Gabriel's FireAlthough he's concocted seven varieties of sauce, ranging from Kansas City to Thai, Gabriel Slimp serves his barbecued meats as naked as God and man intended. Unlike some pitmasters in town, Slimp doesn't ladle a pint of candy-sweet tomato sauce over his glorious beef brisket, whose ebony exterior is crisp and peppery and whose pink smoke-ring bespeaks hours of slow cooking. The beef is cut cross-grain into thin strips, leaving the center as lacy as a tatted slipcover, since all the collagen and fat between fibers has melted away. This meat, you quickly realize, has nothing to be ashamed of. His pork ribs have just enough bite left to them to let you know he didn't boil the crap out of them before sticking them in the smoker, and his grilled flank steak and chicken pick up enough smoke to merit a place beside the slow-cooked pork shoulder. The cooks appear to work on geological time, but when you taste the mac-and-cheese that you've just seen them stir together on the stove, you won't begrudge them a single one of their meditation breaks. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: lunch, dinner. 2408 N.W. 80th St., 783-4223. BALLARD gabrielsfire.comGreen Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant There's a reason people are willing to pack in like sardines to eat at this modest family-run place: generous portions that are easy on the wallet. And the chipper servers are more than happy to direct you to their favorite dishes on the menu. (The general consensus: Order the vermicelli.) I heeded their advice and ended up facing a massive bowl of bún dac biet, a vermicelli dish loaded with grilled chicken, pork chop, skewered shrimp, and even a fried egg roll chopped up and thrown into the mix for good measure. Prior to that, I'd already munched on some fresh shrimp spring rolls and savory grilled lemongrass mushrooms. It was too much, and my server, sensing I was overwhelmed, wordlessly packed up my food. ERIKA HOBARTServes: lunch, dinner. 418 Eighth Ave. S., 340-1388. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT greenleaftaste.comMike's Noodle House Ordering Hong Kong–style noodle soup at Mike's is like shopping for shelves at IKEA: a minute number of base models with dozens of variations. Do you want your you mien with wontons? Squid balls? Wontons and squid balls? How about a few strips of beef brisket, as well as a few spoonfuls of the sweet sauce the meat was braised in? What distinguishes Mike's from its neighboring competitors are the mouthfeel of its skinny, stretchy noodles, imported from Vancouver; the depth of the clear, sapid chicken broth they float in; and the potent chile-garlic sauce you can brush your wontons through or stir into your broth once you tire of its quiet meatiness. There's another set of variations on congee (rice porridge), and if a little crunch is in order, a cold plate of pale, frilly tripe. JONATHAN KAUFFMANServes: lunch, dinner. 418 Maynard Ave. S., 389-7099. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTPaseo There's no denying the freakish devotion Seattle lunch hounds have for the city's hottest mess of a sandwich. Close your eyes as you stand in line on a Thursday at 1 p.m., and the various lip smacking, oohing, and aahing can be mistaken for a porno soundtrack. Do yourself a favor, though, and don't watch strangers eating these sandwiches. It will kill your appetite. Whereas on a second date, checking out your companion's navigation of the constant ingredient shedding and meat-juice trickle could pique your interest. The Cuban Roast in all its pulled-pork, garlic-mayo, and pickled-jalapeno glory may be the star of the shop, but make sure to break out, even if just once. Try the midnight Cuban press, those same shreds of perfectly marinated pork getting it on with cheese and smoked ham after a panini-grill treatment. Paseo's entrée selections also rate for affordability and home-cookedness. MAGGIE SAVARINO DUTTONServes: lunch, dinner. 4225 Fremont Ave. N., 545-7440. FREMONT; 6226 Seaview Ave. N.W., 789-3100. BALLARDPike Street Fish Fry "You ruuuuun, with the devil," Fleet Foxes harmonizes through the speakers. A 20-something at the fryer sings along. I hum the tune while waiting to place an order. At my feet a toddler bobs and weaves in time. "What can I get you?" asks the very pleasant, stocking-capped hipster at the register. This moment in pop-music unity was brought to you by the Pike Street Fish Fry. The conscientiously hip hole-in-the-wall beside Neumos is at once obvious and subtle. The batter is light, not quite tempura, but nothing too overwhelming, so the green beans and peppers keep their flavor. You can get much of the menu grilled instead, but I recommend the fryer. Pike Street offers the perfect comfort food—there when you need it, at a price you can afford. It's a place where everybody knows, if not your name, all the words to your favorite songs. LAURA ONSTOTServes: lunch, dinner, late-night. 