Our 107 Favorite Restaurants, 2011

From burgers and pizza to steak and sashimi, the Great Seattle Food Pyramid takes shape.

"So what's the best restaurant in the city?" On a good day, some of us will be faced with that question several times before lunch. It will be asked by readers and strangers, by family members and old friends. And the answer is never a good one. Because, really, what does "the best restaurant in the city" mean? The answer will be different for someone who really loves fish and for someone who just wants a hunk of prime rib; one thing for the cutting-edge molecular-gastronomy enthusiast and something else entirely for the moss-stomping locavore. So with that in mind, we have decided to answer the question right here, to the best of our ability, for everyone. This isn't about picking the single best restaurant in the city, but rather the 100 (or so) best—our way of covering all bases and satisfying all tastes. And to make things as easy as possible for you, we've arranged the entire thing in the shape of the Seattle Food Pyramid: a graphic representation of all the food groups necessary for a Seattleite to meet his or her daily nutritional requirements. From Sugar and Cocktails to Noodles and Things That Swim, we have categorized everything for your ease and eating pleasure. In the following pages, you will find fare ranging from tacos and foie gras to handrolls and cheeseburgers—and everything in between. If your personal best restaurant is a place where gentle hippies sauté free-range tofu, we've got you covered. If you're more interested in a place to get steak rare, some potatoes fried, and a whiskey neat, you'll find that here too. So what are you waiting for? Three square meals and all the answers you could ever want are just a page-flip away. JASON SHEEHAN BURGERS With just two locations, let's call Blue Moon Burgers a "nano-chain." Their locations in South Lake Union and Fremont both offer ample seating, quality local microbrews on tap, and half-price burgers on Wednesdays after 3 p.m. The burgers are made with 100 percent pasture-raised beef from Oregon that gives them a rich flavor. The patty is salted liberally, grilled to a solid medium, then topped with your choice of cheese and the requisite trio of lettuce, onions, and tomato. Several variations are available, including a veggie patty made in-house. Every month features a new "Burger of the Month," with interesting twists like "The Hof," a Reuben-inspired burger with sauerkraut, served on rye bread. Otherwise, all burgers are served on brioche buns from Macrina Bakery. These are soft enough in the center to absorb the burger's juiciness, while the crust is just impermeable enough to maintain its integrity to the very last bite. Don't miss out on the crispy, salty French fries either. SONJA GROSET 920 Republican St., 652-0400, and 703 N. 34th St., 547-1907, bluemoonburgers.com $ VARIOUS LOCATIONS BuiltBurger does almost everything wrong when it comes to serving the classic American cheeseburger. The former mail-order burger company's single brick-and-mortar space looks like an unadorned white shoebox with some tables inside. It doesn't have a playground or some clown-headed pedophile as a mascot. Most damning, it messes with the basic construction of the burger itself, forgoing the simple expediency of ground beef and jamming its patties full of all kinds of weird stuff, like barbecued pork, roasted chiles, shallots, and lamb. And yet, the king of its short, tight menu—the Magnificent Chorizo—is simply one of the best and most innovative burgers you will ever taste. The burger, if it can really be called that, is adulterated with smoky-hot ground chorizo, poblanos, cilantro, and Cotija cheese, then topped with a cilantro-lime coleslaw. By all rights, it should be awful—just another fancy-pants burger experiment gone horribly wrong. But at BuiltBurger, the combinations work brilliantly; rather than diluting the glory of the classic American cheeseburger, the Magnificent Chorizo instead carves a path into the future of burger greatness. JASON SHEEHAN 217 James St., 724-0599, builtburger.com $ DOWNTOWN Even looking at the pornographic burger photos taken at Lunchbox Laboratory is nearly enough to give you gout, so it's not surprising that the burgers themselves are as close to a heart attack as you'll ever want to get without a defibrillator nearby. The Lab's popularity led it to outgrow its original Ballard hole-in-the-wall location on 15th Avenue Northwest, and now diners can indulge at the new digs, which offer more sitting space and a full bar without losing any of the original's charm (like the old-school lunchbox collection). Keep in mind the monstrous portions when you order—meaning bring a friend, or wear your Thanksgiving pants. CHELSEA LIN 1253 Thomas St., 621-1090, lunchboxlaboratory.com $ SOUTH LAKE UNION The cornerstone of the Tom Douglas restaurant empire, the Palace Kitchen is jam-packed every night. Located under the monorail, the bar is the beating heart at the center of the space, and is thumping from the minute happy hour begins (4:30 p.m. on weeknights). The menu is seasonal, but includes several year-round favorites: grilled trout, goat-cheese fondue, olive poppers, coconut-cream pie, and grilled salmon, among others. Yet what puts Palace Kitchen over the top for locals and tourists alike is the Palace Burger Royale. This half-pound patty of Oregon-raised beef is grilled to order, topped with your choice of cheese and served on a soft, warm bun from Douglas' Dahlia Bakery, located around the corner. Served on a cast-iron platter, the burger comes with a monster mound of thin, crispy fries and a "salad" of toppings you can add to your burger: lettuce, onions, pickles, and tomatoes (when they're in season). SONJA GROSET 2030 Fifth Ave., 448-2001, tomdouglas.com $$ BELLTOWN Pick-Quick Drive In is barely even a restaurant. It's more like an elf house with meat and lots of women inside, all working to turn out burgers, fries, and shakes with amazing speed and accuracy. This is a place with history on its side—it opened in 1949, just as the cheeseburger was becoming a dietary staple and frying itself hard into the American subconscious. It didn't take much to open a hamburger stand back then: just a hut, a grill, some beef, and bread. This was before the big chains started to push everyone out of business, back in the day when virtually every town, every neighborhood, and every crossroads had its own unique burger place. And Pick-Quick was one of those. Over the years, nothing and everything about the place has changed. It's gone through more shifts in ownership than most people can remember, yet still serves a menu that would have been recognizable to the customers of 1949. Prices have gone up some, but the location has stayed the same. It was popular back then and remains so, doing nothing but walk-up business through a single window and offering perfect, classic American burgers to crowds that love it as much for its simplicity as for its speed, history, and awesome cherry milkshakes. JASON SHEEHAN 4306 Pacific Hwy. E., 253-922-5599, pickquick.net $ FIFE There's a formula for the classic drive-in burger: thin patty seared on a flat-top griddle + American cheese + topping trio of iceberg lettuce, mealy tomato, and pickles + lightly toasted bun + paper wrapper. Arguably, there are better burgers, but this is a classic. American cheese is a must. So is the option of eating it in your car, at an outdoor counter or picnic table, or inside in a faux-wood booth. Since 1959, Bothell's Ranch Drive-In has mastered this formula, and customers keep coming back for more. SONJA GROSET 18218 Bothell Way N.E., 425-486-2677, ranchdrivein.com $ BOTHELL Which came first, the sausage or the beer? No, that's not the latest drinking game cooked up by the Husky kids who frequent Shultzy's. But, come to think of it, that's not such a bad idea. Naturally you're going to start with one of the super-yummy brews on the ever-changing tap while studying the U District institution's menu. Now that you've got some suds, let's eat. While many diners look no further than the long lineup of links, that means they skip over the best damn sausage burgers in Seattle. That's right: The same sausage goodness stuffed into those snappy casings (and you do not want to think about where those suckers came from) is also available in patty form. And what's the best way to make one of those terrific sausage sammies even better? Order a fried egg on top of it. LESLIE KELLY 4114 University Way N.E., 548-9461, shultzys.com $ U DISTRICT Teddy's Bigger Burgers, located in Woodinville, is a chain from Hawaii that recently arrived in the Pacific Northwest. It's bright, busy, and bursting with families, and its well-constructed burgers come in three sizes: Big (5 oz.), Bigger (7 oz.), and Biggest (9 oz.). There are enough optional toppings and variations to make your head spin: teriyaki sauce, avocado, peanut butter, Cajun-style, hash browns. But three things are standard with all Teddy's burgers: The 100 percent ground-chuck patties are all cooked medium; all burgers are served on a potato bun; and unless you jack up your burger with one of the other sauces, they're topped with Teddy's special sauce, a mayo-based spread that's a little bit sweet with just the tiniest bit of smoked flavor. They slather on loads of it, a nice complement to the burger's charred beefiness. Also on the menu are milkshakes so thick you can practically turn them upside down with no dripping. Avoid looking too closely at the creepy mural on the wall, and you'll soon be transported to burger paradise. SONJA GROSET 17705 140th Ave. N.E., 425-408-1604, teddysbiggerburgers.com $ WOODINVILLE The Two Bells' Tavern Burger isn't for purists, if only because it comes on a French roll instead of a pair of circular buns. It's also not for people who consider stuffing a napkin into their shirt like an ascot an offense against fashion, nor is it for men with beards or mustaches who don't want their facial fuzz to smell like ground beef, onions, and mustard for a full 24 hours. Soap or cologne are no threat to the Tavern Burger stench—you eat it, you own it, like the A on Hester Prynne's dress. But it's so darn good that it's well worth all the inconvenience. MIKE SEELY 2313 Fourth Ave, 441-3050, twobells.com $ BELLTOWN Upper Fremont's long been able to boast the best pork sandwiches in the city thanks to Paseo, but the 'hood's been needing some quality steer to match the swine—namely, a decent burger (sorry, Herfy's). Good thing Scott and Heather Staples of Quinn's Pub took over the space on Fremont Avenue formerly occupied by a plant nursery and opened Uneeda Burger late last year. And Uneeda's food is as good as its prime location—the burgers are made with juicy Painted Hills beef on simple, soft buns, and they come in interesting, appetizing varieties. Their take on a mushroom burger comes topped with fresh criminis, gooey Gruyère, and truffle salt, while the croque madame burger is layered with Dijon, ham, and a fried egg. On the side, there's beer on tap, monster onion rings, and poutine. It's not your classic poutine, with waffle-cut fries and cheese sauce instead of curds, but anytime gravy and cheese are dumped on top of fries, we're not going to complain. ERIN K. THOMPSON 4302 Fremont Ave. N., 547-2600 $ FREMONT Zippy's Giant Burgers is almost the perfect burger restaurant. It's small. It's totally local. Its fans are rabid and absolutely dedicated. And no meal there is ever really easy. From finding parking to fighting your way through the crowds that mob the tiny dining room that acts like a shrine to a hundred years' worth of patty-flipping geniuses, Zippy's makes you earn that burger, so that when your bag is finally pushed across the short counter, it feels like a victory as much as it does a meal. And in just two years in West Seattle, Zippy's has secured its fiercely loyal following simply by making burgers better than everyone else around. The kitchen hand-grinds its meat every day, because hand-ground meat makes for a burger that holds together nicely in a patty and crumbles slightly when bitten. It mounts them on good rolls and dresses them smartly and simply with red onions, chopped iceberg lettuce (so much better than a whole leaf, which wilts the minute it touches the hot meat), pickles, big slices of tomato, and a "secret sauce" which is just Thousand Island dressing and chopped pickles. And the cheese selection is smart: medium Cheddar, smoked Cheddar, Swiss, American, or Monterey Jack. The only question now is, with an imminent move to a bigger space a mile or so down the road in White Center, will Zippy's be able to keep its focus? JASON SHEEHAN 1513 S.W. Holden St., 763-1347, zippysgiantburgers.com $ WEST SEATTLE TACOS Nothing brings straight-up street cred like a doña—a matriarch keeping a tight ship, morale high, and an eye on the door to ensure riffraff stays out. That's just what Barrio has in Josephina Gutierrez. Her one-of-a-kind apron and matching head scarf with "Barrio" stitched on them show she means business—tortilla business. She is the queen of handmade tortillas, and you can watch her handiwork from the comfort of your table. Overseeing the dining room while flipping, tugging, and pressing dough into palm-sized discs, Gutierrez takes her job seriously. Cozy wood booths and a Moroccan-style fireplace provide winter warmth, and folding garage-door windows make this a neighborhood center in the summer. The prix-fixe menu pairs more popular items, like the Barrio Chopped Salad, with a relleno or carne asada and a dessert like dulce de leche crème brûlée. If you're going for a small bite, get the grilled wagyu-beef tortitas (sliders) and the homemade churros with xocalatl chocolate dipping sauce. Some dishes are more adventurous than others, so asking questions during ordering is always a good idea. SIIRI SAMPSON 1420 12th Ave., 588-8105, barriorestaurant.com $$ CAPITOL HILL Bimbo's screams excess. Its decor consists of glitter and grinning skulls, and its menu is an example of why obesity is epidemic in this country. The burritos are the size of babies: chicken, beef, and garlic roasted potatoes loaded into 13-inch tortillas, with the option of add-ons like cumin-lime sour cream or sunflower seeds. The most horrific/awesome thing on the Mexican bar's menu are the Stoner Nachos, a huge plate of Nacho Cheese Doritos (because regular chips don't contain enough calories) loaded with melted cheese, green onions, homemade salsa, and jalapeños. Top it off with a 32-ounce margarita and you're sure to be stuffed—and slightly buzzed—for a day or more. ERIKA HOBART 1013 E. Pine St., 322-9950, bimboscantina.com $ CAPITOL HILL Chipotle is a massive chain. With something like 1,000 locations, there's no denying that. But you know what else can't be denied? That this place knows a little something about rolling a damn burrito. Owner and founder Steve Ells based his core product—the big-ass burrito—on the Mission District behemoths he survived on while cooking his way around San Francisco. He loved them and wanted everyone else to love them, too. There are no freezers at Chipotle, no microwaves, no can openers, because Chipotle is about as farm-to-table as fast-food restaurants come. Niman Ranch supplies most of the meat, all of it naturally raised. The company as a whole supports family farms and uses local produce when possible. Ells has always called himself a chef first, and ingredients have long been his obsession. Better ingredients, better products—as simple a mantra as there is. And at Chipotle, it's one that works. JASON SHEEHAN chipotle.com $ VARIOUS LOCATIONS Usually, divey Mexican bars and mobile eateries are all about tacos. Their fans are deeply loyal and willing to engage in friendship-ending fights over which hole in the wall serves the best version of meat in a tortilla. Apparently it's never occurred to anyone that maybe the best small Mexican joint in Seattle can do more than just great tacos. At Chuy El Mexicano (literally "Chuy the Mexican") you can get great tacos or fajitas. But if you're doing it correctly, you'll skim the menu until you hit the section titled molcajete. A molcajete is a type of large stone mortar. At Chuy, a thick, almost gravy-like liquid is created in the bowl and blended with your choice of meats. Get the carne asada. The whole thing is baked to the steaming, rich, savory hilt, and will completely change what you think of as great Mexican food. LAURA ONSTOT 7142 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., 722-1810 $ RAINIER VALLEY Company is either the best or the stupidest idea ever to hit White Center's main drag, 16th Avenue Southwest. On a street that combines smut shops, dive bars, muy auténtico Mexican bodegas, and pho peddlers, a hip, arty bar whose appeal is sure to be primarily to upwardly mobile Caucasians is a gamble. But if everything at Company is as good as its succulent pork sopas, the bar will have no problem finding a following, and it may not be as Caucasian as originally presumed. The salt-cod fritters with crème fraiche aren't half-bad either, the tater tots are super-salty, and Big Al is always on tap. MIKE SEELY 9608 16th Ave. S.W. $$ WHITE CENTER There's nothing little about the flavor, portions, or number of combinations at El Gallito, so where the name comes from is a mystery. The menu's pages and pages of options include countless combinations, the best being two chimichangas (get one cheese and one chicken). The carne asada and chicken mole are both big winners; the mole has a strong, authentic sauce and tons of pulled chicken. One of their better ideas is serving their chips warm with ultra-spicy (enough to get your nose running) salsa while you wait for your meal. El Gallito is also a big hit on Cinco de Mayo—no annoying tunes or cheesy decor, just lots of beer and beer-related paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling. Besides the food being consistently crave-worthy, El Gallito is family-owned and -operated. SIIRI SAMPSON 1700 20th Ave., 329-8088 $$ MADISON VALLEY Sometimes "dirty" and "cheap" are words used to discourage you from ever wanting to set foot in a place, but at El Paisano, they're adjectives that should be embraced wholeheartedly. The White Center taquería boasts some of the most legit Mexican grub this side of California—deliciously prepared meats like carnitas, birria, and al pastor are slathered with avocado and served as tortas, stuffed into tortillas to be eaten as burritos, or dressed simply with the traditional taco accompaniments of cilantro and lime and gobbled up in three perfect bites. If you're taking grub to go, they also make a mean roast chicken; you'll see the crispy, golden birdies on the counter where you order. CHELSEA LIN 9615 15th Ave. S.W., 763-0368 $ WHITE CENTER La Carta de Oaxaca is what a tapas restaurant would be if Mexicans had been given credit for inventing the idea of snacking while getting drunk, rather than the Spanish. Cocktels de camarones, albondigas, picaditas—all perfect for picking at while knocking back margaritas or shots of cactus juice. And if you're hungry for something a bit more substantial, there are always tacos—excellent fried tacos, rolled and topped with guacamole, chile, and Oaxaqueño cheese, or simple, street-style tacos al pastor and carne asada mounted on homemade tortillas. The sausage and potato molotes ought to be required by law to be served 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And for those nights when all you're after is a little bit of sur de la frontera comfort, the posole is there for you as a (slightly) refined version of the classic Mexican miracle hangover cure. JASON SHEEHAN 5431 Ballard Ave. N.W., 782-8722, lacartadeoaxaca.com $$ BALLARD Unlike say, chocolate-covered strawberries, "Mexican food" is rarely used in the same sentence as "sexy." The exception: Milagro Cantina. Located in downtown Kirkland, this trendy new restaurant goes above and beyond beans and rice, serving braised lamb in mole sauce, lobster enchiladas, and guacamole dressed in your choice of almonds and pomegranate seeds or mango and pine nuts. Even the margaritas have gotten an Eastside makeover, infused with flavors like green apple, ginger caramel, and spiced pumpkin. And if you feel inclined to make your concoction even fancier, you can choose a top-shelf liquor from the branches of a seven-foot steel "tequila tree" growing behind the bar. ERIKA HOBART 148 Lake St. S., 425-952-6270. milagrocantina.com $$ KIRKLAND Friends, there are taco trucks, and then there are taco trucks. Holding down the fort on the edge of Wallingford, in what used to be the Winchell's Donuts parking lot, Rancho Bravo's taco-truck outpost is the stuff of drunken Husky legend. Students reference it in reverent tones, and flock there on evenings when a $5 budget somehow has to produce enough food to fuel lengthy cram sessions. But the best time to go is around one in the morning on Saturday, after a night out on the town, when the only place open to compete for your business is Dick's next door. With far less jaded service, Rancho Bravo will send you home with food that won't attack you in your sleep. ROSE TOSTI 211 N.E. 45th St., myspace.com/ranchobravotacos $ WALLINGFORD Located along a strip of Aurora Avenue better known for Korean restaurants, Taquería El Sabor offers a taste of authentic Mexican food in Shoreline. The interior is well-worn, and Mexican telenovelas play constantly, but the staff is friendly and the prices are low. For $1.09, you get a taco served on a double layer of warm corn tortillas made in-house, stuffed with your choice of meat and topped with freshly chopped onion and cilantro. There's the usual assortment of meats available, but don't miss the pork carnitas: Pork shoulder is slow-cooked with nothing more than onions, salt, and pepper, then shredded into meaty chunks and seared on the flat-top until a nice crust forms. Top your tacos with one of the half-dozen salsas from the self-serve salsa bar; the bright green one adds the perfect amount of tang and spicy kick. You can also load up on cabbage pico de gallo, pickled carrots, jalapeño peppers, and radishes for a free side salad. The menu also offers burritos, tortas, and other taquería staples. And on weekends they serve posole (pork and hominy stew) and menudo (tripe soup). SONJA GROSET 15221 Aurora Ave. N., 417-3346 $ SHORELINE PIZZA Delancey first opened its doors in August 2009, and there's been a line of hungry diners waiting for a table ever since. This Ballard pizzeria is helmed by husband-and-wife duo Brandon Pettit and Molly Wizenberg—he cooking up wood-fired pies with simple toppings, many, like the ricotta and sausage, made in-house; she managing the operation, writing New York Times bestsellers, and blogging as Orangette. Besides pizza, the menu offers a few simple salads and desserts, including Wizenberg's now-legendary chocolate-chip cookie with gray salt. Look for Delancey's little sister, The Pantry (the joint venture of Pettit and some of the couple's foodie friends), to start featuring family-style dinners, cooking classes, and more this spring. CHELSEA LIN 1415 N.W. 70th St., 838-1960, delanceyseattle.com $$ BALLARD At first glance, the encyclopedia-sized pies of Northlake Tavern & Pizza House appear to be Chicago-style or some other variety of deep-dish pizza. But upon further inspection, their crusts are actually relatively thin, while the toppings are piled so high and deep that a single slice is almost a serving in itself. The specialty pizzas—led by the legendary "Logger Special," with thick-cut Canadian bacon, Italian sausage, onions, green peppers, and crumbled black olives—weigh in at nearly two-and-a-half pounds. And that's a "small." The large pizzas, the menu proudly proclaims, tip the scales at six pounds and take more than a half-hour to cook. That's enough time to work up an appetite while sipping a beer and studying the old-school Husky decor and David Horsey cartoons on the walls. KEEGAN HAMILTON 660 N.E. Northlake Way, 633-5317, northlaketavern.com $$ U DISTRICT Simply defined, good "tavern pizza" is pizza which tastes great with beer. And since Harvey's Tavern lost its lease on Leary Way a few years ago, Pazzo's has held the distinction of making the best tavern pizza in town. Along with the Zoo Tavern and 14 Carrot Café, Pazzo's occupies a block that, if you wanted to, you could spend an entire Saturday on and have all your needs met, save for showering. But showering has always been optional at the Zoo, so fuck it. MIKE SEELY 2307 Eastlake Ave. E., 329-6558, gopazzos.com $ EASTLAKE Yes, Seattle chef icon Tom Douglas' fancier digs like Dahlia Lounge and Etta's have their place and time, but for his most casual eatery, Serious Pie (in two locations, the original Belltown destination and the new South Lake Union shop), anyplace, anytime really works. The pizza coming out of these wood-burning ovens isn't the sort you'd get delivered to your dorm room at 2 a.m. to be washed down with a can (or six) of PBR. It's the sort of crisp-crusted, sparingly topped, perfectly executed pie that you want to pair with the best local microbrew (although PBR is available) and savor slowly. Expect seasonal, imaginative toppings like brussels sprouts, Penn Cove clams, and Meyer lemons, though there's really no reason ever to stray from the truffle cheese and chanterelle pizza—it's simply the best. CHELSEA LIN 316 Virginia St., 838-7388, and 401 Westlake Ave. N., 436-0050, seriouspiewestlake.com $$ VARIOUS LOCATIONS After 9 p.m., especially on weekends, Talarico's is West Seattle's premiere meet-market, its dark, spacious digs providing an ideal breeding ground for the bump and set that leads to a spike at the end of the night. But in earlier hours, it takes on the personality of a friendly neighborhood pizzeria. Only most friendly neighborhood pizzerias don't serve slices the size of Rocky Dennis' head. If Adam Richman were skull-baked, he'd still have a tough time taking down more than one, especially if he warmed up by taking down