BLUE SUSHI When the kids are tired, grumpy, and hungry, you need food fast, but fast food is awful. The solution? Tasty sushi on a

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BLUE SUSHI When the kids are tired, grumpy, and hungry, you need food fast, but fast food is awful. The solution? Tasty sushi on a conveyor belt. If the sweet inari sushi, delicious tamago, or rich California rolls don't pacify the kids, the anime film loops projected on the wall will. Delectable miso soup arrives from the kitchen quickly. Chocolate-covered cream puffs or mochi ice cream finish the meal with a flourish. When it comes time to pay, the kids love dividing the different colored plates into piles to figure out your tab. Now if they could only do something about the lines of people waiting to get in. . . . GEORGE HOWLAND JR. Serves: lunch and dinner. 3411 Fremont Ave. N., 206-633-3411. FREMONT. 4601 26th Ave. N.E., 206-525-4601. UNIVERSITY VILLAGE $ www.bluecsushi.com CHEN'S VILLAGE Chen's isn't just your kind of Chinese place. It's yours, period. The triangular land and building along Elliott Avenue West is owned by the taxpayers of Seattle, one of the properties being jettisoned by the collapsed Seattle Monorail Project. Place your order soon; property bids are now closed, and with a price tag of $1.3 million or more, the weathered eatery's days are still likely numbered. Too bad, because Chen's, formerly Lee Chee Garden, puts out a perfect almond fried chicken and a memorable prawns and broccoli. Also recommended: orange beef and the house special chow mein. There is, for some reason, a pool table in the midst of the dining room, which adjoins the narrow lounge. Just as curious: The bar tends to attract cops, editors, and other riffraff. Hey, send 'em packing. It's your house. RICK ANDERSON Serves: lunch and dinner. 544 Elliott Ave. W., 206-281-8838. QUEEN ANNE $ 88 RESTAURANT I don't remember if I first enjoyed the Vietnamese food or the Thai food at this restaurant in the Alterna–International District—what, you didn't know that was White Center's nickname?—because the Vietnamese family who run it serve both fantastic (and cheap) banh mi sandwiches and excellent (ditto) Thai curries. I do know that now I can't stop by without picking up a little of each. The Penang curry is what I recommend to my West Seattle friends when they ask for a cheap, delicious dinner. Rich, red, coconut-creamy, and swimming with fresh vegetables and the tofu I request, it's as good as what—ahem—some downtown restaurants charge an arm and a leg for. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: lunch and dinner. 9418 Delridge Way S.W., 206-768-9767. WHITE CENTER $ HING LOON SEAFOOD RESTAURANT Hing Loon's hot pots are the cure for the common cold (and, quite possibly, common heartache, common cubicle ache, and uncommon palate boredom), but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the satay shrimp curry hot pot when you're feeling perfectly great. The menu is ginormous, a word Webster's recently added to its lists for the specific purpose of describing Hing Loon's mostly Cantonese offerings. Go with as many people as you can so that you can taste as much of it as possible. You might hear that this place isn't much to look at, but I think the floor-to-ceiling handwritten signs on the east-facing walls would make an excellent backdrop for a fashion spread. You might also hear how good the service is; I concur, and add that it might be the best in the neighborhood. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: lunch and dinner. 628 S. Weller St., 206-682-2828. CHINATOWN/INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $ HUÖNG BINH When my Vietnamese friend's brothers turned 16, his parents (begrudgingly) splurged big time: They went to Olive Garden. I chuckled when I heard. But I chuckle no more. Recently I discovered Huöng Binh, those same parents' favorite—no, only—Seattle-area restaurant of choice. Immediately, $12.95 for a bowl of mass-produced pasta seemed ridiculous to me, too. Yes, the decor here in the ID is more neon-lit cafeteria than glittering downtown grandeur, but you will not care when, for $6, you're up to your elbows in the freshest, kitchen-sink- sized bowl of bun bo xao. This stir-fry is loaded with sizzling beef, sticky rice