Critics' Picks

Food

Best Cheap Sushi

There are people, I've heard, who don't like sushi. There are others, a few of whom I've actually met, who only eat certain varieties, prepared in certain ways. But for those of us who are truly enslaved to raw fish in any form, there's Maruta. This Japanese grocery in Georgetown sells adequately prepared nigiri and rolls at ridiculously low prices. "A.M. Specials" (prior to noon) bring the price of some rolls down to $2.99. And whatever isn't sold at lunch is marked down to half price at 5 o'clock. Not for the squeamish, maybe, but definitely for the hopelessly addicted.—Lynn Jacobson 1024 S. Bailey St., 206-767-5002.

Best Named Martini

Never mind the vacant stares often accompanying drinks at Capitol Hill hipster haunts. One of the area's liveliest scenes remains at Chapel, a converted funeral parlor that's been waking the dead since Halloween of 2003. Adventurous types pack the place on weekends, sidling up to the mausoleum-turned-bar to choose from 39 house martinis ($6 each, or $4 during the daily 5–8 p.m. happy hour); ginger- and lavender-infused versions top the list of their favorites. But it's the delicious and aptly named Murder Martini at Chapel (made with red rum, triple sec, and cranberry) that couldn't be a more perfect poison. —Rachel Shimp 1600 Melrose Ave., 206-447-4180, www.thechapelbar.com.

Best Political Eatery

We never think about what happens to the glass of water we leave half-full on a restaurant table, but maybe we should. At Chaco Canyon Cafe, it gets poured into a plant. That's just one of many ways this restaurant, coffeehouse, and juice bar, whose menu is "approximately 99 percent organic," manages to conserve while serving good sandwiches, entrées, and desserts in the bargain. Anti-Bush cartoons taped to the espresso machine are one outward sign of Chaco's politics, but most of owner Chris Maykut's principles are evident in the menu, which is also approximately 99 percent vegan (hormone-free milk from Wilcox Family Farms in Roy, Wash., is available in your smoothie upon request). About half of the restaurant's offerings qualify as "raw food," which means no heat was used in the process of preparing them—a choice that, according to the raw-foods movement, preserves important nutrients and enzymes that frying pans, ovens, and microwaves kill. None of Chaco's politics would matter, of course, if the pesto melt (made with vegan cheese) and the Reuben (made with Field Roast) weren't delicious. That they are proves that progressive thinking and adventurous food go together like . . . mock tuna and spicy apple-cranberry chutney.—Neal Schindler 4761 Brooklyn Ave. N.E., 206-522-6966, www.chacocanyoncafe.com.

Best Bread

With a big bowl of chili, with salmon off the barbecue, with herbed scrambled eggs and bacon, or just plain naked, torn into thick, greedy hunks straight out of the bag, Tall Grass Bakery's hominy bread is heavenly. The key ingredient is polenta, which gives the sunny yellow loaf not just a sweet, mellow corn flavor but a divine squishiness and an excellent texture as well. Because it's not as strongly flavored as corn bread, James Bowles' hominy bread is surprisingly adaptable, too. So feel free to serve it and enjoy it as you would any other loaf. Just be prepared—you may never want to go back to baguettes again.—Laura Cassidy 5907 24th Ave., 206-706-0991.

Best Frozen Pizza

We talk more and more these days about eating locally and about choosing food that's produced close to home. We usually don't have frozen dinners in mind during those conversations, but why not? A New York Pizza Place's Original New York Pizza, available at PCC stores and Whole Foods—and, if there's a god in heaven, QFCs someday very soon—tastes a helluva lot like a real New York pie even though it's made up by Lake City Way. (You can even visit the "factory." A New York Pizza Place operates as a pizzeria—and a damn fine one—in the evening hours after they're done shrink-wrapping pies for the day.) Containing nothing other than flour, water, olive oil, sugar, salt, yeast, crushed tomatoes, and whole milk mozzarella, these pizzas relieve frozen food of its bad reputation, and they put all those five-for- $10 brands sorely to shame.—Laura Cassidy 8310 Fifth Ave. N.E., 206-524-1536, www.anewyorkpizzaplace.com.

Best Mimosa

The popularity of the mimosa as a brunch beverage is such that it can be found on the menu of sidewalk bistros and greasy spoons alike, making the luxurious act of marrying champagne with orange juice, for breakfast, just a little less so. But fear not, for in addition to the original, they offer a pomegranate mimosa at Crave, the beloved Capitol Hill eatery. As a complement to the artfully arranged fruit and clever omelets on the midday menu, the magenta hue and sweet flavor add frisson to an already indulgent pleasure.—Rachel Shimp 1621 12th Ave., 206-388-0526, www.cravefood.com.

