ALLIGATOR PEAR Everyone loves a good sarnie, especially ones piled with worldly (aka chichi), fresh, artisan ingredients including English cucumber, German pickles, and Fourme d'Ambert

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North America

ALLIGATOR PEAR Everyone loves a good sarnie, especially ones piled with worldly (aka chichi), fresh, artisan ingredients including English cucumber, German pickles, and Fourme d'Ambert blue cheese—precisely the kind of sarnie available at this tiny Belltown sandwich shop. Owners Jessica Prince and Alisa Mann craft lunchtime goodies, many of them starring the avocado—otherwise known as an alligator pear. Get the No. 1, Prince's fave, with roasted turkey, New Mexican green chiles, sharp white cheddar, mayo, and some of that creamy alligator pear, all layered on a roll and grilled. Note to big eaters: Some sandwiches, such as the vegetarian, are a bit small. If you've got a monster appetite, order a supplemental cup of soup (selections change daily; the chicken noodle is pure comfort) or a cookie for dessert. MOLLY LORI Serves: lunch. 2523 Fifth Ave., 206-728-5897. BELLTOWN $ www.alligatorpeartogo.com CAFE FLORA Cafe Flora continues its long reign as Seattle's best vegetarian restaurant. The quality of its food has not flagged since it opened in 1991. The kitchen keeps putting out imaginative haute cuisine without dead animals, like the Oaxaca tacos (who knew mashed potatoes would taste so good stuffed in a corn tortilla?), sage polenta (grilled cornmeal cakes with roasted vegetables, pomegranate molasses, and fig balsamic reduction), and portabello Wellington (grilled 'shrooms, leeks, and other delightful things enhanced by a Madeira wine sauce and sitting in a puff pastry). Even though the menu sounds hoity-toity, the atmosphere is unpretentious. If you are lucky enough to be seated in the glassed-in patio with the bubbling fountain, all your senses will enjoy the evening. GEORGE HOWLAND JR. Serves: weekend brunch, lunch, and dinner. 2901 E. Madison St., 206-325-9100. MADISON PARK $-$$ www.cafeflora.com CANLIS Saveur magazine recently named the Original Canlis Salad one of the 100 best dishes in America. It's the mint that really puts it over the edge. The other ingredients are crisp romaine lettuce, equally crisp bacon, sultry Romano cheese, oregano, and a lemony olive oil dressing made with lightly cooked egg. The salad is 10 bucks, which I point out because people tend to think that Canlis is for millionaires. (It is indeed for people with sports coats, but if you haven't got one, they'll spot you one for the evening.) I'm not telling you that Canlis is a bargain basement in the sky, but all things considered, some small plates and a couple of cocktails—and an hour's worth of '70s classics from the piano player/singer—in the lounge add up to an excellent deal. Bottom line: Canlis is among the top three splurge-worthy joints in town. You will not get better service anywhere, and the mostly Northwest-sourced food sits exquisitely between inventive and scientific. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: dinner. 2576 Aurora Ave. N., 206-283-3313. QUEEN ANNE $$$ www.canlis.com CASUELITA'S ISLAND SOUL It's like a Cinderella story: If you focus on the gussied-up, two-story Belltown sister in the Casuelita family, you might miss the real princess secreted away in the Judkins area. Thing is, the fabulous Caribbean menu's almost the same at both, albeit the Judkins restaurant is booze-free. (But does your Belltown waitress have intricately hand-painted psychedelic fingernails?) The atmosphere is neighborly and casual at Island Soul, but you're still guaranteed the best cornbread in the city—almost like coconut cake, really—and jerk chicken and plantain tostones that will make you want to move to the Dominican Republic. SARA NIEGOWSKI Serves: lunch and dinner. 2608 S. Judkins St., 206-329-1202. JUDKINS PARK. 81 Vine St., 206-770-0155. BELLTOWN $-$$ www.casuelitas.com CRAVE Crave seems like a 1950s luncheonette because it's small, street-facing, and everyone seems to know one another—and also because of the counters, which are underneath two perpendicular open windows through which you can watch the fry cooks. But instead of gristly, greasy burgers or cheap cheese melted between slices of white bread, those cooks are preparing crab melts made with fontina cheese and a tangy, zesty remoulade, and their grilled cheeses include New York's best sharp cheddar, crisp apple slices, and maple-dijon mustard on sourdough. At dinnertime, the pork chop comes with braised greens in a port glaze, and the closest thing to mac and cheese is goat cheese gnocchi. (If you'd rather, there's duck confit with savory bread pudding.) The real kicker is that chef-owner Robin Leventhal serves only organic, free-range, grain-fed meats, and the components of her dishes are either made in-house or procured from regional artisans. When you think about it, that's pretty old-fashioned, too. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 1621 12th Ave., 206-388-0526. CAPITOL HILL $-$$ www.cravefood.com CROW Eating at the bar is always a great idea, especially when you're at Crow. Now that it's settled into the neighborhood and the crushing throngs of diners have streamlined themselves into a more navigable steady flow, it isn't necessarily a necessity, but it's still a fine idea. You can choose between the booze bar in the front and the kitchen bar in the back; either way, you get the sense that you're on the front lines of Northwest cuisine and cocktails. My only beef: Crow needs a Web site. Seriously, the menu changes often, and I need to be able to log on and, at the very least, pretend that I'm watching the cooks prepare the season's freshest seafood and produce. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: dinner. 823 Fifth Ave. N., 206-283-8800. UPTOWN $$ CRUSH Because this restaurant is in a quaint house, you might expect needlepoint pillows, loads of knickknacks (an animal salt-and-pepper-shaker collection, perhaps), and a cutesy "kountry kitchen" type of feel. We thank our lucky stars that supersleek Crush offers exactly the opposite vibe. Its mod white-on-white anti-color scheme and matte Verner Panton "S" chairs make you think you're in L.A. From the kitchen, chef Jason Wilson, an alum of Aqua in San Francisco, serves up fresh, inventive dishes such as stinging nettle and Penn Cove mussel stew with chorizo and saffron. The menu changes frequently, so you'll want to come quarterly at least. Oh, and don't wear a turtleneck/cardigan combo here—this place has sex appeal. MOLLY LORI Serves: dinner. 2319 E. Madison St., 206-302-7874. MADISON VALLEY $$-$$$ www.chefjasonwilson.com DANDELION I don't want to put too much stock in the fact that Dandelion is a female-run operation—no, wait, I do. The vibe at Dandelion is inclusive and familial. You're allowed to ask questions—dumb ones, smart ones, challenging ones. You're allowed to watch. You're allowed to hover around the kitchen and take notes (just don't get in the way while dinner is moving and shaking). You're going to be remembered when you come back, and you're going to be rewarded if you make Dandelion a habit—and I wouldn't be surprised if that "reward" involved a quick turn at the grill. (Confidential to the Health Department: I'm just kidding!) Owner Carol Nockold, chef Zephyr Paquette, and the rest of the crew have created an energy that feels co-op-ish, but not in a weird, creepy way. Cementing that mood is, of course, the food. Sourced rigorously from local, mostly organic purveyors and then prepared with extremely high regard for what the ingredients naturally taste like, their signature rosemary chicken dish and the seasonal menu items might make a person actually want to move to Monroe and live on a communal farm. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: dinner. 5809 24th Ave. N.W., 206-706-8088. BALLARD $$ www.dandelionfood.com DINETTE Chef Melissa Nyffeler and crew at Dinette. David Belisle Dinette almost makes me want to be single again, and to live on Capitol Hill again, because it's just such a perfect place to fall in like and then in love. The room itself is romantic; the gold leafing sends the candlelight bouncing in every direction, and the soft blue-green walls and rough hardwood floors remind you that the perfect person is both sensitive and resilient. On select Thursdays, when Casey McGill and the Blue Four Trio play '30s-era swing and jazz, Dinette takes on an energy that I've never felt before, probably because I was born 40 years too late. And the food: Seasonally appropriate pot pies, made with decadent pastry shells, are common—but totally uncommon. Pastas, too, often include a twist (recently, lentils) that render them wonderfully anomalous. Another plus, lead server Talon won't make you, or your guests, feel like a dork if you need help selecting a bottle of wine. As perfect as it is for romance, Dinette is just as great for friends; call ahead and make reservations for your best friend's birthday. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: dinner. 