one of the neighboring Elliott Bay Brewery's microbrews, which are consistently on tap. But back to the slices: They're thin-crusted and creatively topped. And if you've just ended things with your supposed soulmate and are seeking to indulge your way out of a funk, there's a banana split on the dessert menu and a humongous liquor selection. MIKE SEELY 4718 California Ave. S.W., 937-3463, talaricoswest.com $ WEST SEATTLE NOODLES Din Tai Fung is a newcomer to Bellevue's glitzy restaurant scene, but that doesn't mean it's new. From its origins as a tiny dumpling operation set up inside an oil shop in Taiwan to the dumpling superpower it is today, it has focused on one thing and one thing only: making dumplings. The tragedy of the place is that it now has a reputation for serving the best dumplings in the world, a promise no restaurant could possibly live up to. But ridiculous expectations aside, it still does a very good job—provided you can handle waiting an hour for a table. Still, the one thing no one really talks about at Din Tai Fung are the noodles; the kitchen offers a wide variety of simple, comforting, up-from-scratch Chinese noodle dishes that give even their world-famous dumplings a run for their money. Our suggestion? Skip the crowds and hit the place for takeout. You'll be out the door faster than any of the sheep waiting in the hallway, to enjoy your noodles—and dumplings—in the peace of your own home (or car, if you're impatient). JASON SHEEHAN 700 Bellevue Way N.E., 425-698-1095, dintaifungusa.com $$ BELLEVUE Hoang Lan is one of the Othello Station restaurants that made it through the light-rail construction. While there are soups, broken rice dishes, and vermicelli bowls on the menu, it's the meaty, offal-y bun bo hue (with rice vermicelli noodles) that is most captivating. There might be better elsewhere, but this hole-in-the-wall has its peculiar charm, with the owner always whistling a tune or singing along to the Vietnamese variety show on the television in a corner of the small dining room. Note: Cash only. JAY FRIEDMAN 7119 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., 722-3876 $ RAINIER VALLEY Huong Binh does many things well, but one of the best is the banh hoi—woven baskets of noodles served with shrimp or pork meatballs or grilled pork, a perfect showcase for the delicious bits of meat that fly off the grills in the back of this tiny Vietnamese restaurant. I love the place for the press of its crowds, for the strange dry goods that line every flat surface as though the restaurant itself just popped into existence in the middle of a small Vietnamese grocery. I love it for the view out the window, which might as well be the view out the window of any lunch shop on Cong Trang Road. But mostly I love it for the food—for the duck and the strange dumplings, the bun cha Ha Noi and the noodles which accompany so many of the best things on the short, ruthlessly traditional menu. JASON SHEEHAN 1207 S. Jackson St., 720-4907 $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT Mandarin Chef actually does what fans of Din Tai Fung wish it did: serve the best dumplings in Seattle. And while we understand that dumplings are not technically noodles, we'd be remiss if we didn't jam in a mention of the jiao-zi into this list. They're just that good. Mandarin Chef has been around for 14 years in this shotgun shack of a space, serving Sichuan chicken wings, dumplings, and hand-rolled, freshly cut noodles to generations of college students and starving grubniks questing after that sweet hit of Chinese authenticity. Chef Sang Lam learned how to make his dumplings from the source. He trained and worked for years as a cook in Sichuan province, China, before coming to the United States and bringing all that heavy dumpling knowledge with him. Now, in the most unprepossessing spot imaginable, he serves them to crowds of loyal fans by the giant platter—15 and 26 at a time, dressed only in a bit of soy, a bit of red pepper paste. One taste and you'll be hooked forever, unable ever to look at another dumpling the same way again. JASON SHEEHAN 5022 University Way, 528-7596, mandarinchef.com $ U DISTRICT If you get pad thai at Wallingford's May Restaurant and Lounge (that ornate, wooden two-story building you always drive by on 45th), it's the real deal. The noodles have been freshly sautéed with eggs, chives, and bean sprouts, and they're not even spiced until they reach your table—servers toss the noodles right in front of you with lime, ground peanuts, a kicky homemade tamarind sauce, and fresh banana flowers. You've got to start with the phenomenal pad thai, but do move on and try May's other tasty noodle dishes, like the kao soi gai—an amalgam of fresh, thick egg noodles, a rich yellow curry, coconut broth, tender chicken legs, and Chinese cabbage. ERIN K. THOMPSON 1612 N. 45th St., 675-0037, maythaiseattle.com $$ WALLINGFORD Thai restaurants are to Seattle what foreclosed tract homes are to any King County suburb: an inescapable part of the landscape. The market is so glutted and the competition so fierce, it's a wonder proprietors haven't started getting gimmicky in an effort to draw customers, like dressing comely waitresses in nothing but strategically placed basil leaves. Thankfully, Naam Thai doesn't need T&A to elevate itself above the fray; it can overcome the economic forces of supply and demand strictly through execution alone. Naam Thai's fresh rolls are just a little more fresh, its larb just a little larbier, and its fisherman's madness just a little madder than all the others. It's like that same vinyl-siding-wrapped two-bedroom you see in most empty planned communities, only with a flat-screen in every room. CALEB HANNAN 1404 34th Ave., 568-6226, naamseattle.com $ MADRONA Pho Bac is no one's idea of a cutesy theme-park restaurant. It is a small, weirdly shaped pho shack plunked down right on the ragged borders of the I.D. The original location (now one of four, but still the most austere and pure) is fundamentally unchanged from the day it opened, decades ago, under a small sign in an old sandwich shop, serving beef noodle soup and offering a few long, brown, cruller-shaped loaves in a case by the door for those looking for a true French-Vietnamese experience. On a good day, when the heat is rising and the fitful sun makes an appearance, the ladies working the galley will open the back door to catch a little breeze. The gleaming silver rotary slicer, from which falls the sliced top round that makes up the pho tai, is set up right by the back door. From the parking lot, you can watch them working, leaning into the machine, prepping bowls with a speed that borders on magic. What Pho Bac offers is a history of Vietnamese immigration, one bowl at a time; it still stands as my favorite bowl of noodles in a city full of them. JASON SHEEHAN 1314 S. Jackson St. and other locations, 323-4387 $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang are no strangers to accolades: Their original restaurant Joule has earned them a spot on Iron Chef, amazing reviews, and a spot among 20 semifinalists for a James Beard award in the category of Best Chef Northwest this year. If anyone's earned their credits, it's these two, and their newest project, Revel, is a perfect example of everything they do right. Housed in an inconspicuous building in Fremont, Revel is to casual, cross-cultural comfort food what Joule is to refined, fusion-focused dishes. Like Joule, Revel draws on Yang's Korean background in standout items like pork-belly pancakes, duck-meatball noodles and housemade ramen (only available during weekend brunch). CHELSEA LIN 403 N. 36th St., 547-2040, revelseattle.com $$ FREMONT Please, enough bitching about standing in line to get into Salumi, the city's premier cured-meat palace. You meet the nicest people—obviously out-of-towners, not those frosty Seattle sorts—while waiting to place an order from the counter staff. While most Salumi fans can never get past the fantastic sandwiches, the ever-changing pasta lineup shouldn't be given short shrift. Especially if it's a Tuesday and Marilyn Batali's in the house. Mario and Gina's mama makes a mean gnocchi, arguably the best in the city. It's pillowy-soft, never gummy, and it regally wears a saucy crown that will make you weepy for those days you spent soaking up the Tuscan sun. If you miss the Tuesday gnocchi, console yourself with a bowl of penne with lamb ragu, cotechino-layered lasagna, spaghetti with turkey meatballs, or whatever happens to be the daily pasta special. LESLIE KELLY 309 Third Ave S., 621-8772, salumicuredmeats.com $ DOWNTOWN Szechuan Noodle Bowl is so nondescript and barren inside, you may literally think "Is this a Chinese mafia front?" They diligently prepare dumplings by hand, from mixing the meats, veggies, and spices to rolling, hand-cutting, and forming the dough shells, all culminating in the methodical pinch-and-twist technique to close off another perfect delight. There are plenty of noodle offerings on the menu, the best of which is the Cold Chinese Noodle with Chicken—handmade, square noodles served cold with pickled, julienned carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, chicken, crushed peanuts, and a homemade peanut sauce. The real stars of the menu, though, are all the dumplings; it's a wonder they didn't call the place Szechuan Dumpling Dish. The most-ordered are probably the pork-and-chive, served hot and spicy. They take a while to cook, so be sure to start with two green-onion pancakes, not one. One is not enough. SIIRI SAMPSON 420 Eighth Ave S., 623-4198 $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT THINGS THAT SWIM The years have been good to Canlis, with chef Jason Franey adding creative seasonal options to the menu and the Canlis family sticking with many of the original dishes—and impeccable service—that made Canlis famous six decades ago. The prawns, dressed in a devastatingly succulent beurre-blanc sauce of dry vermouth, garlic, red chiles, and wine, are a sure bet to prime your palate for stunningly prepared entrées of King salmon, Muscovy duck for two, or delicate sous-vide halibut. For all its pomp, history, and (virtually unheard of in Seattle) dress code, Canlis remains one of the city's must-visit restaurants. ZIBBY WILDER 2576 Aurora Ave. N., 283-3313, canlis.com $$$ QUEEN ANNE Whoever came up with the concept for Japonessa has obviously never seen a map or a National Geographic special about the world beyond First Avenue. This sushi bar/cocina operation is, ostensibly, a fusion of Japanese and Latino/Spanish cuisine, which in this day and age is not that strange. But what makes Japonessa special is that it's some kind of bizarre Japanese/Spanish/French/Mediterranean/American/Mexican conglomeration, in which the influences of a half-dozen cuisines actually put it in some space completely beyond borders and any consideration of culinary tradition. That said, it also rolls some mean sushi, and offers an ostensible appetizer plate of yellowtail collar which is both huge and startlingly simple—just a giant V of fish flesh, cut from the neck, grilled, and presented simply on a bed of greens. All old-fashioned notions of culinary genetics aside, Japonessa is a great restaurant on a wicked ADD trip—a lovely and modern space with a menu as delicious as it is confounding. JASON SHEEHAN 1400 First Ave., 971-7979, japonessa.com $$ DOWNTOWN Chef Tom Jung and wife Stephanie opened the pint-sized Kanpai Sushi next door to M Street Market in fall 2008. The inviting (albeit IKEA-centric) interiors are relaxing, the way a nail salon should be but never is. Kanpai's menu pushes a strong happy-hour menu, spanning the usual drink specials (beers for $2.50, plus more house specials), seven different rolls ($3.50 each), and a long list of appetizers, sashimi, and sushi. But even with the great deals—and the greetings of "konichiwa" and a smile at the door—some people just don't want raw fish. Lucky for them, Kanpai has an ever-growing selection of cooked dishes, like broiled Alaskan black cod, teriyaki and noodle bowls, and even some udon and marinated chicken salad. But the sushi here is high-quality, fresh and made to order, so don't bother ordering anything but rolls, sashimi, and nigiri. The best they have to offer is the Volcano Roll, a California roll topped with real Cajun crab and a special spicy Japanese sauce ($11.50). It's large, rich, and warm, just begging to be washed down with a cold Sapporo. SIIRI SAMPSON 900 Eighth Ave., 588-2769, sushikanpai.com $$ FIRST HILL Maneki is the soul of the I.D. and the heart of the Seattle dining scene. It is, in addition to being a great and challenging little restaurant, a living history lesson: a place where all the ups and downs of Seattle's Japanese community have been played out across a century. A hundred years ago, Maneki was turning 500 customers a night on the floor in its tatami rooms and at the bar—serving the Japanese community centered in that neighborhood, catering their weddings and funerals, and feeding them on Tuesday nights