* new restaurant LA VIAGRA MARINA* [Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer forced the humble South Park Mexican restaurant La Viagra Marina to change its nameit is now

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100 Favorite Restaurants (Part 3)

* new restaurant LA VIAGRA MARINA* [Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer forced the humble South Park Mexican restaurant La Viagra Marina to change its nameit is now called El Vagre Marino, which means, obscurely, "catfish of the sea."] Apparently Viagra means Viagra the world over; the seafood that dominates the menu at La Viagra Marina amounts to nature's own version. Owner Salvador Hernandez, founder of many local Mexico-flavored businesses over the last 10 years, has now created La Viagra, the climax of his endeavors. The neighborhood's unofficial meeting place, Viagra's green serape-lined booths are frequently filled with patrons eating heartily and speaking Spanish. The salsa is bright, bracing, chunky cilantro perfection on crispy homemade chips in bottomless supply. Crab, shrimp, octopus, and clam soup is a smash; served in a huge bowl, it could feed two or three. In the land-food category, a big brimming bowl of goat meat in its own juices is stupendous—quit cringing, Anglos: This classic dish features pot roast-moist meat, just dying to flop off the bone. The huge carne asada burrito is likewise super, stuffed to bulging with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, onions, and luscious marinated meat. The hits are amazing, and you'll feel like you've flown to Puerto Vallarta or, at least, San Francisco's Mission District for the evening. When's the last time you felt that way in Seattle? K.R. 8607 14th St., 762-9308. Lunch & dinner every day. SOUTH PARK $ LE GOURMAND The exterior of this Ballard landmark is a little forbidding—is it ever open? Why are the blinds always closed? But inside you'll find the perfect setting to celebrate romance: gauze-draped lamps, cozy pillows, quiet jazz, crisp linens, and a sweetly pastel mural. Along with unhurried, professional service and simply outstanding food, you'll discover an impressive wine list and the joys of relaxed dining. Dinners can last several hours, so it may not be the best choice for a first date: Faced with a minimum of three courses, you might run out of conversation before dessert arrives. The menu changes seasonally, and the price listed next to the entr饠includes vegetables, an appetizer, and a small flower-strewn salad. Starters range from blintzes filled with delicately sweet Sally Jackson cheese to a generous portion of mussels in a buttery wine sauce. The thick-cut pork chop with rhubarb and hazelnuts was a juicy and most springlike main dish, while a nightly special of fork-tender venison chops accompanied by Oregon black truffles was pleasantly rich and earthy. Desserts include a wide range of house-made frozen treats; the profiteroles are filled with a rich vanilla ice cream and drizzled with a decadent combination of delicate caramel and rich milk chocolate sauces. Time permitting, Chef Bruce Naftaly will wander forth from his kitchen to chat, a friendly, personal ending to a magnificent meal. J.L. 425 N.W. Market, 784-3463. Dinner only, closed Sun.-Tues. BALLARD $$$ LULU'S* Come here and sit down. Have a martini. Here's a little secret for you, friend: Lulu's. Hidden in plain sight on the edge of Pioneer Square's frat-bar hell, Lulu's is your new favorite place for a glass of wine or a well-mixed drink and a gorgeous plate of food, in the sort of low-key swank surroundings you thought you could only find at the Alibi Room. The room is high-ceilinged, nice and dim, sophisticated without being overly styley; in the open kitchen off to one side, Lois Pierris (of Serafina, among other fame) prepares creative Mediterraneanish food that is both fantastic and a fantastic value. Bring a date or a friend and share a plate of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and basil pesto in a balsamic reduction with grilled bread, or the perfectly cooked spicy prawns, or delicious potato and zucchini latkes, or one of a number of salads with nice fruit counterpoints. If you're very hungry, pastas come in big portions in neat, gigantic bowls; the chicken and roasted garlic linguine is amazing. Later in the evening Lulu's turns into a club that puts the