The Rest of the Best
40 of the city’s top restaurants.
CHECKED OFF THE Top 10 restaurants named in this month’s cover story and still hungry? Well don’t you live in the right metropolis. Other cities would kill for just a nibble of the soaring excellence that, in our hunt for the Top 10, landed on the cutting-room floor. Seattle has it all and then some—from prix-fixe bastions of the artful composition, as at Art of the Table pictured here, to walk-up stands like Paseo, peddling Cuban pork sandwiches whose savory drips pack more palatable punch than whole platefuls elsewhere. Every month Seattle Metropolitan publishes a selection of our mini reviews of faves (and at any moment you can find the whole list at seattlemet.com). But for our Best Restaurants issue we’ve curated the list to encompass the choicest in town. We call them the Rest of the Best. We think you should call them for reservations.
Italian Everyone looks deadly chic against the windows and cement of this minimalist corner room in Pike/Pine, but the fourth restaurant in Ethan Stowell’s high-end empire (which also includes Union, Tavolàta, and How to Cook a Wolf) is surprisingly down-to-earth and welcoming. It’s all about the food, after all: a broad crudo menu featuring the freshest local shellfish (often swimming-that-morning oysters), and rarely seen seafood flown in from exotic offshore locales, highlighted with Italian embellishments. When the kitchen’s on, it’s off the charts, presenting wonders like Arctic char over fregola pasta, with nettles, currants, and speck; and trafficking in the same acerbic, briny, and tangy flavor families that dominate dinner at his other joints. (If you don’t like anchovies or olives, in other words…this may not be the place for you.) Serves food till midnight every day. 1550 15th Ave at Pine St, Capitol Hill, 206-838-8080; anchovies andolives.com.
Northwest One of the best of the new breed of unrestaurants, this teensy six-table Wallingford room with the butter yellow walls and the World Beat music also serves careful, delectable food: four courses, Thursdays through Saturdays, along a theme that chef Dustin Ronspies shyly narrates from the kitchen door. (This may include a sermonette, be warned, about the virtue of eating communally.) The charming Ronspies is a gifted chef, turning out dishes marked by subtle contrasts and textural interplay: smoky poussin with sweet spring vegetables and yam puree, perhaps, or thin-sliced red and golden beets over whipped chevre on flaky pastry. If the theme is, say, summer solstice, you’ll likely get nasturtium petals strewn across your salad and a “full moon” of honey panna cotta for dessert—fun dishes to speed the bonding with the other foodophiles at your table. Mondays bring small-plate happy hours. 1054 N 39th St at Woodland Park Ave N, Wallingford, 206-282-0942; artofthetable.net.
Continental If Bill Gates wanted to drop in to his neighborhood restaurant, this would be the place: A Main Street storefront, having overcome an initial generic quality, is now the dining room of choice for West Bellevue gentry seeking to entertain, conduct business, or give their own chef the night off. It’s a classy room, determinedly neutral, hung with oversize oils, and staffed by a fleet of pros. The menu holds no surprises—a fish of the day, a rack of lamb, crab cakes, a noble New York steak. The surprise is in the assurance and intention on every plate, from gilded gnocchi in a lemony pea sauce bright with chervil to duck slices fanned over a cloud of truffled mashed potatoes in foie gras sauce. Owner Joe Vilardi, an alum of Il Terrazzo Carmine, knows everyone by name. 10213 Main St at 102nd Ave SE, Bellevue, 425-455-2033; bisonmain.com.
Italian Branzino springs from the same DNA—namely that of Peter Lamb, whose Il Bistro and, later, Queen City Grill now seem but prologue to his latest, opened with partner Michael Don Rico. It’s a square room with high-backed booths and otherwise cozy spaces swathed in autumnal hues—a bona fide warm restaurant in a city smitten with the stark and minimal—where the friendly welcome, rustic fare, and affordable price tags (just one entrée over $24, and most around $18) all lack pretension. (In, yes, Belltown.) Seasoned chef Ashley Merriman keeps her hand firmly on the Italian tiller, turning out a housemade pappardelle Bolognese, a panzanella starring the chef’s handmade mozzarella, a halibut with fresh vegetables in parchment, and a perfect pizza crust—all of which she knocks clean out of the park. 2429 Second Ave between Battery and Wall Sts, Belltown, 206-728-5181; branzinoseattle.com.
