City of Seattle Belltown Marrakesh 2334 Second Ave., 956-0500. Enter a room

City of Seattle


Marrakesh 2334 Second Ave., 956-0500. Enter a room that resembles a tent, recline on regal pillows, and watch course after luscious course emerge from the hidden kitchen. Couscous, eaten with the hands, is the humble star of Moroccan cuisine; here you can get it topped with chicken, lamb, or vegetables. The latter two choices are best, since b’steeya royale is a must: A buttery pastry (not unlike phyllo) is wrapped around delicately spiced chicken and toasted almonds. The plate is ringed with powdered sugar, begging the question: sweet or savory? $

Spur Gastropub 113 Blanchard St., 728-6706. The problem with so many of today’s flailing attempts at modernist cuisine and molecular gastronomy is that, in their breathless fascination with all the goop, gear, and gadgetry involved in turning cheese into pasta and fish into foam, many chefs forget that they’re still being paid to make people dinner. That means that the food itself still has to be a recognizable part of the “dining experience” and not get completely lost amid the chemicals and lasers. This is the strength of Spur in Belltown—a kitchen where a grounding in locality, seasonality, and recognizable ingredients (hedgehog mushrooms, salmon, potatoes, leeks, bacon) balances the impulse toward abstract gastronomic modernism, always elevating the trout above the almond foam and the sockeye salmon and house-made mascarpone above pure gimmickry. Because Spur’s crew can manage this (at prices considerably lower than those at many of the country’s other temples of molecular gastronomy), dinner here can be an event and an eye-opening indulgence without ever slipping over the line into a piece of egotistical performance art staged by cooks solely for their own enjoyment. $$$

Tavolata 2323 Second Ave., 838-8008. With its raw-cement walls and ultralate hours, entrees for two, and crowd of bargoers waiting for seats, Tavolata is the party place in party town. Those willing to dive in to the experience will find that Tavolata delivers much of what it promises: honest, well-prepared Italian food; a reasonable check; and good odds of chatting up whomever the host seats next to you at the 30-person communal table. Chef Ethan Stowell’s handmade pastas are supple and golden, soaking up flavor from the sauce but still leaving you something to chew on. The octopus salad is fantastic, as is his grilled fish, seasoned only with lemon and smoke, perfectly Italian in its minimalism. $$

Umi Sake House 2230 First Ave., 374-8717. Heads up, sushi-craving fashionistas. This sophisticated sushi joint serves maki late into the night, and its atmosphere is decidedly clubby. Umi offers both traditional and innovative sushi rolls, along more substantial fare, from udon soup to teriyaki. True to its name, the sake house provides more than 45 varieties of rice wine, as well as specialty cocktails like the shisojito, made with the Japanese herb shiso instead of mint. $$

Wann Japanese Izakaya 2020 Second Ave., 441-5637. A gastronomic spectacle wrought in tiny plates, Wann reinterprets the traditional bar-snack fare of Japanese izakayas with pink seaweed and spun-sugar garnishes. The place is gorgeous, especially if you’re sitting in one of the booths that appear to be floating over a rock garden. The food is gorgeous, too, and ranges from bowls of green beans covered in sesame paste and feathery bonito flakes to cast-iron hot pots that you cook at the table. However, quality is erratic (greasy tempura, nonsensical East-West combinations like fried chicken smothered in tartar sauce), making every meal resemble a Spielberg film: sometimes good, sometimes bad, always compelling. However, you can’t go wrong with a cocktail called the Pink Godzilla. $$

Capitol Hill

Dinette 1514 E. Olive Way, 328-2282. Dinette’s menu has a whole section devoted to toast. Theirs is made on Columbia City Bakery’s bread; though toppings change weekly or so with the rest of the menu, they usually include a spreadable cheese, a smoked or cured fish or meat, and some sort of seasonal herb or vegetable. The rest of the menu is similarly rustic, comfortably at home between homey and haute, and missteps are rare. Service and atmosphere are both top-notch, making this a can’t-miss spot for Hillsters and visiting foodies. (Get on the mailing list and you can vie for a seat at the restaurant’s monthly, family-style Monday Night Dinners.) $$