rest of P. Square to shame, with selected dishes available till 1 a.m. for your snacking-while-drinking pleasure. B.J.C. 421 Second, Ext S, 342-9457. Dinner only; closed Sun. & Mon. PIONEER SQUARE $-$$ LUSH LIFE Ah, venison. Young, supple, velvety venison, who once was a breathing, blinking doe. Who once ran, lithe and full of life, through lush fields of green. Who once drank with soft doe lips from a freshwater stream and danced on frozen ponds. And who now presents her flesh, her flank, out of context and in devourable fashion: sliced thick, medium rare, with a steak knife. She's the star of dinner at Lush Life—if you can get her (she's a special)—but plenty of other creatures are, if not celebrities, noteworthy: buttery monkfish with almonds and lentil-barley pilaf; rosemary and sage free-range chicken over creamy polenta and chard. Menu items read classic Italian—carpaccio, pizza con salsiccia, spaghetti al gamberi—but many preparations are untraditional and inspired: pear vinaigrette and pistachios on the baby spinach salad, seared ahi on the antipasto platter. Owing to the steely sexiness of the place, and its proximity to local indie-rock venues of fame and infamy, real stars, too, may be in attendance. Hey, isn't that Nick Licata flirting with that woman in the bar? C.F. 2331 Second, 441-9842. Dinner only. BELLTOWN $$$ LYNN'S BISTRO* Lynn's Bistro—intimate, feminine, and ever so refined—is basically a one-woman show. My Linh Tran is the founder, the owner, the chef, the reservation taker, and even, at times, the server. And in the early 1980s, Tran apprenticed with Dominique Place, arguably the city's master saucier and classical French chef, so it's no surprise that her sauces are as fragrant and complex as those of her mentor. Steamed mussels bathe in a vigorous coconut curry, brightened with strands of fresh basil; the shrimp and crabmeat ravioli loll in brilliant saffron sauce. The latter dish is most notable as a savvy masquerade, for these raviolis with cheeseless, Chinese fillings are more like pot stickers. This is Tran's signature: wild flights of fusion on a menu that reads straightforwardly Continental. If you happen upon the bay scallop puff pastry special, lucky you: Scallops tumble from a pastry cup piled high with vegetables and draped in a peppery saffron sauce enlivened with—weirdly—pesto. The finished product is a glorious fusion, almost Thai in its components, with Asian ingredients meeting French techniques with masterful results. Cultures even collide on the dessert table—that unique flavor you taste in the pumpkin pie is Chinese five-spice. K.R. 214 Central Way, Kirkland, 425-889-2808. Lunch, dinner, & Sun. brunch. Closed Mon. KIRKLAND $$ MANEKI The sushi bar in the back and the regular bar in the front are twin mysteries, narrow and quiet. In the main room, a '70s stereo system reposes in an obscure corner, unused, and a waitress fires up a microwave sitting at the host stand. The service can be erratic, your appetizers and sushi brought in reverse order by two different ever-smiling people. But said appetizers and sushi are so great that they make all the weird things about Maneki completely lovely. And the very best way to feel the love at Maneki is in your own tatami room with three or five or seven of your favorite people, ordering the outstanding hot dishes (kaibashira bata-yaki, tender scallops and mushrooms saut饤 in butter with green onions and chili pepper; an exquisite kaki fry, panko-breaded oysters greaselessly deep-fried; homemade gyoza; different amazing squid things; weekly specials that will make you weep with joy) and obscene amounts of extremely fresh, extremely generous sushi, with plenty of hot (or milky, cold) sake and big bottles of Kirin Ichiban, your shoes waiting in an obedient line outside, making total pigs of yourselves for about half what it would cost somewhere less lovely and less weird. B.J.C. 304 Sixth S., 622-2631. Dinner only; closed Mon. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $-$$ MARCO'S SUPPER CLUB Though the space itself is traditional romantic Belltown bistro all the way, owners Marco Ruff and Donna Moodie aren't afraid to get drastically eclectic on their brief but well-considered menu. Global flavors abound, from the Indian-spiced lamb shank to the Jamaican jerk chicken and Thai-influenced ahi tuna—though more traditionally handled seafood dishes are available for those not wishing to spelunk across the planet for their dinner. The fried sage-leaf appetizer has been a signature dish for years; in actuality, the results are like a tasty, herbal sort of potato chip—but the novelty's enjoyable, and doesn't everything taste better fried? The calamari appetizer certainly does: Its crispy, slightly spicy, tempuralike coating yields deliciously tender flesh. A salad of mesclun greens, sweet toasted walnuts, and pungent Gorgonzola is palate-pleasing and heavily dressed. Vivid, tropically influenced dishes never fail—try the Cuban grilled halibut with coconut rice and black bean salsa, and the aforementioned jerk chicken, which lies on a bed of creamy, buttery mashed yams and wonderfully bitter saut饤 greens. Though the long, spacious bar and cozy, low-ceiling space are endearing, nothing beats the patio in the summer—ideal for spoon-feeding a scrumptiously indulgent strawberry shortcake or pecan-studded bread pudding to your date before going home for (wink, wink) dessert. L.G. 2510 First, 441-7801. Dinner every night. BELLTOWN $$ MARKET STREET URBAN GRILL Rarely does a menu receive this much attention to detail. Not only does it change seasonally, but you'll find a surprising number of appetizers and entr饳, with each entr饠precisely paired with both a starch and vegetable. Yellowfin tuna is rolled in black sesame seeds and served with an Asian-influenced noodle salad; rack of lamb is accompanied by tasty pea vines and Lyonnaise potatoes. Salads include a lovely fried pear, spinach, and Gorgonzola delight, and a popular Caesar that's a surefire hit with anchovy lovers. The well-crafted wine list has plenty for everyone, at extremely reasonable prices. Pastry chef Eddie Montoya's ice cream and astounding piecrust are perfect—Eddie, sweetheart, your Dutch apple pie ought to be illegal. The decor is simple and bright, and the glittery bar tempts you to stay a bit later with its special late-night menu. J.L. 1744 N.W. Market, 789-6766. Dinner only, closed Sun. BALLARD $$$ MAXIMILIEN IN THE MARKET A lot of restaurants that use the word "bistro" in their publicity would bridle if you read that as meaning "fast, unpretentious, and cheap." But despite its associations for Americans with Paris, accordion music, and romance, that's what the word means at home. The proprietors of Maximilien, Axel Mac頡nd Eric Francy, manage to fulfill both definitions of the word. Their luncheon and dinner menus share a lot of dishes—not just appetizers like the charcuterie plate or onion soup, but substantial main dishes like the salmon with wild mushrooms and the Idaho trout. Some heavier items, like cassoulet, are available only at dinner, and if you insist on getting spendy they'll accommodate you with tournedos Rossini (truffles and foie gras). But the heart of the place is in simple dishes like potatoes, lentils, and bacon with a dollop of duck confit, and the roast chicken breast with mushrooms and fries. The sound system sees to your Brel and Piaf needs: The phenomenal view of Elliott Bay suffused with sunset holds up the romance end. R.D. 81A Pike, 682-7270. Lunch Mon.-Sat., dinner Tues.-Sat., brunch Sun. only. PIKE PLACE MARKET $$-$$$ MIKE'S CHILI PARLOR There's New Ballard and there's Old Ballard, and Mike's remains reassuringly rooted in the latter's blue-collar, port-oriented tradition. Volvo-driving vegetarians look elsewhere; Mike's has no use for tofu. Sports fans, regular guys, hipster-phobics, and devotees of cable's Game Show Network—featured during lunch hour—will be pleased by Mike's unpretentious atmosphere and cheap grub. The building is a '30s deco landmark just northeast of the Ballard Bridge, with a patio for fair-weather dining. Inside, the linoleum-and-beer-poster decor won't distract from yummy burgers, chili (natch), and something called chili pasta; this retro dish turns out to be spaghetti topped by meat sauce and chili fixings, pleasantly transporting one back to the elementary-school cafeterias of youth. The modest beer selection runs a few rungs above Bud, and there's even champagne (!) by the glass. Delicious fries appear to be handmade, while chili-friendly oyster crackers bear the official stamp of Nabisco. T-shirts for sale allude to four generations of ownership, further attested to by adorable grandchild snapshots behind the bar. For regulars, Mike's