Spanish This sweeping bilevel Belltown beaut charms with amber lighting and decor in the burnished terra-cotta hues of a Portuguese sunset. Brasa hosts a mix of barflies attracted by the half-off happy-hour appetizer menu in the roomy bar and epicureans here to savor the smoky cuisines of the Iberian Peninsula. The roast pig, always on offer, is one of the great plates in Seattle: a shallow bowl of moist braised pork along with clams, chorizo, pickled onions, and a big ol’ homemade pork rind—all gloriously swamped together in a fragrant bay-and-paprika broth just begging to be soaked away with big hunks of rustic bread. This plus a glass of Spanish wine off a grand list makes the polished Brasa feel rather like an earthy little dive off the docks of Lisbon—high praise for a place that could easily rest on its blond good looks and noble address. 2107 Third Ave between Blanchard and Lenora Sts, Belltown, 206-728-4220; brasa.com.
French The quintessential French bistro, tucked in Pike Place Market’s beguiling Post Alley by the good people who brought us Campagne. Perched at one of the amber-lit tables beneath a vintage French poster—savoring steak frites or crackling duck confit, tippling a Kir Royale—you may find yourself seized by the urge to stand and belt the Marseillaise or tragically break someone’s heart. Not to worry. The urge will pass, and you will soon be content merely to become a regular along with the rest of the Francophiles in town, coming perhaps on a quiet early weeknight for a solo nosh (a particularly lovely place for that), or on a summer evening for a café table on the alley, or on a weekend morning for a sensational breakfast, when the sunbeams slant in to spotlight your brioche. 1600 Post Alley between Pine and Stewart Sts, Pike Place Market, 206-728-2233; campagnerestaurant.com.
French The soul of elegance, from the courtyard entrance off the Inn at the Market to the tips of its pretty white tablecloths. For over two decades Campagne has earned regional, even national, reverence for its exacting renditions of the classics of southern France—coq au vin, ris de veau, roast leg of lamb, côte de boeuf for two—prepared without stodginess, consistently putting flavor first. (Its Market address doesn’t hurt in the freshness department.) The kitchen’s cassoulet is a smoky, mellow version loaded with pork, duck confit, and garlic sausage; its coquilles St. Jacques a masterful preparation of delectable scallops over bright carrot puree crowned with bacon. Best, for all its legitimate claim to pretension the place is too classy to allow it: Denim and Gore-Tex fit right in among the pinstripes and fur. The bar is small and serene, wrapping itself around you like a cashmere shawl. 86 Pine St between First Ave and Post Alley, Pike Place Market, 206-728-2800; campagnerestaurant.com.
Northwest One of Seattle’s most intimate destinations roosts high in Pike Place Market’s Corner Market Building, where mottled salmon walls, raw-wood rafters, vintage chandeliers, and an enchanting outlook—through Palladian windows, across Market rooftops—evoke a Parisian garret. Ditto the food, which leaves its innovative Nord-Ouest imprints all over the French standards available off a seasonal menu or an eight-course prix-fixe feast. Tiny flaws have beset recent meals, but when the kitchen is on it produces wonders like a hunk of buttery sablefish, perfumed with a lime beurre blanc and served over a poblano corn cake with three perfectly crisped oysters—just the right imagination quotient for a stunning preparation, which is nearly always the case with Chez Shea’s seafood. Desserts shine, like a little orange-mascarpone-in-phyllo number wreathed in crimson spears of poached rhubarb. The cocktail bar, Shea’s Lounge, twinkles next door; there you can sup on the same food and enjoy the same view in, if possible, even more romantic quarters. Proposals happen on the half-hour. 94 Pike St at First Ave, Ste 34, Pike Place Market, 206-467-9990; chezshea.com. Closed Mon. Valet parking Thu–Sat; not wheelchair accessible.
