Biology may or may not be destiny, but gastronomy is absolutely about climatology. If you live in the tropics, you eat spicy foods. If you live in the tundra, you eat protein. And if you are reading this you live under a permanent cloud of soggy grey chill, so naturally you long for huge platters of golden fried chicken and creamy garlic mashed potatoes, smothered in gravy. Glazed doughnuts. Grilled things extruding molten cheese and oozing butter. Your hibernal body wants them. Your sun-starved soul needs them.

For these reasons, comfort food is Seattle’s unheralded regional cuisine. Its natural habitat is Irish pubs and barbecue joints, breakfast spots and soul food restaurants, burger bars and country cafés. But comfort food has also spent the last decade ascending the sophistication ladder, showing up as the token down-market wallow on nearly every cutting-edge menu. This explains tempura and cream cheese in sushi rolls. The sudden ubiquity of that pillowy delight, the pork slider. The sheer genius that is fried chicken salad.

Best of all, comfort food’s soothing textures and mild flavors find natural expression in the South Asian, African, and variously global kitchens Seattle has in such profuse supply. What, you say comfort food can’t transcend its American origins? We’ll discuss over a dish of Indian butter chicken.

Call it the New Comfort Food—the classics of American cuisine rendered in versions we’ll call High, Low, and Neo. Think (relatively) upmarket for High, (relatively) down-market for Low—and some unexpectedly comforting facsimile for Neo. Just think of them as nominees for your new midnight cravings.


Burgers and Fries

Pancakes and Fried Chicken

Pork Chops and Mashed Potatoes

Meatloaf and Grilled Cheese

Mac and Cheese, Chili, and Chicken Pot Pie

Roast Chicken and Pot Roast

Doughnuts and Pudding

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Burgers

HIGH: Cascadia (Closed)
Sure, you could take a seat at one of the white-linen-covered tables in Belltown’s sleekest fine-dining establishment and order marquee chef Kerry Sear’s veal with caprino cremoso tartufo. But why…when he’s got burgers? Order three of ’em—they’re adorably mini, about the size of tennis balls, and priced at just a buck apiece ($3 after Happy Hour). Sear crafts them out of ground hanger steak, grills them just north of rare, then embellishes with your choice of uptown add-ons, from crisp pancetta to fried oysters to black truffle butter. That’s what we call having it your way. 2328 First Ave, Belltown, 206-448-8884; cascadiarestaurant.com

LOW: Red Mill Burgers
The good folks at Red Mill are both ahead of the times (cell phones are “just rude, dude,”) and behind them (no credit cards, please)—but their bacon deluxe with cheese is undoubtedly what you’re craving this very second. Order at the counter of one of John and Babe’s two cozy burger shacks, plop down in an oversize wood booth, then wrap your mouth around the Kaiser bun with its thick juicy patty, topped with peppery bacon and dripping spicy mayo. 312 N 67th St, Phinney Ridge, 206-783-6362; 1613 W Dravus St, Interbay, 206-284-6363; redmillburgers.com

NEO: BOKA Kitchen & Bar
Exactly nothing about the über-stylish room off the lobby of the Hotel 1000—all curvilinear contours and power-downtowners—prepares you for the comfort of its grilled portobello burger served at lunch. The bronzed fillet arrives all earthy-smoky with lush avocado, grilled onions, and tomatoes inside a square ciabatta bun, tasty and charred. Slather on your own aioli, devilishly garlicked…then tuck in your tie, city boy. You’re going for a ride. 1010 First Ave, Downtown, 206-357-9000; bokaseattle.com


Fries

HIGH: Campagne
Oh, what a difference the oil makes. The French may be frying them, but the pommes frites à la canard at this classy Southern French restaurant aren’t your typical French fries. Duck fat renders thick rounds of Yukon Golds woodsy and rich but the gamey flavor never overflexes its musky muscle. Taken as an appetizer with steak tartare or all alone from the late-night menu, these golden beauties could end your dalliance with regular fries forever. 86 Pine St, Pike Place Market, 206-728-2800; campagnerestaurant.com

LOW: Frites (Closed)
If medieval Belgium had a McDonald’s, it looked like Frites: A teensy Tudoresque storefront, just big enough for six seats at a nicked wood counter—and a huge reputation. Order klein (small), middel (medium), or groot (large), and before long the pierced gal fielding the fry baskets will present a grease-speckled paper cone of golden, medium-thick, crispy-on-the-outside babies fried twice for maximum crunch and interior fluff. Fifteen dipping sauces, curry ketchup to poblano ranch, complete the scene. (Actually, the tattooed scenesters from Neumo’s next door complete the scene.) 925 E Pike St, Capitol Hill; belgianfrites.com