is a place where everyone unquestionably knows your name—more than can be said s west of the bridge in the Hattie's Hat district. It shows how history amounts to more than bricks and mortar. B.R.M. 1447 N.W. Ballard, 782-2808. Lunch & dinner, closed Sun. Cash only. BALLARD $ MONSOON Monsoon does for Vietnamese food what its neighbor the Kingfish does for Southern cooking: elevates it to a new height of chic sophistication. You won't find pho in this minimalist Capitol Hill storefront with wood accents, an open kitchen, and intriguing wall hangings, but you'll be tempted with dishes—some familiar (chow mein, stir-fried vegetables), some exotic (frog's legs)—that mix the culinary traditions of Vietnam with Northwest innovation. Spring rolls go upscale loaded with Dungeness crab and rock shrimp. Fragrant tamarind soup is a lively sweet, sour, spicy concoction. Meat entr饳, like lemon grass mesquite-grilled pork with kimchee, are good, but seafood is the standout here. Plump scallops with black-bean sauce and vegetables (including caramelized yam) is Asian comfort food with its rich, warm flavors. Chilean sea bass, lightly crispy, heartbreakingly moist, and topped with jalape� fish sauce, and fresh herbs, may seem pricey, especially without accompaniments; but why this straightforward preparation results in the most perfect piece of fish you'll ever eat is one of life's mysteries. Dessert isn't a priority, but wine is: Monsoon was named one of 2001 Wine Spectator's best restaurants in the world for wine lovers. Andrea Reyer Cooney 615 19th E., 325-2111. Lunch (weekdays only) and dinner (daily). CAPITOL HILL $$ NELL'S Change is a good thing. You've always known it; now you have proof. Philip Mihalski transformed Green Lake gem Saleh al Lago into his own incarnation of an elegant neighborhood bistro. His contemporary American fare emphasizes local seasonal ingredients, with occasional forays into the exotic, like black truffles and foie gras. Preparation is artful and never overwrought; meats are tender and succulent, fish moist and flaky, flavors perfectly play off each other. Appetizers always include a nod to Saleh's legendary calamari, served with aﯬi and a scattering of fried capers. A salad of tender red sugar beets and spicy watercress in a tangy lemon vinaigrette is unified by mellow aged goat cheese. Entr饳 are as pretty on the plate as they are pleasing to the palate: Pan-seared black cod lounges in lemon-wine sauce with capers, brilliant-green favas, and artichoke; crispy duck with a rich, glazy reduction sauce rests on a pillow of pur饤 celery root in a nest of dandelion greens. Knowledgeable servers will introduce you to a selection of gourmet cheeses or steer you toward the perfect dessert. Or put yourself in Mihalski's hands and order the tasting menu—you'll be well taken care of. A.R.C. 6804 E. Greenlake Way N., 524-4044. Dinner every night. GREEN LAKE $$$ NIKO'S GYROS Don't blink, because you'll miss it. And to miss Niko's is a real tragedy. All but hidden behind a sweet, leafy tree just off of Magnolia's main strip, this Greek joint serves the best gyros in town. And they're cheap, too. The lamb souvlaki sandwich—served, like the gyros and the other souvlaki choices, in a warm pita with plenty of tzatziki, lettuce, tomato, and onion—is flavorful and packed tight with grilled-to-perfection meat. Add feta to any sandwich you choose; the Greek cheese makes everything better. Side orders of Greek fries (sliced potato wedges seasoned with oregano, lemon juice, and feta), hummus and pita, calamari, spanakopita, soup, salad, and various other special dishes (the chalkboard to the right of the counter must not be ignored) complete the meal, but if you're really hungry you might as well belly up to the specialty plates. Served with Greek salad, Greek fries, pita, and tzatziki, the mostly meat-based dishes are generous and hearty. The flavors of Niko's grill fill the small shop with anticipation, and watching from your table as the Greek gods and goddesses behind the counter fulfill your order is a happy waiting game. But the most charming element of this unassuming double-wide hole-in-the-wall? The uneven red letters stuck to the front door reading, "Never on Sundays." L.L. 2231 32nd St. W., 285-4778. Lunch & dinner, closed Sun. MAGNOLIA $ NONNA MARIA* [This restaurant has changed chefs since this review was written.]

