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There aren't any rules governing which restaurant is date-worthy: Depending on the inclinations of you and your honey, you could very well have an excellent date at an Ethiopian restaurant or a fish-and-chips joint. Clearly, it's the company which matters most.
*See Also Seattle's Top 10 New Restaurants
But say you've been set up and don't want to risk an offbeat pick -- or splurge on a stranger. For daters seeking fun or romance on a budget, we've compiled a list of our favorite cheap sate spots.
The fine print's the same as always: The photos don't necessarily represent the restaurants listed, Erin Thompson did the heavy lifting and there's zero significance to the ordering of the finalists. Now get dating! Remember, Valentine's Day is just six weeks away.
Yes, there are fine ice-cream parlors in Seattle proper, offering premium ingredients and exotic flavors. So why go all the way to Bainbridge Island? For one thing, it's a perfect excuse to take a ferry ride on a lovely day with your lady or gent. Mora's ice cream--of which you can get endless samples before ordering--features all the favorite artisan flavors of the day, including lavender and rose petals (assuming the ingredients are in season). But it also has an unusual international bent, with flavors like Mexican chocolate, dulce de leche, and gianduja (a sweet chocolate mixed with hazelnuts), along with sorbets that use refreshing ingredients like cantaloupe and lime. If you can't find something here you like, you probably don't like ice cream.
9. Compass Cafe
History museums often try to find ways to integrate the past into their cafes, putting traditional dishes on their menus and 19th-century prints on their walls. But the Compass Cafe at the Museum of History & Industry has made its connection to Pacific Northwest history still more explicit by carving up one of the continent's biggest three-masted ships for its bar. The menu for the 700-square foot cafe features surprisingly affordable plates for a ritzy new museum, incorporating local products like Macrina Bakery bread, Beecher's Handmade Cheese, and Gerard and Dominique Smoked Salmon. And, in honor of MOHAI's new location, the dessert menu will include glazed sugar cookies emblazoned with compasses.
Pool sharks may come to Columbia City's Billiard Hoang for its tables, but the Vietnamese bar is equally popular with devotees of great food. Hoang is justly celebrated for its banh mis, but the short rib rice, topped with grilled shrimp and a pair of fried eggs, is extraordinary. The eggs are crisp at the edges and creamy at the center. The vegetables are fresh, while the splash of fish sauce served on the side is fantastically funky. The beef's salty, the shrimp are sweet, and the whole plate is just $9.50.
Instructors at the Art Institute of Seattle are justly proud of their training kitchen, which--unlike most culinary school cafes--keeps evening hours. But what's even more unique about Portfolio is the stupendous location: Situated on the sixth floor of an Alaskan Way building, the dining room overlooks the Sound, meaning diners are treated to downtown's most affordable scenic meal. While the food quality varies depending on how many weeks of study the student chefs have completed, the ingredient quality is excellent, and a brawny pork chop rarely disappoints.
The nationally acclaimed Marination Mobile crew made big waves with the opening of Marination Ma Kai on the water in West Seattle. The location boasts a bigger space, a beautiful setting, and long hours--breakfast through dinner daily, including weekend brunch. Now-classics like SPAM musubi and kimchi quesadillas are on the menu, but you can also expect some exciting new offerings. For dessert, you'll find shave ice at this Hawaiian (slash Korean slash Mexican) haven. You can order it atop azuki beans or Husky Deli vanilla ice cream, and then you choose from up to three house-made syrups from a variety of fruit flavors.
The Tin Room is Burien's top pub, and you city folk will be happy to know that its cozy-yet-industrial atmosphere is authentic. The cocktails are top-notch here, as is the "Olde Burien Meatloaf." And in 2010, they opened a subterranean movie theater--Burien's answer to Belltown's Big Picture. While the Big Picture serves champagne on ice and shows first-run films, the Tin Theater serves draft beer and seems to be opting for the "shit you can already rent at Blockbuster route"--and is hence more aligned with the McMenamin's-perfected brew and view ethos. Mondo ups: You can leave a credit card with the bartender and tell him, "I'd like a beer at the halfway point," or "I'd like a beer delivered to my seat every half hour," and he'll oblige.
Bleu Bistro on Broadway diehards may have taken time to get used to the newer Grotto location, but it's an easy place to love. The Grotto has the same dark, cozy ambience of the original, the same book-length cocktail menu, and while it does still have the secretive, curtained-shrouded booths that Bleu Bistro was beloved for, the larger space here also allows for the addition of an open dining area, so the claustrophobic seating is an option, not a given.
Ristorante Machiavelli has hung onto its cheap classification by serving reasonable portions of pasta, instead of the towering noodle mounds that most red-checkered-tablecloth joints offer. There's nothing bargain-bin about the flavors at this Capitol Hill mainstay, however, as the lasagna, chicken parmesan, and spaghetti taste just as they should.
When you see little Ocho standing next to a giant Azteca, you get the sense that Ocho is only small because Azteca moves their walls in a little bit every day. Or perhaps it started out that way. In any case, this cute, romantic tapas bar in Ballard features an array of creative dishes, like blue cheese-stuffed dates wrapped in pancetta with balsamic reduction, and fried potatoes in brava sauce with artichoke aioli. Everything's worth a try. This is the kind of place where a guy might propose to his girlfriend, only to find her staring blankly at him, because it gets pretty loud in there.
1. Cafe Munir
Tucked away in a far corner north of Ballard, serving a cuisine that's not too common in Seattle, it's a hard road for Cafe Munir. But even those who can't find Lebanon on a map will find beauty in its simple Mediterranean cuisine. From hummus (in three varieties) to more complicated dishes like Egyptian koshary, Cafe Munir stays true to its roots while establishing itself as an excellent neighborhood restaurant. The early seating flows noisily with family dining, yet in the late evening the atmosphere grows quietly romantic under the intricately beautiful light fixtures.