NEO: 35th Street Bistro
A noble high-ceilinged space with a wall of windows makes 35th Street a uniquely sunny and civilized place to dine. The bistro frites make it a place to visit for brunch, lunch, dinner, and all over again in your daydreams. Imagine a heaping plate of skinny fries, glistening with garlic oil, dusted with pepper and reggiano, speckled with chives, and drizzled with crème fraîche. All to prove that, where fries are concerned, “drizzled” is the new black. 709 N 35th St, Fremont, 206-547-9850; 35bistro.com

NEXT: PANCAKES AND FRIED CHICKEN

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Pancakes

HIGH: Joe Bar
With its Cornish-student fan base and perpetually fine indie rock soundtrack, the teensy bilevel coffeehouse and bar in the lovely Loveless Building has a relaxed and youthful feel. Maybe it’s the lineup of dainty crepes that make diners feel so fashionably Parisian here. They are light confections of eggy batter, embellished, for example, with pumpkin, goat cheese, and sage, or perhaps with lemon and fresh fruit. Folded into tidy squares and enjoyed with coffee or Lillet? Très bien! 810 E Roy St, Capitol Hill, 206-324-0407; joebar.org

LOW: The Original Pancake House
Smiling servers bring elderly couples fluffy, filling stacks of old-fashioned buckwheats while mamas fresh from the yoga mat feed bites of buttermilks to happy tots. That’s the Original Pancake House, where there’s a pancake for everyone—Swedish and sourdough to standard, with or without chocolate chips or bacon baked right in—and someone for every pancake. Wall-to-wall knotty pine paneling and souvenir plates from every state give the House a homey feel—even when you’re standing in line, as you will weekend mornings. 8037 15th Ave NW, Crown Hill. 206-781-3344; 130 Parkplace Center, Kirkland, 425-827-7575; originalpancakehouse.com

NEO: Rocking Wok
Like croissants for the working class, the thousand-layer pancakes at this shockingly mauve, eight-table, ultracheap Taiwanese hole-in-the-wall are buttery, rich, and decadent. But unlike any crescent-shaped puff pastry, the dense pan-fried rounds—perhaps only 999 layers thick—accomplish any sopping-up task they’re asked to perform. Order a few with the syrupy honeydew fish fillet, and see why pancakes aren’t just for breakfast anymore. 4301 Interlake Ave N, Wallingford, 206-545-4878

 

Fried Chicken

HIGH: Kingfish Cafe*
With its elegant sepia photographs, Kingfish is as classy a backdrop as mama’s home cookin’ gets. Here, comfort food is dignified without getting fancified, with fried chicken that’s hands-down the best in town. Someone in this kitchen cares equally about both the “fried” (a golden buttermilk coating which literally melts in the mouth) and the “chicken” (juicy, never overcooked, and still crazy-delicious pulled out of the fridge the next morning). 602 19th Ave E, Capitol Hill, 206-320-8757; thekingfishcafe.com

LOW: Ezell's Famous Chicken*
Six family-owned chicken shacks prove that you don’t need fancy digs—or tables—to dazzle the High Priestess of Comfort Food, Oprah Winfrey. (Yup, there’s her portrait with Ezell up on the wall.) The crunchy fried chicken is dazzling enough—moist, not greasy (okay, maybe a little)\—especially when you order it spicy, along with a few fried livers and gizzards, throw in some cole slaw…and how about just one slice of sweet potato pie? 501 23rd Ave, Central District, 206-324-4141; 11805 Renton Ave S, Skyway, 206-772-1925; 4575 NE Fourth St, Renton, 425-228-9008; 17323 140th Ave NE, Woodinville, 425-485-8960; 75531 196th St SW, Lynnwood, 425-673-4193; Microsoft employees only: 1 Microsoft Way, Bldg 26, Redmond; ezellschicken.com

NEO: Buddha Ruska
Low light, vermilion walls, and wood filigrees delicately evoking ancient Siam make this West Seattle favorite one of the loveliest Thai restaurants around. But the crispy garlic chicken addicts—who know it simply as “crack chicken” and order it for takeout thrice-weekly—don’t need the place to be beautiful. They just need their tender morsels of fried chicken, sautéed in garlic, fired with chilis, and served over crisped basil alongside fragrant jasmine rice. They need it bad. 3520 SW Genessee St, West Seattle, 206-937-7676; buddharuksa.com

*Restaurant specializes in comfort food.