The setting is about equal parts old-world and chic—the front room lined with streetside windows and anchored with a deli case, the back more tucked away and evening-worthy. And of an evening, the place is twilit and vibrant with conversation, lending an urban vitality. Make that a global vitality: The restaurant features the pastas and risottos of Italian owner Roberto Davico, the unique culinary chops of Russian-Argentine chef Fernando Grodsinsky, and the overall choreography of Italian-Argentine manager Marco Casasbeaux. And yes, that's salsa music you hear—salsa music in an Italian restaurant. Among Nonna Maria's numerous virtues is the fact that its pasta is so toothsome and flavorful, its verve would be well highlighted by any sexy music. Try the pansoni agli spinaci, a plate of spinach and ricotta ravioli draped in porcini cream and beguilingly presented with a narrow crescent of Parmesan along the edge of the plate. Beautiful, yes, but also insanely delicious, thanks to the textural perfection of the green pasta and the velvety depth of the mushroom sauce. After licking up every last drip of this sauce you may consider eating the plate. K.R. 530 First N., 378-0273. Dinner only. Closed Sun. & Mon. LOWER QUEEN ANNE $$ THE OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM* The Oceanaire Seafood Room isn't just a restaurant—it's a concept. Vaguely reminiscent of the Lusitania right before it was taken out by the U-boat, the feel is sophisticated, luxurious, and big as an ocean liner; it takes a lot of diners to fill 9,100 square feet, but the place has been steadily bringing people in with its posh loveliness and outstanding seafood. Pause for communion at the oyster bar before gorging on the gargantuan main dishes: With as many as 12 different bivalves to choose from with fresh lemon, horseradish, and two dipping sauces, it's a connoisseur's dream. Menus are printed up twice each day to highlight an assortment of superfresh fish from around the world: perhaps the lusciously rich Hawaiian opah or an herb-crusted black and blue marlin. Portions are huge, from the gorgeous seafood salads to the tasty side dishes (the creamed corn is heavenly) to the enormous slice of Key lime pie. If it seems a little odd that a great seafood place has arrived in Seattle via a Minneapolis-based chain, it's hard to argue with the results. You will dine well at Oceanaire, and leave feeling pampered, tipsy, and very, very full. J.L. 1700 Seventh, 267-BASS. Lunch & dinner, Mon.-Fri.; dinner only Sat. & Sun. DOWNTOWN $$$ OSTERIA LA SPIGA Let's say with fond affection and no condescension: "Good, affordable Italian." A warm, subdued atmosphere (reserve one of the long, benchlike booths) sets the tone for slightly rustic, unassuming elegance. La Spiga doesn't draw attention to itself in any way—it sits calmly, without any fanfare, on the corner of Broadway and Union, in an obscure corner of the giant QFC complex—and one bite into it, you'll understand why it doesn't have to. Try the offbeat antipasto, which is served rolled, a sandwich-esque combination of prosciutto, Parmigiano, and greens covered with just the right amount of balsamic vinegar. The pasta itself is light but delectably filling, and of a singular consistency that many more expensive houses miss; the lasagne verdi's thin spinach noodles and besciamella sauce quite literally melt in your mouth. Gnocchi, which can be iffy elsewhere, manages to be both perfectly tender and firm, and is served in the tasty house tomato sauce and tossed with cheese. But go out on a limb, too, and the restaurant will meet you there: Farrotto ai cannelloni e tonno, a risotto-type dish using farro instead of rice, is a particularly tasty and unexpected reward, featuring a winning combination of tomatoes, cannellini beans, and imported tuna. S.W. 1401 Broadway, 323-8881. Lunch & dinner, closed Sun. CAPITOL HILL $$ PALACE KITCHEN I once wrote a grand, gallant elegy to the smoky apple-wood asparagus appetizer at Palace Kitchen, and then promptly that preparation—that vegetable altogether—was deleted from the menu. Just hope that, by my mentioning it, the Laura Chenel goat cheese fondue, with apples and grilled bread, doesn't meet a similar fate. Surely, it won't. Surely, it has gone the way of the Palace olive poppers, or the enormous garlic crouton with romaine lettuce salad, or the Palace Burger Royale (the presentation of which, every time, is still astounding); that is to say, surely the fondue, like the chef who invented it, has become an institution. Yes, Tom Douglas is just that. We have hardly enough room (to say nothing of adjectives) to extol the many virtues of his many ventures—including two other eminent restaurants, Etta's Seafood and Dahlia Lounge. Less touristy than Etta's and less formal than the Lounge, Palace Kitchen a thing of its place, a restaurant of the city. C.F. 2030 Fifth, 448-2001. Lunch & dinner Mon.