Voracious Dining Guide

Our 2012 neighborhood snackdown!

The impulse when opening a dining guide organized by neighborhood is to flip immediately to the section covering the few square miles you call home. We won't stop you. After all, who are we to deny you the pleasure of seeing your hangouts summarized in a few glowing words? Or the satisfaction of cursing us for getting your community's food scene all wrong?

But here's hoping you read your way through to other neighborhoods (organized north to south, more or less, with a handful of subsequent suburban locales) and follow up with the necessary dining adventures. There are green-tea cheesecakes, gnocchi, guancale, and peanut salads to be had—all of them well worth a trip across neighborhood lines.

While you're out taking meals in unfamiliar places, pay attention: Our neighborhood Snackdown, a bracketed competition to determine the best eating 'hood in the city, will return this August. Once again, the winner will be decided by reader vote. It's up to you whether White Center successfully defends its title as Seattle's top gastronomic destination, so you may want to acquaint yourself with Capitol Hill's pickle soup, Wedgwood's chow mein, and Ballard's fried capers beforehand. The restaurants serving those are here, along with 98 other restaurants we love. Read up. HANNA RASKIN

LAKE CITY

Don't judge a book by its cover: Step in off this gritty stretch of Lake City Way into the aquamarine-painted, candlelit oasis El Norte. The tiny kitchen cranks out just a handful of taqueria-style food items, but there's sweet and tangy ceviche, chunky guacamole, tacos in housemade tortillas, and baskets of thin, just-fried tortilla chips. The nachos alone are worth a stop. Crisp chips are slathered in creamy refried beans, topped with melted jack cheese, jalapeños, guacamole, onions, tomatoes, and sour cream. Come for the food, stay for the drinks: Several premium tequilas are available, plus Negra Modelo from Mexico and Veltins from Germany on draft. SONJA GROSET 13717 Lake City Way N.E.. 954-1349. elnorteloungeseattle.com $

The darling of downtown Lake City, Kaffeeklatsch is a bright spot in a strip of uninspired businesses, banks, and empty storefronts. The bustling cafe is fast embodying its namesake—a conversational gathering spot—in a neighborhood where a social hub is more than welcome. Owned by former Columbia City Bakery manager Annette Heide-Jessen and baker Brian Hensley, German pastries are scratch-made daily. Some universally loved baked goods—like fat cinnamon buns, breakfast biscuits with egg and sausage, and banana bread—star on the menu. Other staples include perfectly chewy pretzels and Blechkuchen, a traditional German pastry with bursts of fresh raspberry folded into layered dough. The coffee's from True North roasters. SARA BILLUPS 12513 Lake City Way N.E., 462-1059, kaffeeklatschseattle.com $

The only Lake City restaurant with a wait on Friday and Saturday nights, Toyoda Sushi does not disappoint. Its rice-paper-covered windows and traditional Japanese fare rival the looks and tastes of the best spots in the ID. The mackerel maki wrapped with fresh ginger and scallions shines with clean and vibrant flavors, and pescephobes will relish classic avocado rolls and a warming udon with tempura veggies and fried egg that remedies Seattle's rainy season. Toyoda's prices are on the high end, but you're paying for filling portions and total quality here. SARA BILLUPS 12543 Lake City Way N.E., 367-7972 $$

NORTHGATE

Housed in an honest-to-goodness strip mall—complete with a Supercuts and a doughnut shop—Indo Cafe serves amazing Indonesian food, specifically fried chicken. Asian fried chicken has become a thing thanks to places like Portland's Pok Pok and West Seattle's Ma'Ono, but at Indo Cafe it's not a gimmick, it's just delicious: extra-crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and best topped with fiery chili paste and paired with cooling, slightly sweet coconut rice. There are other things on the menu, and everything is as authentic as it comes, but once you've had that chicken, the rest won't really matter. CHELSEA LIN 543 N.E. Northgate Way, 361-0699, myindocafe.com $$

MAPLE LEAF

Handmade noodles are the star of the show at Chiang's Gourmet, a family-run restaurant tucked into the corner of I-5 and Lake City Way. The noodles can be found in some form on each of the three menus: the Americanized Chinese, filled with classics like General Tso's Chicken; the Vegetarian; and the Chinese, pages full of authentic, expertly cooked specialties from Szechuan and nearby provinces. Despite the dingy exterior and slight lack of ambience, a byproduct of being housed in a former A&W, the meat and vegetables are bright and fresh, prepared in ways that showcase their taste. A quick conversation with the friendly, spiky-haired hostess will always yield a few suggestions for what's best that day. NAOMI BISHOP 7845 Lake City Way N.E., 527-8888, chiangsgourmet.com $

When the Mexican-inspired Coa Mexican Eatery & Tequileria opened in 2011, it filled a niche in the hood that badly needed to be. Taking its name from a device used in agave harvesting, Coa presents artful riffs on south-of-the-border classics. Be forewarned: If you're craving slop Mexican, keep walking; Coa's mole is served sans tortillas with crispy kale and fragrant rice and beans. Enchiladas verde are stuffed with chicken, cauliflower, and cheese, then smothered in a cream sauce that hits the right balance of rich and verdant. Expect little touches, like salsa speckled with hominy and gluten-free tostones filled with green plantains. And with Coa's tarty $5 house margaritas coming in at less than 100 calories, ordering a second round is a no-brainer. SARA BILLUPS 7919 Roosevelt Way N.E., 522-6179, coatequileria.com $$

Joining its siblings in Seward Park and Ballard, Flying Squirrel Pizza Co.'s Maple Leaf location is a welcome addition to northeast Seattle. Expect inventive toppings, like housemade sausage and local-when-possible veggies, all without trying too hard. Owned by former Visqueen bassist Bill Coury, the longtime Seattle resident's rock roots come through in custom pies like the Eartha Kitt, topped with spinach, garlic, ricotta, marinated portos, and cracked pepper. Or build your own, with toppings including fresh pineapple, Mama Lil's peppers, and Salumi's coppa. And don't forget the cheese bread, a nostalgic gut bomb reminiscent of the best East Coast hole-in-the-wall varieties. SARA BILLUPS 8310 Fifth Ave. N.E., 524-6345, flyingsquirrelpizza.com $

WEDGWOOD

Black Pearl, a narrow sliver of a dining room tucked inside a Wedgwood strip-mall block, isn't much to look at, and some of the food is admittedly Americanized—I'm pretty sure neither the Sichuans nor the Hunans put cranberries in their chicken or balsamic vinaigrette on their fish—but a majority of the menu is authentic and delicious. The General Tso's Chicken is made with fat chunks of white meat and is appropriately spiced; the mu shu pork is studded with fresh sautéed veggies and wood ear mushrooms; and, best of all, the hand-rolled chow mein noodles are satisfyingly thick, starchy, and filling. ERIN K. THOMPSON 7347 35th Ave. N.E., 526-5115, blackpearlchinesecuisine.com $$

Off the maps of both coffee geeks and tourists, Café Javasti is not pushing the coffee industry into the fifth wave, but it is offering a thoughtful alternative to Starbucks in 'burby Wedgwood, which may be just as important. Recently remodeled and expanded, Javasti delivers well-prepared espresso drinks with beans supplied by Olympia's Batdorf & Bronson. Lines form on the weekends for Javasti's freshly baked pastries and sweet and savory crepes. The Nutella, banana, and almond crepe is a discovery of tastes and textures, and the mushroom, pesto, tomato, and mozzarella crepe is filling enough to share. SARA BILLUPS 8617 35th Ave. N.E., 204-0255, javasti.com $

That shingled wooden shack you've driven by on 35th isn't someone's tool shed; it's the Fiddler's Inn. And despite being tucked away in the northern reaches of Wedgwood, it's usually not as quiet as it looks from the outside, either: By evening, a crowd of easygoing regulars pack the place. The beer selection here—which is sometimes literally scrawled on the back of some scrap paper, wrinkly from being passed around the room all night—is aces, boasting up to 15 local brews. The kitchen does just as well by its towering mound of Firehouse #40 nachos and crusty, hand-tossed pizzas, which, appropriately for pub fare, are wonderfully messy, gooey, and oozing with melted cheese. ERIN K. THOMPSON 9219 35th Ave. N.E., 525-0752, 3pubs.com/Fiddler $

LOYAL HEIGHTS

Tucked away in a far corner north of Ballard, serving a cuisine that's not too common in Seattle, it's a hard road for Cafe Munir. But even those who can't find Lebanon on a map will find beauty in its simple Mediterranean cuisine. From hummus (in three varieties) to more complicated dishes like Egyptian koshary, Cafe Munir stays true to its roots while establishing itself as an excellent neighborhood restaurant. The early seating flows noisily with family dining, yet in the late evening the atmosphere grows quietly romantic under the intricately beautiful light fixtures. NAOMI BISHOP 2408 N.W. 80th St., 783-4190, cafemunir.blogspot.com $