NEXT: PORK CHOPS AND MASHED POTATOES

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 Pork Chops

HIGH: Metropolitan Grill
Best known for steaks and stockbrokers, the Met also trades in one fine pork chop. Juicy double chops are marinated in Dijon and garlic, wrapped in bacon, strewn with chanterelles, swathed in apple cream sauce, then served with a mountain of garlic mashed potatoes. Befitting the manly surroundings—rich mahogany, brass railings, oversize booths—this is one man-size portion. We dare you to finish it. 820 Second Ave, Downtown, 206-624-3287; themetropolitangrill.com

LOW: Wellington Tearoom* (Closed)
It’s no tearoom, but a smoldering soul food destination in the heart of Columbia City. Brick walls, smooth jazz (often live), and an unexpectedly swanky vibe provide the canvas for down-home Southern food, from smothered oxtails to shrimp ’n’ grits. The pork chop arrives disguised as something altogether juicier, having been braised to fall-apart-tender, then swathed in onion gravy. It’s complemented exquisitely by sides of Thanksgiving-sweet yams and green beans. 4869 Rainier Ave S, Columbia City, 206-722-8571

NEO: Brasa (Closed)
Owner-chef Tamara Murphy knows a thing or two about pigs—she’s raised them, cooked them, and lived to blog the tale (see “Life of a Pig” on the Brasa Web site). So she’d be the first to clarify that Brasa’s marquee dish, roast pig, is no pork chop. It’s better: a full-scale suffusion of all things reassuringly porcine—succulent chunks of meat, smoky chorizo, even a pork rind—borrowing and lending musky flavors with clams, potatoes, pickled onions, and a profusion of seasonings. All brought to the table in a shallow earthenware bowl, breathing its fragrant steam into the luxurious amber-lit room. 2107 Third Ave, Belltown, 206-728-4220; brasa.com

 

Mashed Potatoes

HIGH: The Oceanaire Seafood Room (Closed)
Slide into an oxblood leather banquette among the wood panels and deco lamps of at Oceanaire and you’re on a cruise ship, plying the distant waters where all the exotic fish on the menu came from. For accompaniment, invest in an enormous side of lumpy-smooth sour cream and onion mashed potatoes: streaked with skins, laced with translucent onions, and blopped with extra-creamy sour cream speckled with chives. A sleek financial district crowd cruises too—women tossing tresses, men ogling their dresses. 1700 Seventh Ave, Downtown, 206-267-2277; theoceanaire.com/seattle

LOW: 5 Spot*
Can mashed potatoes be beamed from a ’50s diner directly to the twenty-first century? At the 5 Spot they can. The moist mashers are creamy, puddled with brown gravy, and served nestling alongside maple-glazed roast chicken or char-broiled pork chops. Depending on the menu’s American regional emphasis, they might even be tarted up with garlic or jalapeños. Whatever’s in them, you may find yourself crooning “Super-duper!” from your Naugahyde booth, amid the 5 Spot’s relentless homage to American kitsch. 1502 Queen Anne Ave N, Queen Anne, 206-285-SPOT; chowfoods.com

NEO: Nell's
You say potato, and I say…celery root? Spuds are well and good, but chef Philip Mihalski’s fondness for the more interesting winter tubers—turnips, parsley roots, Jerusalem artichokes—lend his side dishes a welcome distinction. Mashed potato connoisseurs should not miss Mihalski’s sweet parsnip purees and lushly creamed celeriac mashed potatoes—the latter so aromatically refreshed with celery’s light tang they transcend the masher genre altogether, and approach elegance. This is fitting at Nell’s, where neutral tones and white tablecloths create a setting of quiet refinement. 6804 E Green Lake Way N, Greenlake, 206-524-4044; nellsrestaurant.com

*Restaurant specializes in comfort food.