1514 E. Olive Way, 206-328-2282. CAPITOL HILL $$ DULCE'S LATIN BISTRO Celebrating its 13th year as the queen of Madrona's little restaurant strip, Dulce's hasn't fiddled with its formula for success: fine, fragrant Latin- and Mexican-inspired dishes from Julie Guerrero's kitchen and amazingly varied wines from Carlos Kainz's enormous, Canlis-challenging cellar. This is the kind of place with a barely varying menu, so be sure to get the advice of your server (or the chef) about what's at its very best right now; you may get your main dish customized to the season. And don't be daunted by the sheer size of the wine list. Just tell Carlos how much you want to spend on a bottle that goes with your order, and he will astonish you. ROGER DOWNEY Serves: dinner. 1430 34th Ave., 206-322-5453. MADRONA $$-$$$ www.dulceslatinbistro.com EARTH & OCEAN Hotel restaurants rarely manifest distinct personalities, so a hotel restaurant that consistently takes an individual route to tickling the curiosity and pleasing the palates of its patrons deserves special credit. Don't let the restaurant's name lead you to expect surf 'n' turf. Salads are a solid standout, and chef Maria Hines plays with the seafood-earthfood dichotomy like a virtuoso, pushing the envelope of the expected while providing knockout satisfaction without fancying up the food. (Hence, her recent invitation to cook at the James Beard House.) The showbiz department at Earth & Ocean is reserved for dessert, with chef Sue McCown whipping up eye-dazzling constructions with comic names that are downright fun to eat. ROGER DOWNEY Serves: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 1112 Fourth Ave., 206-264-6060. DOWNTOWN $$-$$$ www.earthocean.net EATs MARKET CAFE Proof that Italian grandmas aren't the only grandmas who make great meat sauce: Bubbie's Bolognese at this West Seattle nook owned by Evan Handler and Toby Matasar. Over plump shell pasta, Bubbie's sauce is hearty, chunky, and just ever so slightly restrained (you'll probably salt it a little). Proof, on the other hand, that East Coast kosher butchers do make the best corned beef: the Market Reuben. The butcher in question is Handler, Bubbie is his grandmother, Matasar is responsible for the incredible desserts and baked goods. Some people are put off by the cafe's atmosphere (or lack, they say, thereof). If you find the space hinders your ability to enjoy the chicken soup with matzo balls or the homemade and highly addictive ice-cream sandwiches, call ahead and arrange for takeout; the staff does a great job of making it neat and easy for you to do so. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: brunch and dinner. 2600 S.W. Barton St., 206-933-1200. WEST SEATTLE $-$$ www.eatsmarket.com EL QUETZAL First this Beacon Hill storefront housed a cheap Japanese spot, and then a cheap Vietnamese joint, and now it's a cheap Mexican restaurant. But El Quetzal's menu is not your typical cheap Mexicali mix of beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. Yes, you can get a $1.50 taco with a double flour tortilla, but you can also order an enormous, overstuffed sandwich filled with flank steak, Mexican sausage, or scrambled eggs; or a Gigante Huarache—a sort of Mexican pizza, with your choice of meat or egg or cactus toppings, artfully arranged on a sandal-shaped corn-dough crust. The proprietors say the style of cooking is straight from the streets of Mexico City, but whatever its origin, it's all delicious. The salsa is muy picante, service is equally warm, and need we mention . . . ? The prices on the menu top out at $10. LYNN JACOBSON Serves: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 3209 Beacon Ave. S., 206-329-2970. BEACON HILL $ EL RINCON This converted school bus is a giant of a restaurant, El Rincon. David Belisle In every cuisine, there are certain benchmarks. My idea of the perfect quick-serve Mexican restaurant must have (1) sublime carnitas, (2) crispy and substantial sopes (superthick tortillas), (3) menudo (kinda like pozole, but with feet! and tripe!), and (4) homemade flan. All this just puts them on my radar. El Rincon may be a converted school bus with only 12 chairs, but it's a giant of a restaurant. The slow-cooked pork tacos get a last-minute flat grill treatment to add texture to their cumin-spiced goodness. Toasted enriched white bread buns filled with crema, avocado, jalapeño, and your favorite meat make for a mean and filling $3 torta. And the freakishly moist pollo asado is an entrée I would pay $12 to eat. Alas, it only costs a Lincoln. Everything is muy auténtico, and ending with the flan brings you close to renouncing citizenship. MAGGIE DUTTON Serves: lunch and dinner. Southwest 112th Street and 16th Avenue Southwest, no phone. WHITE CENTER $ EVA RESTAURANT AND WINE BAR Life is indeed grape at