Best Puffed Pastry That Actually Holds Its Puff

By late afternoon, pastries across Seattle surrender their once-puffed form to the weight of gooey glaze or greasy butter. This epidemic skips over the Touchstone Bakery, warded off by the culinary genius of bakers (and co–collective owners) Laura Berryhill and Will Eigenberger. White flour is replaced by spelt, wheat, or whole grain flour. Sugar is avoided in favor of healthier substitutes like maple syrup, honey, or brown rice syrup. These combined ingredients give every croissant, cinnamon bun, tea scone, and vanilla roll a robust, fresh bite. And brown rice or maple syrup–inspired glaze sparkles elegantly, not dominantly, from each pastry like little rays of hope that baked goods will never sag again.—Emily Page 501 N. 36th St., 206-547-4000.

Best Home Away From Home Coffee Shop

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Sometimes solitude is bliss. Whether hanging out or hiding away, Fremont Coffee is a prime (wireless) location. Boisterous banter between the adorably hip baristas and their patrons fills the living room–turned–coffee bar. The alternative soda selection is as much a mini art gallery as a minimart. Tables and chairs dot the meandering back rooms of the old wooden house, including a strip of seating in what looks like a walk-in closet. How's that for hiding out? Fleeting sun permitting, you can also grab a seat on the enormous porch that hugs the building.—Emily Page 459 N. 36th St., 206-632-3633, www.fremontcoffee.net.

Best Conversation Cafe

Once upon a time, coffeehouses were community hubs where people went to sit for long hours, sip warm drinks with fancy French names, and gesticulate wildly over profound ideals and beliefs. Today, ideas are increasingly exchanged digitally rather than across the table. But when Cafe Victrola patrons seeking a few chairs and a slab to park their drinks for a good old-fashioned get-to-know- you began to complain that laptoppers hogged the turf, the cafe made a big change. Every weekend at Victrola, wireless is cut off. Says owner Jen Strongin, "We wanted to get a little of our old cafe environment back." The success is audible.—Emily Page 411 15th Ave. E., 206-325-6520, www.victrolacoffee.net.

Best Sliding-Scale Breakfast

West Seattle residents to the south of the hood were thrilled when Bird on a Wire opened a few years ago. The baristas are like your favorite college roommates all grown up, the coffee— Raven's Brew, roasted in Tumwater—is excellent, and the space is warm and inviting. You don't necessarily go there because you need caffeine; you go because it's just really nice to be there—especially on Sundays when a daring socialist experiment meets the waffle iron. Bird on a Wire provides the batter and the heat; neighbors bring in fresh berries, peanut butter, soy margarine, maple syrup, and whatever else they fancy as a topping; and before you go, you're asked simply to pay whatever you feel your waffle was worth. Considering the community that Bird on a Wire is helping to grow, it isn't surprising that folks are usually generous.—Laura Cassidy 9007 35th Ave. S.W., 206-932-1143, www.birdonawireespresso.com.

Best Can of Tuna

It's not enough that locally based fishing vessel St. Jude, operated by Joe Malley, manages to find and hand-catch some of the best albacore in the Pacific or that the tuna's raw-packed on board, cooked after it's all sealed up in the can so that it's nice and juicy. By labeling their product with the name of the troller that caught it, Malley and his crew are setting a standard for accountability and quality. We certainly don't know who that guy Charlie is, but we can actually go down to the Ship Canal where the St. Jude is docked. It makes a big difference in how we think about and appreciate our food, and it makes a big difference in how that food tastes, too—and Malley's tuna makes the best tuna salad sandwich this side of Gig Harbor. You see, that city's Tuna Guys pack a darn good can, too, but we'll save that for our Best of Gig Harbor issue. —Laura Cassidy Available in grocery stores and at www.tunatuna.com.

Best Fish Taco

A certain Mexican chain about town may claim the fish taco as its specialty, but I urge you to forget the rest and dig into the best: Agua Verde. Long a U District favorite for warm-weather dining (and paddling one of their rental boats in adjacent Portage Bay), they've got four varieties to knock the socks off pescatarians everywhere. Choose among smoked salmon ahumado, bacalao (cod in tempura beer batter), bagre (catfish), or mero (grilled halibut), each matched with greens and a scrumptious avocado sauce you'll be licking off your plate. —Rachel Shimp 1303 N.E. Boat St., 206-545-8570, www.aguaverde.com.