GREENWOOD

Imagine if Marion Cotillard had been your French 101 teacher. It would have most likely changed from a subject you'd have been reluctant to study to an attractive, seductive presentation from which you'd walk away with a lifelong curiosity for all things French. So goes dinner at Gainsbourg, which makes what could be an overwhelming introduction to French cuisine simple, appealing, and affordable. With items like the $3 happy-hour escargots and the poulet confit (chicken poached in duck fat) for a mere $9, Gainsbourg promotes sensible sampling—not to mention the house's nine varieties of absinthe, which will leave you feeling as giddy and lightheaded as an afternoon with Cotillard herself. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR 8550 Greenwood Ave. N., 783-4004, gainsbourglounge.com $$

GREEN LAKE

The Latona Pub is not another hipster bar, thank you very much. Owned by the team behind Wedgwood's Fiddler's Inn and Capitol Hill's Hopvine, the Latona churns out seriously tasty comfort food from a well-loved, closet-sized kitchen. Crispy green-chile quesadillas, colossal helpings of mac and cheese, duck confit with fig and chevre, and mom-style Painted Hills meatloaf and mashed potatoes will satisfy even the hungriest beer bellies. The revolving wine and beer selection showcases Northwest varietals and microbrews, and the no-nonsense staff is the right mix of efficient and friendly. Live jazz on Fridays. SARA BILLUPS 6423 Latona Ave. N.E., 525-2238, 3pubs.com/latona.html $

Since the first location opened on Aurora in 1996, the Than Brothers chain has been growing in the greater Seattle area at a rate nearly equivalent to a store a year. The recently opened Kirkland joint is #14, and should have included the chain's ceremonial crowning as the undisputed kings of Emerald City pho. The two keys to its success: the broth, flavorful enough to stand on its own and lending itself to numerous "pho-cessories" and a tabletop assortment of squeezable sauces, and the legendary cream puffs (three for $1.50)—light, fluffy, and consistently delicious. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR 7714 Aurora Ave. N. and other locations, 527-5973, thanbrothers.com $

PHINNEY RIDGE

A Northwest-inspired restaurant located in a former neighborhood grocery, Phinney Market Pub & Eatery's fresh interiors are polished up with Tolix chairs, a communal table crafted from Alaskan reclaimed wood, and trendy wallpaper that makes everybody look a little cooler. A self-proclaimed family restaurant, Phinney Market is big enough to accommodate children on one side of the room near a built-in play corner and kid-free diners near the bar. Tuck into pork loin topped with mango-apple chutney, polenta-crusted vegetable tarts cozied up to a mound of greens, or juicy jerk chicken on thick challah. SARA BILLUPS 5918 Phinney Ave. N., 219-9105, phinneymarketpub.com $

ROOSEVELT

Among the many local Indian restaurants offering cheap lunch buffets and serviceable delivery options, just one place (this side of Lake Washington, anyway) serves the sort of Indian food worthy of a reservation and a cloth napkin: Bengal Tiger. The Roosevelt eatery, bereft of the usual kitschy crap typical of Indian restaurants everywhere, is casual enough to be family-friendly, yet nice enough to be a suitable date-night destination (assuming your companion won't mind curry breath later). Call ahead to order the Kashmiri chicken for two or the Kurzi lamb, meant to serve up to six. And for last-minute diners, there's the requisite lunch buffet, too. CHELSEA LIN 6510 Roosevelt Way N.E., 985-0041, bengaltigerwa.com $$

Diners come to Marcello Ristorante for the brawny Bolognese and delicate penne ai gamberi, saturated with a garlicky, Madeira-spiked tomato cream sauce and garnished with pancetta, artichokes, and plump shrimp. But mostly they come to this genteel restaurant for love. On weekend nights, nearly every table is set for two, since brothers Marcello and Dario Magaletti's legendary patience doesn't extend to the fashion for waxing ironic about candlelight, Chianti, and deferential service. To keep the mood in the evocatively rustic dining room romantic, the kitchen finds room in many of its excellent dishes for a splash of white wine or Madeira. HANNA RASKIN 7115 Roosevelt Way N.E., 527-4778, marcelloseattle.com $$

BALLARD

Ballard is in the midst of a barbecue boom, but The Boar's Nest separates itself from the pack in a variety of ways, not least of which is its name, a reference to the watering hole in The Dukes of Hazzard. The owners hail from Tennessee and South Carolina, and their Southern roots show, especially when it comes to the way they do 'cue. The brisket sandwich (an absolute steal at $7) is served on two toasted slices of plain white bread, piled with steaming hunks of juicy, slow-cooked beef as tender as a Tammy Wynette ballad. The dry-rubbed ribs are served with sauce on the side (with a half-dozen regional varieties from which to choose), and the meat just barely clings to the bone. Even the salad is carnivorous: The "Pig in the Garden" is a mound of greens topped with pulled pork. KEEGAN HAMILTON 2008 N.W. 56th St., 973-1970, ballardbbq.com $

It's been more than two years since blogger/author Molly "Orangette" Wizenberg and her husband/pizzaiolo Brandon Pettit opened Delancey, their much-applauded pizzeria on an otherwise sleepy stretch of north Ballard. Though the hype has died down, the wait for a table on a Saturday evening still usually tops an hour, due largely to the chewy perfection of the pizza crust that blisters ever so gently in Pettit's oven—though Wizenberg's chocolate-chip cookies topped with gray sea salt are certainly worth a visit of their own accord. CHELSEA LIN 1415 N.W. 70th St., 838-1960, delanceyseattle.com $$

A tiny Market Street tapas spot, Ocho isn't singlehandedly responsible for the classing-up of Ballard, but it sure deserves props. Ocho showcases premium cocktails like the Sagrada Familia, as well as small plates like prosciutto-wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese and drizzled with a balsamic reduction and the Huevo del Diablo—a perfectly devilled egg with salmon roe, fried capers, and tomato dust. With plates ranging from $2.50 to $9, Ocho can accommodate any budget, and its impressively opulent yet fairly priced delicacies insure repeated patronage. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR 2325 N.W. Market St., 784-0699, ochoballard.com $$

Chef Ethan Stowell's Ballard outpost, Staple & Fancy, flawlessly cranks out everything from pork cheeks and gnocchi to whole grilled fish and fried oysters. Stowell knows diners will have a hard time narrowing their choices, so there is a $45 "fancy" menu available, which puts the decision in the kitchen's hands. Your entire table has to participate in the family-style four-course feast, but your participation will be rewarded. Each course includes anywhere from two to four dishes, depending on your party's size. Let the staff know if there's anything you don't or can't eat, and sit back and let the feasting begin. SONJA GROSET 4739 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-1200, ethan stowellrestaurants.com/stapleandfancy $$$

The fear that Ballard's Totem House, a lodge-shaped landmark that opened in 1939 as a Native American curio shop, would vanish from the neighborhood landscape after its resident fish-and-chips restaurant closed in 2010 was matched only by the fear that whomever inherited the structure wouldn't honor its legacy. Those worries were allayed last year by Jim and Babe Shepherd of the hyper-successful Red Mill Burgers, who spent six months renovating the building. And for all the thought that went into decisions involving cedar and linoleum, the brother/sister pair didn't neglect the cod: Red Mill Totem House makes a mean plate of fish and chips, perfectly seasoned and cleanly fried. HANNA RASKIN 3058 N.W. 54th St., 784-1400, redmillburgers.com/redmilltotemhouse.htm $

New York has Carnegie Deli, Los Angeles has Pink's, and Seattle has The Walrus and the Carpenter, a restaurant that reveals its location as surely as a sextant. Chef Renee Erickson of Boat Street Cafe meant to summon French elegance with her Ballard oyster bar, but the small-plates, no-reservations retreat instead beautifully evokes the neighborhood's flinty maritime past and the current conscientious mind-set responsible for rooftop honey hives and farmers-market queues for line-caught salmon biked in from Port Townsend. The Walrus' raw oysters are incredible and plentiful, but the kitchen excels at bitter and brine, reliably wrenching magic from radishes, watercress, pickles, sardines, and smelt. HANNA RASKIN 4743 Ballard Ave. N.W., 395-9227, thewalrusbar.com $$$

U DISTRICT

Like many of its neighbors on the ever-changing Ave., Nook isn't refined. But why would you want it to be? The biscuit shop is a shining example of how a simple, well-executed concept can be a success. Fluffy and crispy, the egg, cheese, bacon, and tomato jam breakfast sandwich is easily enough to fill the average stomach until dinner. Try savory toppings like hearty sausage gravy, or the not-too-sweet homemade apple butter. Or you can pre-order biscuits by the dozen for a measly buck apiece. If you time it wrong, you might find a sign on the door that reads "Full. Please come back later." But there's something about the chase. SARA BILLUPS 4754 University Way N.E., 268-0154, nook206.com $

UNIVERSITY VILLAGE

Mamma Melina anchors the corner of a block-long building of modern condos and retail space near University Village. On sunny days, with the restaurant's large glass doors open onto the expansive patio, it looks more like L.A. than the U District. Inside, tables are topped with white linens and surrounded by sleek, modern molded-plastic chairs. A wood-fired oven glows from the kitchen, turning out Neapolitan-style pizzas with charred edges and slightly soggy centers. The pasta is made in-house, the steaks are from Painted Hills, and the portions are sizable. But as UW professors and grad students know, the bar offers one of the best—and tastiest—happy hours around: Select pizzas are $6, house wine is $14 a bottle, and the entire bar menu is slashed in half. SONJA GROSET 5101 25th Ave. N.E., 632-2271, mammamelina.com $$