when no one felt like making the soba or shishamo themselves. The only time in the past 100 years it has been shut down was during the World War II internment of the Japanese; the space in which it would later reopen was used as storage for the belongings of those who'd been taken away. Maneki's menu is sprawling, stunning, and overwhelming. The sheer number of dishes will drown you every time. There is sushi and sashimi, blue sprat brought from Kyushu, Japanese beer, salt mackerel in ponzu sauce, and fried whole fish—stiff and curled like parentheses, staring up from the plate with hot, white eyes still steaming. Come in for hamachi don and you might end up sucker-punched by a delicate bowl of mozuku or drawn by the daily specials, written on colorful pieces of construction paper and hung on the walls. You could eat here 200 times without ever repeating a dish. JASON SHEEHAN 304 Sixth Ave. S., 622-2631, manekirestaurant.com $$ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT Pike Street Fish Fry is the one Gourmet felt the need to review when it first opened in a nook underneath Capitol Hill's Neumos three years ago. No one does battered cod better—at Pike Street it's covered in a coating that comes out light, crunchy, and just greasy enough to complement anything on the single-column menu, including the unlisted, complimentary fried lemon slice that comes with every basket. (Sounds weird, right? It is, but in a good way.) Six homemade sauces are available for dipping, and owner/restaurant provocateur Michael Hebb hasn't forgotten the veg-heads either: For them, there's both a Field Roast sausage and a red-cabbage-topped portobello sandwich. But seriously, just get the cod. CALEB HANNAN 925 E. Pike St., 329-7453, pikestreetfishfry.net $ CAPITOL HILL Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie is the newest of Tom Douglas' concepts—a simple, cheap, comfortable place to graze on small plates that he's too smart to call small plates. The entire double-sided operation—bar/restaurant on one side, rotisserie counter on the other—co-opts the desire for simplicity and ease without buying into its physical manifestations. And the placement—next door to the Douglas-owned Etta's—is perfect. Seatown feels like the kind of place you'd just luckily stumble upon on a dark, rainy night in an unfamiliar city, placed deliberately at the emptying-out point of Pike Place Market, the intersection of the city and the waterfront—right where that scenario would most likely play itself out over and over again. What's more, he stuffed the menu with delicious things to eat. On the takeaway/rotisserie side are all kinds of roast meat and sandwiches, most of them meant to be eaten walking. And at the bar, he offers the defining dish on the Seatown board: potted tuna. So simple, so perfect, so delicious: nothing more than a small soufflé cup of packed albacore sealed under a cap of barely melted duck fat and served with bias-cut slabs of toasted baguette. It is a peasant dish among peasant dishes, translated into that weird realm of peasantry-gone-upscale—the duck fat not sealing the meat or preserving it so much as adding a buttery veil of salt and smoothness to the tuna beneath and lubricating everything so that it can all be sort of gouged up from the cup, spread across toast, and eaten like the best midnight snack ever. JASON SHEEHAN 2010 Western Ave., 436-0390, tomdouglas.com $$ DOWNTOWN Want to know how to spot an authentic sushi restaurant? There are several clues to take into account, but a board of daily specials written entirely in Japanese and a well-used karaoke machine tucked in a corner are generally good indicators. Tsukushinbo has both, located in a small room with just enough charm to make up for its worn-down feel. The chefs, a father/son tandem, are nothing short of magicians with raw fish. The dragon roll, with two tiny alfalfa sprouts serving as the horns and avocado as the luscious, scaly armor, is an edible work of sculpture. The real standouts, though, are the off-menu items. Sit at the bar and ask for whatever is fresh or tickles the chef's fancy. Prepare to be amazed, as they may produce a blowtorch and perfectly sear a piece of yellowtail right before your eyes. And yes, blowtorch use is another sign that you're getting a bona fide sushi experience. KEEGAN HAMILTON 515 S. Main St., 467-4004 $$ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT The Walrus and the Carpenter is good at a lot of things, but the kitchen is at its best doing almost nothing at all: just cracking, shucking, and serving the oysters for which this region is so well known. A poem about oysters provided inspiration for the name, and the ever-changing list of available oysters acts like a magnet, drawing people into the guts of Ballard to eat them with wild abandon. The rest of the menu is a carefully arranged spread of upscale bar snacks—olives and potato chips, grilled sardines and plates of charcuterie—but the simple, animal pleasure of sucking down a dozen Kusshis or Blue Pools or Kumamotos is both the heart of the Walrus and the Carpenter experience and the reason that crowds flock here every day to jam the small dining room and crowd the bar. JASON SHEEHAN 4743 Ballard Ave. N.W., thewalrusbar.com $$ BALLARD MEAT AND POTATOES Blueacre Seafood should, by all rights, be in the "Things That Swim" section of our little food pyramid. And it would be, but for one thing: Potatoes Minneapolis. Yes, the single greatest dish on the menu at Blueacre Seafood has no seafood in it. The best thing laid on the board by Kevin Davis—a fish expert if there ever was one—and cooked by a crew who spend their days tending to the delicate flesh of sea critters from all over the world is nothing more than potatoes, butter, bacon, and salt. It's an oddity, a white-trash one-off on a menu that focuses with incredible precision on the super–high end of the gastronomic spectrum—where nearly every ingredient has a source and a provenance and a chorus of gourmet bits and pieces to attend it. But Potatoes Minneapolis—nothing more than shredded potatoes soaked with bacon grease and butter, studded with tiny chunks of bacon, then fried in a sauté pan so that the parts touching metal crisp up all nice and brown and those in the middle stay steamy, soft, and white—is so good you might want to order it alone, to wallow in its comfort and greasy luxury with no distractions. JASON SHEEHAN 1700 Seventh Ave., 659-0438, blueacreseafood.com $$$ DOWNTOWN It's easy to be skeptical about a restaurant as reputable as Cafe Juanita. Is Chef Holly Smith as great as she's cracked up to be? Is her food worth a chunk of your paycheck? The answer—sorry, cynics—is yes. The menu, which changes seasonally, features innovative dishes made using organic artisan ingredients from Italy and the Pacific Northwest. Your best bet is to skip classic fare like foie gras and put your trust in the wild cards. Try Smith's rabbit, a mouthwatering meal, braised with white wine, baby turnips, and pancetta, that will forever change the way you look at Bugs Bunny. ERIKA HOBART 9702 N.E. 120th Pl., 425-823-1505, cafejuanita.com $$$ KIRKLAND Crush, chef Jason Wilson's award-winning restaurant in a converted house on East Madison Street, does so many things so precisely and so well that it is sometimes easy to forget exactly how good it is. Since everything on the menu is so good, it's hard to pick out a single exemplary dish on which to hang your specific love and longing. But if you had to choose just one plate, it should probably be the tender, beautiful braised ribs, laid over a cloud of puréed potatoes with baby carrots and parsley pistou—first because they are a truly wonderful expression of the talents living in this galley, and second because probably one out of every three customers who set foot inside Crush orders them. JASON SHEEHAN 2319 E. Madison St., 302-7874, chefjasonwilson.com $$$ MADISON VALLEY An easy-to-miss hole-in-the-wall in Pioneer Square with an upscale interior and Eurocentric m.o., Delicatus groups its sandwiches into two categories: "The Traditionalists" and "The Progressives." You can't go wrong with either—the portions are ample, the ingredients top-notch, and the ideas delectable. Case in point: the Chief Stealth Bomber, a "Traditionalist" made with roast beef, sautéed onions, sharp provolone, and horseradish aioli on a toasted Italian roll, with jus for dipping. Among "The Progressives," the Pavo Diablo is prime, with smoked turkey, avocado, spinach, cilantro, havarti, a fiery chipotle aioli, and roasted poblano peppers on sourdough. Who knows if that sandwich would suit a principled French immigrant, but it's a fine option for a half-starved businessman on his lunch break. KEEGAN HAMILTON 103 First Ave. S., 623-3780, delicatusseattle.com $ PIONEER SQUARE Had JFK and Marilyn Monroe conducted their affair in public and in Seattle, they would have dined at El Gaucho. Originally a speakeasy, this swanky steakhouse still exudes the old-school charm that made it so popular in the '50s, complete with cigars and live piano music. The service is impeccable, the cocktails well-crafted, and the steaks super-sized. (The porterhouse weighs 24 ounces.) Even the accompanying sides are served with bravado; El Gaucho prepares not only its Caesar salad, but its baked potato, tableside. ERIKA HOBART 2505 First Ave., 728-1337. elgaucho.com $$$ BELLTOWN El Pilón is a small, bright little bolt-hole of a restaurant on Rainier Avenue that most people completely overlook until the day they realize that one of the things that's been missing from their culinary lives for far too long is a hit of Puerto Rican comfort food. And the best possible cure for this lack is mofongo, the official comfort food of Puerto Rico and the best thing on the board at El Pilón. Never heard of mofongo? That's OK. It's plantain: fried, mashed with el pilón—the mortar and pestle of the Caribbean—then made into a ball and fried again. It has pork in it—bits of skin and fat, fried up into chicharrónes—and comes with pork chops (fried) or chicken (fried) or carne fritta (non-specific meat), also fried. The giant plantain ball is served in a chicken broth, kind of like matzo-ball soup, and somewhere, in a secret lab in San Juan, Aguadilla, or Mayagüez, there's probably a team of brilliant Puerto Rican scientists working on discovering a way to fry the broth too. It is served in the pilón in which it's made (a wooden vessel looking kind of like a tiki idol), with the ball of fried plantain floating near the top, so that eating mofongo makes you feel like some kind of Polynesian zombie eating the brain of a small wooden god. JASON SHEEHAN 5303 Rainier Ave. S., 501-8167, elpilonseattle.com $ RAINIER VALLEY Ezell's became famous when God—er, Oprah—deemed it her favorite. Whether you love or loathe the talk-show host, she is onto something. Ezell's is good. Damn good. The succulent pieces of meat are prepped Southern-style, coated in original or spicy breading and deep fried until the skin is crackling and salty-delicious. The fresh rolls and sweet-potato pie deserve as much, if not more, love, with every bite practically melting in your mouth. Ezell's is certainly no friend to your waistline, but as its #1 fan knows all too well, a little fluctuation in weight here and there never hurt anybody. ERIKA HOBART 501 23rd Ave., 324-4141, ezellschicken.com $ CENTRAL DISTRICT For centuries, the Japanese have created their own interpretations of Western cuisine, commonly referred to as yoshoku, including deep-fried hamburger patties, ketchup rice, and mayonnaise spaghetti. Gourmet Dog Japon, operated by Tokyo native Shinsuke Nikaido, slings hot dogs customized to meet Asian—and adventurous American—palate standards. Wacky wieners have lost almost all their novelty in this city, but these are some damn good dogs, doused in Japanese toppings like fish flakes, seaweed, katsu, and teriyaki sauces. The top-selling Samurai Dog is a chicken-apple sausage loaded with onions, grated radish, soy sauce, and a wasabi mayo so tasty that cream cheese from competing hot-dog stands will never again do your taste buds justice. ERIKA HOBART 97 Pike St., Suite B $ PIKE PLACE MARKET The original West Seattle Jak's is like a model of steakhouses: a museum-grade replica of the elder meat-and-martini operations on which it was based, grown into its own kind of originality. Jak's is a simple, tenaciously neighborhoody place—dimly lit, un-extravagant, and small by modern standards. In the Alaska Junction, it's an anchor, and draws crowds like it was giving away free pie and Prozac to every 50th customer. Most of them are coming for exactly what Jak's does best: big whacks of beef and classic cocktails to wash them down. These are some of the best steaks you're going to find for the price, and, provided you're willing to brave the crowds of neighbors who tend to swamp the place (no reservations are accepted, ever), both the ribeye with horseradish and the New York Oscar will do you right. And be sure to get them with potato pancakes as the