Best Happy Hour for Cheap Capitol Hill Residents

The pulsating beat of Indian music, the spicy scent of curry, and the laughter of hip Seattleites getting happily drunk off $2 well drinks can only mean one thing: happy hour at Maharaja Cuisine of India. It didn't take neighbors long to realize the beauty of the burly well drinks, each one served with your choice of a free appetizer like naan or pakora from 4 until 8 p.m. every day. Maharaja's colorful walls, sheer curtains, and Bollywood paraphernalia provide a relaxing atmosphere for all this inexpensive drinking and eating, but there are no two ways about what the crowds are here for. Space is limited in the bar, which is where most happy-hour revelers choose to congregate, and smokers have to go outside to indulge, but the cheap-ass drinks and gratis snacks make this the best happy hour around.—Heather Logue 720 E. Pike St., 206-286-1772.

Best Happy Hour for Grown-Ups

There's something automatically déclassé about happy hour. Everyone there knows that you're in it for cheap booze, cheap food, and the thrill of racing the clock. During happy hour at the Sorrento Hotel's Fireside Room, however, it's a good deal easier to remain your civilized self, but not because the drinks are any less stiff or because you're paying a fair price for sweet potato fries. Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and again from 9 to 10 p.m., while surrounded by tall, tall mahogany—Honduran mahogany, darling—walls and lots of high-backed, upholstered chairs and tasseled pillows, you feel noble. Belvedere martinis are only $4.50, and appetizers are a buck each. One dollar for mini pizzas, one dollar for bruschetta, one dollar for a ladylike portion of olives and almonds. Of course, you can still make a pig out of yourself if you have five bucks to blow on five plates, but you'll be a pampered pig, and that's not a bad kind of pig to be.—Laura Cassidy 900 Madison St., 206-622-6400, www.hotelsorrento.com.

Best Named Pho Restaurant

Vietnam's national dish is a noodle soup celebrated for its simplicity as much as variations on its flavorful broth, which means that each of the Sound's numerous pho (pronounced fuh) shops serves it a little differently. So how to call attention to your soup when faced with so much competition? Bellevue's What the Pho? follows the legendarily un-PC Pho Bich Nga in Vancouver, B.C., and the Photoshopped blog favorite Pho' Shizzle in using language as a smart-ass and highly effective way of getting folks in the door.—Rachel Shimp 10680 N.E. Eighth St., Bellevue, 425-462-5600.

Best New Bar

When a club can be thoughtfully programmed, full of sexy people moving to sexy beats, and stylish in a manner that invites political discourse and more History Channel viewings, I say, right on. The War Room features large-scale art by "Obey Giant" artist Shepard Fairey, a superb outdoor deck, and plenty of little nooks and crannies perfect for staging summit meetings between you and the dictator of your choice. The War Room also features some of the best and most diverse dance nights in town; it manages to make fans of drum and bass (D&B Tuesdays), hip-hop (Yo, Son! on Saturdays), and indie rock (Thursday's Tight Ships Loose Cannons) equally at home.—Laura Cassidy 722 E. Pike St., 206-328-7666, www.thewarroomseattle.com.

Best Ice-Cream Flavor

If you're only addicted to the chocolate truffles at Fran's Chocolates, you're missing out on a whole world of sinful enslavement. Fran's burnt sugar ice cream isn't really as sweet as the name might imply; rather, it's caramely and rich, with a very soft nudge of dark, bitter bite. Fran Bigelow reports that all of the ice cream is made with a cooked custard base, and for this particular flavor, turbinado sugar—a raw form of cane sugar that's already got a nice, molasses tang—cooked until it's caramelized, and then folded into the ice-cream base along with a touch of vanilla. As with everything in the luxury caramel collection, Bigelow says they're aiming to bring out the depth of caramel as opposed to merely slamming you with sugar. They succeed. This is the most complex and delicious ice cream around.—Laura Cassidy 2626 N.E. University Village St., 206-528-9969; 10036 Main St., Bellevue, 425-453-1698; www.franschocolates.com.