-Fri., dinner only Sat.-Sun., bar menu till 1 a.m. every night. BELLTOWN $$-$$$ PASEO CARIBBEAN RESTAURANT Don't go to Paseo if you're an atmosphere snob; this frill-free Caribbean restaurant's about the size of a garage. Within you'll find a thatched-hutlike kitchen, inside of which bustling (but quite personable) staff slap together sandwiches and answer the ever-ringing phone. The dining room—a cramped space with tiled walls and floors reminiscent of an industrial kitchen—contains some stools at a counter, while out front are a couple almost always occupied tables. But Paseo's chicken, pork, and prawn sandwiches are fantastic. Slathered in a savory marinade, the meat comes tucked inside a fresh, toasted roll with cilantro, lettuce, and enough saut饤 onions and mayo to make this an appropriately messy meal. The accompanying corn on the cob should be plenty enough, but if you want still more, order the beans and rice, which complement the sandwich's smokiness with a pinch of spice. Wise diners will do like the regulars and get this grub to go—assuming you can resist from munching before starting your car. D.M. 4225 Fremont N., 545-7440. Lunch & dinner; closed Sun. & Mon. FREMONT $ PAZZO'S Pazzo's is the perfect place to munch a mighty calzone while watching "the game" (whatever it is) among 50 of your closest Eastlake friends—though the sports-intolerant can always find a quiet corner to peacefully co-exist. With beams, bricks, ceiling fans, and mellow illumination from some cheap-ass candles, plus old-fashioned fixtures like you might see in a 1940s bank, this convivial joint feels like it must harbor a pool table somewhere, though it doesn't. The only recreation is catching the M's on the multiple, yet unobtrusive, TVs, and digging into the heaping cheese pizzas, with superfresh veggies and awesome garlic-ricotta sauce. The base layer of a Pazzo's pie (starting at $7.50 for a 10-inch, up to $17.75 for a 16-er) is dense and satisfying, more bread than crust. In crispier fashion, it envelops the calzone as well; try the Matisse, with sausage and red bell peppers, or the Sinatra, with roma tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Even the dinner salad kicks ass, adorned with a lovely rosemary-feta dressing and, yes, another heap of Parmesan cheese. Free refills of pop help you wash down the dairy and charmingly haphazard service ensures you won't be rushed through the meal. M.D.F. 2307 Eastlake E., 329-6558. Lunch & dinner. Open late. EASTLAKE $ THE PEOPLE'S PUB* There aren't many places to get German food in Seattle, or most other places outside Germany for that matter. Ballard's the People's Pub is such a place, and the people love it. For appetizers, both the old standard sausage and cheese plate and a more imaginative entry, broiled jalape�eppers wrapped in bacon and stuffed with goat cheese, are tasty and served in generous portions. For an entr饬 try the Paprikaschnitzel, a pork cutlet saut饤 with onions and peppers—eating Paprikaschnitzel isn't quite as delightful as saying the word out loud (go ahead, it's a lot of fun), but it's pretty close. Served along with a light and fluffy bed of sp䴺le and some red cabbage, it's an authentic German feast. Such a feast, of course, wouldn't be complete without the proper beverage accompaniment, and the People's Pub boasts an impressive selection of German brews on tap—Spaten Optimator/ Doppelback and Pilsner, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse, Paulaner Hefeweizen and Lager, and Bitburger Pils, along with bottled fare from breweries such as Erdinger and Celebrator. Factor in the cozy atmosphere, and you'll probably love the People's Pub too. P.F. 5429 Ballard N.W., 783-6521. Dinner Wed.-Fri., lunch & dinner Sat.-Mon., closed Tues. BALLARD $ PESO'S TACO LOUNGE While many Peso's patrons are busier feasting on the sexy singles opportunities (a.k.a. the other white meat) than on the nuevo-Mexican fare, the Queen Anne mainstay doesn't coast on atmosphere and well-mixed margaritas alone. The crowd, heavy on the preternaturally tan post-Greek system contingent, goes for the carnitas (tender saut饤 pork cubes in a sauce only Seattleites would deem spicy) and scrumptious grilled prawns. Those creatures of the sea rear their tentacled little heads on several of the menu's tastier dishes, like a poppin' fresh prawn, onion, and avocado salad, and grilled prawn fajitas. Those in the mood may wish to Thai one on with the tasty, if incongruous, green curry coconut prawns, whose flavors recall Bangkok far more than Baja, while others will run for the border with Oaxaca-style blackened ahi tuna—a continual favorite. It ain't down-home Gordito's, and it's certainly not the place to go for muy aut鮴ico menudo, but Peso's is sure to satisfy those who want a savory something to go with their cocktail (the happy-hour menu does indeed foster much happiness) and certainly