starch—the one deviation from steakhouse classicism in Jak's makeup, and one well worth the detour. JASON SHEEHAN 4548 California Ave. S.W., 937-7809, jaksgrill.com $$$ WEST SEATTLE When Puerto Ricans need to feed their entire extended family on special occasions, a roast pork shoulder is typically the centerpiece of the feast. They marinate that delicious hunk of swine in a garlic/onion/adobo/spice purée for a few days, then toss it the oven and slowly roast it for hours, basting it in its own fatty juices until the meat is falling off the bone and tender as a Caribbean sunset. Pernil, as the dish is called, is the meal of choice at Puerto Rican gatherings and holidays. It's also the specialty at La Isla, where it's served with flamboyan, a roasted red pepper, garlic, and rice-vinegar sauce. Combined with a side of tostones (green plantains, smashed and fried) and an ice-cold mojito, La Isla's pernil will have you wondering why your family—and, for that matter, the pilgrims—ever bothered with those big ugly birds on the holidays. KEEGAN HAMILTON 2320 N.W. Market St., 789-0516, laislaseattle.com $–$$ BALLARD The crowds at Le Pichet are crazy. At 2 p.m. on a Monday—a day and an hour when many other restaurateurs would be perfectly willing to dance on the street wearing only a sandwich board advertising their daily specials—Le Pichet is moving customers on and off the minuscule patio and in and out of the smallish dining room at a breakneck pace. And while the full board at Le Pichet, with its poulet rôti and mijoté d'agneau aux pois-chiches et aux abricots secs, is nothing to sneeze at, what makes fighting your way through that kind of crush at the door worth it for us is the assiettes, which is kind of like Le Pichet's greatest-hits mixtape—combinations of all their best meats or all their best cheeses, slapped together on a single large plate and served with nothing more than a bit of bread, a scattering of cornichons, and a touch of mustard from the cool little pot on every table. Rillette du porc, 16-month prosciutto, beef tongue, blood sausage, unusual forcemeats rarely seen outside the poverty-stricken regions of their invention—these all feature on the assiette de charcuterie. And the assiette de fromage is almost as good, matching a half-dozen fantastic cow, goat, and sheep's-milk cheeses on one plate and serving them absolutely naked of all garniture, clad in nothing but their own awesomeness. Pair one of each of these with a couple of short glasses of cold Belgian beer, and that whistling noise you hear? That's the sound of hours, responsibilities, and deadlines slipping past unnoticed. JASON SHEEHAN 1933 First Ave., 256-1499, lepichetseattle.com $$ DOWNTOWN You can't beat a classic steakhouse like The Metropolitan Grill: wall-to-wall carpeting, plush booths, ice-cold cocktails, tuxedoed waiters, and thick, juicy steaks. When that sizzling, charred piece of meat is set down in front of you, though, the din of other diners, the half-eaten basket of bread, and efficient staff all disappear into the background. Must. Eat. Meat. Most of the steaks at The Met are USDA prime beef. The Long Bone, however, is American wagyu from Idaho. The white ribbons of fat woven throughout the flesh melt into tender meat that's been expertly cooked over a mesquite charcoal grill. The edges are charred and the meat closest to the bone is red and juicy. All slabs come with steak fries, mashed potatoes, or a baked potato. For $4 you can substitute a Yukon Gold potato cake with crème fraiche and chives. Do this. The seasoned servers will make sure your steak is cooked perfectly and the drinks keep flowing, and they'll even perform a pyrotechnic act if you order one of the flambéed desserts. SONJA GROSET 820 Second Ave., 624-3287, themetropolitangrill.com $$$ DOWNTOWN Mistral Kitchen gets a slot in this section of our food pyramid for two reasons: one meat, one potato. First, there's the La Quercia prosciutto used on the house charcuterie plate—beautiful, delicate slips of which fall from the slicer crammed in at one end of the main kitchen line. This prosciutto is shockingly good—the kind of thing you imagine must be made by some haunted dwarf living in a shack in Friuli—and when you hear that it actually comes from a couple of hog freaks working in Iowa, it can take your breath away. Second, there's the Potatoes Robuchon: puréed potatoes, inspired by and named after chef Joel Robuchon. They're a wonder: whipped and butter-jacked, soft and smooth, and richer than any potatoes have any right to be, just sitting there like a hand grenade in their small, white bowl, waiting to explode. There are many other deserving plates on the Mistral Kitchen board—complicated presentations of meats and starches that involve thermal circulators and nitrogen guns—but these two show what this crew can do when stripped of all their flashy toys and left with only good sourcing and simple luxury with which to impress. JASON SHEEHAN 2020 Westlake Ave., 623-1922, mistral-kitchen.com $$$ DOWNTOWN There are few things this town is as passionate about as the Cuban roast pork sandwich at Paseo. Die-hard Cuban-sandwich aficionados will tell you this isn't a true specimen, as the clearly Caribbean-influenced sandwich is served on a chewy roll (instead of pressed panini-style) and lacks some crucial ingredients. But whether it's legit or not, it's delicious. Fall-apart tender pork is dressed with little besides some grilled onions, aioli, pickled jalapenos, and a few sprigs of cilantro between that crusty bread. The result is a drip-down-your-forearm creation that's won the beach shack of a restaurant—with locations in both Ballard and Fremont—praise not only from local publications, but national ones as well. Go early, be patient (though they don't have a sign, you'll know you're there by the throngs of hungry diners milling in front), and wear your stretchiest pants: Finishing a whole sandwich is a Seattle rite of passage. CHELSEA LIN 4225 Fremont Ave. N., 545-7440; 6226 Seaview Ave. N.W., 789-3100. paseoseattle.com $ BALLARD & FREMONT Stan's Bar-B-Q is a rarity: an actual Kansas City–style barbecue restaurant operating in the Kansas City tradition—in Issaquah. The room is like a temple to three things: meat and the men who cut it; owner Stan Phillips' dad, Bill, who taught Stan to smoke in a backyard setup that would be the envy of most professional pit men and who passed him the family recipes; and the Kansas City Chiefs. Sure, there's a big Seahawks helmet tucked away in the corner by the hot boxes, but the bar is fairly garlanded with photos of quarterbacks and linemen, red football helmets, arrowheads, and sculptures of pigs. Just as an embassy in a foreign land acts as a tiny piece of American soil laid over more traditional geopolitical boundaries, Phillips has transplanted a small slice of KC to the middle of Issaquah, and made it up so that no one inside has any illusions about where they are. And if the decor doesn't do it, the food certainly will. Stan's serves ribs in the classic KC style, smoked low and slow and served naked. There's pulled pork, brisket, and brats too, but the ribs are where the love is. And in a bold and classical departure from the ridiculous, modern idea of offering 10,000 different kinds of sauce, made from things like mango and lemongrass and the tears of unemployed bluesmen, Stan's offers only three—one hot, one sweet, one mild. And while all of them are good, none are as good as the meat left alone. JASON SHEEHAN 58 Front St., Issaquah, 425-392-4551, stansbarbq.com $$ ISSAQUAH A small, vibrant U District fixture for 11 years, Tempero do Brasil is a splash of bright yellow and green at the north end of the Ave. Warm, gracious owners Graça and Antonio Ribeiro and Bryant Urban have created a home away from home for Brazilian expats and a worthy destination for music lovers and fans of the beautiful game. The cuisine, from the northeast coastal state of Bahia, is a fusion of West African, Portuguese, and native influences, seafood-centric and flavored with lime, ginger, palm oil, coconut milk, and hot peppers; it's comfort food with a kick. The signature dish is feijoada, a hearty workingman's stew of black beans, ham hock, beef, and sausage that's cooked for hours, served in a clay pot, and paired with couve, collard greens julienned and sautéed with bacon, garlic, olive oil, and a dash of lime juice. Bife grelhado and acebolado are thin steaks, charbroiled and pan-fried, respectively, spiked with Antonio's thick, peppery hot sauce. Put out the fire with a 22-ounce Xingu, a distinctive black lager named for the Amazon tributary, or the deceptively potent caipirinha, the national cocktail featuring cachaça, a liquor distilled from fermented sugar-cane juice. They go down easy; one is not enough, three may be too many. MICHAEL MAHONEY 5628 University Way N.E., 523-6229, temperodobrasil.net $$ U DISTRICT With its sunny dining room, bright white tablecloths, and scrupulously polite waitstaff, 35th Street Bistro might be the classiest restaurant in Fremont. Service is offered for all three meals, and while brunch options (fluffy brioche French toast) and appetizers (plump Manila clams in a white wine broth) are both executed beautifully, the entrées are where the bistro's knack for French cuisine really shines. Lamb collar is slow-braised to succulent perfection in pinot noir and served au jus with herb-smashed potatoes and sweet glazed carrots, while sirloin is topped with a spiced-up sauce of green peppercorns, arugula, mustard, and champagne vinaigrette and served alongside locally sourced fingerling potatoes. There are also steak frites, done right—the beef is good-sized and flavorful, and the shoestring fries are fancifully seasoned with salt, garlic, and Parmesan. ERIN K. THOMPSON 709 N. 35th St., 547-9850, 35bistro.com $$ FREMONT Long before Quiznos spread across the city like a rash, Tubs Gourmet Subs was serving sandwiches on toasted baguettes to hungry car dealers and high-school students from its Lake City Way location. A couple dozen sandwich variations are on the menu at the original location and at the second outpost in Lynnwood. Many varieties, like The Joker, pile on multiple forms of meat: ham, turkey, roast beef, and bacon. All sandwiches are served with small Styrofoam containers of warm BBQ sauce for dipping. Why BBQ sauce? Who cares? It's delicious! Fresh baguettes from The Essential Baking Company are delivered daily, sliced open, and topped with meat, cheese, and sauce, then sent through the salamander. After getting warm and toasty, cold toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and other veggies are added. Try the Firecracker: The toasted baguette, with its shattering crust, is slathered with garlic mayo, sprinkled with "firecracker" seasoning, and piled with slices of chicken, jack cheese, strips of bacon, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, and a few healthy (or unhealthy) squirts of ranch dressing. It more than lives up to its name. SONJA GROSET 11064 Lake City Way N.E., Ste. 16, 361-1621; 440 168th St. S.W., Lynnwood, 425-741-9800, tubssubs.com $ LAKE CITY & LYNNWOOD VEGGIES Book Bindery's chef, Shaun McCrain, makes one of the greatest salads ever—a salad that is only a salad by the loosest of definitions. On one long, white plate, McCrain places thick, fresh, perfectly cut slices of Granny Smith apple, salted, spiced, and grilled briefly. Between them, like insulators against healthy eating, are big cubes of seared pork belly, topped with two sticks of crossed, batonnet-cut Honeycrisp apple and topped again with a single tiny leaf of upland cress about the size of my pinky nail—the sole vegetable component of this "salad." For punctuation, there are ripe, red balls of compressed Fuji apple drooling juice; small candied walnuts; a smear of Granny Smith purée; and twin bars of peppered Honeycrisp syrup. The effect of all this together is amazing—both a singularly delicious plate and a pure expression of all the potential of culinary modernism. JASON SHEEHAN 198 Nickerson St., 283-2665, bookbinderyrestaurant.com $$$ QUEEN ANNE Chaco Canyon Cafe walks its talk. Washington's first certified organic vegetarian cafe, it features a wide range of foods as diverse as its U District locale. Diners know what they're eating is good for the body, the soul, and the earth. Chaco Canyon offers enticing raw-food options, including the enchilada plate with cashew "cheese" and raw tomato tortillas and the cilantro-pesto pizza. Cooked foods include one of Seattle's favorite veggie burgers—the lentil burger, with its finger-lickable "special sauce"—and a tangy artichoke melt. Weekend visitors will find brunch a treat, and folks looking for something simpler can choose from a rainbow of healthy smoothies and shakes. As a final sign of its success, in this difficult economy Chaco Canyon Cafe plans to open a West Seattle location next month. ZIBBY WILDER 4757 12th Ave. N.E., 522-6966, chacocanyoncafe.com $ U DISTRICT At first glance, Georgetown Liquor Company comes off as a rough-and-tumble