Japanese Chiso is the stylish, youthful enterprise of sushi superstar Taichi Kitamura, whose career was launched by tours of duty at I Love Sushi and Shiro’s. At his Fremont home base, done all in windows and clean-lined neutrals, Seattleites bliss out on pristine raw fish (order whatever’s on the fresh sheet), a terrific black cod kasuzuke, excellent tempura, and daily specials that truly are. (If the Japanese pine mushrooms called matsutake are on the menu—order first, ask questions later.) Upstairs (entrance around the corner) Kitamura opened a snug kappo—which adds grilled, steamed, and deep-fried foods to its omakase (chef’s choice) menu. At $100 per person (by reservation only, Tuesdays through Saturdays) Kappo is no casual experience, but placing yourself in the hands of a chef like this is a dream. Chiso: 3520 Fremont Ave N at 36th St, Fremont, 206-632-3430. Kappo: 701 N 36th St at Fremont Ave N, Fremont, 206-547-0937; chisoseattle.com.
Northwest It’s an anomaly all right: A 1910 Italian stonemason’s cottage in industrial Georgetown—wedged hard between a railroad track and an I-5 exit, with planes roaring overhead from Boeing Field—that struck wunderkind chef (the Herbfarm, Sitka and Spruce) Matthew Dillon as just the place to contain his restless new vision: a community center for foodies. So there are picnics and chef demos and fundraisers—but mostly, there are dinners, stunning ones, served four or five times a week (see website for schedule) and served family style around plank tables in seven courses, with or without matching wines. All in a room that imparts an Old World dreaminess (an unupholstered—thus loud—Old World dreaminess), arched windows to stucco walls. Dillon’s sources are as impeccable as his culinary imagination, so everything from his shellfish salad to his black cod with treviso greens is microseasonally fresh and innovatively conceived. All in all, it’s much more dinner party than restaurant, and if it’s a little odd for a regular joe, it’s every food snob’s dream. 5609 Corson Ave S near Airport Way S, Georgetown, 206-762-3330; thecorsonbuilding.com.
Northwest Remember when innovation took the form of a little garlic whipped into the butter, fusion was pineapple on a pizza, and all the whimsy you got was folded inside a fortune cookie? Dahlia Lounge changed all that. There, Tom Douglas’s unique brand of culinary effrontery was foreshadowed in its vermillion walls, gilt brocades, and paper lanterns. There, seafood wasn’t just served, it was revered: lush raw sashimi and ceviches, caramelly black cod, always a piece of perfect local salmon. There, the skilled irreverence in the kitchen made for the kind of brazen pairings that would later be called fusion—and helped pave the way for the recent upmarket embrace of doughnuts and cupcakes. (See Dahlia coconut cream pie.) Indeed, Douglas’s influence has been so pervasive in this town that you may wonder if Dahlia is a standout anymore. It is. Standards are still lofty, service still down-to-earth terrific, crowds—who lend this place a sensational urban buzz—still in mad pursuit. Check out the private room, seating up to 50. 2001 Fourth Ave between Lenora and Virginia Sts, Downtown, 206-682-4142; tomdouglas.com.
European It’s a populated little dinner joint resembling a warm house party in someone’s funky first apartment—paper lanterns, festive colors, gold filigree embellishments on the walls, twinkling votives after dark—tucked into a storefront on Olive Way’s plunge into downtown. It’s populated for a reason. Plates of rustic European fare—perhaps handmade ricotta gnocchi with braised beef short-rib ragu, a beautifully proportioned roasted lamb and bread salad, or pan-seared scallops cleverly served over lemon risotto—are simple, affordable, and effortlessly elegant, particularly when noshed upon with something liquid off the well-chosen European-heavy list. (Cocktails, too!) But most fun is the toast, thick-cut Columbia City Bakery bread slathered with gloriously oiled toppings from halibut rillettes to eggplant caponata to a winning fig, anchovy, and walnut spread with arugula and prosciutto. Sure, it’s a carb shrine—why do you think so many people love it? 1514 E Olive Way between Denny Way and E Howell St, Capitol Hill, 206-328-2282; dinetteseattle.com. Closed Sun & Mon.
