Phinney Ridge / Greenwood

The long-jogging business district from just north of the Woodland Park Zoo to the car-choked intersection at North 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue North has not grown dramatically over the last 20 years while I have been in residence. It still is sleepy and underdeveloped. The condos have come in recent years, but fortunately they haven't brought the rest of the place along too quickly. I suppose eventually we'll be another Wallingford or Fremont—bustling and trendy, filled with expensive, exciting places—but until then, I will relish how frumpy we remain. The restaurants are a harbinger of things to come. For many years, the fanciest place to eat was the Santa Fe Café, with its Southwest flavors coloring both its food and walls. Now the Stumbling Goat Bistro, an intoxicating upscale bistro, has replaced the humble La Piazza pizza joint, and the Stalk Exchange has sprouted right across the street, bringing organic ingredients down home. Most ominously, Red Mill Burgers no longer shares its space with a used-furniture store. The improvement in dining will undoubtedly be followed by hoards of other, less-desirable development. Until then, I will enjoy this brief interregnum where we are experiencing the best of the old and the new Seattle. George Howland Jr. Arita This cozy Japanese spot will warm you up with bowls of thick udon noodles or cool you off with delicate, pungent sushi. It is housed in one of those typically odd, single-story buildings that make Greenwood Avenue such a haphazard, dowdy promenade. The menu features an improbable number of classic Japanese items, from crispy shrimp tempura to rich broiled black cod Katsuke to vegetable sushi with spicy radish sprouts. Everything is fresh and tasty. Since the service and kitchen use Japanese as their first language, the wait staff dresses traditionally, and the space is neat and compact without seeming crowded, one feels transported to the East, far away from the nearby garage and strip mall to a much more refined location. G.H. 8202 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-784-2625. $ The Pig and Whistle Bar & Grill Restaurants usually come off best when they focus on doing one thing and doing it well. The Pig and Whistle is an exception: It does a bunch of things—Tex-Mex, pizza, barbecue—and does all of them well. The kitchen is justly proud, for instance, of its main dish chile relleno, stuffed (most of the time) with a shredded-chicken filling, which goes beautifully with its smoky chile and fluffy batter shell. The back ribs, available in portions from appetizer to we-dare-you size, are our idea of what barbecue ought to be: the meat dehumidified but not dry, the succulent sauce on the side a tangy but not overwhelming complement. The pizzas are also great: chic but not foofy. And the craft beer lineup is an invitation to experiment. The downside: If you're seated near the bar, and the bar's crowded, your meal will be seasoned with cigarette smoke; but the agreeably funky and cavernous room, looking more like a downtown grunge bar than a neighborhood family hangout, is decently ventilated. R.D. 8420 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-782-6044. $ Red Mill Burgers It's no wonder lines snake out the door most nights as Seattle lines up for its favorite little burger joint—the food here is terrific and cheap. You can get great traditional burgers or a smoky grilled chicken sandwich or enjoy a veggie alternative with a roasted Anaheim pepper. Every sandwich comes with the delightfully zesty Mill sauce. The milk shakes are thick, and they will even make them malted. Potatoes and onions are fried up so fine and crispy in fresh peanut oil. The service delivered by the mostly teenage staff is what you'd expect at the equivalent of a drive-in. If you plop down at the greasy red picnic tables outside and crane your head way back, you'll even get a view of shimmering Green Lake with the Cascades above. You only live once, you gotta pig it every once in a while. G.H. 312 N. 67th St., 206-783-6362. $ www.redmillburgers.com Santa Fe Café There was a time when this restaurant was exotic. Not only did it introduce Seattle to novelties like blue corn and posole, but it also was a much more chichi dining experience than the Phinney/Greenwood neighborhood was accustomed to. Now its ingredients and atmosphere are no longer so unusual, but the Santa Fe Café has just kept plugging along doing the same wonderful things it has done since arriving first in Ravenna in 1981 (now closed), and