vermicelli, cucumbers, peanuts, and tangy fish sauce. A buck more gets you one of the most expensive meals on the menu, com thap cam: a plate of rice under crab-covered sugarcane and sautéed-shrimp, charbroiled-pork, and meatball skewers. Seriously, feast like a Hanoi princess in this price range instead of eating cheeseburgers and sweating fry oil. SARA NIEGOWSKI Serves: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 1207 S. Jackson St., Ste. 104, 206-720-4907. CHINATOWN/INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $ IMPERIAL GARDEN SEAFOOD RESTAURANT Good dim sum in Seattle is easy to find. Great—that's another question. You may have to travel to Kent, specifically to the Great Wall Mall, where you will find all things Chinese, including this mecca for lovers of Chinese brunch. Rumor has it that standards have slipped. But if that was once true, Imperial Garden has gotten its act together again, because a recent day revealed cart after cart of unusually fresh-tasting items, lacking the greasiness sometimes on offer at lesser places. The baked humbow, a kind of roll filled with barbecued pork, was a refined thing, its dough soft and pillowy. An item presented as tofu shrimp revealed a tofu base as light as custard. Tasty curried squid, with tiny balloons of squid with tentacles still on, rounded out a selection that reached beyond your typical dim sum fare. NINA SHAPIRO Serves: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 18230 E. Valley Hwy., 425-656-0999. KENT $ www.imperialgardenseafood.com INDIA BISTRO Food industry types predict that Indian food will be the Next Big Thing, and considering Vij's in Vancouver and Dévi in New York, it can only be a matter of time before we see those rich sauces, nutty gravies, and herbed- vegetable concoctions laid out on modern-styled tables under artful lighting—and with glasses of well-matched regional wines set on the upper-right-hand corner of the plate, too. Until then, Ballard is home to the best malai kofta around. Tandoori items, taken from northern Indian cuisine, are a big draw, but you really can't miss regardless what you order. With cuisines like India's, we often feel we're getting taken—just a little a least; you have to wonder if you're really getting authentic Indian cuisine or merely the cultural equivalent of mac-n-cheese and hamburgers. Then again, what's wrong with mac-n-cheese and hamburgers, especially when they're this good? LAURA CASSIDY Serves: lunch and dinner. 2301 Market St., 206-783-5080. BALLARD $-$$ www.seattleindiabistro.com JUDY FU'S SNAPPY DRAGON Judy Fu's Snappy Dragon is one of the best Chinese restaurants north of the Ship Canal (Louie's in Ballard and the vastly underrated Szechuan Bean Flower way up north on Aurora belong in this category as well). The Snappy Dragon delivers; and it's housed in a very folksy, safe northeast Seattle neighborhood that teems with Subaru wagons and backyard hibachis. These are very good attributes, but what truly separates the Snappy Dragon from the pack is its hallmark dish, jiao-zi. A boiled dumpling not far removed from the venerable pot sticker, it's difficult to explain what makes jiao-zi better than its better-known sibling. It just is, OK? And so popular is the Snappy Dragon's jiao-zi that the restaurant has reserved a corner for a perpetually grinning chef who does nothing but hand-roll the ground-pork delicacy all the livelong day. MIKE SEELY Serves: lunch and dinner. 8917 Roosevelt Way N.E., 206-528-5575. MAPLE LEAF $ www.snappydragon.com KABUL This is the sort of restaurant that tests a reviewer's devotion: One wants to keep it secret, between friends. It feels homey, in an exotic Afghan way. I'm always torn between the eggplant sautéed in zingy tomato sauce with yogurt and mint and the same dish with delectable lamb added. The kebabs are tender, the aromatic potato and cauliflower dishes have structural integrity, the specials are worth the modest splurge (their rack of lamb is to dine for). I've never gotten a bad wine tip there—I recommend (of all things) the Lebanese red Chateau Kefraya, a spicy, ideal complement to the meal. Service is brisk and personal, and sometimes there's a guy plinging an exotic stringed instrument with quiet elegance. TIM APPELO Serves: dinner. 