishcafe.com. $$ CAPITOL HILLKisaku Even on Monday nights, this Wallingford sushi restaurant is constantly hopping; after a couple visits, you learn to always call ahead for a reservation. Kisaku's relatively short menu is something of a surprise, which is why those who normally order standard sushi rolls as a more economical alternative to nigiri should resist the urge here. Kisaku's nigiri comes in super-sized proportions: thick slabs of fish blanket handfuls of sticky rice so big it takes four bites to eat one piece. Specific notables include the buttery, flawless albacore and silky wild salmon, but the consistently superior quality of the fish makes Kisaku the perfect place to get adventurous and try things like geoduck. Because if you don't like the giant clam's raw-carrot crunch at Kisaku, you probably won't like it anywhere else either. SARA BRICKNER 2101 N. 55th St., 545-9050, kisaku.com. $$ WALLINGFORDK.I.S.S. Café and Wine Bar Aesthetically, the excess of microbrew swag might seem a bit much for this small Market Street space, but that quickly fades into the background when the relaxed but attentive staff brings glasses of cucumber-infused water to the table. What's more, a quick survey of the menu reveals a wealth of exceptionally well-composed sandwiches with appropriate names, like the Dagwood, a generous stack of turkey, ham, swiss, cheddar, and bacon. Even in cold-weather months, K.I.S.S. miraculously gets its hands on top-notch produce, which means the deep selection of vegetarian sammies is reliably stellar as well. Toss in all-day breakfast and an affordable wine list, and the result is a consistently satisfying neighborhood cafe equally suited for a languid afternoon lunch or as an easy spot to pick up fixings for a picnic at nearby Golden Gardens. HANNAH LEVIN 2817 N.W. Market St., 789-5477. $ BALLARDLa Rustica Located a fair distance from the bustle of Alki Point, La Rustica isn't the sort of restaurant you're likely to just happen upon, unless you just happen to be taking a leisurely, aimless drive along the beach's sleepy residential side. But by all means do, if only for the opportunity to scarf down basket after basket of free, (usually) freshly baked focaccia before dinner at this intimate, family-run Italian restaurant. Even the menu items that cost money offer tremendous value—mouthwatering dishes like the sausage and saffron risotto can be had in the $15 range. And waiting isn't even a drag (they take no reservations for parties of fewer than six); there's a cave-like back waiting area where cocktails and wine can be proffered. But they really should turn it into a focaccia bar, for the sake of serious freeloaders. MIKE SEELY 4100 Beach Dr. S.W., 932-3020, larusticarestaurant.com. $$ WEST SEATTLELunchbox Laboratory is a messy place. Kitsch, including a collection of namesake metal lunch boxes, covers nearly every surface. In this tiny space on 15th Avenue Northwest, the chalkboard menu crowds your vision with a preponderance of options—burger type, sauce, cheese, sides, and shakes—often inducing an overstimulated pause in one's decision-making abilities. "Just give me your version of a Dick's burger," a fellow eater recently requested, "with Swiss." The burgers spill over themselves, oozing melted cheese and one of a number of house sauces. Ranging from quarter-pound beef patties to half-pounders of dork (duck and pork), the burger options also include a house-made bean patty; condiments run the gamut from a thousand island–style sauce familiar to burger lovers everywhere to more refined options like truffle aioli. To try all the possible burger permutations seems like a mathematical impossibility, except for the very, very dedicated. As for the shakes—well, they deserve a special shake-only trip. ADRIANA GRANT 7302½ 15th Ave. N.W., 706-3092, lunchboxlaboratory.com. $$ BALLARDManeki Sometimes you love a restaurant for a particular dish. Sometimes you love it because the fry cook is a genius or one of the bartenders is hot or because the kitchen always seems to make your riblets just right. Once in a while, though, a restaurant comes along that you love because it defines an entire neighborhood or city. Maneki is one of those—a unique place that has transcended mere goodness and become a kind of culinary landmark, woven indelibly into the genetics of the Seattle restaurant scene. Open for more than a hundred years, Maneki offers certain plates and presentations obtainable nowhere else in the entire area. It's an idiosyncratic place, and tends to inspire strong feelings in those who either love it for the weight of its history and the talent in its kitchen or hate it simply because they don't get what the big deal is about just another Japanese restaurant in a city bursting with them. I am firmly in the former camp, and can see Maneki acting like church to my heathen ass—a place I can go to be absolved of certain culinary sins by eating as close to the root of one of the world's great mother cuisines as I'm going to get without a passport and a plane ticket. JASON SHEEHAN 304 Sixth Ave. S., 622-2631, manekirestaurant.com. $$ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTMawadda Cafe If at Mawadda Cafe it sometimes feels as if the process that ends with your desired meal being delivered to your table moves at a glacial pace, it's because everything on the menu, from the chicken shawarma to the lamb kabob, is cooked to order. That detail, along with Mawadda's location in a Hillman City strip mall, make it a less-than-ideal lunch destination for anyone but the city's most dedicated foodies. But the falafel sandwich alone is worth the journey: Coupled with the house tzatziki sauce, the crispy exterior dissolves on the tongue into a fine garlic-tinged mash. Trying to get the mustachioed owner Rami to divulge the secret ingredient is a fool's errand, but he'll smile in acknowledgment every time you make an attempt. VERNAL COLEMAN 4433 S. Graham St., 760-0911, mawaddacafe.com. $ HILLMAN CITYMecca Cafe Restaurants can spend a lot of time and money trying to cobble up the kind of authenticity the Mecca has achieved without trying. Sorry, that can't be rushed; in its eighth decade, the