Steak Waiters in tuxedos, diners in sequins, cigar smoke in the backroom lounge, a surf and turf plate for $106—this is Seattle? Yeah, dollface, and brought to you by a restaurateur who prizes the sheer theater of the dining experience. Truth be told, we still miss the original El Gaucho, the real-deal ’50s supper club that held down Seventh and Olive by the sheer weight of its patrons’ pinkie rings, but a straight shot of retro has been injected into this sprawling Belltown homage—from the banquettes to the pianist, from the showy tableside preparations (including a flaming bananas Foster) to the candlelight-only shimmer of what has to be the darkest dinner house in town. The result is a showstopper if you want to impress a date, a variable performer foodwise (stick with the beef), a sensational place to tipple (there’s even an inn upstairs)—in short, an unabashed celebration of all legal forms of adult indulgence. A newer location lights up downtown Bellevue. 2505 First Ave at Wall St, Belltown, 206-728-1337. City Center Plaza, 555 110th Ave NE (entrance at 108th Ave & Fourth St), Bellevue, 425-455-2715; elgaucho.com.
Spanish / Small Plates The best tapas in Seattle come from behind the copper counter where Basque chefs assemble platitos of glistening octopus or veal tongue or smoked sturgeon, wedges of tortilla, crab-stuffed piquillo peppers, venison in pepper sauce, sumptuous garlic prawns, grilled anchovies—and on and, hiccup, on. Good luck snagging a seat at that bar. With a party of eight or more, however, you can reserve the newer downstairs txoko, or “little corner,” with its Old World open-beam construction and stone walls. A big communal table, plentifully lubricated, is the best way to enjoy tapas anyway. 2701 E Madison St at 27th Ave E, Madison Valley, 206-320-9771; harvestvine.com.
Northwest It’s the pull-out-all-the-stops, Big Night Out dining room in the state, maybe in three states—and, unlikely of unlikelies, it’s also pretty close to culinarily flawless. Its genesis is the stuff of legend; a couple of humble Fall City gardeners with extra chives began selling their bounty out of a roadside cart, then a small retail shop, where they began turning the herbs into festive lunches, then multicourse dinners. Before long, the charming country restaurant had earned a regional reputation for nine-course feasts built upon a theme—Copper River salmon perhaps in late spring, truffles midwinter. A potentially jarring chef turnover in the winter of 2007–08 left fans a little anxious—until they discovered the prodigious talents of the nationally renowned superstar Keith Luce. Like his predecessor Luce combs the wilds and the deeps for the freshest seasonal components, then ingeniously combines them into the sorts of preparations that make bold new sense of Northwest plenty. Reservations essential. Take Woodinville Redmond Rd. 14590 NE 145th St, Woodinville, 425-485-5300; theherbfarm.com. Dinners only Thu–Sun (some exceptions).
Italian It’s Ethan Stowell’s (Union, Tavolàta) lowest-ticket restaurant yet: a tiny neighborhood pocket on the top of Queen Anne whose barrel-vaulted ceiling and coppery light imparts a sense of a glowing hearth. The name honors M. F. K. Fisher’s 1942 paean to eating simply; a fitting benediction for a restaurant that celebrates small plates and uncomplicated pastas shimmering with earthy precision. Thick slices of blush-perfect duck fanned across a plate with beets and mandarin oranges is about as wacky as Wolf’s kitchen gets; the rule is more like a plate of orecchiette pasta with cauliflower, screaming with garlic and anchovies; or rolls of trofie pasta, intensely brightened with parsley-walnut pesto. Service hits the sweet spot of low-key hospitality—a reality abetted by Wolf’s no-reservations policy. Annoying, yes—especially when you’re waiting an hour and a half for a weekend table—but no one can argue with the laid-back sensation that prevails once you’ve got it. 2208 Queen Anne Ave N at W Boston St, Queen Anne, 206-838-8090; howtocookawolf.com.