Dom Polski Zaprasza/Polish Home Association 1714 18th Ave., 322-3020. On Friday nights and special occasions, the Old Polish Home members and guests (who pay a buck at the door for a one-day pass) crowd into the facility’s gymnasium/theater for a rollicking, cheap meal. Skinny girls with lip piercings wait at the bar for a table next to stout men in tucked-in sweaters. The beers are cheap (and wickedly potent), the pickle soup is simultaneously tangy and creamy, and the pierogis come drenched in melted butter. Dom Polski’s cult dish is the foot-long ham hock, braised until the skin and fat pull away with the push of a fork, unveiling a half-pound of pink, succulent meat. $-$$

Fuel Coffee 610 19th Ave. E., 329-4700. This scrappy little Capitol Hill coffee shop’s patrons are as loyal as the atmosphere is laid-back. Fuel represents the middle ground in Seattle coffee culture: It’s a place for folks who are neither Stumptown nor Starbucks, aficionado or layman. But if ever a roast tastes familiar, it’s because Fuel buys its beans from local roaster Caffe Vita. $

Quinn’s Pub 1001 E. Pike St., 325-7711. Quinn’s Pub has some of the best bar food in Seattle—the frites with fontina fondue and demi-glace (read: poutine) are particularly savory. It should also be a destination for any whiskey lover—they’ve got about 20 variations on their menu, as well as a wide range of eclectic Belgian ales and a full bar. Perfect for nights when you want to grab a beer and still feel classy.

Volunteer Park Cafe and Marketplace 1501 17th Ave. E., 328-3155. This sunny, yellow cafe, halfway between Volunteer and Interlaken parks, is the place all the neighbors stop in for something simple, like a scone, a sandwich, or a piece of cake. Except that something isn’t so simple: The scones break apart in crusty-edged, buttery slabs; a pressed panini contains roasted mushrooms slathered in caramelized onions and oozy tellegio. “Always Fresh Goodness” is Ericka Burke and Heather Earnhardt’s motto, and they hold tight to it, three meals a day. Check the website for their wine dinners, when the chefs really cut loose. $

Columbia City

Columbia City Ale House 4914 Rainier Ave. S., 723-5123. The south end outpost of Jeff Eagan’s chain of good-food-with-good-beer establishments. Expect fine domestic and imported microbrews on draft and simple, hearty food made from fresh seasonal local ingredients. Menu changes weekly. $

Columbia City Bakery 4865 Rainier Ave. S., 723-6023. This airy bakery in the heart of Columbia City offers the perfect croissant: Flaky, buttery, and served with raspberry jam on the side. There are chocolate and almond varieties, as well as an array of cookies, breads and seasonal specials like Valentine’s Day chocolate truffles. Come after school lets out, or on weekend mornings, and you will find half of the neighborhood here with their kids. $

Geraldine’s Counter 4872 Rainier Ave. S., 723-2080. This colorful corner restaurant is where Columbia City assembles for an American-style brunch, and where the rest of us wait for a table or spot at the counter. Despite the fact that you can order chicken-fried steak and eggs or a baked hash-brown-and-sausage casserole for breakfast, the meal transcends the greasy-spoon genre with a hint of class. Lunch and dinner follows the same format, with classics like chili, chicken pot pie, and beef stroganoff. $