Eva, a Northwesty neighborhood eatery with an internationally influenced menu. Dried grapevines, enlivened with strings of white lights, snake around the cozy dining area, and a grapevine logo decorates the menu. These cues get you thinking that a selection from the well-edited wine list would really hit the spot. Order up a glass of grenache and then something from the "Firsts" menu—we highly suggest the Cabrales flan, served with pear relish and a walnut crisp, and the sweet potato and ginger bisque with peanut sambal. Many rave about Eva's rabbit dishes; why not see if the menu's roasted rabbit loin entrée with chorizo bread pudding and sherry jus makes you hoppy? In the date-friendly dining room, tables are well monitored (you'll never have to ask for more water), and the staff is warm and patient (after all, they get asked about Aunt Voula's taramasalata, a Greek dip made with carp roe, olive oil, and bread, on a nightly basis). If you can't score one of the few tables there, head to the adjacent bar area, where a superb bar menu—with upscale bites like lamb burgers—awaits. MOLLY LORI Serves: dinner. 2227 N. 56th St., 206-633-3538. WALLINGFORD $$ www.evarestaurant.com FARESTART Chefs must love leaving their regular kitchens from time to time to work with the homeless and formerly homeless student chefs and service-industry pros at FareStart. Diners certainly love it; Crush chef Jason Wilson's dinner, scheduled for the end of May, has been sold out since just after it was announced. At FareStart, you have the opportunity to help foster growth and change while enjoying the cooking—three courses' worth—of Seattle's most respected chefs for just $19.95. So much growth has been fostered, in fact, that FareStart is closing in on its goal of raising $8 million for its new location in South Lake Union. When (not if) they move in, they'll also be celebrating 15 years of excellent food and opportunities. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: lunch and dinner. 1902 Second Ave., 206-267-6210. BELLTOWN $-$$ www.farestart.org FLYING FISH There was a minute there—when was it, 2002?—when it felt like Flying Fish had fallen out of favor. Folks I knew dismissed it as a tourist spot, and acted as though they'd become—gasp—Eastsiders just walking past. It seems like that nonsense is, thankfully, over, and the dining crowds are once again recognizing that Chris Keff is tireless in her pursuit of fresh, eco-friendly, incredibly delicious fish and produce. While she was one of the first chefs in town to go totally organic and among the first to go (almost) totally local, Keff and her kitchen can't be praised without calling out the exotic Asian ingredients she scores (I'm still not over the satsuma potatoes I raved about last year), nor the preparations she borrows. If you go with a group, get the whole fried rockfish from the "platters" menu. Your rockfish will indeed be fried and whole, and you'll receive rice papers and, get this, pineapple-anchovy dipping sauce to enjoy it with. It's interactive eating, and it's fantastic. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: lunch and dinner. 2234 First Ave., 206-728-8595. BELLTOWN $$ www.flyingfishrestaurant.com FORK This new New American neighborhood restaurant is a great home for your favorite dish, because depending on what becomes available, menu items change ever so slightly from one night to the next—not a lot, but just enough to keep you really interested. For instance, the "faux fish and chips" might consist of halibut and fingerlings on one visit, seared striped bass and nouveau home fries made with duck fat on the next. It's fun—and at Fork, pretty delicious—to be kept guessing. To that end, and to take advantage of seasonal specialties and nifty food science, Scott Simpson's menu changes almost completely every so often as well. Recently added to the appetizer menu: General Tso's sweetbreads (sweet and spicy glazed veal organs), an example of Simpson's signature blend of levity and luxury. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: dinner. 806 E. Roy St., 206-325-7400. CAPITOL HILL $$ www.forkseattle.com THE GLOBE CAFE When I moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area, I knew I'd love Seattle for its incredible coffee culture, but I had no idea I'd be so taken with its delish vegetarian and vegan scene. With its wonderful menu and raw Seattle energy (no frills, a bit quirky, but total quality), my fast favorite became the Globe. Even carnivores relish the kitchen's gyro sandwiches, made with grilled tofu, sumac, onions, and tahini; the legendary biscuits and gravy; and the savory scrambled tofu with vegetables. (And be sure to check the board for specials; you wouldn't want to miss the veggie pot pie.) Order at the counter and then settle among your eco-friendly neighbors. After eating at the Globe, you'll realize all the national food mags have it wrong—they should be raving about Seattle's vegan food instead of its overhyped salmon. MOLLY LORI Serves: breakfast and lunch. 