WALLINGFORD

With all the well-deserved raves for Revel, let's not forget the restaurant that really started it all for super-chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi: Joule. It's East meets West as you jump about the menu, with shared small plates the way to go. Expect a symphony of bold flavors, starting with any soup (recommended: the spicy beef ) and moving on to intriguing salads, innovative kimchi, and expertly grilled fish, meats, and vegetables. JAY FRIEDMAN 1913 N. 45th St., 632-1913, joulerestaurant.com $$

FREMONT

In the era of Meatless Mondays, food lovers are supposed to reserve their enthusiasm for fruits and vegetables. Ooh, kale. Aah, quince. But Robin Short and Miles James, who previously ran a West Seattle sausage cart, are determined to make it very hard for gourmands to be stylish by serving an array of extraordinary meats at Dot's Delicatessen, their cozy counter-service shop. James' experimental bent has produced beef jerky, chicharrónes, pickled-pig-feet terrine, and red-wine paté, all elevated by James' commitment to prying memorable succulence from cows and pigs. HANNA RASKIN 4262 Fremont Ave. N., 687-7446, dotsdelicatessen.com $

The most compelling restaurant category in Seattle right now—and perhaps the one most in need of a catchy name—is the youthful, urbane, Pacific Rim–influenced cuisine on display at Marination Station, Katsu Burger, Ma'Ono, and Revel, Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi's thoughtfully casual Fremont eatery. People who like food tend to really like Korean food, which is often funky and bold. But Revel isn't just drifting on gourmands' goodwill: The kitchen plays with chancy flavor combinations, demonstrating something like genius by sandwiching chili ice cream between chocolate-chip cookies, and tempers its daredevilry with delicacy, folding thin-skinned dumplings around ricotta scented with Earl Grey tea. HANNA RASKIN 403 N. 36th St., 547-2040, revelseattle.com $S

Roxy's Diner employs one of the city's most enjoyable waitstaffs, a team of hard-as-nails, tatted-up babes who have no qualms about serving you a shot of whiskey and then slapping you in the face after you drink it. (Request a Restraining Order. See what happens.) If you're nice, the girls will do a fine job of hustling your food out of the kitchen—the East Coast–style diner is best known for its stacked-high pastrami sandwich—but it's also one of the best breakfast joints around, with crispy latke sandwiches and something called the breakfast Monte Cristo: ham, egg, and cheese sandwiched between two slices of challah French toast and topped with powdered sugar and maple syrup. Finish it all off with a mimosa—they're $2 on weekends, and no one will hit you for drinking it. ERIN K. THOMPSON 462 N. 36th St., 632-3963, pastramisandwich.com $

CAPITOL HILL

Here's a restaurant-selection secret: Ask your server where he eats. In Seattle, the answer's bound to be Ba Bar, a very now Vietnamese bistro that's endeared itself to local practitioners of the food-and-beverage trade by keeping ridiculous hours and offering unassailable versions of dishes familiar from joints that don't bother with Draper Valley chicken, Painted Hills brisket, and organic tofu. Ba Bar serves a fantastic, flavorful pho, restorative and nuanced through the last slurp, and a mi vit tiem that resounds with duckiness. The bar is as skilled as the kitchen, mixing gorgeously balanced cocktails that rival drinks served anywhere in the city—which may also help explain why the restaurant's so popular with off-duty servers. HANNA RASKIN 550 12th Ave., 328-2030, babarseattle.com $$

There's only one item listed on the specials chalkboard at B&O Espresso: "Landlord gives B&O one more year . . . " (Insert a collective sigh from all Capitol Hill residents here.) The building in which the neighborhood's first-ever espresso coffeehouse was born more than three decades ago is scheduled for demolition this year. It's heartbreaking, because B&O is a truly unique beast. Charming and unpretentious, it's the sort of place where people can cozy up and converse for hours after their plates have been cleared. Best of all, the American and Mediterranean-inspired menu offers enough variety to meet the most bizarre brunch craving: chocolate pancakes, brie/Moroccan olive omelets, and roasted eggplant sandwiches, to name a few. If you've never been to B&O, do yourself a favor and go this weekend. It's a Seattle establishment you'll want to pay your respects to before it disappears. ERIKA HOBART 204 Belmont Ave. E., 322-5028, b-oespresso.com $

On Friday nights and Sunday afternoons, the community center–cum–restaurant known as Dom Polski opens its doors to anyone with a hankering for excellent Polish food who's willing to pay a $1 "temporary membership" fee. The bar serves a variety of Polish alcohol—try the bisongrass vodka, served with apple juice—while the menu is peppered with Polish pickings like pickle soup and pierogies. Orders are taken by traditional costumed staff, who do their best to explain dishes and specialties, making it easy to navigate the menu of hearty meats, dumplings, and side dishes. Just make sure you stop at the ATM on the way—this informal clubhouse is cash only. NAOMI BISHOP 1714 18th Ave., 322-3020, polishhome.org $

Hana will not disappoint even the pickiest sushi eater. Despite its relatively small menu, there's something for everyone. The chef's choice is the sashimi combo: five kinds of sashimi with miso soup, salad, and rice. But if you're looking for something more savory, go for the chicken teriyaki: boneless, broiled chicken in a soft and tasty sauce. If you're a vegetarian, sample an appetizer such as edamame or the agadashi sushi, and pair it with miso soup and rice; it will be just as filling as one of the entrées your carnivorous friends will be enjoying. Overall, unlike its Capitol Hill counterparts, Hana offers quality sushi that avoids being overly Americanized. You can't go wrong here. KATIE GILBERT 219 Broadway E., 328-1187 $

Here's an unadvertised tip: The Honey Hole always has a draft-beer special, usually something like a sweet, lovely pint of Manny's for $3. It's a smart move on their part, since a cold beer happens to be the perfect accompaniment to their savory, melty-hot sandwiches. There isn't a miss among all the creatively named options—the tangy Corleone is stuffed with house-cured pastrami and sauerkraut; the Bandit is your basic favorite barbecued-beef brisket topped with coleslaw and cheddar; its counterpart, the Buford T. Justice, is a spicier variety with pulled pork and pepper jack. If the promise of cheap beer doesn't draw you, the tantalizing aroma of all that smoked meat definitely will. ERIN K. THOMPSON 703 E. Pike St., 709-1399, thehoneyhole.com $

If you know only one thing about the Kingfish Cafe, it's to always save room for dessert. The gargantuan slices of scratch-made red velvet cake, seasonal fresh strawberry shortcake, and fluffy sweet-potato pie are not affected by the law of diminishing returns. Somehow each bite tastes better until the sweet, sweet end. The same goes for the Kingfish's beloved fried chicken, melty collard greens, and fried green tomatoes. Owned by sisters Laurel and Leslie Coaston, the Southern-cooking mecca on northeast Capitol Hill celebrates its 15th year in 2012. With its wrought-iron gates and creaky wood floors, the Kingfish could easily thrive in Savannah or Montgomery. Lucky Seattle. SARA BILLUPS 602 19th Ave. E., 320-8757, thekingfishcafe.com $$

Marination owners Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison recently won the Seacrest Park food concession, returning the team's sassy Korean-Hawaiian tacos and sliders to their beachy roots. But fans of the food know it doesn't much matter where it's served, since breathtaking flavors have a knack for transcending surroundings. Still, last year's opening of a permanent Marination location was worth celebrating since it meant a) new occasional items, including gravy-blanketed loco moco and spam musubi, and b) beer. Even better, the menu mainstays haven't suffered from settling down: The soy-soaked short ribs are always tender, the tofu vibrates with flavor, and the Nunya sauce is so good it's now sold by the jar. HANNA RASKIN 1412 Harvard Ave., marinationmobile.com $

Vegan food isn't the same as chomping into seared flesh, but it can be just as delicious, and Plum Bistro has solidified itself as one of Seattle's best vegan restaurants by proving it. Owner Makini Howell, who admits she's never even tasted meat, opened Plum almost three years ago because, being raised in a vegan household, she never had an upscale place to dine. "Most of our customers are not vegan or vegetarian at all," says Howell, who explains that her carnivorous clientele has realized the flavor capabilities of vegan food. Dishes on the bistro's menu include spicy Cajun mac and yease, quinoa and BBQ burgers, raw lasagna with walnut pesto, and hearty salads. And for brunch, the Stumptown pancakes with vegan cream sauce and chocolate is something everyone should eat at least once in their lives. JULIEN PERRY 1429 12th Ave., 838-5333, plumbistro.com $$