NEXT: MEATLOAF AND GRILLED CHEESE

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Meatloaf

HIGH: icon Grill*
Something
exploded in downtown’s most baroque comfort-food-o-rama—and if you clean your plate here it just might be you. Cushioned booths and tables on two levels allow for a comfy perch and a color-drenched eyeful—but come for the meatloaf, which eschews herby or bready in favor of good old-fashioned sweet. Wrapped in house-smoked bacon, varnished in a ketchupy molasses glaze, then smothered in blackstrap gravy, and presented with creamy mashers pocked with sweet corn—it’s unspeakably delish. 1933 Fifth Ave, Downtown, 206-441-6330; icongrill.net

LOW: Blue Onion Bistro (Closed)
Nobody’s even heard of cholesterol in the retro revamped Roosevelt gas station. Here, under the campy gaze of velvet Michael Jackson paintings and Pee Wee Herman masks, diners plunge into home-style dishes so luscious, they’re probably now illegal in certain jurisdictions. Franny’s meatloaf is among the best of them, served in two amply meaty slices with mashed potatoes and a plateful of rich mushroom gravy. What gives the meat its winsome honey tones? “Chef won’t even tell me, and I own the place!” bellows Cora Leitner, the world’s friendliest restaurateur. 5801 Roosevelt Way NE, Roosevelt, 206-729-0579; theblueonionbistro.com

NEO: Porcella Urban Market (Closed)
Francophiles may faint away at the comparison of meatloaf to their beloved potted meat, rillettes. But done right, as it is at the Bellevue gourmet deli Porcella Urban Market, the pork or duck meat is moist and fatty and loosely bound, served with something liquid to stand in for the gravy (Dijon mustard sauce), something starchy in place of the mashed potatoes (baguette), and something tart for contrast (cornichons, pickled onions, winey currants). You can take it away or enjoy it inside the lofty Main Street space, surrounded by Porcella’s imported foodstuffs. 10245 Main St, Bellevue, 425-286-0080; porcellaurbanmarket.com

 

Grilled Cheese

HIGH: Crave* (Closed)
Somewhere between grandmother’s cheddar-covered warm apple pie and Elvis’s fabled peanut butter and banana sandwich is hipster luncheonette Crave’s own contribution to the handheld lunch: Grilled cheese with apples, bacon, and maple Dijon. Sharp New York cheddar is grilled between sourdough slices holey enough to create a gooey mess, along with thin slices of the season’s freshest apples and thick slices of crunchy bacon. Blissfully balanced and anything but light, it could serve as the mascot for the clattering, garage-doored temple of neo–comfort food. 1621 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-388-0526; cravefood.com

LOW: Hattie's Hat*
Fifty years of nicotine still yellows the murky light in the Ballard yuppie-dive, where folks once tucked into booths to drink and smoke but now just tuck into booths to drink and eat. The terrific grilled cheese is one reason: Gilded grilled peasant bread, crunchy but soft, heavy with melting cheddar, swiss, and parmesan, and brightened with tomato and caramelized onions. Only a fool would choose a side salad over the addictively salty-sweet yam fries. And you’re no fool. 5231 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-784-0175; hattieshat.com

NEO: Ooba's Mexican Grill
Where an East Coast court ruled that a burrito cannot be called a sandwich—and how gratified Massachusetts taxpayers must be with that pronouncement—nobody has ever claimed the same of a quesadilla, which is, as everyone knows, a grilled cheese sandwich with a lusty Oaxacan accent. At Ooba’s, the Eastside’s best fast-food joint and best kept secret, quesadillas come in seven guises and they’re all sensational. Our fave is the crispy fattie stuffed with grilled Yukon Gold potatoes, pico de gallo, smoky chipotle cream, and plenty of melted jack. Best enjoyed with chips and a Margarita at a tin table next to the salsa bar. 15802 NE 83rd St, Redmond, 425-702-1694; 17302 140th Ave NE, Woodinville; 425-481-5252; 555 108th Ave, Bellevue, 425-646-4500; oobas.com

*Restaurant specializes in comfort food.