Best Take-and-Bake Crab Cake

Like a lot of things (sex, green curry, high heels), crab cakes can be luscious and complex or they can be bland and pointless. The mongers at Seattle Fish Company in West Seattle have written the book on the former. Aside from just a little mayo and some breadcrumbs for binding and green onion, garlic, and red pepper for flavor, they're all crab, baby. Crab, crab, crab. These scrumptious little suckers, which go for $4.99 and weigh about a third of a pound each, must be browned up at home, so go ahead and pretend you caught the crabs, cracked 'em, and concocted the cakes your bad self.—Laura Cassidy 4435 California Ave. S.W., 206-938-7576.

Best Hot Dog Cart

It's nearing 11 p.m. on a Friday night, and you're trolling Ballard Avenue for action between the Sunset and Tractor taverns when someone yells "Dante!" Your eyes follow a fellow on a tricked-out classic bicycle, and you watch as the man who just served you the city's best street dog (choose from regular or veggie, Italian or chicken sausage, and bratwurst; and whaddya want on it—cream cheese, hot sauce, sauerkraut?) greets his friend and hops on the cruiser. As he celebrates the fifth anniversary of his mobile hot dog kitchen, Dante's Inferno Dogs, this August, it's no wonder everyone in the neighborhood seems to know Dante Rivera by name.—Rachel Shimp Ballard Avenue between Northwest Market Street and 20th Avenue Northwest. No phone.

Best Bloody Mary

I know opinions differ on the subject, but I think a good Bloody Mary should drink like a meal. It should be made with fresh tomato juice, and it should be textured with tomato bits swimming throughout, but not gazpacho-chunky. It should be evenly spiced—none of this too-peppery nonsense that drowns out the Worcestershire and Tabasco. It should include at least two of the following: celery (stalk, no leaves, please), green olives (yes on the pimiento), and a lemon wedge lodged firmly on the rim of the glass. THE MIRABEAU ROOM's version of this oddball cocktail, the only savory drink to achieve international and lasting fame, is damn near perfect. Served in a slender glass, it tantalizes the taste buds without numbing them, and it's gone far too soon. Meaning you should order another.—Neal Schindler 529 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-217-2800, www.themirabeauroom.com.

Best Reason to Raise Your Family on the Eastside

Oh sure, there are the schools, the parks, the proximity to your corner office suite, but really, if Lisa Dupar's Pomegranate were down the street from your split-level, and you could pack the family up and eat there on nights when you were just too flambawzled to cook, that would be your favorite part about living in Redmond. Dupar, long a favorite local caterer, runs her restaurant on teamwork, and the menu is like a photo album of the crew's favorite family foods; witness "sushi tacos," pulled-chicken sopes, and fried green tomato Benedict at brunch. Junior might even tire of TV after a few nights in front of the gigantic fish-bowl kitchen. —Laura Cassidy 18005 N.E. 68th St., #A150, Redmond, 206-556-5972, www.lisaduparcatering.com.

Best Pasta Salad

You can scoff, but takeout places that specialize in pasta salad (or at least carry a lot of it) are rare jewels. While Pasta & Co. certainly earns an honorable mention in this category, my favorite place in town to get a pound of the ultimate picnic-basket treat is MICHOU, the small pan-Med deli in Pike Place Market. Sure, they've got lots of good-looking pizza and marinated vegetable salads, and gazpacho is in season right now, but when the sun is out and Steinbrueck Park is beckoning, only orecchiette con piselli (ear-shaped pasta tossed with peas, red onions, cheese, and a light vinaigrette) can satisfy me. Of course, if they're out of it, Michou usually has some kind of pesto-based something or other, sometimes with fusilli, the corkscrew noodle immortalized by Kramer on Seinfeld. And then there are the pasta salads with chicken. . . . Whichever you choose, know that the pasta will be al dente, the ingredients amazingly fresh, and the dressings tangy without being overbearing—in short, better than 99 percent of what you've been eating at potlucks and weddings for decades.—Neal Schindler 1904 Pike Place, 206-448-4758.

Best Place to Take Your Dog Out to Dinner or Lunch

The waterfront restaurant Fish Club invites you to forget about doggie bags and bring your pooch to dine along with you. For the duration of the summer, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Fish Club welcomes canines to feast on house-made, all-natural doggy treats. The treats have a wheat-flour base and are flavored with whole ingredients; restaurant personnel report that banana and cheddar are the two most popular choices. Along with the free snack, dogs are given a complimentary bowl of water to wash it down. Humans should stick to the land and sea menu.—Nichole Boland 2100 Alaskan Way, 206-0256-1040, www.toddenglish.com.

 
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