Bastille detractors shook their heads when news came that the design-focused team behind the French hotspot in Ballard planned to open a massive Mexican cantina in Capitol Hill. Fine: There's no place here for humorless mossbacks anyhow. Poquitos is an unending Mexican beach vacation, with top-shelf margs, freshly made guacamole, surprisingly elegant elotes, and a plate of chipotle garlic prawns that deserves to be mentioned in any discussion of the city's best shrimp dishes. In a restaurant that's a perpetual beneficiary of foresight—Deming Maclise and James Weimann traveled to Mexico to collect decor elements—there are, of course, housemade corn tortillas for sopping up the delectable vestigial sauce. What fun. HANNA RASKIN 1000 E. Pike St., 453-4216, vivapoquitos.com $$

From its humble beginnings as a small crêperie, 611 Supreme has been serving spectacular food on Capitol Hill since 1997. If your schedule allows, visit for weekday brunch: You'll be met with an attentive waitstaff and (weather permitting) a lovely flood of natural light. Daytime eats include the signature crêpes, quiche, and a plat du fromage: Build your own cheese plate for $3 an ounce. At night this spot transforms to an upscale eatery, where you'll indulge in French fare for around $20 an entrée. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR 611 E. Pine St., 328-0292, 611supreme.com $$

The wheels came off Skillet last year, when the popular food truck settled into a permanent location. Although the namesake mobile unit is still rolling around Seattle, it doesn't offer well-made cocktails, comfortable seating, or a roof in rainy weather, which may account for the instant popularity of the polished restaurant. But if the surroundings have changed, the classic menu of finely tuned diner fare, awash in swine and cream, is holding steady: Skillet isn't shy about serving a chicken-fried pork chop smothered in bacon gravy or a fleecy cornmeal waffle paired with pork belly sweating maple syrup and chicken stock. Still, the winning carry-over from the operation's road-tripping days may be the customer-focused service and playful attitude. HANNA RASKIN 1400 E. Union St., 512-2000, skilletstreetfood.com $

Taylor Shellfish has long been a presence on local menus as a supplier of the region's finest oysters, clams, and mussels, but last year it expanded its Seattle footprint with a Melrose Market retail store that's emerged as a worthy counterpart to the specialists already plying their trades there. Taylor stocks the supremely fresh shellfish prized by home cooks, but it also functions as a stripped-down raw bar, serving shucked-to-order oysters, baguettes, and chilled white wine at its high-top tables. For chilly days, there are crocks of Xinh Dwelley's geoduck chowder and oyster stew. Like the pristine bivalves in Taylor's tanks, the experience of eating shellfish here is pure and true. HANNA RASKIN 1521 Melrose Ave., 501-4321, taylormelrose.com $

Tamara Murphy, who helped define contemporary Seattle dining at Brasa, last year reminded eaters that she intends to continue shaping the local food scene. Years in the making—thanks to unanticipated landlord tangles and renovation delays—Terra Plata acquired must-visit status the moment it opened, serving food that reinvigorates the farm-to-table idiom. The high-spirited restaurant doesn't shy away from ambitious preparations involving fresh shellfish and charcuterie, but is equally capable of astonishing with the most pedestrian-sounding dishes. Here are citrus-glanced beets and maple-glazed Brussels sprouts to woo veggie skeptics, and tightly knitted potato chips throbbing with 'tater flavor. The years spent waiting for to win a legal go-ahead did nothing to dim Murphy's remarkable culinary skill. HANNA RASKIN 1501 Melrose Ave., 325-1501, terraplata.com $$$

Pizza is a highly competitive category in Seattle, a city freed from the constraints of traditions that force pizzaioli in other locales to apply their tomato sauce this way or roll their dough that way. Without expectations to fulfill, brilliant pizzerias such as Serious Pie, Delancey, and Bar del Corso can focus on producing beautifully blistered, chewy crusts topped with pristine ingredients. But it's a mistake to get too precious about pies, and Via Tribunali does a terrific job of straddling the line between craftsmanship and comfort. The stylish local mini-chain, soon to open a New York City location, makes smart Neapolitan pies with seductively puffy crusts and bright tomato sauce. HANNA RASKIN 913 E. Pike St. and other locations, 322-9234, viatribunali.net $$

EASTLAKE

The city's most blessed culinary address may be 2238 Eastlake Avenue, the strip-mall storefront which housed Sitka & Spruce and Nettletown before Charles Walpole painted the room's walls red and christened it Blind Pig Bistro. Walpole, formerly of Anchovies & Olives, is relishing the freedom of self-employment: He serves what he wants when he wants, which means that even flawless dishes tend to fall off the ever-changing menu when he tires of making them. Fortunately for diners, Walpole's culinary choices are impeccable. His dishes are so instinctively pleasing that it's easy to forget how much skill is required to make mackerel, turnips, chorizo, and red onions work together. HANNA RASKIN 2238 Eastlake Ave. E., 329-2744, blindpigbistro.com $$$

A sushi feast frequently comes with a side of self-loathing—those poor, tasty unagi are headed toward extinction—but not at Sushi Kappo Tamura. The buzz surrounding this Eastlake gem comes in part from chef Taichi Kitamura's dedication to using sustainable, guilt-free Pacific Northwest ingredients, and in part from the justifiably esteemed Kitamura himself, who first worked under Shiro Kashiba and then ran Fremont's popular Chiso prior to opening Sushi Kappo Tamura in 2010. Do dinner right by ordering the omakase, a chef's-choice tour through the menu's sushi and izakaya-style small-plate offerings, and expect specialty local ingredients like Skagit River Ranch eggs and spot prawns from Puget Sound to take top billing. CHELSEA LIN 2968 Eastlake Ave. E., 547-0937, sushikappotamura.com $$

QUEEN ANNE

Daisuke and Tomoyo Miura named Café de Lion (pronounced like "Leon") after their son. It's cozy, with just a few tables, but you'll want counter seats in front of Daisuke, who plays mad scientist at his chemistry lab–like coffee station. His water-dripped iced coffee is the best, and he'll pair a cup with your choice of Tomoyo's French-style sweets (not too sweet, which is part of the Japanese influence). Healthy and seasonal, these pastries and cakes are made with the finest ingredients. Look for green-tea cheesecake, purple-sweet-potato mont blanc, colorful berry tarts, and the like—all of which tend to sell out quickly. JAY FRIEDMAN 1629 Queen Anne Ave. N., 913-2125, cafedelion.com $$

The rub with Canlis is that most people think either that they can' t afford it or that it's for special occasions only. But Canlis can be a casual weekday hangout bereft of white linens and formal wear if you want it to be. Lose the tie but keep your expectations intact as you take a seat in the lounge, listen to pianist Walt Wagner kick out a tasteful rendition of "1979," and order something to eat. The Canlis family (the restaurant, passed down through generations, is now run by brothers Mark and Brian, who are usually visiting tables and charming the pants off diners) is committed to constantly improving the restaurant, and takes nothing for granted. The service is always exceptional, no matter where you sit or who you are, and the food is top-notch, a balance of innovation and tradition. Chef Jason Franey has a talent for making even the ubiquitous foie gras torchons look more beautiful than anything you could ever imagine. JULIEN PERRY 2576 Aurora Ave. N., 283-3313, canlis.com $$$

Sam Crannell's cooking is so accomplished that his new Queen Anne restaurant will surely sail through spring, but the cozy neighborhood eatery this winter blasted chilly weather like a gust of heat from a Reznor unit. LloydMartin, a thoroughly manly joint named for Crannell's grandfathers, has a delicious talent for game meats and big red wines: Crannell's elk-ragù fettucine, which should be permanently exempt from seasonal rules that forbid year-round menu items, is a bold, earthy example of near-perfection, and many of his other dishes don't lag far behind. The dimly lit restaurant briefly switched to an all-reservations system when walk-in traffic proved inadequate, then permitted walk-ins again. As more diners catch on to what Crannell's doing, reservations may again become necessary. HANNA RASKIN 1525 Queen Anne Ave. N., 420-7602, lloydmartinseattle.com $$$

Granted, it's a chain, but unless you invest in your very own fondue set (and are responsible for cleanup afterwards), The Melting Pot is the best place in this city to break bread over a pot of bubbling cheese. Fondue is fantastic because it forces you to slow down. Diners must spear and dip foods into the pot carefully or risk drowning an innocent broccoli floret. The Melting Pot excels at providing an interactive dining experience as suitable for a romantic date as for a group outing. Your evening is set up to be fun and unique, but never intimidating. Case in point: The friendly servers provide you with "search and rescue spoons" for items you lose in your sea of bubbling Swiss. And come dessert, if you find dipping strawberries in chocolate too suggestive, you can dunk Rice Krispies Treats instead. ERIKA HOBART 14 Mercer St., 378-1208, meltingpot.com/seattle $$