2301 N. 45th St., 206-545-9000. WALLINGFORD $$ www.kabulrestaurant.com KAEDE KISSA Going to Kaede Kissa is less like eating at a restaurant than like visiting your roommate's parents' house for dinner. The two rooms are filled with a hodgepodge of furnishings (tables, a piano, overstuffed chairs) piled with magazines. Owner Yasuko Akamine greets you at the door, and somewhat brusquely talks you through your dinner options. Japanese-American standards like tempura vegetables are not on the menu. But who needs them when you can have succulent salt-rubbed salmon shio, or soul-warming chicken hot pot filled with noodles, fresh veggies, and tofu? The gyoza is so perfectly seasoned and browned, you may have to ask for seconds. And of course, Akamine—the perfect restaurant mom—will be only too happy to comply. LYNN JACOBSON Serves: lunch and dinner. 14 102nd Ave. N.E., 425-635-3532. BELLEVUE $ www.kaedekissa.com KUSINA FILIPINA It's a quick dinner-to-go on a weeknight. It's a leisurely morning latte on the weekend. It's a kid-friendly snack stop after school. Long-lived Kusina Filipina is one of those all-things-to-all-people places essential to any neighborhood—and especially to Beacon Hill, where good restaurants and gathering spots are in short supply. The hill is home to many of Seattle's 30,000-plus Filipino Americans, which explains Kusina's unique menu: Choose from among sweet-and-tangy stews (like the classic chicken adobo), or, with kids in tow, load up on lumpia (familiar to little ones accustomed to egg rolls), rice, and pancit noodles. Everything's served cafeteria-style, so grab a tray and point to whatever looks most appetizing. Prices are low, low, low ($5.50–$6.50 a serving), and—lunch, dinner, or coffee date—the vibe is always cheery. LYNN JACOBSON Serves: lunch and dinner. 3201 Beacon Ave. S., 206-322-9433. BEACON HILL $ MAY THAI Pretty dishes all in a row (with owners James Weimann, Auzie Oxford, and May Chaleoy) at Wallingford's May Thai. Joey Anchondo There's cheaper Thai in this quiet neighborhood, but when the peacocklike May fans its feathers your way, it's hard to resist the allure. The templelike exterior and heavy teak beams of the A-frame dining area create the feeling of being invited to a warm family dinner—by a queen. Nothing is exactly standard, from the herb-happy soups and noodle fare (including a tangy tamarind-enhanced phad thai) to dressed-up entrées like Plah Yang's wild salmon in a charred banana leaf. Even the basil in May's dishes is holy. The downstairs lounge serves happy hour twice daily, where nibbling fried corn and tofu nuggets and sipping a lychee kazi or a "May-tai" in your blue jeans is just fine. Live jazz combos entertain almost nightly, and while enjoying their sounds in Wallingford's sole palace, you'll forget for a while that the bars are temples but the pearls ain't free. RACHEL SHIMP Serves: dinner. 1612 N. 45th St., 206-675-0037. WALLINGFORD $ www.mayrestaurant.com MINOO BAKERY Iranian baklava is different from the Greek, its honey-sweet flavor given complexity by the use of rose water and cardamom. The place to try it is this new Iranian bakery on the North End, where you will find two varieties: one with walnuts, one with almonds, both worth savoring. You will also find a wide array of other treats offering the intriguing mixture of sweetness and spiciness beloved by Persians. There are spiderweb confections made of veins of honey, cookies filled with nuts and shaped like crescents, and others utilizing the simpler pleasures of chickpea or rice. Also on hand are fine versions of more familiar, European-inspired pastries, like rolled cakes filled with vanilla or mocha cream. Prices are so reasonable that you can outfit the dessert course of your dinner party for $7 or $8. NINA SHAPIRO Serves: breakfast and lunch. 12518 Lake City Way N.E., 206-306-2229. LAKE CITY $ MONSOON Exuding cool sophistication from its quiet, Capitol Hill perch, Monsoon has played a key role in redefining Vietnamese food in Seattle. Just about everyone here knew about the comforting but bland noodle soup called pho. But melt-in-your-mouth catfish with caramelized onions, coconut juice, green onions and Thai chiles, all in a sauce so rich it could be a French stew? That's the kind of fare Monsoon has introduced: Vietnamese in spirit and composition while also inspired by Northwest ingredients and European flair. It's anything but bland. When local seafood meets the fresh herbs and beguiling spices of Vietnam, the results are particularly spectacular. Even the spring rolls have big chunks of crab and shrimp. Be warned: Monsoon is not cheap. And its coolness feels particularly chilly when kids are around. This is a grown-up place with grown-up food. NINA SHAPIRO Serves: weekend brunch and dinner. 