North Seattle

El Camion 11728 Aurora Ave. N., 367-2777. El Camion is perhaps the most design-conscious taco truck to ever hit the road. Not only is the name printed in sans-serif font instead of painted in wavy cursive, but the truck has clean picnic tables and a photocopied menu. The taco-truck-newbie-friendly touches extend to black beans on the lunch plates, pico de gallo on the tacos instead of just onions and cilantro, and a diner’s choice of salsas. El Camion’s carnitas won’t be porky enough for some, and the mole too sweet, but several of the tacos will set your mouth abuzz: moist, spice-covered pork adobada; tender tripe with its echo of toasted almonds; and a rich mess of fish griddled up with chopped red cabbage and white sauce (okay, mayonnaise). $

Hae-Nam Kalbi & Calamari 15001 Aurora Ave. N., 367-7843. What do pork ribs and squid have in common, you may ask? At this bustling, shiny branch of a Seoul restaurant, you can simmer the two meats together at the table in the oh-bul-sah (house special hot pot), which is seasoned with sweet-spicy chile paste. Other dishes are worth ordering, too: The laciest onion-seafood pancake you may see in flavorful bean-paste soups, tender barbecued meats, and to accompany it all, a dozen side dishes, all of good quality. $$

Indo Cafe 543 NE Northgate Way, 361-0699. What does Indonesian cuisine taste like? If Indo Cafe’s food is any evidence, it’s milder than Thai, less pungent than Malaysian, sweeter than Chinese, and lighter than Filipino. Plot that on your taste buds and triangulate. Much of the food at this North Seattle eatery has an aw-shucks approachability, sweeter and less assertively seasoned than you’d expect, especially the sugary peanut sauce. But dishes like the kang kung cah terasi (sauteed water spinach with garlic and chiles) and the ikan goreng lala pan (a whole fish fried and served with vegetables and chili sauce) show real flair. The stylish room, bathed in lacquer red and jadeite, has low tables and pillow seats in back, perfect for kids and romantic trysts alike. $$

Mehak Indian Cuisine 12327 Roosevelt Way N.E., 632-5307. This modest Punjabi restaurant in North Seattle is run by a couple who fuss over their customers as if they’re a band of in-laws who’ve just arrived after a six-hour road trip. The chefs’ skill with the tandoor is more sure when it comes to baking blistery, soft breads than (over-)roasting meats, but curries like rogan josh and mushroom matar are as honest and straightforward as the decor suggests. $

Old Village Korean Restaurant 15200 Aurora Ave. N. Ste. D, 365-6679. Since its latest change of ownership, this place looks as though HGTV sent over a squad to repaint the walls and re-cover the grill tables in mica-flecked granite. With the exception of spicy pork (and who doesn’t love spicy pork?), Old Village’s DIY barbecue, grilled over wood charcoal, has taken a dip in quality. Fortunately, the cold noodles, bibimbap, and other stews are still worth a drive. $$

Ravenna & Wedgwood

Julia’s Indonesian Kitchen 910 N.E. 65th St., 522-5528. Everything about Julia’s is built on the scale of cute: a tiny Craftsman house on 65th, a slim dining room wrapped around a central hearth, elaborate Javanese puppets all around. Julia Suparman’s Javanese food tends toward the sweet, the coconut-based, and the complexly spiced. Order a “mini rijsttafel,” and your entree (say, beef rendang or chicken curry) will be served with a mound of rice, a subtle but fragrant white vegetable curry, and a corn fritter. For the house specialty, ayam goreng kremes, Julia braises chicken in a broth spiced with lemongrass, galangal, and candlenut, then coats it with a batter that goes all crackly and golden in the deep-fryer. Eat the chicken, and “crispy bits” on the side, with dabs of her pepper-charged sambal. $-$$

Nell’s Restaurant 6804 E. Green Lake Way N., 524-4044. Among the growing number of venerated chef-owned restaurants in town, Nell’s in Greenlake hangs tough as the one where the chef-owner really does circulate kindly and quietly. Chef Phil Mihalski is, in fact, a lot like his food: humble, sophisticated, and very present. Expect wonderfully executed specials like garlic-crusted chicken with blue cheese mashed potatoes and lacinato kale, but please don’t start in on your main course without at least perusing the first-course options (the Dungeness crab salad with apples and red radishes is beautiful and delicious). Several wonderful qualities make Nell’s an all-ages place: You don’t have to don infrared goggles to read the menu or eat your food, you don’t have to shout at one another over the din of too many tables, and the waiters do white-tablecloth service properly. $$$