Because bottom-shelf brands come with a shriveled worm in the bottle, mezcal's image is not especially highbrow in the eyes of many American drinkers. But in actuality, "the smoky spirit of Oaxaca" is tequila's more refined cousin. Mezcaleria Oaxaca stocks every brand of mezcal currently available in Washington, and offers a flight of three generous pours for $15 so novices can play the field before settling on a favorite variety. The food, meanwhile, is similar to the splendidly authentic Mexican fare served at its sister establishment, Ballard's Carta de Oaxaca. Stellar additions to the menu include gringas oaxaqueñas, marinated, spit-roasted pork with little bits of seared pineapple, drizzled with melted Oaxacan cheese, and served as tacos in handmade corn tortillas; and barbacoa cabrito, a chili-marinated, slow-roasted goat accompanied by a queso-speckled mole negro. KEEGAN HAMILTON 2123 Queen Anne Ave. N., 216-4446, mezcaleriaoaxaca.com $$

The prices are sky-high at Sky City, the Space Needle's revolving restaurant. But suck it up and plunk down some plastic, because there's no more iconic landmark dining room in Seattle. Under chef Jeff Maxfield, the food's actually worth the big bucks. For a little lighter check, go for lunch, when the crowd's not all decked out for proms or Grandma's 100th birthday. Order the flatbread topped with Quillisascut curado and Salumi guancale, then try some of the city's best fish-and-chips. (The crispy batter's spiked with Alpine pilsner.) Speaking of getting a buzz while twirling in the air, SkyCity's wine list is full of gems from Washington. and the prices are down-to-earth. Insider tip: Sign up online and SkyCity will treat you to a meal on your birthday or anniversary. LESLIE KELLY 400 Broad St., 905-2100, spaceneedle.com/restaurant $$$

SOUTH LAKE UNION

The organizing principle at Brave Horse Tavern, the most successful of the restaurants Tom Douglas debuted in 2011, is beer. If a dish screams for a brew, it's probably incredibly well-made here. Initial hoopla centered on the soft and doughy Bavarian pretzels, but the menu's studded with successful, subtly Germanic dishes that answer a drinker's call for salt and heft. Cheese curds are fried, a bratwurst shares a plate with mashed potatoes, and a juicy burger gets a lift from its Dahlia Bakery bun. Best of all, "tavern" isn't a throwaway term here: The dining room, with its picnic bench–style seating and shuffleboard tables, is always upbeat and noisy. HANNA RASKIN 310 Terry Ave. N., 971-0717, bravehorsetavern.com $$

MADISON PARK

Cormac Mahoney's Madison Park Conservatory is a paragon of civility, befitting the ultra-luxe neighborhood which surrounds it. But the young restaurant's refined cocktails and bespoke dining room don't signal stodginess. Mahoney, who gained local culinary notoriety by selling inventive tacos from a wooden crate outside 14 Carrot Cafe, brings a playful streak to his very pretty dishes. In the summer, there are leggy spot prawns with nuoc cham, best enjoyed on the waterfront deck. Winter finds the kitchen pickling, braising, and grilling beef tongues—which would probably make a fine taco filling. HANNA RASKIN 1927 43rd Ave. E., 324-9701, madisonparkconservatory.com $$$

BELLTOWN

Seattle's early risers can perhaps find more refined pastries at Café Besalu or Honore Artisan Bakery, and more sugary starters at any of the upscale doughnut shops, but nothing better steels a busy eater for the day ahead than Macrina Bakery's morning-glory muffin, a wholesome, rough-hewn handful of carrots, raisins, walnuts, apples, pineapple, and coconut. The 20-year-old bakery, the sweet-smelling manifestation of a philosophy heavy on whole grains and community connections, is like an all-grown-up 1970s cooperative, its handsome display cases crowded with consistently splendid plum rolls, monkey-bread twists, and savory scones. Beyond breakfast, Macrina makes a terrific baguette that frequently turns up in restaurant baskets. HANNA RASKIN 2408 First Ave. and other locations, macrinabakery.com $

Always the consummate beacon of classy dining in Belltown since its opening in July 2008, Spur has maintained a seasoned menu of high-quality ingredients and some of the most fun food you'll ever want to not eat because you'd rather play with it. Thanks to a knack for molecular gastronomy, proprietors Brian McCracken and Dana Tough take familiar ingredients and punch them up with a wow factor, turning ice cream into powder with liquid nitrogen or sticking an egg in the sous vide machine to create a softness you can't get with regular poaching. Spur's serious cocktail program has spawned rock-star bartenders like David Nelson, Nathan Weber, and Ian Cargill, to name only three. JULIEN PERRY 113 Blanchard St., 728-6706, spurseattle.com $$$

Tavolàta doesn't need to be the new kid on the block to be sexy. What makes this Belltown restaurant all sorts of seductive is the fact that it's been around for five years and is better than ever. The Italian-driven cuisine is helmed by chef Brandon Kirksey, the big salt in the kitchen, who at 27 is manning his crew with the fortitude of an old pro. Dishes like rigatoni, gnocchi alla romana, and the 16-ounce rib-eye steak will probably never leave the menu, but it's Kirksey's latest contributions that you really need to dig your fork into: the grilled cuttlefish salad, the whole branzino, or a simple side of rapini with garlic, chili, and lemon. The George Clooney of Seattle restaurants, Tavolàta really has gotten better with age. JULIEN PERRY 2323 Second Ave., 838-8008, ethanstowellrestaurants.com/tavolata $$$

Arriving with the first wave of food trucks, and also one of the first to bring the true food of New Orleans to the streets of Seattle, Matt Lewis' Where Ya At Matt cemented its spot in Seattle's culinary scene with the festive food of Lewis' flamboyant hometown. Keeping up with what's fresh, both in Seattle and New Orleans, the menu rotates nearly as often as the location, with King Cake for Mardi Gras, crawfish in season, the occasional pop-up gospel brunch, and the city's best po' boys all the time. There might be more trucks on the road and a few other places to find your shrimp and grits now, but nobody brings Southern charm and flavor to their cuisine quite like Matt and his staff. NAOMI BISHOP Mondays at First Avenue and Cedar Street; see whereyaatmatt.com for other locations. $

DOWNTOWN

Tucked beneath Pike Place Market and accessible only through an easy-to-miss door in Post Alley, The Alibi Room is one of the better-kept secrets in downtown dining. The wood-fired pizzas stand up to those served by Tom Douglas a few blocks away at Serious Pie, largely owing to fresh ingredients often sourced from the market above. During happy hour (3–6 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., noon–6 p.m. Fri.–Sun.), those pies are scaled down to a personal size that is well worth your $5, especially when washed down with a $3 pint of microbrew. The location makes it an ideal pre- or post-concert stop during a night out at the nearby Showbox, and it's not uncommon to spot musicians sneaking away from the venue to warm up or wind down at the Alibi Room's candlelit bar. KEEGAN HAMILTON 85 Pike St. #410 (in Post Alley), 623-3180, seattlealibi.com $–$$

While waiting in line to place an order for agnolotti, tagliatelle, or any of the other hand-crafted pastas on the daily-changing menu of noodle dishes at Il Corvo, flour virtuoso Mike Easton's cash-only weekday lunch spot, a glass of wine might seem an unnecessary midday indulgence. But Easton's extraordinary pastas and soulful sauces, wrought from whatever ingredients strike his current fancy, are too sensuous to pair with water. Easton's creations, incongruously sold from behind the counter at a gelato shop abutting a bug museum, are vivid reminders that authenticity is a matter not only of provisions and technique, but honest appreciation. Order a glass of chianti or pinot grigio, sit, and savor. Repeat tomorrow. HANNA RASKIN 1501 Western Ave., Suite 300, 622-4280, ilcorvopasta.com $

Matt's in the Market's newly reconfigured kitchen gives chef Chet Gerl and his crack crew room to work their creative juices, and the dishes coming off that line lately have never tasted better. Let's start with the stellar headcheese, nothing like that nasty stuff Oscar Mayer puts out. This version includes succulent chunks of meat muscled into one neat cake sautéed to a crispy gold. It's a damn smart choice for a starter, as are the spectacular grilled octopus, the piquant Dungeness crab ceviche, and, hell yeah, don't you dare miss the deviled eggs. Mains are outstanding, too. Added bonus: Matt's mixmasters make amazing cocktails. And then there's that view. Hello, beautiful Pike Place Market. LESLIE KELLY 94 Pike St., 467-7909, mattsinthemarket.com $$$

The dry-aged, exquisitely marbled steaks at The Metropolitan Grill are the stuff of meat-eaters' dreams. These perfectly grilled hunks of flesh are one of the rare instances in which "melt-in-your-mouth tender" is not an overworked cliché. But for those of us not on an expense account, a tab at The Met can induce a heart attack. That's why happy hour at the old-school bar is so sweet. Go surf-and-turf with a trio of oyster shooters and the roast-beef dip for just $6. Or get that juicy burger. With all the money you're saving, splurge on a high-end glass of something—and be nice, as the bartender might top you off. LESLIE KELLY 820 Second Ave., 624-3287, themetropolitangrill.com $$$