place, with its leatherette booths and vintage comics, ads, and menus on the wall, is still so archetypal it could be an installation in the Smithsonian: "The American Diner, 1920–60." The menu is pure comfort, from serious hashbrowns-and-bacon breakfasts to wand-mixed malts, open-face sandwiches (roast beef or turkey piled on egg bread, an ice-cream scoop of mashed potatoes, a ladleful of gravy), chicken strips, chili, and iceberg-lettuce salads. I mean, they still offer cold cereal in individual-serving boxes. And do you know how hard it is to find orange pop in a restaurant nowadays? GAVIN BORCHERT 526 Queen Anne Ave. N., 285-9728. $ QUEEN ANNEMee Sum Pastry It's quitting time at Pike Place Market. All the flower sellers are packing away their daisies. The fish guys are slumping around looking exhausted after 10 hours spent posing for tourist snapshots. Even the buskers are packing up their clapped-out acoustic guitars and calling it a day. But down on the street, Mee Sum Pastry is still doing fast business, working through a line that began to form in the morning and really never shrank all day. People are coming for sticks full of barbecued pork and pineapple handed across the top of the glass cases; for sesame balls filled with sweet red beans and bags of fortune cookies. But the smart ones have eyes for just one thing: the barbecued pork humbow—hands down the best thing on Mee Sum's short menu, and the one thing that has made this place famous. Imagine a softball filled with pork and you'll have some idea what the humbow is: an orb of light, slightly sweet bread, fresh from the big deck ovens in the back of the Pike Place shop, stuffed with a big portion of barbecued pig. It's like a char siu bao, only bigger and better and easier to eat walking. And the best thing? One of them is almost a meal, and it comes in at $2.50 on the nose. JASON SHEEHAN 1526 Pike Place, 682-6780. $ PIKE PLACE MARKETMistral Kitchen It sometimes seems as though William Belickis disappointed just about everyone in town when he closed Belltown's original Mistral back in 2008. But he's come back strong with Mistral Kitchen—a stranger, less formal, and more worldly take on modernist haute cuisine featuring some of the best, most approachable high-end grub in the city. The unusual warmth and conviviality of the space on a busy night belies the brushed steel and industrial fixtures, and the menu presents its own juxtapositions—bowls of Manila clams and sausage in broth alongside artistic crudos, and simple plates like short rib over escarole that, if you ask, the staff will proudly explain took 48 hours to prepare. It's a bit pricey if you go nuts and order half the menu, but if you're looking for somewhere to indulge a little, right now the very cool Mistral Kitchen is one of the hottest rooms in town. JASON SHEEHAN 2020 Westlake Ave., 623-1922, mistral-kitchen.com. $$$ DOWNTOWNMonsoon With a new Eastside satellite operation and an uncertain future in their original, 11-year-old Capitol Hill space, siblings Sophie and Eric Banh seem undaunted by change. Monsoon remains a crisp, tidy place to dine: The hybrid Vietnamese cuisine is never too fussy, nor does it try to cram too many ingredients or flavors into one dish. The vibe is clean and minimalist, like the room. Enduring favorites on the menu include a caramelized Idaho catfish, an Asian pear salad, and prawns in yellow curry. Portions aren't huge, which encourages you to order more dishes; and a surprisingly deep wine list—try the '99 Etude cabernet—can do some damage to your wallet. The weekend brunch menu shows the Francophone influence on Southeast Asia: Belgian waffles and French toast coexist nicely with banh xeo crepes and bok choy. Plan to wait if you don't have a reservation. On sunny weekend mornings, it takes some luck to get a seat on the small patio. With the building slated for demolition—to make way for a condo—in the undetermined future, Monsoon should be appreciated while it lasts. BRIAN MILLER 615 19th Ave. E., 325-2111. (Also 10245 Main St., Bellevue, 425-635-1112.) monsoonrestaurants.com. $$ CAPITOL HILLNew Saigon Deli is a hole-in-the-wall that makes fantastic two-dollar tofu banh mi, some of the best Vietnamese sandwiches in town. A shattery baguette-type roll cradles thin slices of golden fried tofu, lengths of pickled carrot and daikon, white onion, and hidden slivers of raw jalapeno. (Don't worry, they're not shockingly hot.) The banh mi is topped with cilantro and dressed in a distinctively sweet Asian mayo. Want meat? The teriyaki chicken sandwich will cost you a quarter more. New Saigon Deli also offers banana-leaf-wrapped triangles of rice and an assortment of sticky, multicolored rice-flour concoctions. There's a cooler full of beverages, with American sodas displayed alongside coconut drinks, and for dessert, house-made cups of plain, sweet yogurt. But the best things here are the sandwiches. ADRIANA GRANT 1034 S. Jackson St., 322-5622. $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTOcho The best thing about Ocho is that its kitchen serves until 2 a.m. The second-best thing is everything else. Coming through the door here on any good night is like walking straight into a wall of noise. The music is loud, the people are loud, the plates and silver are loud. There is nothing soft, nothing gentle, nothing necessarily easy about Ocho. Everything is just sound and fury in a tiny, dark space, candlelit and rich with shadows—a situation that's ideal when you're looking for somewhere to throw yourself heart and soul into the full experience of a meal. The tapas here, though not terribly autentico, are excellent nonetheless, a uniquely American vision of dining Spanish-style. From albondigas and olives to little white anchovies, plates of patatas bravas stuck with a dozen toothpicks to beautifully composed plates of sherried mushrooms and arugula, there's almost no way to go wrong with this menu. And if you do, who cares? The board here tops out around eight bucks, so even if you eat all you can hold and wash it down with a gallon of Estrella Spanish lager, you're still going to walk out of here only a couple of $20s lighter. JASON SHEEHAN 2325 N.W. Market