bar in south-central Seattle. But as you take a gander at the menu, you realize the cowboy-ish facade is just that; you're actually in a vegetarian restaurant. The menu ranges from nachos (with veggie taco meat) and tamales to "The Enterprise," a savory housemade veggie burger, and "The Lowell," a hoagie stuffed with vegan "ham," green chiles, cheddar, baby greens, roma tomato, and chipotle aioli. Generous salads and tasty homemade soups are also available in this shabby watering hole that brings home its mantra: food "strong enough for a carnivore, made for an herbivore." ZIBBY WILDER 5501 Airport Way S., 763-6764, georgetownliquorcompany.com $ GEORGETOWN Don't let The Highline's location—above a sex "superstore"—stop you from bolting up the stairs. Don't let the schizophrenic interior fool you into thinking you're here for some death metal. And don't let the dude with the floor-length dreadlocks creep you out, because he's the one who's going to serve you Seattle's finest vegan junk food. Belly up to the bar to place your order for chewy teriyaki, buffalo "nubs" (mock meat chunks fried, sauced, and served with dipping sauce) a "fish" sandwich, vegan poutine, or a Howie sandwich of fake ham, tempeh bacon, and "cheez" sauce on toasted bread. Weekend brunch is legendary, with vegan versions of all the classic brunch items you can imagine, including Western omelets and biscuits and gravy. ZIBBY WILDER 210 Broadway Ave. E, 328-7837, highlineseattle.com $ CAPITOL HILL Lecosho is not one of the first places that leaps to mind when someone says "vegetables." And yet chef Matt Janke and his crew use lentils like no other restaurant in Seattle. Janke uses them in varying preparations on three or four different dishes, depending on the night and what's on the specials board. Not only that, but he (or someone on his crew) is a master of lentils—making the little buggers taste so much better than they ever have. They come as a bowl of sharply flavored, wine-dark, and savory supporting players to a presentation of sausage and egg; as a citrus-spiked side to a plate of wild-caught sockeye with herbed aioli; as the base of a plate of duck confit and rounds of potato fried in duck fat. And in every instance, they are amazing. JASON SHEEHAN 89 University St., 623-2101, lecosho.com $$ DOWNTOWN Saying a restaurant is your "favorite" isn't the same as saying you've tried everything on the menu. In fact, sometimes a favorite restaurant is just the one that's closest to home, that place where, even if you're not on a first-name basis, the waitstaff still knows you by sight, and where you know there will always be a few reasonably priced, delicious ol' reliables. Long story short: Moonlight Cafe is my favorite restaurant in Seattle. Yet there are only four things I ever order, all vegetarian: the egg rolls, the (fake meat) sesame beef, the (fake meat) grilled pork vermicelli, and the tofu pho. Does Moonlight Cafe have two different menus—red for meat-eaters, green for veggies—with, quite literally, dozens of dishes listed inside? Yes. Does it matter? No. That's the beauty of the favorite. CALEB HANNAN 1919 S. Jackson St., 322-3278 $ CENTRAL DISTRICT With mushrooms painted on the walls and a menu that reads more like a list of what you'd plant in your yard rather than put in your mouth, Nettletown appears to be equal parts culinary experiment and composting project. Chef Christina Choi has somehow come up with an unpretentious cafe that utilizes foraged Pacific Northwest ingredients—morels, fiddlehead ferns, and the namesake nettles—in dishes that combine her dual Chinese/Swiss heritage. Sound disjointed? It's surprisingly not. The flavor profiles that play out here—particularly in veggie dishes, like the spaetzle-like knoepfli, housemade pickles, sautéed greens, and scallion-fried tofu sandwiches—are big beyond expectations. This is the sort of place that could easily be alienating, but comes off as deliciously humble and casual. CHELSEA LIN 2238 Eastlake Ave. E., 588-3607, nettletown.com $$ EASTLAKE The Other Coast Cafe serves big, messy deli sandwiches. Huge chunks of meat and cheese are for sale in the shop, just in case you think you can match its sandwich-making abilities at home. Chances are you can't, so you'll just have to order a sub while you're in there. At the Ballard location, a giant, unchanging menu is painted on the cement wall behind the sandwich-preparation line, although sandwich makers are happy to switch things up if you tip well. Their main vegetarian sandwich, the Roasted Veggie, is bulky enough to stuff even the most vehement of carnivores. Packed with eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash, this toasty sandwich is made complete with melted havarti and pesto. LAURA EASLEY 5315 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-0936; 721 E. Pike St., 257-5927, othercoastcafe.com $ BALLARD & CAPITOL HILL Wallingford's Sutra proves that it's possible for vegans to feast just as richly and lavishly as any lard-loving carnivore. Each night, in one or two seatings (make reservations!), the restaurant serves a prix fixe dinner in four exquisite courses. The seasonal menu changes every few days, but each dish incorporates an astonishing range of organic, farmed, or foraged vegetables—creativity is king at this place. Here's a bare-bones description of a possible meal, omitting about half the actual ingredients for brevity's sake: a starter of savory wild-nettle bisque paired with a salad of pickled radishes, Asian pear, and fennel; a glazed lentil-arugula-cipollini onion cake; a main course of pumpkin-sesame gnocchi topped with wild chanterelles and a sage-tomato-saffron sauce; and a dessert of Theo Chocolate mousse torte, so creamy and luscious it couldn't possibly have been made without butter and eggs—but it was. ERIN K. THOMPSON 1605 N. 45th St., 547-1348, sutraseattle.com $$ WALLINGFORD It may sound like another one of Seattle's hippy-dippy joints, but Thrive is much more than a patchouli-scented perch for brown rice and tofu shawarma. The 15-seat cafe in the shadow of Whole Foods is "designed to outmatch the flavor of cooked food and fulfill the body's nutritional needs," according to owner Monika Kinsman, who opened Thrive in December 2008. The menu is a creative array of organic, raw, vegan, and gluten-free concoctions, like the best-selling Ninja Rolls (nori filled with a walnut-based paté and veggies served with sesame ginger sauce). But Thrive's homemade desserts are the real sweet spot—raw-ice-cream sundaes, chocolates, cupcakes, pies, and tiramisu are just as healthy as the smoothies, made with freshly hacked Thai coconuts. How popular is the food at Thrive? Enough that Kinsman has plans to open five more locations in Seattle in the next five years. JULIEN PERRY 1026 N.E. 65th St., 525-0300, generationthrive.com $ RAVENNA SUGAR Arosa Cafe is small—a mostly nondescript space in a strip mall across the street from Swedish Hospital, half of it taken up by owner Hans Reichsteiner's magical waffle and panini workshop. His menu is one of the shortest, tightest, and sweetest I have ever seen: coffee; five sandwiches, all coming from his two panini presses; and "snack waffles," listed at the bottom of the board. No toppings. No strangeness. Most people who come here come for the waffles. Everyone who knows anything about waffles, it seems, comes here. And Reichsteiner seems to know almost all of them. He serves some of the best hot chocolate in the city (nothing but steamed milk mixed, at regular intervals, with semisweet chips and swirled), but the real draw here is the beautiful, small, irregularly shaped Liège waffles lifted straight from the irons, still hot, sticky with caramelized sugar, crunchy with fat crystals suspended in the golden batter, and served across the top of Arosa's short bakery case in crinkly paper envelopes. JASON SHEEHAN 3121 E. Madison St., #101, 324-4542; 1310 Madison St., 329-5881 $ DOWNTOWN & MADISON PARK Bakery Nouveau's owners, William and Heather Leaman, have been sugar-pushers for more than 20 years. William was captain of the U.S. bread-bakers' team that won the World Cup of Baking in 2005. Together they've built Bakery Nouveau's reputation as one of the city's best. They do cookies and cakes, pain au chocolat, breads, pastries, and all sorts of desserts. They are the model of a modern French bakery misplaced in an American city. But what puts them over the top is just one thing: the twice-baked almond croissants, a house specialty. While most of the products offered behind the glass at Nouveau are good, these croissants are amazing—somehow crisp and flaky and chewy and soft all at the same time, filled with an almond paste restrained enough not to taste like liquid candy and topped with a gentle fall of powdered sugar. The stiff skin, the soft insides, all that butter mixing with all that sugar, balanced so gently by the comforting warmth of the dough—there's something almost dirty in the way they have to be described, and anytime a person has to resort to soft-core porn writing just to talk about a baked good, you know it has to be good. JASON SHEEHAN 4737 California Ave S.W., 923-0534, bakerynouveau.com $ WEST SEATTLE The Japanese gobble cream puffs the way Homer Simpson does doughnuts, which is precisely why in 1999 Yuji Hirota founded Beard Papa's, a puff-pastry specialty shop that has since expanded to more than 250 stores in his home country, 300 worldwide. Its success is unsurprising—Beard Papa's uses only the most delicious (meaning most fattening) ingredients: butter, eggs, whole milk, and a whole lotta sugar. The result is a ball of perfection—a generous dollop of whipped-cream custard encased in a sweet, cruller-like shell. While they can be frozen, these cream puffs taste best fresh, when their exterior contains a slight crunch. And yes, that counts as a pretty good excuse to polish off an entire box in one sitting. ERIKA HOBART 600 Fifth Ave. S., 623-0893, beardpapa.com $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT For 24 years, the Taing family from Cambodia has run Countryside Donut House just off the freeway in Mountlake Terrace. This little shop is open every morning at 4:30 until they run out, which they always do (usually around 1 p.m.). The offerings are basic and include the classics: Old-fashioned, raised, cake. Maple bars are usually sold out by 9 or 10 a.m. On the cinnamon twists, the pungent spice is applied liberally, and the creases of the old-fashioneds are as packed with icing as an old woman's wrinkles are with foundation. The cake donuts are just greasy enough, but remain nice and crispy around the edges. The raised varieties provide a little chewy resistance on the exterior before exposing their soft, pillowy interior. Donuts from Countryside don't have the heavy, gut-bomb effect of other donuts—unless of course you eat more than four. SONJA GROSET 21919 66th Ave. W., Ste. I, 425-672-7820 $ MOUNTLAKE TERRACE Ice cream gets plenty of shout-outs in this town, and while we love Molly Moon's, Full Tilt, Parfait, and the like, we may just love D'Ambrosio Gelato more. The Ballard Avenue gelateria makes real Italian gelato—rich, creamy, and intensely flavorful—in flavors like panna cotta, tiramisu, and gianduia (like cold Nutella), but those in the know go straight for the pistacchio di bronte: a pale-green dessert made from special Sicilian pistachios that is sophisticated decadence in a cup. Sure, the organic ingredients may not be as hyper-local as some of their competitors', but a lower fat content than ice cream helps assuage some of that guilt. A tip: Even a small cup contains two separate flavors, so make sure to sample as many as possible. CHELSEA LIN 5339 Ballard Ave. N.W., 327-9175, dambrosiogelato.com $ BALLARD The mere mention of sex seems out of context in regard to Wallingford, a residential neighborhood best known for its cute coffee shops and brunch restaurants. But based there is the city's best purveyor of bachelorette-party goodies. The Erotic Bakery creates unabashedly raunchy desserts: cupcakes topped with erect—and very edible!