For the vast majority of American eaters, the word "ramen" implies a pale brick of noodles wrapped in plastic and packaged with a silver packet of "Oriental Flavor" bouillon. For those accustomed to instant ramen, the soup they dish up at Okinawa Teriyaki is a revelation. It is a thing of beauty served in an earthenware bowl, with a mound of grilled meat roughly the size of Mt. Fuji heaped atop the wavy, relatively thick noodles and a garden's worth of fresh vegetables nestled beneath the cloudy, egg-infused broth. With prices ranging from $6.99 for veggie to $9.99 for tofu and shrimp, the ramen is slightly pricier than the ultra-cheap teriyaki and other (mostly deep-fried) options on Okinawa's menu, but it's still one of the best bang-for-your-buck lunches downtown. KEEGAN HAMILTON 1100 Western Ave., 447-2648 $

Oriental Mart had its star turn this year, when a fan persuaded Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern to deviate from his planned Pike Place itinerary for Leila Rosas' sinigang. The soup, made with mustard greens and salmon collar, inspired Zimmern to deliver a soliloquy about fresh ingredients and simple cooking, the very attributes that for decades have drawn customers to this lunch counter in a Filipino dry-goods shop. Rosas works alongside her mother, sister, and daughter—"it's a three-generation restaurant run by women," says Rosas' mother—to produce exemplary adobos, noodles, and beef spare ribs. HANNA RASKIN 1506 Pike Place, 622-8488 $

Open since 1992, Piroshky Piroshky is easily one of Pike Place Market's most popular shops. But don't let the long line that wraps around and beyond its premises discourage you: The Russian bakery's skilled workers knead dough at a steady pace and dole out their in-demand pastries in a friendly but efficient manner. Piroshky Piroshky specializes in warm buns filled with blissful bites of apple and cinnamon, cabbage and onion, and smoked salmon paté. It's impossible to go wrong whatever your choice. Still skeptical? Check out the store's guest book, full of handwritten love notes from travelers from as far as Argentina, Japan, and, yes, even Russia. Anthony Bourdain is also a fan. ERIKA HOBART 1908 Pike Place, 441-6068, piroshkybakery.com $

When New Yorker writer and professional intellectual Adam Gopnik last visited Seattle, he mused that what's needed for the eating-out experience to flourish is wine, to beckon diners away from their everyday cares, and coffee, to refocus them when the meal's concluded. Seattle excels at both ends, but there's perhaps no better place to explore the wine side of the equation than RN74, the new downtown restaurant from Michael Mina. The French-leaning menu is terrific—and affordable at happy hour—but wine is what defines RN74, named for the road which winds through Burgundy. A giant train departure board flips to signal when significant bottles are sold, and the impeccably trained staff is ready to help customers plot their wine adventures. HANNA RASKIN 1433 Fourth Ave., 456-7474, michaelmina.net $$$

Even in the pouring rain, Salumi is worth waiting in line for. That's because once you're inside, the greeting's so warm from the seasoned pros on the sandwich-making line. While it's hard to pass up those swell signature sammies, it's worth exploring under-the-radar goodies such as the hot meat plate, an assortment of carnivorous delights. Or carve out a little more time and dine in courses, starting with the fantastic soup before moving onto the daily pasta. Wanna beat the rush? Call it "linner" (lunch + dinner) and go at 3 p.m. And no, dear tourists: You're not going to see Mario Batali at Salumi. But you will see his sister, Gina, and maybe his mom and pop, Marilyn and Armandino. LESLIE KELLY 309 Third Ave S., 621-8772, salumicuredmeats.com $

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for fishermen, and Tom Douglas has made sure that eaters not equipped with poles—or a knack for waking before dawn—don't miss out on the waterfront tradition. At Seatown, his newest restaurant in the Pike Place neighborhood, Douglas serves a fabulous breakfast menu that runs through the start of happy hour. There's a dense congee (simmered in pork broth, crowned with a poached egg, and accompanied by the requisite Chinese doughnut), omelets folded over Beecher's Flagship cheese, and spine-straightening Bloody Marys goosed with pickle juice. But the real find is the kitchen's coastal riff on an Egg McMuffin, featuring sweet Dungeness crab and avocado. HANNA RASKIN 2010 Western Ave., 436-0390, tomdouglas.com $

PIONEER SQUARE

Pioneer Square is known more for its appeal to suburban 20-somethings looking to get blind drunk than as a dynamic neighborhood where people actually live. But explore it comprehensively, and you'll see an area well equipped to mimic a historic European town center on a sunny afternoon. Luigi DeNunzio has long seen this potential, opening, closing, and reopening a slew of Italian restaurants over the past quarter-century in an area he's long proclaimed to be Seattle's Little Italy. Even if that boot has never quite fit the way DeNunzio has dreamed it would, his Al Boccalino is a gorgeous, friendly space in which to enjoy a surprisingly affordable two-hour lunch (accompanied by wine, naturally) a block from the sea, just like in Vernazza. MIKE SEELY 1 Yesler Way, 622-7688 $$

The Cheez Whiz–slathered Philly cheesesteaks at Tat's Deli are so tasty, cheap, and authentic that lunch-hour lines regularly stretch out the door. The restaurant's website even has a "line cam" so customers will know how long they should expect to wait. But to beat the crowd, skip lunch altogether and try Tat's breakfast sandwiches instead. Served on the same hefty hoagies, these gut-busters come oozing melted cheese, and are stuffed with a fried egg, grilled onions and peppers, and your choice of meat. The steak option features the same finely shredded beef that overflows from their Phillies, but the best filling might be the Italian-Copa, a thin-sliced Italian cold cut that glistens with grease after a stint in the oven. The servings are large enough that you can eat half for breakfast and save the rest for an afternoon snack—or eat the whole thing and use that lunch break for a much-needed siesta. KEEGAN HAMILTON 159 Yesler Way, 264-8287, tatsdeli.com $

INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT

Other Taiwanese places may try, but Henry's Taiwan Plus has got it nailed. Henry's new menu makes up for what the original lacked in catering to the tastes of the inexperienced. The "Plus" in its new name is perhaps an indication that this is the food owner Henry Ku has wanted to serve the whole time, the food he misses from home—authentic dishes, minus the pussyfooting. He proudly serves a corpse-reviving Sun Spring Noodle and features a Taiwanese breakfast sold daily. Other Taiwanese restaurants may want to follow suit, but until then, you'll still have Henry's. TIFFANY RAN 522 S. King St., 682-0389 $$

Seattle's trying valiantly to get a handle on Southern-style smoked meat, but it's an old hand at char siu, or Chinese pork barbecue. The best examples of the genre are served at Kau Kau, where the roasted pig makes a stunning case for salt and fat. The mahogany-hued, crisped-skin pork is juicy and fresh, and while it's terrifically delectable served plain, it also provides the foundation for exemplary fried rices and noodle soups. The meat's also ridiculously cheap. In addition to pork, Kau Kau roasts chickens and ducks, and will do the same for turkey on Thanksgiving by special request. HANNA RASKIN 656 S. King St., 682-4006, kaukaubbq.com $

Nestled upstairs above a video-rental corner and a travel agency, Maekawa is a counterpart of neighborhood bars in Japan, serving late-night izakaya to work-weary men in business suits. In Seattle, the crowd is different and the space is one of the International District's best-known secrets. A constantly rotating specials board tempts loyal customers from their usual takoyaki, but regular staples keep them coming back: a warm bowl of ramen on a cold night or a filling donburi rice bowl paired with a cold Sapporo. The only thing left to say is Kanpai! TIFFANY RAN 601 S. King St., Suite 206, 622-0634 $$

Before visiting Mike's Noodle House, I had a children's-book conception of what I'd find in the snug International District restaurant. I imagined Mike, in a soda-jerk paper hat, ladling out long strands of stretchy wheat-flour noodles. As the joint's many fans know, my contrived image was completely off-base. Waitresses take the orders here, and noodle service is conducted behind the scenes. And while the noodles, imported from Vancouver, B.C., are emblems of texture and flavor, it's the congee that deserves title billing. The salty rice porridge, a canvas for ginger, soy, and green onions, is lulling and light. The varieties showcase all kinds of animals and their parts, but the dried-oyster-and-pork version is a standout. HANNA RASKIN 418 Maynard Ave. S., 389-7099 $

When I moved to Seattle and confronted the sheer number of pho joints, I secretly wished the city was served by a giant broth warehouse, supplying all the restaurants with the same soup and saving me the trouble of acquainting myself with the quirks of every pho house's signature dish. But as Bagel Bites and Hot Pockets prove, there are serious culinary trade-offs for efficiency: Pho homogeneity would deny eaters the chance to marvel at the stupendously fresh broth at Pho So 1, a balanced soup with a beefiness that soars in the basso profondo register. From whence does this flavor come? Pho So 1 answers the question by fishing long-simmering beef shanks out of their pho pots and plopping them on customer tables. HANNA RASKIN 1207 S. Jackson St., #107, 860-2824 $

There are restaurants within walking distance of Tai Tung that serve smarter, braver Cantonese food, yet Tai Tung will probably outlast them all. Dining at the 77-year-old restaurant is like training a spyglass on the early 20th century, when American-born eaters were still puzzling out chop suey and chow mein. The extraordinary alchemy of soy, garlic, and ginger that thrust Chinese restaurants into the mainstream is on display in nearly every dish on Tai Tung's very lengthy menu, which surely includes your first Chinese-food crush. For the quintessential Tai Tung experience, have your egg rolls, egg drop soup, mu shu chicken, and Peking duck at the white formica counter. HANNA RASKIN 655 S. King St., 622-7372 $