St., 784-0699, ochoballard.com. $$ BALLARDOkinawa Teriyaki On the occasion of what was probably my 87th plate of teriyaki chicken at Okinawa, I encountered one of the owners with what appeared to be a green canary in the palm of his hand. "Do you want a bird?" he asked. Apparently he found the bird—which must have escaped from his cage—on the street minutes before, and he didn't want it to get hurt. Sappiness aside, the folks at Okinawa bring that same kind of care to the reasonably priced lunches and early dinners for the customers they lure off Western Avenue with their intoxicating, unmistakable kitchen aroma. They don't really need a sign, just an arrow pointing toward where the smell's coming from. The chow lives up to the hype. CHRIS KORNELIS 1022 Alaskan Way, 447-2648. $ DOWNTOWNOtoto Located directly across the street from another sushi joint atop Queen Anne Hill, Ototo stands apart from its neighboring restaurants—and in reality, most others in the city. Draped in minimalist reds, blacks, and whites, the ultramodern decor matches the service: dignified and impeccable. The expectation that the prices will match the service and quality is quickly countered with a menu that peaks below $20, and the talented chefs don't skimp on ingredients. Sushi rolls are the ultimate meeting of form and function, and Ototo's constructions are prime examples: The freshest sashimi, eel, salmon, and vegetables are entwined into a feast that's nothing short of artisan. While the modern eatery might draw customers with its design, they come back for the unbeatable taste. NICK FELDMAN 7 Boston St., 691-3838, ototosushi.com. $$ QUEEN ANNEPair There are still a few of us who, when confronted with the term "small plates," want to run down the street for a mondo burrito. But don't! Instead, bring your appetite to Pair, where the food is so skillful, focused, and satisfying, small-plate dining—with just-right wines—will seem like the only way to go. Pair isn't reinventing cuisine, except insofar as it renews your appreciation for things like grape leaves, beef brisket, and potato-leek gratin. It's too elegant and subtle to be simple comfort food, too restrained and soulful to be haute. And the service exactly matches the food, with the same precise and genial execution. Whether or not you live in the enlightened University Village neighborhood to which the restaurant is perfectly keyed, Pair is worth seeking out. MARK D. FEFER 5501 30th Ave. N.E., 526-7655, pairseattle.com. $$ BRYANTPalace Kitchen The second jewel in Tom Douglas' culinary crown is a mainstay for a downtown crowd looking for ambience and food that are both upscale and unfussy. The open kitchen and its applewood grill are warm and inviting, even when volume levels reach a fever pitch on weekends. Evergreen items such as goat cheese fondue served with grilled bread and apples, fire-roasted shellfish with chorizo, or roast chicken are what's built Palace Kitchen's following of locals and visiting celebs (everyone from This American Life's Ira Glass to the rock band Wilco dines here), but the creative seasonal specials are what keep things fresh. HANNAH LEVIN 2030 Fifth Ave., 448-2001, tomdouglas.com. $$ DOWNTOWNPam's Kitchen Two words can easily describe an experience at Pam's Kitchen: Caribbean spice (and lots of it). Their assortment of curried potatoes and meats are slow-cooked to perfection. Whether you choose chicken, beef, lamb, or goat to accompany your pan-fried roti (a type of Indian flatbread), all of the meal combos have a kick that will charm your palate. With two roti choices—the thin croissant-like paratha or the vegan, chickpea-stuffed dahlpuri—the hands-on dining experience at Pam's is like one right out of Trinidad, and the homemade punches and house spirits serve as a sweet counter to the entrées. PARISA SADRZADEH 5000 University Way N.E., 696-7010, pams-kitchen.com. $$ U DISTRICTPaseo It's a good idea to call Paseo first if you're planning a lunch there. They make food until they run out, which can happen very early on a Saturday. "Do you still have pork?" you ask. "Yeah, for now," the guy who answers the phone replies, before hanging up on you to deal with the line stretching out the front door and up Fremont Avenue. Almost every one of those people is here for the Cuban Roast sandwich, constructed of roasted pork shoulder, aioli, crunchy lettuce, cilantro, and just enough jalapenos to give it heat without numbing your tongue. There's no "Oh, I'll just have half and save the rest for later" here. You will devour the whole thing, scooping up the sandwich filling that falls onto your plate and licking the last bits of pork off your fingers. Paseo does have other items, even entrées, on the menu, and word is they're pretty good. But the Cuban Roast is the platonic form of "sandwich." Just make sure you get there before the "sold out" tags kept by the register start showing up on the menu. LAURA ONSTOT 4225 Fremont Ave. N., 545-7440. (Also 6226 Seaview Ave. N.W., 789-3100.) paseoseattle.com. $ FREMONTThe People's Pub You know what I didn't know existed until two months ago? Fried pickles. And now it's all I can do not to eat them for breakfast. Started by a pair of military brats with a shared love of the krauts, The People's Pub's menu is a love letter to southern Germany. Like multisyllabic schnitzels? Then you'll bust an umlaut scanning its assortment of wursts and spaetzles. The star of the show, though, is the comfort food, especially the grilled cheese/tomato soup combo and the five lightly breaded dills served with garlic aioli that, during happy hour, you can get for less than the price of a pint. Speaking of brews, People's will not disappoint there either. Spatens, Bitburgers, pils—they're all on tap, all available in highly sampleable 10-ounce form. People's does a number of things surprisingly well, not least of which is getting you tipsy on a budget. But again, no contribution is greater than its elevation of the lowly spear from sandwich-assisting afterthought to spotlight-hogging star. CALEB HANNAN 5429 Ballard Ave. N.W., 783-6521, peoplespub.com. $ BALLARDPete's Egg Nest Much of the homey appeal of this family-owned diner stems from