then expanding to this location near the Woodland Park Zoo in 1987. The red chile sauces are still fragrant, the posole continues to be a fun, spicy alternative to rice, and the blue corn tortillas look fabulous and taste even better. The place manages to accommodate large groups, families, and intimate dining without apparent strain. Stop on by for a first visit or to get reacquainted. G.H. 5910 Phinney Ave. N., 206-783-9755. $$ 74th Street Ale House How surprising is the grub in this pub? It's worth going just for the salads. Try the ones featuring breaded medallions of goat cheese or the spicy ahi tuna cakes. Seafood is a specialty here—don't miss the fish tacos and the fiery gumbo. The sandwiches are all good: Carnivores rave about chicken on rye, and vegetarians swoon over the scrumptious black bean burger folded into a spongy pita. Just to make sure you get the point—there is no deep fryer on the premises, and no smoking is allowed either. As if all this weren't enough, there are 16 beers on tap catering to every possible taste. The high ceilings, big windows, and handsome wood floor and bar make this an ideal, comfortable hangout for those of us lucky enough to live within walking distance or a great destination location for people coming from across town. G.H. 7401 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-784-2955. $ Stalk Exchange Imagine that the Francine Seders Gallery and Red Mill Burgers had a baby—that's what the Stalk Exchange is like. (It helps if you know that the three businesses are in close proximity on Greenwood Avenue.) It's a mix of high and low culture— comfort food like fried chicken and mashed potatoes made with organic and locally produced ingredients whenever possible. Often mistaken for a vegetarian joint, diners have the feeling visiting this cozy bungalow that they are in owner Laurie Dent's home. It's casual and comfortable, and the food warms you up without ruining your health. The whole-meal salads, often an innovative combination of salad greens, nut meats, fresh fruit, and artisan cheeses, are delightful. Fresh fish, grain-fed beef, and free-range chicken are all prepared with care and grace. Don't pass up the decadent desserts—rich cheesecakes and gooey brownies. The service adds to the homespun nature of the experience; Dent treats you like a regular even if you're not, and she hires local teenagers to assist who are charmingly vague. If you go for brunch, Mom (Seders Gallery) will be open; you can visit Dad (Red Mill) another time. G.H. 6711 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-782-3911. $$ Stumbling Goat Bistro This restaurant is so good, you can't help feeling you have somehow stumbled into an upscale fooderati hangout in Belltown after walking round the corner from Red Mill Burgers. The menu is, as befits boutique bohemian sensibilities, small and inspired by seasonal, local ingredients. On a recent evening, new chef Matt Dillon, formerly of the Herbfarm Restaurant, was serving five entrées, including gnocchi with goat cheese, sorrel, sage, and stinging nettles and broiled Columbia River sturgeon on a bed of red cabbage–potato fricassee infused with blood orange vinaigrette. The food is creative, exquisitely prepared, and beautifully arranged on the plate and tastes so delicious, it really makes you wonder how a chef is able to make food so palate-pleasing. The atmosphere is laid-back, and the service is friendly and attentive without being cloying. It is truly the apex of dining experience in our humble quartière. G.H. 6722 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-784-3535. $$ Zeek's Pizza This is pizza Seattle-style. Don't come here with a purist attitude looking for wood-fired, paper-thin-crusted Tuscan pizza margherita. Come here to have a good time, chow down on huge, thick slices of scrumptious cheese pizza and massive green salads loaded with goodies that are bad for you, and guzzle pitchers of Thomas Kemper root beer or something stronger. The place is always hopping and filled with happy, noisy people. In the summer, sit on the patio or take your pie over to Woodland Park for a picnic or to the concerts at the zoo. If you want to get adventuresome, try the pizzas with broccoli and spinach (the Treehugger) or peanut sauce (Thai One On), or my favorite offbeat number— Jimmie the Greek (heaps of stuff like feta cheese, kalamata olives, and red onions). And yes, they deliver. G.H. 6000 Phinney Ave. N., 206-789-0089. $ www.zeekspizzaonline.com food@seattleweekly.com

 
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