615 19th Ave. E., 206-325-2111. CAPITOL HILL $$-$$$ www.monsoonseattle.com MOONLIGHT CAFE Fake meat is totally the new meat. While many old-school vegans and vegetarians balk at anything that resembles a sparerib, regardless of how sparerib-free it might be, most new veggies—and, by definition, practically all flexitarians—eat the stuff up. My favorite place to order sesame "beef" is Moonlight Cafe. Without a moment of concern regarding sourcing, weird bovine hormones, and dank slaughterhouses, I'm free to enjoy the rich spices and millions of sesame seeds decorating this very "meaty" dish. Of course, you can order meat dishes at Moonlight, but almost no one does—at least not at the tables I've sat at. It's just too fun to see how wheat gluten translates to "lobster," and oh, the enormous appetizer plate; the "fish sticks" and satays are excellent, and the roll-your-own spring rolls rule. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: lunch and dinner. 1919 S. Jackson St., 206-322-3378. CHINATOWN/ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $-$$ NISHINO Try Tatsu Nishino's top-notch sushi and Japanese cuisine. Joey Anchondo Seattle is not known for attracting celebrities, so Nishino was abuzz on a recent night when Conan O'Brien graced the sushi establishment with his long, lanky presence. The fact that O'Brien chose to eat here reaffirms that Nishino's sterling reputation is anything but a well-kept secret. The hype is mostly warranted—very few of the ultrafresh seafood-based menu items are displeasing, though some stand out more than others. We love the sashimi appetizer that came with taro crackers for dipping. Talk about a perfect textural play. All of the sushi rolls—especially the spicy tuna and the soft-shell crab rolls—are tip-top. And anything tempura-ized is worth ordering. (Japanese fried food seems healthier somehow.) Nishino doesn't have a pastry chef right now, so skip dessert; the menu consists mostly of ice cream anyway. Instead, get some sweet wine and soak up the playful modern art on the walls, huge canvases a female Picasso might paint. MOLLY LORI Serves: dinner. 3130 E. Madison St., 206-322-5800. MADISON PARK $$ OLD COUNTRY BAKERY Giant flying saucerlike breads from the Marsikyan family's Old Country Bakery. David Belisle "Is this your first time here?" asked the dark-haired young man behind the counter of this hole-in-the-wall, old-worldly Armenian bakery. He obviously noticed my awe. Behind him sat an array of breads like none I had ever seen before. Huge things—some shaped like flying saucers, some like shelves—so big that you're given a brown paper shopping bag to carry out a single loaf. The man explained that the bakery's breads and pastries are not just from Armenia but from Georgia, Iran, and other neighboring countries. "Want a taste?" he asked, and then proceeded to cut a slice of an Armenian sweet bread called gata with an enticing layer of orange in the middle. Then came the best treat: Georgian puri loaves were just then coming out of the oven, and he offered a taste of that, too. The flying saucer variety of bread, but with a doughnutlike hole in the middle, it was warm, soft, and chewy, the perfect loaf to have with dinner or savory dips. Despite their size, all breads are an incredible bargain at only $2 each. NINA SHAPIRO Serves: breakfast and lunch. 