1531 14th Ave., 206-324-8815. CAPITOL HILL $ HARVEY'S TAVERN Lines of anxious, hungry patrons often spill onto the street around lunchtime outside Harvey's Tavern on Leary Way. One problem: Those lines are for brunch at the Dish, which sits next door to owner Audrey Grant's 31-year-old pizza-and-pitcher dispensary. While Grant does a fair amount of takeout, her restaurant's spartan interior remains largely devoid of in-house patrons until sunset, at which point a loyal group of regulars—most of whom work at a postal warehouse down the street—sidle up to the bar for a little Vitamin R (as in Rainier). But, oh, the pie: Piled high with sausages the size of pool balls, droopy cheese, and more black olives than you can count, Harvey's house special defies categorization in the pizza lexicon. Discovering it is like taking a metal detector to a rocky beach on an overcast day and unearthing buried treasure. MIKE SEELY Serves: lunch and dinner. 4356 Leary Way N.W., 206-782-9799. FREMONT $ HATTIE'S HAT Not too long ago, Hattie's Hat was regarded as a dingy Ballard Avenue "bar bar" that catered almost exclusively to a crusty cadre of daylight drunks. Food took a backseat to rail liquor, and youngsters shied away. Still, there was a charm beneath this layer of grit, which owners Kyla Fairchild, Ron Wilkowski, and Dan Cowan wisely preserved after buying and spit shining the joint in 1996. Gradually, they smartened up the jukebox and hipsters supplanted yellow-haired lushes at the circa-1904 mahogany bar. Most recently, the owners have widened the booths near the entrance, installed a giant fish tank in Hattie's rear dining room, and revamped the menu. Sushi, however, has not replaced the Hat's famous country fried chicken as the down-home menu's most inviting dish. Hattie's still fits like your favorite snap-button flannel and serves as the de facto preconcert fueling station for the neighboring Tractor Tavern's always stellar lineup of Americana's who's who. MIKE SEELY Serves: weekend brunch and dinner. 5231 Ballard Ave. N.W., 206-784-0175. BALLARD $ www.hattieshat.com JAK'S GRILL Here's the thing: I pay $35 for a big ol' filet mignon at JaK's. To get my same meat fix at the Met or El Gaucho, it'd cost $50 or $54, respectively. Granted, I've never conducted an official side-by-(juicy)-side taste test between this somewhat humbler steak house and its stuffier competitors, but I know JaK's aged, corn-fed Nebraska beef tastes good. With my extra $15, I can get a candied-walnut salad, warm sourdough bread, garlic mashed potatoes, and seasonal veggies—oh, wait, those are already included, so I pocket the cash. Admittedly, I need French onion soup and chateaubriand sometimes; but when my blue jeans and I just hanker for super steak (or even a burger), JaK's fits the bill. Literally. SARA NIEGOWSKI Serves: dinner. 3701 N.E. 45th St., 206-985-8545. LAURELHURST. 4548 California Ave. S.W., 206-937-7809. WEST SEATTLE. 14 Front St. N., 425-837-8834. ISSAQUAH $$ www.jaksgrill.com LA CARTA DE OAXACA There's usually an energetic mezcla, or mix, of people slurping soup and eating fish tacos at this Ballard favorite. As soon as the place opens (5 p.m.), families with small children show up—it seems La Carta's soft, homemade corn tortillas are kid tested, mother approved. Next, you get a handful of social Latin American men for happy hour (the tequila selection is top-notch), and then couples and groups of friends arrive by 7 and end up waiting ages for a table. Once you're seated in the small, black-and-white-photograph-bedecked space (most photographs are of Oaxacans), order the chips and fresh guac, but don't fill up because you'll want to try some of these options: fish soup, enchiladas, and pretty much anything with mole sauce. The portions are small plates, so it's best to get a few and share—an annoyingly overused concept, but we'll excuse La Carta because it's hard to stay mad at such a charismatic charmer. MOLLY LORI Serves: dinner. 