NEXT: MAC AND CHEESE, CHILI, AND CHICKEN POT PIE

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Mac and Cheese

HIGH: Veil (Closed)
Chefs across town have discovered the comfort quotient of lobster, whose buttery succulence lends richness to homespun classics—from mashed potatoes at the Georgian Room and El Gaucho, to corn dogs at the dear departed Fork, to macaroni and cheese…everywhere. Veil offers a lavish lobster mac and cheese: hand-rolled Ligurian trofiette pasta enhanced with the shellfish, in a stock-enriched sauce creamy with mascarpone. It tickles us to dive into home cooking this soul-satisfying from a white leather banquette in Seattle’s most effete restaurant. 555 Aloha St, Queen Anne, 206-216-0600; veilrestaurant.com

LOW: Beecher's Handmade Cheese
Greed is not a pretty thing, but Beecher’s rich jack-and cheddar-spiked, béchamel-bathed penne is so delectable it’s hard to resist the urge to horde. Big Cheese Kurt Dammeier says the magic is in undercooking the pasta so its toothiness holds strong, but we think the magic is, well, magic. How else to explain the way this mac and cheese has vaulted over so many other local favorites to become the most cherished in town? (At least it’s the most popular: Beecher’s is now available in the frozen aisle of many groceries.) 1600 Pike Pl, Pike Place Market, 206-956-1964; beechershandmadecheese.com

NEO: Siam on Broadway
Thanks to restaurants like Siam on Broadway, in Pacific Rim regions like ours, Thai noodle dishes are for today’s cosmopolitan kids what macaroni and cheese was for us. So what if the thick panfried noodles are made of rice and the goo comes from garlicky soy sauce gravy instead of melted cheese? Lahd nah (elsewhere called lard na) is still Thai cuisine’s best answer to American culture’s surpassingly soothing staple—and Siam on Broadway, with its open kitchen and sleek bar and central fish tank, is one of its most reliable and cheery practitioners. 616 Broadway, Capitol Hill, 206-324-0892; siamonbroadway.com

 

Chili

HIGH: Crémant (Closed)
Call it chili without the heat. The French bean stew cassoulet, though not common in restaurants, has the same common origins as chili—along with the same meaty reverberations and comforting textures. At Madrona’s neighborhood French bistro Crémant, it’s brought to the table in a Le Creuset casserole, crusted over with breadcrumbs, and richly loaded with heady meats like sausage and duck. Crémant’s hard surfaces cozy up considerably under the dish’s warming influence. 1423 34th Ave, Madrona, 206-322-4600; cremantseattle.com

LOW: Mike's Chili Parlor
The realest deal this side of South Chicago, Mike’s Chili Parlor has been a fixture at the north end of the Ballard Bridge since 1937—and run by the same family, no less. So you’ve got the cushy red booths, the barstools at the liquor bar, the obligatory Sea Gals poster, and the Pepsi-issue sign that tells you a pint of chili is $5.75 “but the abuse comes free.” And if all this weren’t shocking enough in spit-shined, newfangled Seattle, there’s the headliner: big bowls of red that are heavy on the meat and fire, and lubed with enough grease to power a small vehicle. 1447 NW Ballard Way, Ballard, 206-782-2808

NEO: Ipanema Brazilian Grill (Closed)
Like most bean stews, both feijoada and chili evolved in the way of all soul foods—as a mainstay of slaves and poor farmers who slow-cooked whatever meats they got after the manor crowd scored the tenderloin. At Ipanema, the tropical First Avenue churrascaria where grilled meats get most of the attention, Brazil’s national dish is quietly terrific—with black beans cooked to the right creaminess, mildly enhanced with plenty of sausage, and served with rice, collard greens, and the crunchy-toasted manioc flour called farinha. 1225 First Ave, Downtown, 206-957-8444

 

Chicken Pot Pie

HIGH: Eats Market Cafe*
It’s the potpie dreams are made of: a light béchamel sauce, fine as a good bisque, studded with sweet al dente carrots and peas and ragged hunks of fresh chicken, then topped with a crackerlike crust of near-shortbread richness that melts its rosemary undertones onto your palate as you chew. This, my friends, is the chicken pot pie at Eats, the comfort-foodie’s comfort-fooderie, disguised as a shiny stop in a West Seattle shopping center, but run by pedigreed bakers who know that the way to your heart runs right through their oven. 2600 SW Barton St, West Seattle, 206-933-1200; eatsmarket.com

LOW: Fado Irish Pub*
The Seattle outpost of a national chain got the Oirish right: lunches and dinners from boxty to corned beef and cabbage; a merry band of tattooed servers; and several meandering rooms, each more authentically nooked and crannied than the last—all afloat in a veritable Irish Sea of Harp and Bushmills. We’re partial to the chicken pot pie: a thick, buttery pottage crammed with peas, carrots, celery, and heaps of moist chicken, and crowned with a golden beret of sweet puff pastry that rises over the rim of its scalding ramekin like the head on a pint of Guinness. 801 First Ave, Downtown, 206-264-2700; fadoirishpub.com