900 160th Ave. N.E., 425- 649-2171. BELLEVUE $ PHNOM PENH The first rule for intrepid ID-area diners: Don't judge by facades—you've got to see what's inside. This otherwise humble restaurant's takeout menu boasts, "The best Cambodian noodles on Earth," and while we can't validate that, they've got a lock on Seattle. Twenty-one dishes are described in four scripts, including English. Choose No. 8 (tender duck with rice noodles, cilantro, and roasted garlic) or No. 17 (beefsteak cubes marinated with blackened peppers and whisky), although random pointing would eventually work out as well. The noodle soup and chow-geutew (sautéed noodle) dishes emphasize ocean flavors, and appetizers like crispy shrimp rolls are creatively presented. Don't miss the aromatic "By Lien"—jasmine rice with scrambled egg, red peppers, basil, and sweet chili sauce. Tofu isn't on the menu, but they'll gladly substitute it for meat. RACHEL SHIMP Serves: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 660 S. King St., 206-748-9825. CHINATOWN/INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $ PUNJAB SWEETS Don't worry, they're on Indian time at Punjab Sweets. Kevin P. Casey Upon walking in, our eyes were immediately drawn to the trays of variously shaped sweet treats that dominate the back wall of this light yellow, simply designed cafe. We had heard the savory vegetarian food offerings here are just as good as the sweets (they are), and we hoped we hadn't arrived too late to eat dinner. The young, stylish Indian woman behind the counter (she was sporting Seven jeans) informed us, "Don't worry, we close at 8 Indian time." Sweet. We relaxed and ordered; the samosa chaat, two deep-fried pockets of spicy potatoes and peas in a pool of zesty yogurt-mint sauce, was the first dish to be polished off, followed by the parothay, a delish Indian flatbread. Everything was washed down with mango shakes served in the restaurant's sleek stainless-steel cups. We asked Ms. Seven to box up some sweets, such as the ever-popular gulab jamun (fried dough balls dipped in syrup), to fuel us for the long drive back to Seattle. MOLLY LORI Serves: lunch and dinner. 23617 104th Ave. S.E., Ste. C, 253-859-3236. KENT $ ROCKING WOK They say nothing good comes cheap, but "they" obviously haven't been to Rocking Wok, where delightful Taiwanese banquets spring from the measly $20—or $10—in your pocket. Observe: five wontons in fragrant chili sauce ($2.95), four stuffed and seared pot stickers ($3.95), one small-pizza-sized (and entirely too scrumptious) green onion pancake ($2.95), a pho-worthy amount of beef soup with hearty hand-shaved noodles ($5.75), one serving of General Tso's tofu with burnt peppers ($6.95), and one order of honeydew beef ($8.95). Total: $31.50. Take-home leftover boxes: four. Traditional Taiwanese offerings include squid potage and stinky tofu with kimchee—you can even try pork chitterling blood cake, though vegetarians may choose the popular thousand-layer pancake instead. With just eight tables, this wok is constantly rocking, but don't let that stop you from knocking. RACHEL SHIMP Serves: lunch and dinner. 4301 Interlake Ave. N., 206-545-4878. WALLINGFORD $ ROYAL PALM There are more Thai restaurants here than Subaru Outbacks. It's Seattle comfort food, so when you choose, the factors must be something more than proximity and high expectations for Asian cuisine. Northeast of the Ship Canal, our favorite is this elegant, spotless place overlooking the intersection of Northeast 65th Street and Roosevelt Way Northeast. The service is superb, the atmosphere is subdued, and if you become a regular, you will get to know proprietor Kayanee Swenson, who visits Thailand regularly and held a big buffet to raise money for tsunami relief last year. The menu is comprehensive and the entrées, basic or elaborate, are a cut above. Fish is done particularly well; sea bass in curry sauce is a favorite of ours. The full menu is online. You'll see they have a wide selection of wine by the bottle, more than a dozen beers, and liquor. CHUCK TAYLOR Serves: lunch and dinner. 6417 Roosevelt Way N.E., 206-523-2400. ROOSEVELT $-$$ www.royalpalmseattle.com SHALIMAR Introducing the most exciting midday meal this side of the Atlantic: Shalimar's open-faced sandwiches. The chicken tikka sandwich—nan topped with tandoor-baked chicken breast, seasoned peas, carrots, garbanzo beans, onions, tomatoes, and rice in a spiced buttermilk sauce—is simply amazing. No two bites are alike, as the diverse ingredients appear in generous proportion atop fluffy bread. The fish tikka sandwich accents cod with a creamy mango-lemon sauce; the "Shami" drizzles yogurt cucumber sauce over lentil-beef patties; the seekh kabob tops nan with charbroiled tandoori ground beef, ginger, onion, and jalapeño in yogurt-cucumber sauce; and the aloo tikki features potato patties and spices in raita. All of Shalimar's Indian/Pakistani-style sandwiches feature some variation of fresh lettuce, tomato, and onion slices. Despite each dish's enormity, you'll find it tough to save any for tomorrow. EMILY PAGE Serves: lunch and dinner. 