925 E. Pike St. CAPITOL HILL pikestreetfishfry.blogspot.comPho Bac Don't go to Pho Bac for frills. There are no cream puffs, no vegetarian options, and no real plants. Go because you're happy to freeze in Pho Bac's little corner shack on a crappy chair for the roughly three minutes it takes the kitchen to prepare your order. You'll be rewarded with hot Vietnamese noodle soup that's more deeply beefy than other pho in town. Your choices are all cow: there's tendon and tripe, meatballs and round steak. I choose brisket, knowing I'll scoop in generous servings of the fattiest version right down to the bottom of the bowl. It always melts easily on my tongue. JESS THOMSONServes: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Multiple locations; 415 Seventh Ave. S., 621-0532. INTERNATIONAL DISTRICTSalumi Here's how not to eat at Salumi: "Hey, neighbor, it's noon and Friday, you wanna walk over to Batali's and grab a sammy?" You'll end up at the end of a snaking line toward King Street with an empty stomach and envy in your eyes. Last winter I witnessed a longer line out the Salumi door than at the nearby Union Gospel Mission. I was so hungry, frustrated, and down on my (relative) luck that I nearly hit up the latter. So here's what to do if you want a bite of Seattle's best artisan sandwich: Show up at 10:30 a.m. (30 minutes before opening) on a Wednesday. Bring the new issue of Seattle Weekly, and wait. You're gonna wait no matter what, so you may as well do it knowing that all the menu options will still be available when you reach the front of the line (a highly dubious proposition later in the day). Of course you could also wait until there's a freak snowstorm and the streets are covered in ice, stroll down to find the restaurant all to yourself, and not bring any food back for the rest of the office. (I'm looking at you, boss.) CHRIS KORNELISServes: lunch. 309 Third Ave. S., 621-8772. DOWNTOWN salumicuredmeats.comSkillet Street Food Skillet in the winter is neither for the faint nor sclerotic of heart; one must brave the cold to order one's food from the Airstream trailer, and, unlike in summer, the menu focuses almost exclusively on fatty meats. But the lines form for a reason, as you'll learn when you try "The Burger." Cambazola, something called "bacon jam," and the best beef this side of Jen vs. Angelina form one juicy, delicious, brioche-sandwiched mass. To balance things out, there's a little arugula for roughage and a side of perfectly greased hand-cut fries for carbs. Wash it all down with a homemade soda. Skillet sets up exclusively in parking lots (check the Web site for the schedule). So pony up, grab a curb, and see what Dick's and its ilk would be like if they were unbelievably tasty, rather than just nostalgic and rapper-endorsed. DAMON AGNOSServes: lunch. Various locations. skilletstreetfood.comTacos El Asadero There are many taco trucks around the city, but for South Enders there is only one Taco Bus: Tacos El Asadero. Its iconic status stems in part from the atmosphere. Yes, it has a tattered metal exterior, but unlike many taco trucks, you can actually walk inside, see the kitchen, and eat while sitting on stools that come out of a '50s diner. Over on one side, by the kitchen, there are trays loaded with unusually fresh and plump side fixings: radishes, limes, and spicy carrots and peppers. Then there are the main courses. Four dollars and 50 cents buys you many items, including a torta overflowing with meat, tomato, lettuce, and cilantro. Some taco buses charge extra for avocado, but Tacos El Asadero provides a separate dish full of thick slices, all gratis. So what if you ordered chicken and got beef instead? What are you doing ordering in English? NINA SHAPIRO3517 Rainier Ave. S. RAINIER VALLEYVeraci Pizza When Veraci started wheeling a wood-burning clay oven into farmers market parking lots, Seattle got in line. You could call it thin-crust pizza with a dog-and-pony show—and who wouldn't like watching their dinner get twirled to toasty perfection by a fire god whose sole job is to coddle your pie? But with their newest oven, permanently installed well out of hand-warming reach in a former Domino's, Veraci proves that their pizzas are more about flavor than fanfare. Layered with zingy sauces, topped with fresh, often local ingredients (think Beecher's cheese and mole salami), and usually kissed with a few fat blisters, Veraci's pies deserve the cult status they're developing in North Seattle. Of course, there's still a line. Call in your order ahead to cut the weekend wait from excruciating to annoying. JESS THOMSONServes: lunch, dinner. Farmers markets or 500 N.W. Market St., 525-1813. BALLARD veracipizza.comA FEW MORE CHEAPIES WE LOVE: Cafe Yamarka, Elliott Bay Cafe, Gyro House, Seattle Deli, Slim's Last Chance Chili Shack, Phnom Penh Noodle House.