Hot Pockets: Off-the-Beaten-Path Neighborhoods Where the Eating Is Good

Don’t miss these five vibrant culinary “micro-hoods.”

We all know the foodie hearts of our neighborhoods—the well-tread avenues brimming with restaurants and bars, like Ballard Avenue, Queen Anne Avenue, California Avenue, Occidental Avenue, Jackson Street, and so on.

But what about the more hidden, off-the-beaten-path stretches within (or bordering) these neighborhoods that also have a culinary gem, or two or three? Maybe you know some well, but maybe not. We’ve come up with five micro-hoods—or as we like to call them, “hot pockets.” With notable restaurants, cafes, and bars both old and new, they’re well worth keeping on your radar.

SOUTH JACKSON STREET

As you climb up Jackson Street away from the International District, you pass a mix of nondescript industrial buildings and aging apartments. With a few exceptions, storefront businesses and restaurants are not common here.

But eventually you notice, out of the corner of your eye, the Field Roast headquarters (1440 S. Jackson St.), the company behind the high-end, grain-based fake meat so brilliantly crafted into sausage links, frankfurters, loaves, cutlets, and deli slices. This is perhaps your first indication that there’s more to this no-man’s land.

It’s a few more blocks before you hit an actual restaurant, though. Cheeky Cafe (1700 S. Jackson) beckons with its bright turquoise walls and high ceilings. The best bet here is a weekend brunch, and though the food is good, you won’t have to compete for a table. Dig into an encyclopedia-sized block of Cheeky French toast, which is stuffed with pastry cream and your choice of bananas, chocolate, peanut butter, or seasonal berries and deep-fried just enough to crisp the edges while keeping the inside spongy. If that isn’t enough, it comes with two eggs and a side of bacon. This is also one of the rare places you can get your hands on Native American fry bread, served here with cinnamon sugar or plain, but always with a side of freezer jam.

For now, you can cross the street and visit Umai-do, the Japanese sweets shop (1825 S. Jackson). Sticky, candy-colored mochi pack the case, and owner Art Oki happily takes questions and explains his offerings.

Over at Northwest Tofu Inc. (1913 S. Jackson), you’ll find homestyle Chinese with an emphasis on—you guessed it—tofu. It’s made in-house, incorporated into the menu and also available for take-home purchase on its own.

Past the busy intersection at 23rd and Jackson, you might barely notice tiny Standard Brewing peeking out from under an apartment building (2504 S. Jackson). Former home brewer Justin Gerardy is concocting hops-heavy brews like his Wet Hop Ale and Imperial IPA, a fascinating take on ginger beer, and other rotating brews.

End the tour at newly opened Central Pizza (2901 S. Jackson), a welcome addition to an area barren of more than a handful of restaurants. Thin-crust pizza offers both meaty and vegetarian options, plus a choice of gluten-free dough.

NORTHEAST 55TH STREET

Northeast 55th Street is speckled with independently owned, low-key eateries frequented by neighbors living within walking distance. But it’s worth the drive for the rest of us. Tucked a few blocks north of the glossy U-Village at the border of Ravenna and the U District, the street is a mini globe-trot of Greek, Spanish, English, and Thai joints strung across a series of 10 blocks that begins at 25th Avenue.

The family-owned Krua Thai (2515 N.E. 55th) sits just past that intersection. The small interior is simple and unfussy, but the space becomes colorful on the weekends when families and college students tuck into plates of rama noodles and pad see ew. Krua’s kitchen churns out solid standbys that satisfy, including Autumn Curry with kabocha squash that sticks to the ribs on cold nights.

Walk several doors down to Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor (2616 N.E. 55th). The menu includes classics that adorned supper-club tables decades back, including oysters Rockefeller and steak tartare, alongside cheddar biscuits and deviled eggs. Frank’s homey-meets-upscale menu and warmly lit room make it a solid pick for date night.

The same couple that owns Frank’s is behind Pair (5501 30th Ave. N.E.) a few blocks to the east. Pair’s cozy dining room works its magic on long, rainy nights, with a menu serving elevated comfort food. You might have to wait for a table, but the smoked lamb ribs and potato-leek gratin easily justify sipping a glass of red for 20 minutes before being seated.

If you find yourself with a couple of free hours in the middle of the day, try the traditional English tea service at Queen Mary Tea (2912 N.E. 55th). Opened 25 years back, Queen Mary is the oldest independent tea room in the U.S. Mismatched floral curtains and wide wicker chairs fill the dining room, where even bangers and mash are served on flowery china.

Closer to 35th Avenue Northeast, you’ll find family-run Spanish bistro Gaudi (3410 N.E. 55th). Tapas like chorizo and lamb kebabs abound here, alongside paella meant for parties of two or more (try the paella negra, dyed with squid ink). Neighboring eatery Taverna Mazi (3426 N.E. 55th) glows at night with hanging orange lights. Mazi’s Greek fare covers the usual pita and dips, but its well-made cocktails, souvlaki, and feta fries steal the show.

WHITE CENTER

The main drag along Southwest Roxbury Street perfectly encapsulates West Seattle’s diverse White Center—a startling mix of auto-parts stores, buildings from the neighborhood’s founding in the early 1900s, nail salons, churches, and modest homes that hint at the area’s historic diversity, thanks to cheap real estate and a wealth of small commercial spaces. It’s not uncommon to hear Spanish, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Arabic, or Somali as you walk down these streets.