1401 N.E. 42nd St., 206-633-3854. UNIVERSITY DISTRICT $ SHANGHAI CAFE For me, comfort food now goes beyond mac-and-cheese. It includes Shanghai Cafe dishes like "Happy Rolls," soul-coddling bean-curd burritos of tofu-wrapped chicken and mushrooms served sizzling in what the menu describes as a "hot fire bowl." Or a platter of sautéed sugar pea vines so green they must be good for you, but so succulent you'll eat them anyway. Or hand-shaved barley-green noodles: thick, soft, chewy irregular strips of pasta that make a wonderful chow mein when stir-fried with egg and chicken. Dishes at the Shanghai don't seem to be heavily sugared or sauced, but they're deeply satisfying—and pretty healthful. The most disquieting thing is the location, a Bellevue strip mall at the intersection of I-90 and I-405. Don't be put off: Taiwanese chef Ping Fu Su has created a Chinese gem in the heart of Applebee's country. KNUTE BERGER Serves: lunch and dinner. 12708 S.E. 38th St., 425-603-1689. BELLEVUE $ SHILLA According to science—and culinary lore—Korean food is good medicine. Kimchee, the spicy fermented cabbage (or radish) dish that precedes most meals, often has more lactic-acid bacteria than yogurt, making it an excellent digestive aid. Korean soups, also well represented on Shilla's menu, are known as hangover cures, but you'll have to test that theory for yourself. Though Korean-Japanese relations haven't always been amicable (Japan ruled Korea iron- fistedly from 1910 until the end of World War II), Shilla serves both a wide array of sushi and other Japanese fare and a full selection of homey Korean dishes. One such comfort meal is bi bim bap, a bowl containing a fried egg into which you mix vegetables, rice, sesame oil, and spicy gochu jang sauce to taste, and meat, if you like—though Shilla also offers a sashimi bi bim bap that happily harmonizes the cuisines of the once-enemy nations. NEAL SCHINDLER Serves: lunch and dinner. 2300 Eighth Ave., 206-623-9996. DOWNTOWN $-$$ SHIRO'S When you're a sushi fiend, it's easy to go into a place like Shiro's—a place some people think of as the best in town—and forget about the rest of the menu. But that would be a shame. You can order monkfish-liver pâté as a starter and revel in the small, deep pink loaf—divided into thick, smooth slices like rose agate—and its delicate flavor, oddly reminiscent of the Passover specialty gefilte fish. For the main course of a light supper, the sake-marinated broiled black cod, rightly celebrated by The New York Times back in 1988 (when owner Shiro Kashiba still ran the Westin's now-defunct Nikko), is still an excellent choice. Flaky and miraculously light, with a buttery flavor that recalls the richness of a croissant, it might be the sexiest thing on the menu besides the sushi itself—and that's saying something. NEAL SCHINDLER Serves: dinner. 2401 Second Ave., 206-443-9844. BELLTOWN $$ www.shiros.com SZECHUAN CHEF It's dark, it's pouring rain, and you're lost, deep in the strip-mall heart of Bellevue. But lo, there is a safe haven, wedged between Northwest Vacuum, TV & VCR and Pure Chiropractic ("Se Habla Espanol"). It's Szechuan Chef, the latest venture of Hoang Ngo and Cheng Biao Yang, former owners of Little Saigon's Seven Star Pepper. Inside, a bower of fake bamboo and bright orange walls cheer you while servers bustle to your table with hot tea. You're starting to feel more found than lost—that is, until the menu arrives. Then your head starts to swim again, faced with a couple hundred choices, divvied up into mild, hot, hotter, and hottest. My advice: Close your eyes, put your finger anywhere on the menu, relax, and await the huge, glistening, steaming platters of stir-fry headed your way. Or choose one of the restaurant's well-known hot pots, a communal pot in which your food is cooked and served. These are especially popular with kids, who love the food and the activity. On a recent visit, my 3-year-old asked, "Mom, can we come here every day?" Suits me—assuming I can find the place again. LYNN JACOBSON Serves: lunch and dinner. 