the near-constant presence of Pete himself. It's not as if he shows up occasionally to check in on his employees. No, Pete is here almost all the time, playing the part of welcoming host for patrons he treats less like customers and more like guests in his home, even if it's your first visit. In spite of the near-constant chaos in which he operates, Pete is a most relaxed and friendly host, and often it is he who guides new arrivals adroitly through the jumble of tables to their seats. Though the food is up to the task, this is not the best place to cure a severe hangover; there are quieter, less blindingly lit places to ingest grease, but Pete's is not just any old diner fare. At lunch and dinner, it serves top-notch Greek food, and the breakfast offerings are creative concoctions that emphasize Mediterranean flavors (count on receiving enough to feed at least two adults). It's not chic, but it's comforting, and when you wake up wanting nothing more than a great omelet and 10 cups of diner coffee, there's no better place to sate that urge. SARA BRICKNER 7717 Greenwood Ave. N., 784-5348. $ GREENWOODPike Street Fish Fry transposes the fresh catches you'd find at Pike Place Market into greasy fried treats to complement beer-filled stomachs on one of the hippest blocks in town. Their fish selections are always changing—marlin and sturgeon, shark and spearfish—but go with the cod for quite possibly the best fish and chips in town. Fish Fry also gets kudos for its generous number of vegetarian options: the fried green beans and asparagus are delicious and perfectly complemented with the assortment of dipping sauces. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR 925 E. Pike St., 329-7453, pikestreetfishfry.com. $ CAPITOL HILLPlum Bistro Riding on the success of Hillside Quickies, where she'd been chef, Makini Howell launched this upscale all-vegan temple a year ago, and the powerful flavors have earned her a lovestruck following. The vegan approach here is less from the hippie tradition and more from the school of meat substitution, with a strong nod to Southern tradition: po'boys, collard greens, mac 'n' yease, fried okra. The tastes are intense and the textures equally so. Everything's made and presented more artfully than at Hillside, and during a summer brunch, with the big front window rolled up and hotcakes to feast on, your meat-eating friends might really start to question the temptations of the flesh. MARK D. FEFER 1429 12th Ave., 838-5333, plumbistroseattle.com. $$ CAPITOL HILLPoppy Hate looking at a menu and trying to pick just one dish? Poppy takes the tapas trend to a whole new level, offering Hindu-inspired thalis: large platters with several small bowls filled with delicious foods of one kind or another. In India, that means curries, rotis, and chutney. Here that means fusion delicacies, as Poppy strays far from its Indian inspiration, though a few traditional elements remain. A given day's 10-item thali might consist of duck leg with huckleberry sauce and fennel salad in addition to naan. The many small delicacies delight taste buds, but aren't quite filling enough if you're suffering a powerful hunger. That said, thanks to an inventive drink list (think curry leaves and bell peppers) and a delicious bar menu (whatever you do, get the eggplant fries with honey), Poppy is the perfect place to down cocktails when you and your indecisive friends are in the mood to taste an entire menu in one sitting. LAURA ONSTOT 622 Broadway E., 324-1108, poppyseattle.com. $$ CAPITOL HILLPortage Bay Cafe There's something about this place that makes it feel as if the sun's always shining. Maybe it's the expansive topping bar that lets you put the final touches on your breakfast dish, or the organic menu that keeps guilt out of your morning indulgence. But no matter what dragged you in (and kept you waiting in the winding line outside), Portage Bay's innovative twist on breakfast classics will make the trek more than worth it. With thick slices of French toast, pancakes, tangy benedicts, spicy herb-roasted potatoes, and chorizo sausages, the list of food choices is long and the unique tastes of each dish even more extensive. PARISA SADRZADEH 4130 Roosevelt Way N.E., 547-8230. (Also 391 Terry Ave. N., 462-6400; 2821 N.W. Market St., 783-1547.) portagebaycafe.com. $$ U DISTRICTThe Pub at Piper's Creek It's a wonder how anyone ever makes it to Broadview's The Pub at Piper's Creek. With its entrance completely hidden by shadows, all your driving will no doubt stir up an appetite; upon entering, you'd better know what you want. Fast. There's no pussy-footing around here, and if you don't like beef and artery-clogging condiments, you might just have to settle for pickle spears. Monday night is half-off burger night (valid only with a drink order; no to-go orders), a proud tradition at Piper's that seems to encourage anyone to make up the difference with cheap booze. It'll take a good amount to get drunk, however, considering that each burger can be stacked with grilled onion, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, lettuce, or tomato and served with either a heaping pile of fries or mixed greens. Piper's even has pool tables for those needing to keep everything vertical inside the stomach, and board games when your brain feels stuffed and in need of stretching. LAUREN LYNCH 10527 Greenwood Ave. N., 417-5734. $ BROADVIEWPurple Dot Cafe looks like a cross between Space Mountain and a casino buffet. The walls are bright purple and yellow and the tables iridescent silver, and the food—well, there's a lot of it. Purple Dot serves Hong Kong–style cuisine, meaning it's influenced by everything. The wacky menu includes chow mein and honey-walnut prawns, baked spaghetti and pork chops, even French toast and banana pancakes. It's a hugely popular spot with clubgoers, who come in gaggles after the bars close. (Owner Sindy Chan actually doubles her staff on weekends.) It's the International District's ultimate greasy spoon—you don't necessarily want to have dim sum here, but boy, does that chow mein hit the spot at 3 a.m. ERIKA HOBART 515 Maynard Ave. S., 622-0288. $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTRose Petals Restaurant Though the remaining letters on the front of this hideaway seem to be held up with rubber cement and a few windows are kept together with masking tape, Rose Petals' "Y'all come back now" vibe instantly reveals that these blemishes are just part of its character. Choose from the list scrawled onto a whiteboard and pass your order straight to the cook: stewed oxtail that falls off the bone, griddle-fried and margarine-drenched cornbread cakes, succulent black-eyed peas, and a handful of other Southern staples that regularly touch on transcendent. The faded eatery feels as though you've stepped into the dining room of someone's home, albeit one that's seen better days. And that's part of the accomplishment of true soul food: an art that's passed down and practiced and which this restaurant has perfected. NICK FELDMAN 6901 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., 721-2271. $ RAINIER VALLEYRed Bowls Good take-away lunch food is exactly what you expect to find in a working downtown. And yet many parts of Seattle's skyscraper district can feel like utter wastelands in this regard. That's why Red Bowls is such a relief—and so addictive. This little family-run shop serves Korean- and Japanese-style bowls that are healthy, fresh, and quick (once you get through the line). There's bulgogi and bibimbop, with a choice of meats, and several vegetarian options, all filled out with a terrific variety of veggies, over rice. For six or seven bucks, you get something that's neither a grease bomb nor a big starchy sandwich, and leaves you satisfied, not craving a nap. MARK D. FEFER 812 Third Ave., 344-2695. $ DOWNTOWNSaba Squeamishness about raw food is perfectly understandable. Most Seattleites have gotten past that when it comes to tuna or egg yolks (thank you, Japan), but now it's time to let raw beef push you the rest of the way. Saba's Gored Gored comprises tender, uncooked beef cubes covered in awaze, a red chile sauce. The combination of heat, sweet, and raw meat juices (aka "blood") explode on your tongue, pushing away all thought of mad cow. By the end you'll just be grateful for the injera, the pancake-like bread served with Ethiopian cuisine, to sop up anything left on your plate. That said, if you just can't bring yourself to put chunks of raw cow in your mouth, Saba's menu is filled with flavor-filled cooked lamb, lentils, and more. LAURA ONSTOT 112 12th Ave., 328-2290. $ FIRST HILLSalumi Dining at Salumi is all about planning. Slump in without preparation and you're liable to stand in the cold for an hour. For the uninitiated, that's not a typo. Armandino Batali's cured meats in overstuffed sandwiches at reasonable prices (hovering around $10 a sammy) are worth the wait. Over the past year, I've identified two surefire ways to get exactly the sandwich you want before they start running out. First, show up an hour before opening (11 a.m. Tues.–Fri.). Look, if you're going to wait around, you may as well not be told they're fresh out of meatballs when you step up. Or wait for heavy rain on a day that's not Friday, because people don't like waiting for the rain. And when they don't want to wait, they don't eat at Salumi—which means that cold, dreary Wednesday is your day for an antipasto platter and a glass of wine. CHRIS KORNELIS 309 Third Ave. S., 621-8772, salumicuredmeats.com. $ PIONEER SQUARESerious Pie It's easy for Seattleites to feel a little cynical about Tom Douglas, the celebrity chef whose restaurants provide reliable refuge for out-of-town guests. But in case you'd forgotten, he also has chops. And by chops, we mean the ability to completely blow your mind with a food—pizza—you thought had run its creative course. Meats hang to your left as you walk into Serious Pie, salumi that will soon sit atop your crisp, fluffy, oval of a pizza, dreamed up by baker Gwen LeBlanc. The toppings, which include clams and eggs, are unexpected. Unlike Douglas' other establishments, Serious Pie has a more neighborhood-bistro feel in its dark Belltown digs. And with PBR on the menu, it's unwashed youth–friendly. LAURA ONSTOT 316 Virginia St., 838-7388, tomdouglas.com. $$ BELLTOWNShultzy's Sausage Serving up sausages and char-grilled burgers, Shultzy's menu reaches mouthwatering when it hits cheesesteak territory. The Tim's Steak, loaded with cheddar cheese, bacon, grilled onions, and barbecue sauce, is a standout despite being far from the most Bavarian option at this German-themed eatery. Entrées are accompanied by the so-called "World's Best Shoestring Fries," and they live up to their ambitiously golden-brown expectations. From the nine taps flow a varied and constantly rotating selection of beers that are almost exclusively imported from Germany and Belgium or sourced from the Northwest. But the college link wouldn't be complete without an education: Enroll in their "beer school" and learn exactly what you've been missing. NICK FELDMAN 4114 University Way N.E., 548-9461, shultzys.com. $ U DISTRICTSkillet Nothing more than an Airstream trailer found weekdays in various curbsides, alleyways, and parking lots, Skillet is undoubtedly Seattle's best restaurant on wheels, attracting a cult following of neighborhood foodies. On the gourmet end, there's really no better burger around than their $11 offering, touting grass-fed beef they grind and salt-cure themselves, arugula, and bacon jam. The steal is the poutine, that Canadian delicacy of thick fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds—a delicious way to stretch your stomach. No matter what the options on their chalkboard are (many of which will be crossed out if you return to Skillet for a later lunch), the ingredients are the best of the best—in-season, fresh, and locally sourced. With not much space in the trailer to prepare their food, there's no room for bullshit. And though the servers hang out the door of a trailer, Skillet boasts impeccable service. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR skilletstreetfood.com. $ ROTATING LOCATIONSSlim's Last Chance Originally conceived as a roadhouse annex of owners Celeste and Michael Lucas' Pig Iron BBQ, Last Chance Chili gained the prefix "Slim's" when the space's contracted carpenter and beloved local rockabilly musician, Slim McCarroll, passed away shortly before its completion in 2008. Aside from being an affectionate, vintage-furnished memorial to McCarroll, Slim's has evolved into a meeting spot for Georgetown locals who appreciate the Lucas' quartet of top-notch chili varieties (brightly spiced brisket and bean; chili verde with pork and tomatillos; turkey with white beans and serranos; classic Texas red), freshly ground burgers, and jalapeño-studded mac 'n' cheese. A full bar and sprawling outdoor area—complete with picnic tables and rusted-out flatbed truck—generates a raucous atmosphere, particularly in summer months. HANNAH LEVIN 5606 First Ave. S., 762-7900, slimslastchance.com. $ GEORGETOWNSpring Hill is a West Seattle destination restaurant with refined yet accessible taste and clean good looks. The menu offers a truly fantastic beef double-bill (steak tartare and a wagyu sirloin burger), focuses on local goods, and names sources for its shellfish, meats, and cheeses. Another winner: the eight-ounce burger with Beecher's Flagship cheese, house-cured bacon, and a side of beef-fat fries. There is often an unctuous pork-belly dish, fatty duck, or anchovy-rich bowl of Caesar-inspired salad available—this last a perfect foil for the more indulgent dishes. Chef Mark Fuller knows what he is doing and will feed you well, but save room for dessert. The still-new dessert chef, Garrett Melkonian (like Fuller, a Tom Douglas grad), has got a knack for sweet stuff, and will present small sculptures in sugar and cream. Oh, and don't forget about fried-chicken Monday. ADRIANA GRANT 4437 California Ave. S.W., 935-1075, springhillnorthwest.com. $$$ WEST SEATTLESpur Gastropub The problem with so many of today's flailing attempts at modernist cuisine and molecular gastronomy is that, in their breathless fascination with all the goop, gear, and gadgetry involved in turning cheese into pasta and fish into foam, many chefs forget that they're still being paid to make people dinner. That means that the food itself still has to be a recognizable part of the "dining experience" and not get completely lost amid the chemicals and lasers. This, then, is the strength of Spur—a kitchen where a grounding in locality, seasonality, and recognizable ingredients (hedgehog mushrooms, salmon, potatoes, leeks, bacon) balances the impulse toward abstract gastronomic modernism, always elevating the trout above the almond foam and the sockeye salmon and house-made mascarpone above pure gimmickry. Because Spur's crew can manage this (at prices considerably lower than those at many of the country's other temples of molecular gastronomy), dinner here can be an event and an eye-opening indulgence without ever slipping over the line into a piece of egotistical performance art staged by cooks solely for their own enjoyment. JASON SHEEHAN 113 Blanchard St., 728-6706, spurseattle.com. $$$ BELLTOWNSteelhead Diner Poutine, baby. Pou-friggin'-tine. It's the answer to almost every question mankind asks, the cure to damn near anything that ails us. And you know where you can get some fine poutine? At chef Kevin Davis' Steelhead Diner. Made with Beecher's cheese curds from right around the corner, a trained chef's version of cheap diner gravy, and perfect french fries, Steelhead's poutine is a lowbrow dish served in a very high-tone setting. True, Steelhead's the kind of place that often fills up with suits and swells and beautiful people out flexing their new haircuts and business cards at each other, but sometimes you have to look past the crowds and the surface details to find the really good stuff. And at the Steelhead, that really good stuff includes Davis' idea of the American diner "evolved"—buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches, fish and chips, meatloaf served with juniper sauce and parsnip puree rather than mashed potatoes, and slices of pie filled with caviar. Personally, I love the upscale/lowdown fusion Davis does here, and though I do generally try to get out before the bar starts filling with martini sippers, I could easily live for weeks on nothing but the kitchen's poutine and a couple cases of cheap beer—even if I'd have to get the cheap beer somewhere else. JASON SHEEHAN 95 Pine St., 625-0129, steelheaddiner.com. $$$ PIKE PLACE MARKETTamarind Tree More often than not, Asian fine dining is a cerebral fusion whose aesthetic and cuisine depart from the culture that inspired them. Enter Tamarind Tree, which bridges a sophisticated, modern decor with unquestionably authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Their signature spring rolls are probably the best in town, seemingly flowering with noodles and lettuce in a perfectly sticky rice wrapper. If you can't get enough of them, order the ban cun tráng tay (steamed rice paper) and wrap your pork, crispy shrimp, or shiitake mushrooms yourself. While most rave about Tamarind Tree's specialty noodle soups and the whimsical crepes—shells of rice flour packed with scallops, prawns, and pork and covered with coconut milk—I'm a huge proponent of its salads. Whether green papaya or duck, the ingredients are gorgeously laid out, super-fresh, and satisfying. With prompt, friendly service, an elegant patio, and fancy cocktails like lychee and kumquat, you can have a night on the town without sacrificing the soul of the food. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR 1036 S. Jackson St., 860-1404, tamarindtreerestaurant.com. $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTTammy's Deli You can get a premade sandwich with chau lua (steamed ham) from almost any Vietnamese deli in Rainier Valley, but nowhere can you find it as cheaply priced as at Tammy's, which makes it the perfect nosh during an afternoon commute when you've skipped lunch and your stomach is yelling at you for the neglect. It comes in a plastic box for easy storage and access. Only one hand is required to eat it. And, most important, the ham's slightly tart flavor doesn't linger long enough to ruin your dinner. VERNAL COLEMAN 7101 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., 760-1172. $ RAINIER VALLEYTaqueria La Venadita One good suit, a decent set of tools, a well-thumbed copy of The Great Gatsby, a good friend with a pickup truck—these are some of the things a man needs to live a full, comfortable, and productive life. One other thing he requires: a dependable place to get a taco. And that's where Taqueria La Venadita comes in. This Issaquah strip-mall restaurant is run by a family from Mexico and features perfect little street-style tacos in all the cardinal flavors: asada, cabeza, lengua, and adobada. The kitchen also does a decent posole, huge tortas, plates of camarones al mojo de ajo, fat burritos, and a booming business in tamales on Saturdays—but the tacos are really where it's at. Corn tortillas, a scattering of meat, a bit of cilantro, a wedge of lime—that's it. So come in, get yourself a Mexican Coke and four or five tacos, then settle in at one of the tables on the floor and kill an afternoon watching Mexican telenovelas on the TVs hung near the ceiling—knowing that, even if you don't have the suit and can't find your copy of Gatsby from high-school English class, at least you've got that taco thing well taken care of. JASON SHEEHAN 730 N.W. Gilman Blvd., 425-391-6480. $ ISSAQUAHThaiger Room You might be wondering how a Thai restaurant could stand out in the U District, considering University Way is populated by as many Asian food spots as the ID. For the most part, however, students seem to be more attracted to what's cheaper rather than what's better. Hence, passing by the Thaiger Room's front door without seeing a sign announcing a two-for-one discount can seem a little off-putting. But do you really want to spend the night holding your stomach, wishing you'd backed off on the dried-out tofu (no, it's not supposed to look like a prune!), drenched in bland peanut sauce, that you ate elsewhere? While the Thaiger Room may not have the killer deals that some of its neighbors do, it offers some of the best fried tofu in town. Served straight from the deep fryer onto a plate of pad Thai, the tofu left the top of my mouth feeling a little singed, curable with a glass of Singha. Old-school Madonna plays overhead, and you can watch your food sizzle in the pans if you sit at the bar near the front door. And the best part? Absolutely no regrets. LAUREN LYNCH 4228 University Way N.E., 632-9299, thaigerroom.com. $ U DISTRICTThai Tom There's very little guesswork with the U District's storied Thai Tom. It's really small, you will probably wait, you will sit crammed at the counter or tucked around a small table, you will order off a menu inscribed on a chunk of wood, and you may have to squint since the place is pretty dimly lit. Everything's basically the same (cheap) price, and your meal will be served right out of the pan into a ceramic boat-shaped bowl heaped with jasmine rice. While the vegetable and curry dishes are commendable and dependably good, Thai Tom does two things spectacularly: pad Thai and Swimming Rama. They're also very serious about spice—five stars is rocketship status. HOLLIS WONG-WEAR 4543 University Way N.E., 548-9548. $ U DISTRICTThe Tin Table is hidden away inside the Odd Fellows building across the hall from Century Ballroom, something you're highly aware of during your visit. Telltale signs are everywhere: salsa music, the clickety-clack of heels, and even your graceful server, most likely also a trained dancer. (Observe as he strides silently across the restaurant's creaky wooden floors!) Despite its grandeur, the Tin Table is surprisingly inexpensive. The $16 steak frites are one of the best deals in town: two medium-rare slabs of hanger steak smothered with bacon blue cheese, accompanied by shoestring fries and an arugula salad. For even less, you can feast on mahi-mahi tacos and shrimp tortellini. It's rare and welcome these days when your evening feels far more lavish than the check indicates.ERIKA HOBART 915 E. Pine St., 320-8458, thetintable.com. $$ CAPITOL HILLToulouse Petit Don't let the name fool you: Toulouse Petit is anything but small. This 142-seat restaurant and bar next door to Peso's (which has the same owner) boasts a 60-plus-item happy-hour menu, overwhelmingly varied dinner and lunch menus, and a breakfast menu that offers more than a half-dozen types of eggs. Chef Eric Donnelly, formerly of Oceanaire, has ditched the high seas for the bayou. He's having a lot more fun orchestrating French Quarter–inspired cuisine, and it shows. The menus are summer reading material, so let us help you out. Must-haves include barbecued shrimp and grits ($14.45), spicy fried alligator ($10.75), Creole Gulf shrimp cakes ($12.50), and anything that includes Toulouse's house-made charcuterie (the $5 garlic sausage sliders during happy hour come to mind). This adult eating playground has no limitations; there is literally something for everyone, and the Toulouse team is already envisioning a larger-scale version of this popular restaurant somewhere in the downtown corridor. JULIEN PERRY 601 Queen Anne Ave. N., 432-9069. $$ QUEEN ANNETubs Gourmet Subs Despite its middle name, this is no white-tablecloth restaurant. But at its core, the term "gourmet" truly refers to taste, and here the moniker rings true from bite one. Tubs delivers what many delis take for granted: flavor, and plenty of it. This modest sandwich shop has an undeniably unique and extensive menu that serves made-to-order sandwiches on bread baked fresh daily. Stuffing ham, turkey, roast beef, bacon, and cheddar into a toasted bun with all the toppings? Brilliance—also known as the Tokyo Club. Dunk your sub into one of the little styrofoam wells of house barbecue sauce and proceed directly to sandwich heaven. NICK FELDMAN 11064 Lake City Way N.E., 361-1621, tubssubs.com. $ LAKE CITYTurkish Delight Depending on what city you find yourself in or what neighborhood you're wandering through, doner kebab is not always easy to find. Gyros, sure, and shawarma is almost as ubiquitous as Big Macs. But doner (also called iskender) can be a bit harder to lay hands on, which is ironic because it's one of the most popular dishes in the Turkish canon, and in my opinion the hands-down best. So it's a good thing for those living or working within hollering distance