The neighborhood’s restaurants reflect this, too. The Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant (1719 S.W. Roxbury) is one of the most recognizable spots in central White Center, opened in 1996 by emigrant sisters Aminta and Ana. Here you’ll find traditional dishes for Holy Week, Day of the Dead, and Christmas, plus a slew of products for sale from Mexico and Central and South America. There’s a small restaurant, too, where pupusas, tamales, carne asada, and beef-feet soup grace the menu.

Just down the street, Taqueria Guaymas (1622 S.W. Roxbury) serves platters of massive burritos smothered in sauces like chile colorado or salsa roja. Zippy’s Giant Burgers (9614 14th Ave. S.W.) is here, too, where Mama Lil’s peppers and secret sauce are among the toppings. For pho, wander down to Pho Tai (1521 S.W. 98th St.) or Pho-White Center (9642 16th Ave. S.W.).

16th Avenue is also home to Proletariat Pizza (9622-A 16th Ave. S.W.), known for its thin crust and fresh ingredients; patrons drive here from around the city and swear this is Seattle’s best pizza—or at least a strong contender. Standouts include The Favorite, featuring housemade Italian sausage, fresh garlic, Mama Lil’s peppers, mozzarella, and tomato sauce, and the White Center White, topped with ricotta, fresh garlic, flecks of oregano, and mozzarella on an olive-oil base. Save room for Full Tilt’s ice cream and pinball, just across the street (9629 16th Ave. S.W.).

Last fall, Meander’s Kitchen (9635 16th Ave. S.W.) moved from West Seattle, bringing its legion of fans. It doesn’t matter that Meander’s has no website and is cash-only; diners come in droves for the local, seasonal ingredients featured in breakfast comfort food like scrambles and Benedicts.

Two favorite drinking establishments in White Center include Company Bar and Big Al Brewing. Company (9608 16th Ave. S.W.) sits on the corner of Roxbury and Southwest 16th, serving specialty cocktails, beer, and wine to wash down kebabs, braised pork sopas, or creative twists on fries that involve either eggplant or chickpeas. The taps at Big Al’s tasting room (9832 14th Ave. S.W.) flow with favorites like the smoked porter and Big Hoppa IPA.

JAPANTOWN

Among the ID’s predominance of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants also exist a pocket of Japanese restaurants that deserve your attention.

From Uwajimaya (600 Fifth Ave. S.), walk north to South Jackson Street, the southernmost part of historical Japantown. Starting in the 1800’s, industrialization displaced many rural Japanese farmers at the same time American railroad building required them. Seattle received thousands of new immigrants a year, who settled in the neighborhood north of Jackson and started businesses like the Panama Hotel and Maneki Restaurant—which, except for closures during WWII, when Executive Order 9066 mandated internment for Japanese Americans, have been open ever since. To this day, there is even Japanese on the street signs.

Stop at the Panama Hotel (605½ S. Main St.) for tea and a handmade Japanese sweet. Be sure not to miss the display: immaculate, kimono-dressed antique dolls; old leather luggage; clothes; furniture—a bit of the lives people hoped to reclaim when they got back from the camps. These items on display never were.

When you’re done with your tea, walk clear around the block. Across from a gallery on the corner, which used to be one of the many diners or barbershops where all the old Japanese men would hang out, you’ll find salmon namban (pickled, deep fried, and delicious, served with lemon and onions) at Maneki (304 Sixth Ave. S.).

When you’re ready for a full meal, cross the street and try Tsukushinbo (515 S. Main St.), my favorite sushi in the city (try their grilled salmon belly and collar). If you are up for a weekday retreat, they make amazing soba on Fridays. And if you plan ahead and give them a call, they’ll make you the wonderful Japanese steamed-egg treat, chawan muchi.

NORTHWEST 70TH STREET

Bustling Ballard Avenue is a no-brainer with favorites like Stoneburner, Bastille, La Carta de Oaxaca, The Walrus and the Carpenter, and a slew of breweries to boot. But head up to quiet Northwest 70th Street and take in the mini–food mecca that includes The Fat Hen, Honoré Artisan Bakery, Delancey, and Essex.

The only problem with brunch at The Fat Hen (1418 N.W. 70th) is that you’ll be too full to get a pastry at Honoré. No matter: Enjoy the housemade yogurt with honey and pine nuts; some of the best Benedicts with your choice of smoked salmon, speck, pancetta, or avocado; or a warm lentil salad with lardon and egg.

From inside The Fat Hen, you can keep an eye out on the line at Honor é (1413 N.W. 70th)—and bust a move over when it’s died down to bring some treats home. The chocolate-almond croissants are among the best in the city and their macarons are legendary, inventive with flavors like sweet-corn maple and passion-fruit chocolate; they’re light and not overly sweet. People also seek out the Kouign-amann here—a crusty Breton cake layered with butter and caramelized sugar.

But it’s not all about breakfast. At Delancey (1415 N.W. 70th), Seattle’s best pizza—a thin-crust with just enough grease to please a New Yorker—comes with fantastic toppings like grana, housemade sausage, preserved Meyer lemon, and crimini mushrooms. Dessert almost always involves seasonal fruit, like nectarines, honey mousse, and bourbon caramel. If that’s not your thing, their big bittersweet chocolate-chip cookie with gray salt is a home-run staple for $3.50. While you’re inevitably waiting for a table (they don’t take reservations), grab a drink and some snacks next door at their sister bar, Essex (1421 N.W. 70th)—like triple cream cheese with bread, a pickle plate, or a craft cocktail like an elderflower spritz (gin, white wine, elderflower cordial) or a Queen Mary (gin, tomato water, pickled chile brine, lemon, salt, and pepper).

nsprinkle@seattleweekly.com

 
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