15015 Main St., Ste. 107, 425-746-9008. BELLEVUE $ TAMARIND TREE Every time I've had a chance to eat out in the last six months, I've pondered whether to go back to Tamarind Tree yet again. Most times I've decided to do just that. There's practically no reason to go anywhere else. Even though the place is in a strip mall, for God's sake—its patio carved out of the parking lot—strategically placed bamboo and a waterfall make the patio a particularly delightful place to sit. Artistic touches are everywhere, most notably in the food. This is the kind of upscale, creative Vietnamese food that commands top dollar in pricier locales but here can cost as little as $6.75 a dish. If I had to pick one specialty, I'd choose the turmeric coconut rice cakes: crunchy, bite-size concoctions that expertly mix the sweet and savory. But everything here—from the lemon grass chicken to the yellow fish topped with herbs and roasted peanuts to the seven courses of beef—is bound to make you ooh and ahh. NINA SHAPIRO Serves: lunch and dinner. 1036 S. Jackson St., Ste. A, 206-860-1404. CHINATOWN/ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT $ www.tamarindtreerestaurant.com THAI ONE ON In this town full of Thai food, Thai One On has the best rad nah I've yet encountered—wide, slippery rice noodles swimming in a generous bath of sweet-salty, garlicky gravy, plus crisp-tender broccoli and your choice of meat (or excellent, locally made tofu). It's plate-lickingly good, but if you can refrain from such displays, which are best saved for the privacy of your own home, the rewards of the dining room are many: an atmosphere that's a step up from the usual neighborhood Thai joint, top-notch spring rolls to dip in a vinegary sauce, and specialty cocktails with exotic ingredients like lychee and lemon grass. If rad nah isn't your bag, you're nuts, but Thai One On will accommodate you, too, with an ample menu of Thai standards cooked with high-quality ingredients and precise timing. SARAH DEWEERDT Serves: lunch and dinner. 12343 Lake City Way N.E., 206-362-6999. LAKE CITY $ THAN BROTHERS Those with addictive personalities should proceed with caution: This highly addictive food fiend recently went through a delirious spell of visiting Than Brothers pho restaurant at least once per week for months on end. Of course, there are more difficult and pricey addictions; a big, warm portion of Than Brothers' elixir will only set you back about $5. Here's more: A large bowl of perfectly seasoned and scented broth stuffed with noodles comes alongside a plate of prosciutto-thin beef (or chicken or tofu, if you must) and a heaping variety of garnishes. This is interactive eating at its best. A little basil here, a squirt of lime there, and as many bean sprouts as you can fit, if you know what's good for you. The real hero of the meal, though, is the broth. Deceptively simple in appearance, this beef broth has complex flavor and dimension—a writer might even want to employ wine-tasting descriptors, like "redolent of cinnamon," but that would be pretentious, right? Of course, this being a mere blurb, there's no room to write about the divine cream puffs that come with your pho, or the can't-be-missed cafe sua da, the "French style" coffee with condensed milk. Consider this a tease. KERRY MURPHY Serves: lunch and dinner. Nine locations (see Web site) including 516 Broadway E., 206-568-7218. CAPITOL HILL $ www.thanbrothers.com ZAINA Experience Jerusalem's culinary delights without the plane travel. Even as they have expanded to two locations downtown, these unpretentious, affordable, order-at-the- counter restaurants have kept their high- quality food consistent. Creamy hummus, rich falafel, smoky baba ghanoush, savory lentil soup, piles of roasted vegetables, and fragrant saffron rice—everything is good here. The Palestinian husband-and-wife owners are welcoming to regulars and newcomers alike. Both locations, one at the northern edge of Pioneer Square and the other across from Macy's, have tables snuggled up against the windows for people watching and Arabic pop music blasting from the sound system. GEORGE HOWLAND JR. Serves: lunch and dinner. 108 Cherry St., 206-624-5687. PIONEER SQUARE. 1619 Third Ave., 206-770-0813. DOWNTOWN $

 
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