of Pike Place Market that Turkish Delight—the little family-run, 10-table operation at the far end of the market—not only offers doner but does a really good job with it, cutting big slabs of meat, laying on the tomato sauce, and making a proper meal of it. There are gyros on the menu, too, of course—and shawarma, boreks, soups, and the namesake Turkish delights, gooey little nut, cinnamon, or rosewater candies dusted with powdered sugar. But while any meal at Turkish Delight is guaranteed to be three things—fast, cheap, and hearty—going for the doner adds a fourth promise: It's going to be awesome. JASON SHEEHAN 1930 Pike Place, 443-1387. $ PIKE PLACE MARKETTwilight Exit There's just no way not to have a good time here, one of the Central District's few neighborhood bars—and certainly the only one that cures its own bacon. The Twilight is your uncle's rec room, only with a better beer selection. Hanging globe lamps light up the velvet oil paintings and motocross trophies lining the walls. There's shuffleboard in the front, pinball in the middle, ping-pong out back, and happy hour every day from opening to 8 p.m. Plus: tater tots—golden, delicious, fatty-as-fuck tater tots, the perfect foil for a $3 pint of Dick's Danger Ale and a catfish po'boy or meatloaf sandwich. Phrases like "elevated pub fare" may be pretentious, but there's no better way to describe what the Twilight offers. Just don't drop any food, because Leroy the labradoodle, the owner's dog, will find it before you do, guaranteed. CALEB HANNAN 2514 E. Cherry St., 324-7462. $ MADRONAUnion Ethan Stowell shows his usual ambition at this power location, lately being encroached on by SAM's TASTE and others. You want to step up for the moulard duck breast with asparagus with red-wine reduction sauce? It's worth the $26, but some patrons may question whether it's worth the wait. The kitchen can be tardy in delivering other treats (we also favor the king salmon with green lentils), leaving extra time for drinks and apps (e.g., the softshell crab and Kumamoto oysters). For those in a hurry, the bar menu can be a better bet: Chilled asparagus soup and the cavatelli pasta in rabbit Bolognese sauce go down nicely; and everything tastes better during happy hour. The large room easily accommodates parties and family groups. And if you're entertaining work colleagues, you're guaranteed to have time to talk shop. BRIAN MILLER 1400 First Ave., 838-8000, unionseattle.com. DOWNTOWN $$Volterra Despite the common complaint that quality Italian food is hard to come by in Seattle, owner-operator Michelle Quisenberry and her co-owner/executive chef husband, Don Curtiss, have been packing crowds in since the doors on their Ballard Avenue space opened in 2005. The perpetually evolving selection of "little bites" ($10 per person) is always a delightful, seasonally inspired tour of whatever the kitchen is jazzed about at the moment, while the budget-respectful demeanor of sommelier David Burgess makes Volterra's northern-Italian bistro a perfect spot both to diffuse the awkward intimacy of first dates and accommodate lively birthday dinners. Rotating pasta specials are often alluring, but it's always the gusto and grace with which they approach their signature wild-boar tenderloin—typically served with gorgonzola cream sauce—that completes the Tuscan seduction. HANNAH LEVIN 5411 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-5100, volterrarestaurant.com. $$$ BALLARDVoula's Offshore Cafe Sure, Voula's serves lunch, but after one whiff of their buttermilk pancakes, there's no chance the middle meal will be making it onto your plate. Every breakfast dish is compiled with freshness: fresh fruit for the pancakes, fresh veggies for the omelets and scrambles, fresh smoked salmon and pork, even fresh coffee to top it off. And their hashbrowns, made from chopped potatoes crisped to perfection, are a heavenly side: something seemingly simple that's a must-have component of all their morning meals. PARISA SADRZADEH 658 N.E. Northlake Way, 634-0183, voulasoffshore.com. $ U DISTRICTWatertown Coffee I just moved to an apartment off 12th Avenue. Among my first orders of business were finding a neighborhood bar, a neighborhood coffee shop, and a neighborhood bar or coffee shop where I could play ping-pong. Watertown Coffee is all of the above. On a street that has suddenly blown up, Watertown is one of its main selling points. These guys open for coffee and stay with you through last call, boasting a menu of boilermakers (Poor Boy = tall Pabst and Evan Williams, Danny Boy = Guinness and Jameson) alongside vegetarian fare like quesadillas, mac & cheese, and gut-busting nachos that make even a dedicated carnivore beg for mercy. CHRIS KORNELIS 550 12th Ave., 860-4118, watertowncoffee.com. $ FIRST HILLWild Ginger Located across the street from Benaroya Hall, Wild Ginger reigns as the city's premier pan-Asian restaurant. Spacious, sophisticated, and darkly lit, with two lounges for those without reservations, it works as a place to take a date or your parents. While everything is elegantly prepared, from Chinese-style duck to lemongrass chicken to satays and noodle dishes, the Thai curries are especially refined, spicy but not overpowering. The seafood Thai noodles, with sprawling squid tentacles and clams in the shell tucked amid fat pasta sheaths, are the ultimate in Asian comfort food. NINA SHAPIRO 1401 Third Ave., 623-4450, wildginger.net. $$ DOWNTOWNZippy's West Seattle's Highland Park neighborhood is so starved for non–7-Eleven dining options that the owners of Zippy's could have taken to serving cold, unsweetened oatmeal out of its tiny storefront and there would have been lines out the door. Instead, the nearly two-year-old, nostalgia-thick hole-in-the-wall serves arguably the best burgers in the entire city, not just the peninsula (and yes, there are lines out the door). Tiny as its physical space may be, Zippy's has cool photos of old burger barns adorning its walls, and offers a slew of vintage sodas, shakes, and malts to wash down the beef. MIKE SEELY 7573 S.W. Holden St., 763-1347, zippysgiantburgers.com. $ WEST SEATTLE

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