NEO: Pan Africa
Hold the calls and letters—we know doro alicha isn’t the same as chicken pot pie, and that it’s about as “neo” as fire. Still, timid comfortistas unacquainted with the fathomless stews of Ethiopian cuisine should know that the mild, tangy chicken stew, built on butter and a spice blend not unlike curry, and served with the sour flatbread called injera, strikes similar chords. Pan Africa, the friendly First Avenue storefront exuding all the spare elegance of the dusky Sahara, is one of the few places in town which attempts the complex dish. 1521 First Ave, Pike Place Market, 206-652-2461; panafricamarket.com

*Restaurant specializes in comfort food.

NEXT: ROAST CHICKEN AND POT ROAST

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 Roast Chicken

HIGH: Palace Kitchen
On a quintessential Seattle corner beneath the Monorail and across from the Cinerama Theater sits the quintessential Seattle restaurant: the festive, twilit Palace, the most treasured in Tom Douglas’s empire. Here local and seasonal ingredients are treated with trademark ingenuity, but never at the expense of the comfort at their core. Take the applewood chicken, in which a half-chicken arrives suffused with smoke and impossibly moist within, cloaked in a skin crisp and flavorful as good bacon. Like accessories on the perfect little black dress, accompaniments change seasonally with the classic stunner. 2030 Fifth Ave, Belltown, 206-448-2001; tomdouglas.com

LOW: Yasuko's Teriyaki
In three tiny neighborhood storefronts Yasuko’s raises ambiance-free to new heights. (No, wait—there’s a pot of plastic flowers.) That may be why approximately 90 percent of its devotees disappear with their teriyaki boxes stacked in plastic sacks, for devouring elsewhere. And devour is what one does with teriyaki chicken, a sticky-sweet mahogany half-bird shellacked in a sugary soy glaze and served with a vast rolling landscape of sticky rice. 530 Broadway, Capitol Hill, 206-322-0123; 6850 Woodlawn Ave NE, Green Lake, 206-527-0384; 3200 15th Ave W, Interbay, 206-283-9152

NEO: Saigon Bistro
The name is com gà rôti nuóc dùa—but you can call it roasted coconut chicken if you want. All moist and golden and cracklin’ delicious, owing to a quick and wicked last dunk in a deep-fryer, the roasted quarter-bird gently exhales the coconut and nuoc mam (a fish sauce) of the Southeast Asian tropics. You, alas, are not in the Southeast Asian tropics—you are in a sprawling cafeterialike space with lots of bright light, many square miles of formica, and all the view you could ever want of Little Saigon. 1032 S Jackson St, International District, 206-329-4939

 

Pot Roast

High: Pair*
Every inch the French country farmhouse, from its fir plank floors to its iron chandeliers, Pair’s toile draperies flutter prettily after dark by the glow of a thousand votives. Though it’s best known as a small-plate neighborhood restaurant, a lot of what’s on those plates is upscale comfort food. Like the brisket, one of the few items that never leaves the menu—arriving in a juicy heap of sweet chunks alongside a bracing dollop of horseradish crème fraîche. 5501 30th Ave NE, Ravenna, 206-526-7655; pairseattle.com

LOW: Issaquah Café
Thursday’s pot roast night at five country cafés that dot the 425 area code like grange halls. Like its four cousins, the Issaquah outpost boasts enormous breakfasts all day, a central fireplace and diner counter, a folksy country landscape and a menu of food that comes breaded, melted, or blanketed in sausage gravy. It’s the kind of place where regulars complain that the corned beef hash doesn’t taste enough like canned. If pot roast came in a can, this motherly version, lavished with gravy and mashed potatoes, wouldn’t taste like it either. 1580 NW Gilman Blvd, Issaquah, 425-391-9690; Village Square Café, 16150 NE 85th St, Redmond, 425-885-7287; Woodinville Café, 14170 NE Woodinville-Duvall Rd, Woodinville, 425-489-1403; Crystal Creek Café, 22620 Bothell-Everett Hwy, Bothell, 425-486-7781; Saw Mill Café, 15409 Main St, Mill Creek, 425-385-2925

NEO: Ovio Bistro (Closed)
Chefs and menus have shuffled plenty at West Seattle’s favorite neo–comfort food bistro, but if they ever try to take the braised short rib appetizer off the menu, West Seattle will riot. Plump beef ribs, their meat giving up the bone at the diner’s first coo of delight, arrive smothered in New Mexico red chili sauce alongside warm flour tortillas. Wrap ’em, dredge ’em, do what you will with ’em—but know that with that surpassingly comforting pot-roasty combo of tender meat and fiery gravy and those doughy-thick tortillas, you are not going to want to share ’em. 4752 California Ave SW, West Seattle, 206-935-1774; oviobistro.com

*Restaurant specializes in comfort food.