GEORGETOWN

The most astonishing menu item at Katsu Burger is the Mt. Fuji, a ziggurat of bacon, cheese, chicken, beef, and tonkatsu, the familiar breaded pork cutlet that provided inspiration for Hajime Sato's new Georgetown burger joint. But if the sandwich is big, Sato's ambitions are bigger: He intends to make the single-patty version of his spectacular fried burger a signature Seattle dish. Sato, who famously transitioned his West Seattle sushi bar, Mashiko, to an all-sustainable lineup, has smartly melded fresh ingredients, Japanese traditions, and American sensibilities in his breaded concoction. He reports that Japanese-born eaters are skittish about the bun and American-born eaters flinch at the frying, but Sato's instincts are terrific. The juicy burgers are best enjoyed with nori-flecked fries and a green-tea milkshake. HANNA RASKIN 6538 Fourth Ave. S., 762-0752 $

MOUNT BAKER

It's easy enough to gravitate toward familiar Thai dishes—pad thai, tom yum, etc.—at Viengthong, but if you're a fan of the familiar, chances are you wouldn't find yourself here in the first place. So live a little: The menu's Thai dishes aren't nearly as notable as its Lao ones, where sour, sweet, and (potentially atomic) heat play off each other in dishes like nam khao: a "salad" of sorts with crispy fried rice, ground peanuts, chili paste, coconut flakes, and fermented pork wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves. Unlike Thai food, Lao dishes are meant to be eaten entirely with your hands (and almost always with sticky rice), so wash up first. CHELSEA LIN 2820 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., 725-3884 $$

COLUMBIA CITY

Geraldine's Counter serves an array of scrumptious dishes, and the place is always packed. There's beautifully puffed French toast, and plentiful scrambles make their way to other people's tables. But this sunny, upscale diner has earned a place in our heart for one reason: its unparalleled BLT. Actually, make that a BAAT, because you're offered the option of adding avocado (which you absolutely should), and instead of lettuce there's arugula, adding a slight sharpness that contrasts perfectly with the bacon. And did we mention that the bacon is especially meaty and crispy? NINA SHAPIRO 4872 Rainier Ave. S., 723-2080, geraldinescounter.com $

Adored for its diversity and community cheer, the Columbia City Farmers Market is out of reach for many market shoppers, who can't manage a weekday afternoon trip to the south Seattle neighborhood. La Medusa's got those unlucky eaters covered with its Wednesday-night suppers, made from whatever its chefs deemed most striking when they ambled down the block to shop. While the market menu is tremendously popular, freshness isn't an occasional event at this homey bistro, which specializes in "Sicilian soul food." In the summer, look for vibrant pestos and just-plucked tomatoes; winter brings pork belly, kale, and superior gnocchi. HANNA RASKIN 4857 Rainier Ave. S., 723-2192, lamedusarestaurant.com $$

WEST SEATTLE

Locöl Barley & Vine made a lot of residents happy when it opened, not in The Junction where the cool stuff usually resides, but rather just off 35th in a former tanning salon. It's got everything a neighborhood bar needs: a fireplace for when it's cold, a patio for when it's warm, cozy tables with pillows when you don't want to sit on a stool, and really cool salvaged-looking light fixtures that keep you from looking salvaged when you've tied on one too many. The wine and beer list is 95 percent Washington and Oregon and the food is 100 percent creative, mainly because there isn't really a kitchen at all. The tiny four-by-five-foot space, which boasts a whopping two burners and a teeny oven, is (luckily) run by chef Charlie Worden, whose resume includes Skillet. He manages to pump out fresh salads, sandwiches, soups, and some of the best pork tacos this side of Elliott Bay. In addition to its weekday happy hours, Locöl offers wine discounts from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends. Talk about a good neighbor. JULIEN PERRY 7902 35th Ave. S.W., 708-7725, locolseattle.com $$

Sometimes you crave home cookin'—from Grandma's kitchen, not your own. One-year-old Meander's Kitchen doesn't shy away from grease or the time required to give you that delightfully familial experience. Everything is cooked to order and prepared with love . . . and butter. Late night on weekends is a great time to check it out, as breakfast requires you to show up before the door's unlocked should you wish to avoid waiting in a line as long as the West Seattle Bridge. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR 6032 California Ave. S.W., 932-9840 $

RAINIER VALLEY

In a town awash in Vietnamese food of all stripes, from high-end to the tiniest hole-in-the-wall pho joint, Ben Thanh offers the best of all worlds: a pleasant setting, authentic food, good service, and prices that can't be beat. Sports might play silently on the televisions as tables full of Vietnamese men drink beer. The servers coming to your table are always happy to make suggestions—there's more to the menu than what's printed, so it pays to ask. The food is always fresh, and it tastes pretty darn close to what you'd get at its namesake, the central market of Saigon. NAOMI BISHOP 2815 S. Hanford St., 760-9263 $

Perhaps the best-traveled concept in Seattle, the Cajun Crawfish specializes in the spicy mudbugs innovated by Vietnamese fishermen who settled on the Gulf Coast after fleeing their homeland. The cuisine was standardized in California, where restaurants like the Boiling Crab draw huge crowds with their butter-slicked crawfish sporting thick coats of lemon pepper and Cajun seasoning. The Cajun Crawfish does right by the young tradition, serving up bags of sloppy crawfish, potatoes, and corn. But what makes its rendition worth seeking out is the soft, crusty baguette, essential for sopping up the garlicky sauce, that typifies the Vietnamese mastery of bread. HANNA RASKIN 6951 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., Suite 103, 432-9488, thecajuncrawfish.com $

WHITE CENTER

The benefits of owning an adjacent butchery are not lost on White Center's El Paisano Rosticeria Y Cocina, where the tacos come with an array of proteins: tripe, cheek, barbecued pork, fish, or shrimp. A dish of birria (braised goat) falls apart in a chili sauce still flecked with bits of slowly dissolving tendon. For customers on the go, there are $1 tamales served at the butchery and market next door, where dark chorizo hanging from a rod points downward at a bin of chicharrónes the size of a child's torso. TIFFANY RAN 9615 15th Ave. S.W., 763-0368 $

The authentic Cambodian flavors you'll find at Queen's Deli are strong and occasionally stinky, in the best way. A form of fish sauce constitutes the base of many soups and dishes. The staff is helpful in sorting out what might work for you, going over the menu (which goes beyond the buffet line), from spring rolls and crepes to noodles and salads. For milder palate-pleasers, the desserts here may not be familiar, but they are wonderful homemade treasures. NAOMI BISHOP 9808 14th Ave. S.W., 767-8363 $

You know you've found a great neighborhood bar when the strangers there decide to reseat themselves according to team loyalties. Roxbury Lanes is such a bar, but it's also a bowling alley and a Chinese diner, serving fried dry chicken wings that could go tip-to-tip with any wing in the International District. Sweet with fresh garlic, the wings are meaty and crisp, and pair wonderfully with cheap Bloody Marys on Sunday afternoons. Roxbury's kitchen stays open until 4 a.m., serving such fine-tuned plates as a plush fried rice, scattered with peas, carrots, and stones of roast pork. HANNA RASKIN 2823 S.W. Roxbury St., 935-7400, roxburylanes.com $

When seeking the best, go to the source. When it comes to bánh mì—Vietnamese sandwiches—in Seattle, that motto will lead you to Seattle Roll Bakery, where you'll also find some of the best baked goods around. This small White Center bakery creates the bread used in most of the bánh mì in the city. Here at their own counter, they serve sandwiches on that same crispy bread, straight out of the oven, along with Vietnamese coffee and a daily variety of authentic savory and sweet baked goods. English isn't the dominant language, so if your Vietnamese is rusty, you can't always be sure what's inside the flaky puff pastry, but the good news is that everything is fantastic. There's not much seating (only a few stools against the window), but standing up just means the flaky pastry and breadcrumbs fall straight to the floor. NAOMI BISHOP 9828 16th Ave. S.W., 763-6435 $

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND

On the ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, an imaginary line is crossed. The short walk from the terminal to the restaurant means that you can leave your car and the hustle and bustle of the city back on the mainland. Stepping into Hitchcock only amplifies the feeling of serenity, with its cool, sparse decor. The food is similarly unadorned, designed to show off the simplicity of the ingredients. Specialties demonstrate the bounty of Bainbridge and the locals who forage and farm in the area, each dish executed with skill by chef Brendan McGill in the restaurant named for his wife's family, longtime island residents. NAOMI BISHOP 133 Winslow Way E., 201-3789, hitchcockrestaurant.com $$