—penises, cakes with huge breasts, and much more. Don't be startled when an employee asks if you'd like a squirt of cum; it's a customary offer with each purchase, which comes in the form of an impressively authentic-looking drizzle of icing. ERIKA HOBART 2323 N. 45th St., 545-6969, theeroticbakery.com $$ WALLINGFORD If Gelatiamo were in another city, it'd be a place you'd make a point of visiting every time you were in that city, and bemoan the fact that Seattle doesn't have anything that wonderful. Well, we do, and it's right on Third and Union. The silky, almost custardy texture of Gelatiamo's gelato comes from the mixing method, which whips in less air than ice cream, and the vivid taste comes from the no-frills recipe, with little getting between you and the cream, milk, and sugar. (Gelato is 9.5 percent milk fat, and no butterfat, as compared to ice cream's 17 percent–20 percent.) Among the 15 or so varieties on offer on any given day, flavorings go heavy on the fresh fruit (blueberry and mango, as well as the usual suspects), with some authentically Italian variations like zabaglione and gianduia. There's also a pastry display case filled with big, cumulus-like cream puffs; tarts piled with glossy, gemlike fruits; and exquisite little chocolate fancies. GAVIN BORCHERT 1400 Third Ave., 467-9563, gelatiamo.com $ DOWNTOWN If it were possible to actually taste love and comfort, it would most resemble a kouign amann from Honore. The buttery, salty-sweet pastry is the Parisian-style Ballard bakery's signature, and they quickly sell out—though if you have to settle for a croissant, pain au chocolat, pear tart, strawberry danish, canelé, rainbow-hued macaron, or slice of cardamom coffee cake, your life really isn't so bad. Recently the tiny sliver of a shop added another case with family-sized lemon tarts, chocolate mousses, and the occasional cake that looks too pretty to eat—perfect to pick up before a dinner party you've slacked on preparing for. If you're dining in, there's a small back patio with a few tables, so if it looks as if the limited counter seats are all taken, head for the rear. CHELSEA LIN 1413 N.W. 70th St., 706-4035 $ BALLARD It's a circus. It's a cabaret. It's the best al fresco dining spot in Pike Place Market. Yes, the Pink Door is a whole lot of things to a whole lot of people. Seasoned restaurateur Jackie Roberts recently stuck another feather in her crowded cap, adding a deadly sipping chocolate to the extensive list of things she does with a whole lot of style. More a decadent dessert than a cup of cocoa, this magical elixir is made with Callebaut Belgian chocolate, cream, and a bit of butter. Could it get any richer? Well, how about some housemade marshmallows on the side? It's like a chocolate lover's orgasm in a cup. If you want to go into a full-on food coma, start warming up to the post-meal chocolate bliss by first indulging in the Door's ridiculously satisfying lasagna or one of chef Steve Smrstik's seasonal specials. LESLIE KELLY 1919 Post Alley, 443-3241, thepinkdoor.net $$$ DOWNTOWN COCKTAILS Dwell, drink and be well at Bottlehouse. That's the motto of this unassuming wine bar tucked inside the charming pale-yellow home in Madrona that houses Wilridge Winery (look for the giant wine barrel). It's a little intimidating the first time you visit, as you might think you're entering someone's personal space, but just keep walking until you see the bar and the friendly face behind it. This urban winery is decorated with benches, tabletops, and wine racks that have that vintage/found/industrial look to them. It feels instantly familiar, like a friend's fancy farmhouse styled by Anthropologie, complete with candlelit sitting nooks adorned by rotating art. This is the place you come when you want a pre-dinner drink, an aperitif, or an excuse to start drinking at noon. The menu is short and sweet—some artisan cheeses, breads, and charcuterie—to complement a rotating list of wines and microbrews with a focus on the Pacific Northwest. The dessert list includes High 5 pies and Bluebird ice cream, which they use to make their root beer, porter, and prosecco floats. If that's not enough to sweeten the pot, Bottlehouse offers a daily happy hour with $5 wine pours. JULIEN PERRY 1416 34th Ave., 708-7164, bottlehouseseattle.com $ MADRONA Looking for a caffeinated cocktail with some class? A visit to The Diller Room provides you with the opportunity to kick back in style and order drinks imbued with coffee from the bar's exclusive roaster, Stella Coffee. Dim lighting, vintage decor, and the artists behind the bar (who are thrilled to share their extensive bartending knowledge, should you care to listen) work together to create an environment that will leave you feeling abuzz with both the liquid concoctions and the faint sensation that you're suddenly a star on the silver screen. Want the coffee flavor with a little less caffeine? Ask your bartender for a drink involving their espresso-infused vodka instead. ROSE TOSTI 1224 First Ave., 467-4042, dillerroom.com $$ DOWNTOWN There are few chairs and (on weekend evenings, anyway) far too many people, but the drinks at Hazlewood are worth the inconvenience. Through its rustic/luxe decor and cocktail menu inspired by pre-Prohibition classics, this blink-and-you'll-miss-it Ballard bar excels at recreating the sort of dark, secretive, drink-focused spot that people may have actually visited at the turn of the century—though thankfully without the pretense involved in Seattle's recent wave of nouveau cocktail bars. Maybe it's Ballard's laid-back attitude that pervades the atmosphere here, but we also credit the bar's cool factor to the owners, a quartet that includes Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd and Cops bassist/bartender Drew Church. Show up early to snag a spot in the lounge upstairs, and work your way through the menu of specialty drinks—any of the house specials, particularly the eponymous Hazlewood, come recommended. CHELSEA LIN 2311 N.W. Market St., 783-0478, myspace.com/hazlewoodbar $$ BALLARD The text across the browser window of Liberty's web page reads, "Drinks, Couches, Sushi, Espresso." It almost makes mentioning anything else unnecessary. Liberty is a comfy, quirky, ultra-cool place on Capitol Hill to meet friends. One of the few locations in Seattle where you can get a truly excellent espresso cocktail, Liberty has gone to the trouble not only of sourcing good coffee from Seattle's Stumptown roastery, but also of giving their bartenders some solid training in coffee preparation. Neither liquor nor espresso is mishandled at Liberty, and you'll be served a beverage that seamlessly blends the two worlds. Order a side of sushi for the full, exceptionally unique experience. ROSE TOSTI 517 15th Ave. E., 323-9898, libertybars.com $$ CAPITOL HILL It's hard to put your finger on what makes Shea's Lounge such a magical place. Maybe it's the tucked-away location, on an upper floor of Pike Place Market that feels hushed despite the crowds below. Maybe it's the discreet waitstaff, which gets you what you want without intruding. Or maybe it's the peek-a-boo view of the Sound, which tantalizes without taking center stage. Whatever it is, Shea's Lounge creates a sense of intimacy that makes it perfect for the cocktail hours—when you're warming up the evening or putting it to bed. And if you're hungry, it's also a great place to indulge. Shea's Lounge shares a kitchen with Chez Shea, the veteran French establishment next door that turns out fine prix fixe dinners. The menu is lighter and cheaper at the lounge, yet just as well-executed. NINA SHAPIRO 94 Pike St., Ste. 34, 467-9990, chezshea.com $$ PIKE PLACE MARKET Tavern Law is a great bar with a great kitchen and a great location, run by two of Seattle's greatest chefs: Dana Tough and Brian McCracken of Spur. But as clever as Tavern Law is at plumbing the depths of cocktail history for forgotten drinks of yore, the real magic happens upstairs, in their modern-day speakeasy, Needle and Thread. You pick up the phone beside the black door and ask to be allowed in, then mount the narrow staircase that leads to the small second-floor bar-within-the-bar—a place with no menu and no cocktail list, just bartenders who ask you what you like and how you're feeling, then construct custom cocktails with almost unerring accuracy. It is amazing to watch the bartenders work, an education to see them deduce from just a few clues the tastes of the supplicant sitting before them. And even if each creation is the stuff of dreams and whimsy—gone the minute the glass is empty or the rocks are dry—the best ones live on in the institutional memory of the bar, always there for the next person who comes in looking for the same combination of flavors and mood. JASON SHEEHAN 1406 12th Ave., 322-9734, tavernlaw.com $$ CAPITOL HILL One of the many appealing things about the remarkable—and remarkably little-known—Verve Bistro & Wine Cellar in Columbia City is that it sells half-glasses of wine. For a mere $3 or $4 (even less during happy hour, which lasts until 7 p.m.), you can get an excellent Portuguese red or French champagne. So it doesn't cost a fortune to try different wines, and you're not forced to drink more than you want. But by no means limit yourself to the alcohol. Verve serves elegant, inventive cuisine on the order of, say, Lark. Verve's talents were on full display this past Valentine's Day, when it offered dishes like pork belly-and-pear terrine, potato-fennel bisque, halibut with kale "chips," and chocolate pot au crème. If you ever see the bisque on the menu again, order it. A number of fancy ingredients were thrown in—golden beets, duck caviar, and truffle oil—which sounds like overkill but wasn't. The soup was earthy and exotic, smooth and crunchy, creamy and sweet all at the same time. NINA SHAPIRO 3820 S. Ferdinand St., Suite 102, 760-0977, vervewinebar.com $$ COLUMBIA CITY Zig Zag Café is not a place you go for the food. I mean, sure, there's a menu there. And it's serviceable, if not particularly inspiring. But the reason for those lines that build up around the door prior to its opening every evening? Those people are there for the drinks, not the food, and more specifically, they're there to be served by Murray Stenson: an honest-to-god cocktail-world celebrity and a man who pours what some people who really know what they're talking about—who've spent time and considerable fortunes studying the topic—call the best cocktails in the world. To watch Murray work the wells and racks is to see an artist in his natural environment, doing what he does best. And drinking the results is one of those rare pleasures offered by Seattle that simply cannot be had anywhere else. "The Last Word" is the cocktail that made Stenson and the Zig Zag famous, but the list here is deep, with genius concoctions mixed by a staff whose off-the-cuff experiments are often better than the most careful work of other, lesser mortals. JASON SHEEHAN 1501 Western Ave., 625-1146, zigzagseattle.com $$ DOWNTOWN EVERYTHING ELSE Beth's Cafe is the dark cousin to every proper restaurant in Seattle. Operating 24/7, 363 days a year (it's closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving), it is best after the sun goes down, even better in those soft, magical moments just before dawn. You can eat at Beth's in daylight, but I'm not sure why anyone ever would. To step inside the cramped space while the sun is up is kind of like seeing your favorite dive bar with natural light streaming through the windows, or a tranny hooker on the morning after—disturbing and revelatory in ways discomfiting to the spirit. Beth's in daylight makes you wonder what you ever found charming about it in the first place, why you have spent so many nights and so many hours slumped in this weird hole, the walls covered with layers of customer art flapping in the fitful breeze, the blackened and battered galley, corners and rails and flat surfaces all stuck with taped-up bits of headlines clipped from magazines like the lair of a hyperactive ransom-note writer. Beth's is by no stretch a great restaurant, but it is the best at what it does: feeding pancakes and gigantic omelets to drunks and other last-call casualties, and simply surviving all the rough crowds and long nights for 54 years and counting. JASON SHEEHAN 7311 Aurora Ave. N., 782-5588, bethscafe.com $ GREEN LAKE The simple lines of Black Bottle's Belltown digs belie the sensation of its food. The menu is divided into spare sections: meat, seafood, veggies, flatbread, "also" (uncategorized sides such as fried tofu with peanut sauce and prosciutto and potato wheels), and sweets. But perhaps the most talked-about dish at Black Bottle is the broccoli blasted: a liberal mound of broccoli dressed in oil and spices and baked until tender yet crispy in a blast oven. Other dishes are similarly creative, such as the seven-spice shrimp and the house-smoked wild boar ribs. While it's not family-style by any means, these dishes easily feed more than one, and Black Bottle's prices will leave you with plenty of cash to sample a drink from the well-stocked bar. ZIBBY WILDER 2600 First Ave., 441-1500, blackbottleseattle.com $$ BELLTOWN Seattle's most romantic hole-in-the-wall, Bleu Bistro is sweet enough to melt any woman's heart and sexy enough to stir any man's interest. Diners are seated in tiny booths created by heavy velvet curtains—each its own inviting little world. Bleu Bistro is cuisine-less, offering dishes from an expansive menu ranging from Greek and Italian to Mexican, Asian, and straightforward American. It caters to vegetarians as much as carnivores, with staples including the Onassis Pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, and gorgonzola; Bleu's Famous Wasabi Grilled Cheese; and the mountainous Vegetarian BLT. ZIBBY WILDER 202 Broadway Ave. E, 329-3087 $ CAPITOL HILL If anyone can eat a chocolate sandwich in a dignified manner, it is the French. Café Presse on Capitol Hill offers food as simple and wonderful as the $4 pain au