Global/Korean Some pretty thrilling gastronomy issues from the theater kitchen of this unassuming Wallingford storefront, thanks to a pair of married chefs who also like to marry cuisines. Eastern and Western cuisines, that is: as when they sneak juicy pickled grapes into a plate of roasted carrots, or unexpectedly accent kalamata olive gnocchi with Gruyère and pickled red pepper. Pickling is Joule’s calling card, followed closely by the fermentation process used to make kimchi, and it opens the usual Western flavor palette into a whole new spectrum of intriguing sours. Prices on food and wine are affordable; dishes are à la carte. Needless to say this much culinary intrigue isn’t for everyone—including anyone who wants to spend dinner focused on something other than the fascinations of their dinner—and more guidance from the waitstaff would be useful in navigating the menu’s lesser charted waters. 1913 N 45th St at Burke Ave N, Wallingford, 206-632-1913; joulerestaurant.com.
Mexican The brick walls of old Ballard meet the terra-cotta tiles of old Mexico in the single most teeming, table-turning, earsplitting, salsa-sloshing sensation in town. While you’re waiting for your table—it’s not a matter of if in this reservation-free zone—thank the Dominguez family, who emigrated from Oaxaca and brought their home-cooking matriarch with them. There she is now, behind the salsa bar, making mole in the open kitchen. It’s a lush, sweeter-than-standard rendition and an intricate complement to the pork and tortillas in the Number 18. Another stunner is the entomatada plate, in which marinated paper-thin strips of grilled beef arrive with folded corn tortillas in one of the finest tomatillo sauces north of the border. From the wall of arty light-box photographs to the SRO bar in back, the place couldn’t be more Ballard—which renders its deeply authentic food and dirt-cheap down-to-earth humor all the more revelatory. 5431 Ballard Ave NW between 22nd Ave NW and NW Market St, Ballard, 206-782-8722; lacartadeoaxaca.com. Closed Sun.
Modern European No chef in town is as obsessed with or as finely skilled in showcasing the perfect ingredient as impresario artiste Scott Carsberg: a rare vinegar, a single variety of prawn, a distinctively tart apple, distilled to its essence, then offset brilliantly, with the kind of minimalist refinement usually reserved for the walls of art museums. The result is one of Seattle’s world-class restaurants, a sleekly classy Belltown establishment starring plates of intense and soaring intelligence and truly new experiences of flavor—much of which you can read about in prurient detail on ecstatic foodie blogs—along with “artistic” portions and, at times, temple-of-haute-cuisine attitude. 2400 First Ave between Battery and Wall Sts, Belltown, 206-443-3301; lampreiarestaurant.com. Closed Sun & Mon.
Small Plate It’s a mountain lodge! It’s a monastery! Lark’s raw timber rafters crowning an austerity of white, its unexpected location (across from Seattle U), and its bold small-plate dining conceit hit Seattle like a lightning bolt in 2003. It created an immediate buzz and vaulted the many-teensy-portions m.o. into Seattle’s collective consciousness. Owner-chef Johnathan Sundstrom’s seasonal array—divided on the menu into cheeses, vegetables and grains, charcuterie, fish, and meat—is fired with invention. Depending on whom you ask, it’s either a particularly adventurous and intimate way to dine, well worth the mounting ka-ching of the tab and the wait for a table (Lark only takes reservations for parties of six or more); or it’s toy food for posers, slyly spendy, and who wants to wait for that? The former holds true as long as you anchor the meal with smoky duck or a sizable chunk of tender pork belly, then accessorize with sides and cheeses to average two to three plates per diner. Service wavers between aloof and exceptional. 926 12th Ave between Marion and Spring Sts, First Hill, 206-323-5275; larkseattle.com. Closed Mon.