NEXT: DOUGHNUTS AND PUDDING

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 Doughnuts

HIGH: Dahlia Lounge
Neophytes might be taken aback to find doughnuts on the menu of Seattle’s most renowned cosmopolitan foodie mecca—but seasoned Seattleites won’t bat an eyelash. They know that Seattle’s culinary everyman, Tom Douglas, turns everything he touches into comfort food. And so they make regular pilgrimages to the lamp-lit booths beneath the fish lanterns within the brazen scarlet walls of the Dahlia, and order his doughnuts in a bag: warm and delectably chewy fried-to-order wonderments shaken in a cinnamon-sugar-filled sack, and dredged in seasonal fresh fruit jam and vanilla mascarpone. 2001 Fourth Ave, Downtown, 206-682-4142; tomdouglas.com

LOW: Top Pot Donuts
In Seattle, what do people with piercings, diaper bags, blue hair, briefcases, bike shorts, Republican Party memberships, and On the Boards season tickets have in common? They all join hands and sing “Kumbaya” before Top Pot, the hip little Capitol Hill doughnut shop that has grown to three stores and a whole lot of retail outlets. Why all the love? Exceptional doughnuts, crafted of real ingredients, decorated into joyful little parties (try the Pink Feather Boa), and served with really fine coffee. Simply the biggest jones in town. 2124 Fifth Ave, Downtown, 206-728-1966; 609 Summit Ave E, Capitol Hill, 206-323-7841; 6855 35th Ave NE, Wedgwood, 206-525-1966; toppotdoughnuts.com

NEO: Punjab Sweets
A Kent strip mall where you can graze among the cuisines of Vietnam, Japan, and the Ukraine throws the sweet desserts of India into the world party. Decorated in regal burgundies and greens, Punjab Sweets lives in as noble a room as one might reasonably hope for in a strip mall, featuring glass cases filled with Indian confections pretty as petits fours. Gulab jamun, fried milk balls drenched in sweet rosewater syrup, do a fine impression of cakey donut holes, albeit sopping ones. Man, they go down good. 23617 104th Ave SE, Kent, 253-859-3236


Pudding

HIGH: Boat Street Café
If there’s a better pot de crème in the city than the one Renee Erickson whips up at her charming Boat Street Café—we want a lick. It’s dense, dark, deep, and so silky your tongue may take the finish right off your spoon. Erickson adores creamy custards, as evidenced by a dessert list that might include a lemon curd tart or a fresh fruit panna cotta, and will include Boat Street’s headliner, amaretto bread pudding. But only the pot de crème made one diner gaze upon the whitewashed rafters and arty farmhouse decor of this Belltown corner of Provence, then scrawl an ecstatic phrase in her notebook: “Why we’re alive.” 3131 Western Ave, Belltown, 206-632-4602; boatstreetcafe.com

LOW: Claire's Pantry
Claire’s is comfort-food Ground Zero in Lake City, right down to the liver and onions. They make the omelets with five eggs, and breakfast is served all day in this Denny’s ringer, but you’re here for dessert, which includes an array of creamy things. The best of them is the burnt cream, which arrives in an individual ramekin resembling no burnt cream you’ve had before. The sugar lid is more gooey than crisped; the interior more heavily eggy; the lily then gilded with whipped cream. Who’s complaining! 12360 Lake City Way NE, Lake City, 206-365-4542; 301 Main St, Edmonds, 425-776-2333

NEO: Kabul
Amid the twinkling candles and white tablecloths and live sitar music of the Wallingford storefront, a cityful of regulars enjoys the succulent meats and savory rice dishes that are the comfort foods of Afghanistan. They finish with firni, a light, loosely bound pudding fragrant with cardamom and rose water, then scattered with crushed pistachios. Heavenly. 2301 N 45th St, Wallingford, 206-545-9000; kabulrestaurant.com

This article appeared in the February 2007 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.