5431 Ballard Ave. N.W., 206-782-8722. BALLARD $-$$ LAMPREIA The Belltown legend's sense of style isn't evident at first—the L-shaped dining room is lit warmly enough, but certainly not sexily, and the atmosphere can seem a mite stiff. But then the menus arrive, and you realize why you're here. Nowhere else in town does it feel so much like you're eating art. Recently on offer were a gorgeous stripe of sashimi-grade hamachi dotted with mussels, morsels of crabmeat, and oysters on the half shell; a steaklike piece of hen duck, done medium rare, "lacquered" with saba (grape syrup), and served with macerated fruits; and, for dessert, the richest, most delectable tapioca pudding imaginable or "ravioli" made of poached pineapple sliced paper-thin and wrapped around fresh raspberries. You hear that chef-owner Scott Carsberg is a minimalist, and the presentation—lots of white space interrupted by geometric bursts of color—supports that claim. But once you've eaten your way through the mind-blowing menu—and you can, even on one visit, because Lampreia is not-so-secretly a small-plates restaurant—your senses should feel lavishly satisfied. NEAL SCHINDLER Serves: dinner. 2400 First Ave., 206-443-3301. BELLTOWN $$$ www.lampreiarestaurant.com LARK Johnathan Sundstrom's Capitol Hill buzz magnet is spendy because each dish is small, nudging rather than pushing you toward fullness. Yet Lark's accessibility might convert you to fine dining. The service is sharp and witty without oozing unearned familiarity. The place resembles one of those gaily lit Santa Barbara barns Miles and Jack visit in Sideways. And whether you call Lark's dishes tapas or small plates, they're nothing less than exquisite. Light yet flavorful, a salad of blood orange, endive, and hazelnuts with Roquefort vinaigrette awakens the palate without compromising the appetite. The yellowtail carpaccio's North African accents—preserved lemon and green olives—manage to bring out the delicate flavor of the fish rather than smothering it. Even a simple plate of sautéed mushrooms with garlic, olive oil, and sea salt shines. Sundstrom uses local ingredients to exotic effect, and Lark takes the edge off the fanciness with an atmosphere of old-fashioned, festive warmth. NEAL SCHINDLER Serves: dinner. 926 12th Ave., 206-323-5275. CAPITOL HILL $$$ www.larkseattle.com LOTTIE'S LOUNGE Among the eclectic types who turn out on Tuesday nights at this Columbia City joint, there's always someone I recognize from the neighborhood, including my daughter's piano teacher. Lottie's Lounge is that kind of low-key, funky neighborhood place. Except that my daughter's piano teacher is the nationally known composer and singer Robin Holcomb, who on Tuesday nights performs with her renowned jazz pianist husband, Wayne Horvitz . (The two are taking a break during the month of April.) So Lottie's feels like a neighborhood joint in, say, New York City's artsy East Village. The coffee shop turned bar/cafe has recently added a full dinner menu, allowing you to polish off a plate of zesty, caper-studded linguine carbonara as you listen to Horvitz's dynamic improvisations and Holcomb's extraordinarily soulful voice, which introduces jazz to Appalachia. Musician friends always seem to drop by, including, on a recent night, a bluegrass duo and a clogger energetically tapping her heels to the beat. The cover charge is a paltry $5. The cosmopolitans are flavorful. The experience is like few others you'll find in town. NINA SHAPIRO Serves: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 4900 Rainier Ave. S., 206-725-0519. COLUMBIA CITY $ MASHIKO No, we didn't misplace this one. Yes, Mashiko's menu offers plenty in the way of traditional Japanese fare, but we think of it as a very American—and moreover, American neighborhoody—little place. Witness the toddlers eating California rolls, the mob of twentysomething dreadlocks at the bar, the pop-up fly ball soaring across the TV screen, the late-'90s grooves on the stereo. Hajime Sato certainly isn't the only chef in town procuring gorgeous fish, but among sushi chefs, he's my favorite because he's created a setting wherein enjoying it isn't like just being a kid in a candy store, it's like being a grown-up in a candy store. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: dinner. 4725 California Ave. S.W., 206-935-4339. WEST SEATTLE $$ www.sushiwhore.com MATT'S IN THE MARKET A total of 23 people can eat at Matt's in the Market at any given time, and that's including the handful of seats at the counter. Once you get inside—and then especially after your order is put before you—you feel incredibly lucky. In fact, you feel a little giddy, which is why, visiting at lunchtime, you notice that every table is occupied by diners who are either visibly falling in love or visibly about to miss their afternoon meetings. (It doesn't help—or would that be "hurt"?