French It would make a terrific movie: In the ’70s, a self-taught foodie from the Bay Area was hired to wash dishes at a French restaurant, where he apprenticed to—and soon replaced—the headline chef. With his scrupulous devotion to fresh, regional ingredients (back when “imported” held the big cachet) the young toque Bruce Naftaly went on to invent Northwest Cuisine, which decades later he continues to refine daily in his glorious French dining room, Le Gourmand. Naftaly is a saucier’s saucier, bringing unfathomable depth and complexity to dishes like rabbit loin in peach-and-basil sauce, sole-and-shrimp mousseline, and rack of lamb in cognac—all, of course, carefully foraged from the best local sources. Trusty servers guide diners through both menu and excellent wine list with perception. One comes to this elegant little room in the most unfashionable part of Ballard not for the scene, of which there is none, but for the sheer joy of seeing a maestro at work. Naftaly’s wife Sara runs the spanky little Parisien bar next door, Sambar, which makes a fine place to savor a postprandial digestif. 425 NW Market St at Sixth Ave NW, Ballard, 206-784-3463; legourmandrestaurant.com. Closed Sun–Tue.
Greek / Small Plate One day the gonzo ingenuity of Tom Douglas will cook up an organic Japanese-Jordanian-fusion taco kitchen–tapas bar. Until that day comes we have Lola, Douglas’s homage to his wife Jackie Cross’s Greek heritage, and his greatest departure so far, doing three-meal-a-day duty as the house restaurant for downtown’s Hotel Ändra. As ever, the food shimmers with vitality—minty feta and hot roasted-red-pepper spreads on grilled housemade pita; a salad of arugula, pickled peppers, local peaches, and Greek pastrami (cured, natch, in-house); a caramelly goat tagine with shallots and dates; a grilled lamb burger, complete with chickpea fries and tamarind ketchup—fusing global influences and impeccable Northwest ingredients with his signature offhand perfection. The coolly Mediterranean place bustles loudly. Some of the best breakfasts in Seattle happen here. 2000 Fourth Ave at Virginia St, Downtown, 206-441-1430; tomdouglas.com.
Vietnamese Tam Nguyen escaped Vietnam as a 12-year-old, and now brings the cuisine of its villages to the downtown sister of his heralded Tamarind Tree. The elegant bilevel room, quite purple, feels windowless and generic until the plates start hitting the table; exhilarating preparations of specialties both familiar (chili-lemongrass chicken, an array of terrific spring rolls) and exotic (lily-blossom halibut, braised coconut in browned pork). Vegetarians and tipplers are well served here—the Thai chili watermelon martini is a treasure—but so are comfort- and adventure-foodies alike. Serves food till 2am on weekends. 1901 Second Ave at Stewart St, Downtown, 206-443-6266; longprovincial.com.
Pan-Asian Bainbridge Island’s finest destination and the darling of its carriage trade has its yin and its yang in perfect equilibrium, radiating both serenity and vitality in its elegant modular design—and sincere warmth and deep professionalism in its welcome. But it’s the food, the province of co-owner and fabled Seattle chef Alvin Binuya (Other Place, Café Sport, Ponti), that secures it a berth in the upper tier. One of the authors of Pacific Rim cuisine, Binuya deftly plies pan-Asian and Nuevo Latino traditions to come up with dishes like sweet pan-seared scallops with parsnip fritters, ginger-chili pesto, and chipotle crème fraîche; or a quesadilla packed with kobe beef, caramelized Walla Walla sweets, charred tomatillo salsa, and queso fresco. Binuya is a stickler for the finest ingredients, a perfectionist who never lets a miss leave his kitchen, and a true innovator; we’d like to see even more of his creativity unleashed at Madoka. 241 Winslow Way W between Finch Pl SW and Wood Ave SW, Bainbridge Island, 206-842-2448; madokaonbainbridge.com. Closed Mon & Tue.
Northwest It’s Pike Place Market’s neighborhood restaurant, boasting the kind of ever-present crowd and soul-rich vitality that showier joints only dream about. If you haven’t been in a while, you haven’t really been—the “little restaurant that could” busted out its walls and traded up from its butane stove, upgrading its view to iconic status through its pretty half-moon windows (there’s the Market pig!) and enhancing its ability to seat the throngs who come knocking lunch and dinner. The appeal? Fresh, exuberant innovations—tortilla-crusted halibut with guacamole, savory braised duck leg over lentil pilaf with fig jam—that showcase that day’s bounty from the fishmongers and high-stallers downstairs, at times pleasantly, at times extraordinarily. Where to bring the out-of-towners. 94 Pike St at First Ave, Ste 32, Pike Place Market, 206-467-7909; mattsinthemarket.com. Not wheelchair accessible.