BELLEVUE

Sometimes likened to the Applebee's of China, the Little Sheep Hot Pot chain is so renowned in its home country that a gutsy Bellevue entrepreneur in 2009 took advantage of a copyright law quirk to open a fraudulent Little Sheep. The real restaurant strutted in two years later, confident its broth would persuade patrons of its authenticity. Although Little Sheep is also fighting the pretender in court, the broth seems to be working its intended magic. The 200-seat restaurant is routinely packed with families anxious to swipe lamb shoulder and mushrooms through garlicky broth strengthened with hambones, lotus seeds, dried lychees, goji berries, and oodles of cumin. Side dishes are equally excellent: Don't miss the vinegar peanuts and lamb pies. HANNA RASKIN 1411 156th Ave. N.E., Suite A, 425-653-1625, littlesheephotpot.com $$

Call it blasphemy, but Spiced can keep Szechuan food lovers happily dining on the Eastside without wanting for Seattle's goods. Thinly sliced gizzards with a smattering of chilies, and the chili-infested dry-pot lamb, inspire head-to-toe tingles. Those not up for the heat can cool down with shredded potatoes, pig ears, tongue, and more. Though as hard as they push the chilies, it's the vegetable dishes which offer the most welcome reprieve for a mouth-tingling meal. TIFFANY RAN 1299 156th Ave. N.E., 425-644-8888 $$

A newcomer to the Eastside's oft-overlooked Overlake Square Mall, Udupi Café and Chaat Corner serves vegetarian South Indian dishes with unexpected indulgences to satisfy any hunger. Soft lentil donuts, architectural dosas, and crisply fried batura bread make the fork and spoon seem like weapons of oppression. The neighboring Chaat Corner serves street food–inspired bites and desserts with effervescent textures and a no-holds-barred spice factor. TIFFANY RAN 14625 N.E. 24th St., Suite 3, 425-401-2009, udupicafewa.com $$

ISSAQUAH

In a town of 10,000 Thai restaurants (or so it seems), the best is actually a short drive away: Issaquah's Noodle Boat. Three reasons: 1) There are many unique dishes. 2) Prices are great, with most plates at $10 or less. 3) Noodle Boat doesn't dial down the spice. Pay special attention to the third, as Noodle Boat closes for six weeks each winter for a working family vacation in Thailand to make chili paste for the restaurant. Start with mieng kum: roasted coconut, peanuts, red onion, Thai chili, ginger, lime, palm sugar sauce, and dried shrimp that you wrap in a cha-pu leaf. The explosion of flavors previews a menu full of fantastic food. JAY FRIEDMAN 700 N.W. Gilman Blvd., 425-391-8096, noodleboat.com $$

KIRKLAND

It's easy to drive by The Crab Cracker without a second glance, given the array of more attractive restaurants that populate downtown Kirkland. But make no mistake: If your appetite for crab is insatiable, this restaurant is a sure bet. The tasty crustacean dominates the menu; lunchtime favorites include the crab salad Monte Cristo and the housemade crab bisque, while dinner offers fancier fare like baked Dungeness Crab au gratin and broiled bacon-wrapped prawns stuffed with crab. The only place you won't find crab is on the dessert menu. But if you have a bizarre hankering, the kitchen could probably swing that, too. ERIKA HOBART 452 Central Way, 425-827-8700, crabcracker.com $$

Trellis, in Kirkland's Heathman Hotel, offers a fine farm-to-table dining experience that celebrates the Pacific Northwest. It may well be the most underrated restaurant in the Seattle area. In charge is chef Brian Scheehser, an organic farmer with 10 acres just minutes away; his harvest helps determine the evening's menu. You may be carnivorous, but no one will need to tell you to eat your vegetables here. Besides, no worries: Scheehser also has a way with meat and fish. On Sundays and Mondays, the three-course meal for $29 is a steal—plus, 29 wines are available at half-price. The lemon-sage flan is a must-end for your meal. JAY FRIEDMAN 220 Kirkland Ave., 425-284-5900, heathmankirkland.com/trellis $$$

LYNNWOOD

If asked, Budapest Bistro owner Elizabeth Muszka will tell you about her daily routine, which involves visiting the market every morning; spending 14 hours in the kitchen, baking tortes and stewing pork; running the cash register during dinner service; and staying as late as 4 a.m. to hand-mix sausages. But diners don't really have to ask: The food's freshness and fidelity to age-old Hungarian cooking techniques are apparent on every plate. It's no accident that the restaurant serves as a regular meeting venue for the state's Austrian Club. Yet even eaters without ties to the old country will appreciate the brawn of Muszka's sauerkraut stew and the richness of her mushroom soup. HANNA RASKIN 12926 Mukilteo Speedway, 425-513-9846, budapestbistrofood.com $

Nicknamed "Tasty Wok" by its legions of adoring fans, Taster's Wok is one of the few Lynnwood restaurants you'll regularly find packed to the gills with legions of Americanized Asian-food fans—and karaoke lovers. While the restaurant does offer more traditional versions of dishes ranging in influence from Chinese to Indian, its generous selection of faux meat dishes—crispy pot stickers, tangy mu shu "pork," even spicy kung pao "chicken"—can inspire even the laziest vegetarian to brave I-5 traffic. Its best-known veggie dish is the $8.95 General's Chicken: cubes of processed fake chicken steaming in a crunchy fried crust and lovingly enveloped in a sweet, tangy, otherworldly red sauce. ZIBBY WILDER 15128 Hwy. 99, 425-787-6789 $

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE

Brothers Gabe and Monty Slimp relocated their smoke shack, Gabriel's Fire, from Ballard to Mountlake Terrace in the fall of 2011. Loyal fans followed the smell of whole log fires and smoking brisket, ribs, chicken, and more, creating an occasional wait at the diminutive restaurant. Ten different housemade sauce options are available: a tangy but traditional barbecue sauce, a Carolina sauce with more pepper and vinegar, teriyaki and Thai-inspired sauces, and several hotter sauces. Sandwiches range from $6–$10 and are served on warm sandwich rolls from Grand Central Bakery. You can get sides of fries, slaw, beans, greens, and mac 'n' cheese for $2–$4. Local microbrews and sweet tea are available to wash it all down. SONJA GROSET 5803 244th St. S.W., 425-697-4119, gabrielsfire.com $

REDMOND

Complaining about Seattle's lack of decent bagels is nearly as popular a local pastime as composting, which makes the existence of Blazing Bagels horribly inconvenient. The good-humored Redmond shop, incongruously located in an industrial park, bakes bagels with the perfect ratio of crust to chew. Blazing produces snickerdoodle, blueberry, and bacon-cheddar-chive "bagels," but purists shouldn't be put off by the deviant dough experiments: The poppy bagels are jacketed in fresh poppy seeds, and the pumpernickel are admirably robust. HANNA RASKIN 6975 176th Ave. N.E., #365, 425-883-1550, blazingbagels.com $

RENTON

There is incredible variety to Southeast Asian cuisine, yet what most of us know comes from Indian restaurants that offer the same dozen or so dishes. Those who yearn for more can look to Madhur Jaffrey's glorious cookbooks—or they can visit Naan -n- Curry, located in Renton and well worth the drive. This unpretentious establishment serves Pakistani food. According to its gregarious staff, the difference between this and Indian fare lies partly in fewer spices and more distinct flavors in each dish. You'll get some unusual dishes here, such as lamb with bitter melon, an oblong green fruit that offers an intense, pungent flavor. You'll also find the familiar, including naan with just the right amount of charcoaled crust and homemade pistachio and almond ice creams. NINA SHAPIRO 709 S. Third St., 425-271-6226, naanncurry.com $

SHORELINE

At Grinder's Hot Sands, the sandwiches aren't cheap—most are between $10 and $12—but they're enough for a hearty meal plus leftovers, or to share between two people. Try The Dipper, packed with roast beef made in-house, with portobello mushrooms and caramelized onions on warm ciabatta bread spread with horseradish and melted cheese. Served with a side of jus, it's a drippy, dippy, meaty mess, but worth every bite. The Gilbano is a highbrow cheesesteak (owner Mitch Gilbert is a Pennsylvania native): Thinly sliced steak is grilled with sweet and spicy peppers, garlic, and caramelized onions. The mixture mingles all the flavors, and is added to tangy gorgonzola and mozzarella cheese on an Italian roll. There's wine on tap from Proletariat, imported beer in bottles like Chimay and Krušovice, and live music on Saturday nights. SONJA GROSET 19811 Aurora Ave. N., 542-0627, grindershotsands.com $

VASHON ISLAND

Farm-to-table is wildly en vogue these days, but no restaurant in Seattle exemplifies the phrase better than Vashon Island's La Boucherie, owned and operated by animal and dairy producers Sea Breeze Farm. The first thing diners see when they walk in is a glass butcher case full of the products—from porchetta to patés, chops to chorizo—on which they'll be dining. And because few healthy people want to eat just a pile of meat, the dishes on the menu—which changes weekly—are artfully crafted with Sea Breeze cheeses and locally sourced fruits and veggies. A recent dinner consisted of chicken confit in a moat of sweet carrot purée, followed by a farm ricotta-and-hazelnut cheesecake so fresh you could almost hear the cows mooing in the background. ERIN K. THOMPSON 17635 100th Ave. S.W., 567-4628, seabreezefarm.net $$$

 
comments powered by Disqus