—that Matt can be awfully convincing when he suggests a glass of sauvignon blanc.) The menu is small—about four main-dish options for lunch and for dinner—but understand that Matt and company are among the most in-the-know Market shoppers, so whatever you order will represent the best of what's available downstairs, and across the region. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: lunch and dinner. 94 Pike St., Ste. 32, 206-467-7909. PIKE PLACE MARKET $$ www.mattsinthemarket.com MECCA CAFE You know those theme-parky faux-'50s restaurant chains, like Johnny Rockets or Mel's in the Bay Area? The Mecca, a Lower Queen Anne fixture since 1929, is what they all wish they could be. With divey authenticity to burn, and so archetypal it could be an installation in the Smithsonian—"The American Diner, 1920–60"—it's particularly beloved for its breakfasts. Cozy leatherette booths and round swiveling counter stools, clubgoers eating omelets and chili fries at 3:45 a.m., Little Orphan Annie cartoons and vintage menus on the wall, and no-nonsense waitresses all add to the atmosphere. Sure, go and enjoy those upscale big-white-plate restaurants—but when you need succulently greasy hashbrowns, or a wand-mixed malt, or an open-face turkey sandwich on egg bread topped with an ice-cream scoop of mashed potatoes and a ladleful of gravy, they'll be at the Mecca waiting for you, God willing, for at least another 77 years. GAVIN BORCHERT Serves: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 526 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-285-9728. QUEEN ANNE $ MIKE'S CHILI PARLOR Operated in the same brick building at the base of the Ballard Bridge for over 80 years by a succession of Greek guys named Mike, this institution's signature dish is called, simply, "Big-Ass Bowl of Chili." That "ass" appears in this description provides a not-so-subtle clue as to what sort of post-meal havoc Mike's all-meat, no-beans chili is about to wreak, but it's so worth it. In fact, screw it—go whole hog and order the beefy brown delicacy over a wiener, patty, or fries whilst enjoying a cold, cheap pitcher of subpremium beer. Just don't order a grilled cheese sandwich, half-jokingly priced at $53.50 because Mike Jr. loathes making them, for some reason. One thing Mike Jr. doesn't mind is doling out shots of ouzo, the national liquor of Greece that is best consumed after chanting, "O-U-Z-O . . . OUZO, OUZO, OUZO—GO!" MIKE SEELY Serves: lunch and dinner. 1447 N.W. Ballard Way, 206-782-2808. BALLARD $ NELL'S Among the growing number of venerated chef-owned restaurants in town, Nell's hangs tough as the one where the chef-owner really does circulate kindly and quietly—and nightly, making himself available but not uncomfortably so. Phil Mihalski is, in fact, a lot like his food: humble, sophisticated, and very present. He may well introduce you to new ingredients, but he'll do so in such a way that you feel like you're meeting an old friend. I still think about the matsutake mushrooms I had there a few years ago; they were new to me at the time, but the very next day I was out shopping for my second serving. Menus change with the seasons, but some dishes are constant. Among them, a Dungeness crab salad, polka-dotted with apples and red radishes, is one of the most beautiful plates in town. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: dinner. 6804 E. Greenlake Dr. N., 206-524-4044. GREEN LAKE $$-$$$ www.nellsrestaurant.com A NEW YORK PIZZA PLACE You can't get a New York slice of pizza outside of New York. Even Jersey's pizza isn't New York pizza. Duh. Nonetheless, I like A New York Pizza Place for trying. While the joint is no longer owned by the Bronx native who opened it, the Midwesterner who bought it didn't change a thing, although some believe Doug Armatage has improved the service. Moreover, the sauce isn't bossy, the cheese isn't pushy, and the crust is thin, floury, and cracks nice and bubbly brown. Toppings range from traditional to not so much; try the Lady Liberty if you like pesto, Canadian bacon, and artichokes. Most important, ingredients are natural and fresh; you can tell because Whole Foods, PCC, and a few of the smarter QFCs carry Armatage's frozen pies, which I absolutely love on busy weeknights, and which are made and packaged during the day at the restaurant. LAURA CASSIDY Serves: lunch (Saturday only) and dinner. 8310 Fifth Ave. N.E., 206-524-1355. NORTH SEATTLE $ www.anewyorkpizzaplace.com THE NORTHLAKE TAVERN Like Harvey's, Northlake pizza doesn't fit into a convenient little New York– or Chicago-style box. It is a creation unto itself, primarily because Northlake's propriet

 
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