Elo’s Philly Grill 3431 Airport Way S., 467-8989. With an awesome, humongous marquee and honest-to-Pete blue-collar location, it’s really a shame that the steak sandwiches here aren’t mouthwatering. But they’re serviceable, anyway, and in this part of SoDo, any place that beats the gut truck or brown bag is going to ring it in at the register. $

Pig Iron Barbecue 5602 First Ave. S., 768-1009. After you walk through the door and pay your respects to the skull hanging peacefully on the wall, pull up a chair, order a plate, and don’t worry about bumping into a familiar mug—which makes Pig Iron a perfect destination for an escape (if you don’t live in Georgetown, that is). This Southwestern-style barbecue joint is heavy on the sandwiches, and you should take that to mean that you ought to order one. The beef brisket is everything you want it to be, in a bun that is soft enough to absorb everything and thick enough not to break. $

University District

Costa’s 4559 University Way NE, 633-2751. The closest thing to an honest, traditional diner in the U District (where there have been several ersatz imitators), Costa’s has held the same corner since 1975. The menu is Greek (duh), meaning tasty Baba Ganoush, salads, and hummus plates. Prices are within reach, and have stayed that way, for student budgets. While so many other businesses on the Ave have failed, Costa’s has made its modest formula work. And work well. $

Pam’s Kitchen 5000 University Way NE, 696-7010. Two words can easily describe an experience at Pam’s Kitchen: Caribbean spice (and lots of it). Their assortment of curried potatoes and meats are slow-cooked to perfection. Whether you choose chicken, beef, lamb, or goat to accompany your pan-fried roti (a type of Indian flatbread), all of the meal combos have a kick that will charm your palate. With two roti choices—the thin croissant-like paratha or the vegan, chickpea-stuffed dahlpuri—the hands-on dining experience at Pam’s is like one right out of Trinidad, and the homemade punches and house spirits serve as a sweet counter to the entrees. $

Shalimar 4214 University Way NE, 633-3854. Shalimar’s open-faced sandwiches could just be the most exciting midday meal this side of the Pacific. The chicken tikka sandwich—fluffy nan topped with tandoor-baked chicken breast, veggies, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and rice in a spiced buttermilk sauce—is simply amazing. The fish tikka sandwich accents cod with a creamy mango-lemon sauce; the “Shami” drizzles yogurt-cucumber sauce over lentil-beef patties; and the aloo tikki features potato patties and spices in raita. No two bites are alike. $-$$

University Teriyaki 4108 University Way NE, 632-5688. Here are three things that make University Teriyaki stand out from the masses and masses of teriyaki shops: 1. The sauce on its teriyaki chicken has got more kick than most (there has to be a little Korean bean paste in there with the soy and sugar). 2. The place is clean, clean, clean, and the food always tastes fresh. 3. The menu goes so far beyond gyoza and spicy chicken to include kimchi fried rice and jjah-jahng-myun, the black bean-sauce noodles that Korean kids love as much as American kids do mac ‘n’ cheese. This “Japanese” place may be the best Korean restaurant in the neighborhood. $

Wayward Vegan Cafe 5253 University Way NE, 524-0204. Wayward, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, isn’t just a vegan cafe, it’s one of Seattle’s only collectively run restaurants. Your cook may have a pierced septum, and your waitress may be heavily tattooed, but the food they prepare and deliver is pure Americana (albeit vegan, free of hydrogenated oils and refined sugars, and organic when possible). A Reuben made with fried tempeh, sauerkraut, and nondairy Russian dressing is a fixture on the eclectic lunch menu, which also includes a seitan Philly sandwich. $


Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine 1718 N. 45th St., 632-1484. In a city where Americanized Thai is everyone’s favorite cuisine and where vegetarians run rampant, the existence of Jhanjay, a veggie Thai restaurant, is inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is that it’s so good. The restaurant is designed to impress, with its gold-dusted burgundy walls, gleaming kitchen, and plastic-glove-wearing chefs. Each of the curries, salads, stir-fried dishes, and noodles comes packed with a confetti of crisp vegetables, enough to make the USDA “Eat Your Colors” campaign, as well as your choice of tofu, soy meat, or mushroom cake. Not surprisingly, you can order brown rice on the side. $

Sutra 1605 N. 45th St., 547-1348. As you might deduce from its name, Sutra is a vegetarian restaurant. A mostly vegan, mostly organic restaurant connected to a yoga studio, no less, with its own garden and worm composting bins and communal tables arranged in a circle (cue the Lion King theme song). Meals take the form of four-course prix-fixe dinners that change every couple of days, and sweet-natured chef Colin Patterson builds up his dishes by piling flavor on flavor, claiming the world’s pantry as his own. His knack for texture is spotty—undercooked vegetables can be a little hard to chew—but salads (say, mixed greens with grilled peaches and slivered chiles) and whole-grain desserts like a blueberry tart with graham crust and vanilla glaze come through on the restaurant’s promise of healthful, creative food in a serene setting. $$-$$$

West Seattle

Giannoni’s Pizzeria 2600 SW Barton St. (at Westwood Village), 935-1800. Giannoni’s claims on its menu to serve “vera pizza napoletana,” and its combinations are named the Rustica and the Capricciosa. But the graffiti and Saturday Night Fever poster on the wall—not to mention the fact that you can get pizza by the slice—points to New York, not Naples. The pies come with crusts as thin and crackly at the center as Saltines and poofed-up rims that are 99 percent air. Most important, each slice passes the fold test. And like good New York pies, you need to eat yours in-house to obtain the maximum benefits. $

Talarico’s Pizzeria 4718 California Ave. SW, 937-3463. At Talarico’s in West “pizza” is an adjective modifying the noun “bar.” Sure, the one-size-feeds-all pie measures 28 inches, a common diameter for bicycle tires. But the giant flat screens measure at least 60 inches. Barstools number over 50. People under 21 are allowed to enter, the kitchen is open till 1 a.m., and you can get your ‘za to go. The ambiance is permanent midnight and oversized everything. All signature pies are available by the slice for $5.99. Sounds steep, but at one-eighth of a giant pie, that’s a lot of square inches. Just one Sinatra slice (spicy sausage and pepperoncini) holds more toppings than most large pizzas around town. $

White Center

Company Bar 9608 16th Ave. SW, 257-1162. A good martini goes down like ice-cold quicksilver. Brittle shards of ice melt against the roof of your mouth. At Company Bar, the bartenders make a simple but mean vodka martini—Polish potato vodka and three olives impaled upon a toothpick—that is refreshing, with a vague briny draft in the finish from the olives. If you require more sustenance, you can order from a modest-sized menu that includes bacon-wrapped dates, sweet potato fries, and salt cod fritters. Wash your order down with another martini and you’ve had yourself a decent, albeit tipsy, meal. $-$$

El Paisano Rosticeria y Cocina 9615 15th Ave. SW, 763-0368. Not surprisingly, White Center’s El Paisano Rosticeria Y Cocina, which is owned by the butcher shop two doors down, specializes in meat. Its Mexican-style roast chickens vary from crackling-skinned to dry, depending on how long they’ve spent out of the oven and under the heat lights. Uniformly fantastic: tacos filled with moist and porky carnitas, creamy octopus served in a tomato-based coctel campechana, and goat birria stewed so long that sheer lethargy keeps it from disintegrating. Given the portion size, a small plate should be all you need. $