Japanese Seattle’s most sublime sushi. This neighborhood favorite draws tony patrons in two shifts—Madison Park matrons early in the evening, young professionals in black for later seatings—but everyone is warmly welcomed by the cheery sushi chefs behind the bar. It’s supremely artful, and not just thanks to the dreamlike Fay Jones paintings that warm the austere, high-ceilinged room. The really dazzling art is the exquisite raw seafood. One kampachi sashimi appetizer featured delicate strips of the fish fanned in a star around the plate; the sweet, smooth tuna—followed by a crunch, then the kick, from a paper-thin jalapeño slice—delivered a heady rush even for a non-sushi-lover. The omakase sampler is a house favorite because it’s unforgettable. When those chefs at the sushi bar send you off with a chorus of goodbyes, they’re pretty sure they’ll be seeing you again. 3130 E Madison St at Lake Washington Blvd, Madison Park, 206-322-5800; nishinorestaurant.com.
New American Medievally lit, anchored by a twinkling bar, lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, dripping with chandeliers, peopled by…everyone—this is the Tom Douglas restaurant Seattleites love best. Oh sure, it’s the food—big satisfying plates of grilled mustard sausage and applesauce or Piedmontese ravioli or goat cheese fondue or grilled rib steak with chanterelle jus—or any of the rest of Douglas’s canny comfort—food originals. But more, it’s that the Palace virtually crackles with the energy of a smashing cocktail party, till well after most restaurants are shuttered for the night. It’s the place where you can pop in for a plate of sausage and grits at midnight (it’s open every night until 2am), assured that the server will know just the right cocktail to accompany it, and confident that you won’t be drinking anywhere near alone. Reservations are essential; pity they don’t take them for parties of less than six. 2030 Fifth Ave between Lenora and Virginia Sts, Belltown, 206-448-2001; tomdouglas.com.
Caribbean/Sandwiches Lorenzo Lorenzo’s sun-splashed, tin-roofed hit of Havana is so cruelly popular its addicts endure lines out the door knowing that they must pay cash, they will almost assuredly not get a table (there are three), and there will be hell to pay laundry-wise (these sandwiches drip). Yet still they wait, their prize of choice to arrive between the halves of a toasted baguette slathered with mayo, cilantro, and plenty of caramelized onions. Perhaps it will be the marinated pork, perhaps the sautéed prawns, each a plate-filler and served with a cob of fresh corn. Perhaps it won’t be a sandwich at all, but rather a plate of fiery fish in red sauce over rice, or a wickedly fragrant bowl of salsa chicken over black beans and rice, jalapeños and cheese, and every last spice in the Caribbean palette. So the meat arrives overcooked; you’re in no mood to quibble. We’ve actually found it’s impossible to quibble to a steel-drum soundtrack, amid aromas transcendent as these. No alcohol. 4225 Fremont Ave N between N 42nd and N 43rd Sts, Fremont, 206-545-7440. Closed Sun & Mon. 6229 Seaview Ave NW, Ballard, 206-789-3100. Closed Sun & Mon.
French Sharing a kitchen—but not an aesthetic—with the French stalwart Le Gourmand, this modish six-table boîte next door serves up feisty little Parisian cocktails and a short list of just-the-thing noshes. Sara Naftaly (wife of Le Gourmand’s Bruce) brings a saucier’s understanding of flavor and a locavore’s passion to the drinks, hand-pureeing the tamarinds, putting up her own Yakima cherries, even steeping her own herbal bitters. She hires the best bartenders in town, then complements the drinks with soufflés, croques monsieurs, cheese plates, cones of perfect frites, and fabled desserts. It all adds up to a magical place for Bohemian romantics to start or not-quite-end a promising date, particularly in summer when the leafy patio goes all balmy. 425 NW Market St at Sixth Ave NW, Ballard, 206-781-4883; sambar seattle.com. Closed Sun & Mon.