chocolat à l'ancienne. Although pain au chocolat is a chocolate-filled croissant-like pastry, à l'ancienne loosely refers to a traditional baguette. Together, it's a crispy baguette smeared with melted bittersweet chocolate that triples in goodness with an accompanying coffee or wine. Whether you go to buy a magazine from the extensive domestic and foreign newsstand and stick around to sip coffee, or meet a friend over soup and a baguette, Café Presse leaves a good taste in both your mouth and lifestyle. In fact, one day, regular visits will be proven to make one feel more productive, cultured, and intelligent. Because, honestly, the aesthetic of a small French café looks good on everybody. LAURA EASLEY 1117 12th Ave., 709-7674, cafepresseseattle.com $$ CAPITOL HILL Dieters need not step through the doors of The Cheesecake Factory. The menu boasts 200-plus items—including 50 cheesecake varieties—most of which provide more than a person's recommended daily (weekly?) caloric intake. Enormous entrées such as chicken with shortcake biscuits and mashed potatoes come smothered in gravy, and pasta carbonara is laden with bacon and the creamiest of sauces. These pleasures are made ever guiltier by additional toppings like Godiva chocolate, Oreo crumbles, and Snickers chunks. Sure, nobody who wants to wear a bikini and actually attract admiring glances wants to eat here on a regular basis. But every once in a while, there is no better restaurant at which to throw caution to the wind and dig in. ERIKA HOBART 700 Pike St., 652-5400, thecheesecakefactory.com $$ DOWNTOWN Gorgeous George's serves the best hummus in Seattle, hands down. And while it might seem like a small thing—a plate of hummus and some pita, merely the start to a meal that should otherwise be filled with more delicious and more memorable things—here the hummus is the thing you will remember. George's hummus is beautiful to start: dun-colored but shading to gold where puddles of oil gleam atop it, studded with almonds and cashews and sprinkled with just a touch of dark paprika. It comes dented in the center like the cone of a volcano, a crater full of tiny bits of lamb (scraps and trimmings and delicious fatty bits, the best example of how to make use of every scrap of food in the kitchen) pan-seared in olive oil, then pulled just as the surfaces had all browned and caramelized. It's the kind of dish where you take one bite and find yourself confused simply because you had no expectation that this would be what opens your eyes and knocks you back in your seat. A second bite confirms the shock of the first. And by the third, you're wondering how exactly to get everyone at your table to leave—to just up and vanish—so that you won't have to share this with anyone else in the world. JASON SHEEHAN 7719 Greenwood Ave. N., 783-0116, gorgeousgeorges.com $$ GREENWOOD Tucked between a couple of random shops (that never seem to be open) off Jackson Street is a skinny door next to a bay window displaying full roasted ducks and racks of hanging Chinese barbecued ribs suspended under heat lamps. The bottomless jasmine green tea always keeps you warm despite the constant chill in the air, and the starchy egg-flower soup is always full of fresh-cut veggies and chunks of chicken. Harbor City's best dishes are the classics, like pork pot stickers, crispy chicken chow mein, Mongolian beef, and sweet-and-sour chicken. Good luck trying to find a seat if you go during dim sum service, but if you have a sweet tooth after dinner and still have room after the massive portions, order the fried sesame balls with red bean paste. They're huge, made to order, sizzling hot, and just what the doctor ordered to put you into MSG overdrive. SIIRI SAMPSON 707 S. King St., 621-2228 $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT If you have any hangups about eating next to a person with bandages wrapped around her head, get over it now. Harborview doesn't just boast the best trauma unit in the Pacific Northwest, it also has better food than many proper restaurants. The cafeteria is nearly impossible to find, but it has a rotating menu of filling pasta and rice entrées and a surprisingly fresh-looking salad bar, all at prices far lower than any legitimate First Hill restaurant. Sandwiches at the Ninth Avenue Cafe are similarly inexpensive and made to order without skimping on the meat. But the real reason you should intentionally seek to end up as a patient at Harborview is the soup. Most are made in-house, and range from savory potato-leek and seasonal pumpkin to rich red-pepper/gouda bisque, all at around $2 a bowl. And if you are very lucky (or have inside information) you will arrive on Kickin' Crab Corn Chowder day. No swanky, overpriced waterfront bistro can hold a candle to Harborview's jalapeño-spiced crab corn chowder. LAURA ONSTOT 325 Ninth Ave., 744-2800, uwmedicine.washington.edu $ FIRST HILL Some flock to Din Tai Fung, but those in the know go to Henry's Taiwan for Taiwanese food at ridiculously reasonable prices. The crispy and chewy beef bing are juicier than DTF's renowned xiao long bao. Try a soup you don't know, like Wenzhou wonton or peddler noodle. With chitterlings, oysters, kimchi, and red bean soup on the menu, Henry's Taiwan fits our "everything else" category—especially for its stinky tofu (nicely showcased in the ma la pietan stinky-tofu dish), which is the best in town. Or two towns: In addition to the I.D., Henry's is the happening place inside Bellevue's Pal-Do World grocery store, where you can shop for Asian groceries after your meal. JAY FRIEDMAN 504 S. King St., 624-2611; 549 156th Ave. S.E., 425-213-5392, Bellevue $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT & BELLEVUE Anthony Bourdain once wrote that brunch is the "dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights." Nuts to that. Brunch is wonderful. It's a meal between two other meals, an excuse to overindulge, and a magical land where spiked O.J. is the rule, not the exception. And when you're eating brunch at the Hi Spot, rest assured that your omelet won't be Bourdain'ed, i.e., made of recycled table scraps. That's because the quaint if cramped restaurant nestled in an old Victorian manor on Madrona's main drag doesn't deviate from the breakfast selection it offers seven days a week. Feeling Greek? Wake up with Zorba, a three-egg omelette with tomatoes, feta, and spinach. Craving something local? Get the El Pacifico, with smoked salmon, capers, scallions, and dill cream so good you'll wonder why anyone bothered to dump it in the first place. CALEB HANNAN 1410 34th Ave., 325-7905, hispotcafe.com $ MADRONA It's been undergoing construction for some time—hence the ugly scaffolding hovering over the entryway—but on the inside, Fifth Ave.'s Icon Grill is warm, mellow, and lovely—a reddish-gold glow pervades the space, and chandeliers are hung with jellyfish-like glass sculptures, the creations of Martin Blank (a former Dale Chihuly apprentice). Diners can enjoy hearty and eclectic entrées like molasses-glazed meatloaf or potato-wrapped halibut in the stately dining room, but Icon's happy hour is absolutely aces—from 4–6 p.m. on weekdays, appetizers and drinks in the lounge are half off. For the price of dirt, you can dine on crispy chicken fingers with cherry barbecue dipping sauce or an addictive plate of fried mac-and-cheese, suck down a couple of the Grill's delicious signature Zephyrtinis (Chambord on the bottom, a lemon drop in the middle, champagne floating on top), and leave full and happy. ERIN K. THOMPSON 1933 Fifth Ave., 441-6330, icongrill.com $$ BELLTOWN A bar can be perfectly successful in the way of food with little more than frozen pizzas and a few sandwiches. Certainly there are no expectations that an establishment better known as a place to down pitchers in Georgetown late at night would have much of a food menu, let alone a good one. But at Jules Maes, the menu isn't just good enough, it's truly exceptional. The lamb burger is tender, standing up to the generous toppings of gorgonzola and onion. The salads, boasting a marionberry version among other offerings, are more creative than the choices at some far fancier digs. And baskets of the deep-fried tater tots will keep you in fine drinking form long after the dinner plates are cleared. LAURA ONSTOT 5919 Airport Way S., 957-7766, julesmaes.com $$ GEORGETOWN Seniors and their grandkids seem to dominate the demographic at Marie Callender's, and the decor is flyover-America to the core in its faux-colonial glory. Marie's is known for its pies, but you may not know that it offers what must be the best Sunday brunch deal in town—a $15.99 all-you-can-eat buffet. A long table of chafing dishes stocked with salmon, eggs Benedict, bacon, home fries, biscuits and gravy, and more stands across from the well-laden pie/muffin/bread table and up and around the corner from the long salad bar. But the ace of trumps is the custom omelet station. Pile a bowl high with your choice from among a couple dozen savory fillings, from shrimp to sausage to shredded cheese, and hand it to the white-coated cook, who'll dump it on and swirl it into beaten egg poured from a pitcher onto a hot griddle. Then when you've finished that fluffy mound of goodies, go back and do it again. GAVIN BORCHERT 9538 First Ave N.E., 526-5785, mcpies.com $ NORTHGATE Come summer, you can expect to wait at least 20 minutes to be seated (longer if you insist upon the patio) at popular Kirkland waterfront eatery Olive You. But it's well worth it. Olive You prepares classic Mediterranean cuisine: fresh-baked pita bread, pan-seared calamari, and signature plates like slow-baked leg of lamb with sautéed onions or peppers served in an eggplant boat. It also offers a mean olive platter, featuring generous samplings of Greek green, kalamata, and imported olives. Pair your meal with a glass of wine, sit back, and relax as the Mediterranean Sea takes over Lake Washington. ERIKA HOBART 89 Kirkland Way, 425-250-1555, olive-you.com $$ KIRKLAND Most of the dishes at Spring Hill aren't excessively complicated—they're just the best possible versions of themselves. The tomatoes picked for the risotto burst with a shocking sweetness that perfectly complements the mushrooms; the pan-fried trout has a crisp edge, but sacrifices none of the fish's tenderness. Committed to retaining its status as a neighborhood bistro, chef Mark Fuller reserves Monday night for intimate dinners, when patrons can share their love of delicious food and the West Side. Unfortunately, the four-person fried-chicken option for Monday-night dinners will come to an end in July, but there's still plenty to head west for. LAURA ONSTOT 4437 California Ave. S.W., 935-1075, springhillnorthwest.com $$$ WEST SEATTLE Staple & Fancy is Ethan Stowell's newest restaurant: the place he opened, way down in Ballard, after closing Union, right in the heart of downtown. It's a small place and a simple place, with a brief and ever-changing menu that comes attached to a block of wood and a family-style prix fixe that's forever being talked up by the staff. It's dark and close and warm, and it has moments where, from the inside, you can feel like you're eating not just at one of the best restaurants in the city, but right smack in the middle of the warm and beating heart of the entire culinary scene. The one dish that will cement that feeling for you? The kitchen's rabbit terrine. It looks like nothing at all: just a pinkish slab of rabbit meat, a tangle of wild watercress hiding a small mound of caramelized shallots, and a spoonful of the agrodolce sauce that came of the sweet-and-sour prep of the shallots. But take just one taste of all these elements mixed together: The effect is almost indescribable. So delicious, so ideally wedded and perfectly balanced, this bite is transcendent. It is the definition of the phrase "greater than the sum of its parts"; even if no other plate on the menu can live up to the promise of this one, it is enough to know that something this good exists, and that you can get it any time you happen to be in the neighborhood. JASON SHEEHAN 4739 Ballard Ave. N.W., 789-1200, ethanstowellrestaurants.com $$$ BALLARD The heavenly aroma wafting out of the Uwajimaya-based bakery Yummy House often lures customers who would otherwise be grocery shopping. Its employees stay busy keeping up with their demands, furiously kneading dough and shouting orders to one another in Chinese. Yummy House sells Hong Kong–style desserts, which essentially are Western desserts improved upon in presentation and taste. Cakes are topped with fresh whipped cream and unlikely medleys of fruit (cantaloupe, grapes, mangoes, and strawberries), while buns come stuffed with custard and sweetened red beans, as well as savory barbecued pork and beef curry. The selection is superb and the prices—most treats cost $2—should serve as a lesson to all this city's pesky cupcake purveyors. ERIKA HOBART 522 Sixth Ave. S., 340-9308 $ INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT

 
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