keeps well-manicured hands busy—and taut tummies satisfied—while they wait for Mr. or Ms. Right Now to make their way over from the nearest barstool. L.G. 605 Queen Anne N., 283-9353. Dinner nightly. QUEEN ANNE $$ PHAD THAI Before weaving your way around the statues and sitting down in this welcoming neighborhood joint, take one last glance out the door. It will be the last glance you ever take as a person willing to eat just any old Thai food; you will be completely spoiled from here on out. The phad Thai itself is a thing of beauty. Tangy, hot, and loaded with egg, peanuts, and some combination of tofu, chicken, beef, or prawns, it's not the least bit pink or sticky. This is the way a national dish should be—perfect. Whether your sauce preference runs to peanut or panang, expect it to be rich, thick, and complexly flavored. Meats are tender and vegetables are fresh and crisp. The curries aren't soupy like you're used to, but you'll be converted quickly. Spiciness is rated one through three stars, and the hand in the kitchen is a little inconsistent; no one wants to offend the gods through attaining perfection. Service is sweet and speedy, and the prices are most reasonable. All hail Phad Thai! J.L. 8530 Greenwood N., 784-1830, Lunch & dinner, no lunch on Wed. GREENWOOD $ PIECORA'S The platonic ideal of an old-school Italian-American pizzeria, Piecora's inspires the ordering of root beer and salad with ranch dressing—the kind of stuff that belongs on top of its red-and-white-checked vinyl tablecloths. The atmosphere manages to simultaneously comfort and rock; you could bring kids here, or you could drink beer in a cushy red booth until you're kind of loud and obnoxious. The pizza is a fine underlayer for a night out or hangover salve; its New York-style crust is crisp but not crackery, its toppings include the regulars and some fancier stuff (feta cheese, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomato, zucchini, and so forth). You can order slices with specific toppings (how do they do that?), and they're only a couple bucks, and they're HUGE—meatballs and extra sauce is extra good. Heros and pasta dinners are also available, though that would mean you're not having pizza, and that would be kind of wrong. B.J.C. 1401 E. Madison, 322-9411. Lunch & dinner daily. CAPITOL HILL $ PLACE PIGALLE You've already heard that Place Pigalle is the place to stage a romantic dinner date, so just to be different, try it alone—at lunch. Treating oneself to a four-star lunch while watching the seagulls race the ferries on the gray, cloud-covered Sound may not fit with the traditional idea of a quixotic interlude, but Place Pigalle's unique, restorative ambiance is a balm to any soul, solo or otherwise. The quiet grace of the staff, the understated, classic decor, and the warm, fragrant scents of other worlds immediately soothe you; take a seat by the window and have your server suggest a glass of wine. Order a mixed green salad and a bowl of the delicious onion soup, and spend some quality time with the menu. The Market specials are always a good idea: From albacore to salmon to Dungeness crab, the kitchen reinvents itself based on that day's freshest, most appealing selections from the adjacent Pike Place Market. And Pigalle's nouveau cassoulet rivals its neighbor's renowned one; with duck, lamb, a hearty selection of legumes, and a twist of orange zest, it manages to be both exotic and comforting. There—isn't is nice to spend some romantic time alone? L.L. 81 Pike, 624-1756. Lunch & dinner, closed Sun. PIKE PLACE MARKET $$$ RESTAURANT Zօ* Like the newborn girl it was named for, restaurant Z�s growing up fast and well. In the competitive Belltown scene that spits out restaurants faster than a baby gums through zwieback, Scott Staples' place has made it through its first year, found its legs, and is toddling along just fine. The menu emphasizes the Northwest, but the room feels European: The space is classy but not flashy, the service helpful but not obtrusive, and the clientele is mixed in age, style, and clique. It's not often that you're seated between a posh gay couple on their first date debating Six Feet Under and young parents with two well-dressed small children getting lessons in table manners. The food, like that at fine French bistros, combines the classic (saut饤 sole, oven-roasted chicken) with the intriguing (spice-crusted pork tenderloin with orange cinnamon couscous, house-smoked hanger steak). The pan-seared sea scallops with five-onion risotto verde makes the most of the plump sweet scallops, and a careful hand stirs the creamy tangy risotto to perfection. Monday is a dark night at many restaurants, but it may be the best night to visit Z�the entire wine list is half price. And, if you're not so inclined to teach your little Zack manners just yet, that's an easy nig

 
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