Northwest/Small Plate The most idiosyncratic “It” restaurant in town is Matt Dillon’s tiny Eastlake storefront, where there’s no room to wait, the wine list is recited, and you may have to eat standing up. That said, Sitka and Spruce (named for the trees beneath which Dillon and his team of foragers find the best wild mushrooms) truly inhabits the philosophy of the “food studio”—a place where the purest seasonal ingredients are extemporized nightly into flavorful small-plate innovations borrowing from Mediterranean traditions. By day, Sitka and Spruce purveys pastries, coffee, and small lunches, but it’s dinners that resemble culinary labs for foodies, as small dishes of octopus hash combining chickpeas, oranges, and Castelvetrano olives are dissected and savored; and as strangers thrust into unexpected proximity at the communal table or at the bar may find themselves earnestly discussing the finer points of braised rabbit loin or olive oil sorbet. Need we say “not for everyone”? 2238 Eastlake Ave E between E Boston and E Lynn Sts, 206-324-0662; sitkaandspruce.com. Closed Mon all day & Tue dinner. Call for schedule.
Vietnamese It had to happen. Many local Vietnamese eateries serve good food at miraculous prices, but their decor varies from plain to shabby to lurid. Now one cooks it even better and presents it prettily in a beautiful, low-lit, exotic-deco space, complete with designer martinis, champagne cocktails, plus a burbling fountain in the bamboo-screened parking-lot patio. And at miraculous prices. Tamarind Tree does the classics right: steaming noodle soups, suitably seared half chickens and satay morsels made of chicken as well as the usual beef in fragrant la lot leaves. The rice-paper wrap-up platter trimmings are generous, the side sauces suitably pungent. And the capacious menu is seeded with novelties: In the Tamarind Tree Rolls, crispy fried cracker and tofu give an enlivening edge to the fresh, bland goi cu’on. Squid stuffed with pork and mushroom, like giant chicken hearts, deliver an overpowering earthy rush. “Yellow fish,” crispy bite-size chunks dredged in turmeric, are a beer treat looking for a tropical beach. The kumquat martini is the standout sip. With all the care lavished on food, presentation, and decor, it’s almost reassuring that the cheerful servers always seem to forget one item. Otherwise Tamarind Tree might be too perfect. 1036 S Jackson St at 12th Ave S, International District, 206-860-1404; tamarindtreerestaurant.com.
Italian Belltown’s hottest spot is so coolly Italian it practically has a Vespa parked out front. Wait—that is a Vespa parked out front, owner Ethan Stowell’s, for zipping between here and Union, the restaurant that made him famous. Justly famous, for few chefs comprehend exactly what it takes to wow a palate like Stowell does. Here, he wows with fresh housemade pastas, tossed simply with elegant enhancements like veal brains and brown butter, or short ribs and parsley. Truth be told, we prefer the main dishes—richly braised meats like lamb shank with eggplant; a masterful plate of branzino—since the short-order mandate of the pastas can get the better of its bustling open kitchen when the place gets slammed. And here we should note that we’ve never seen this concrete-and-wood lofted urban hot spot with the windows that open onto the sidewalk not slammed: They don’t take reservations, and the big communal table in the center fills up fast. The energy is irresistible. 2323 Second Ave between Battery and Bell Sts, Belltown, 206-838-8008; tavolata.com.
Northwest In a cozy Wallingford bungalow named for soil at its most fertile, chef Maria Hines reaches for the gold standard of fresh and seasonal food: organic certification. Ninety-five percent of her food comes from certified-organic sources—which means, for the diner, strong flavors that all but leap up off the plate and belt out an anthem. On plates small or large, Hines reveals a pitch-perfect instinct for compatible combinations: smoked Northwest butterfish with chilled mussels, cannellini beans, and caraway crème fraîche, for instance, or crisped pork belly with French lentils, scallion coulis, and tomato vinaigrette. With its hard chairs and unupholstered surfaces, Tilth puts on as few airs as the farmers and foragers and fisherfolk who supply it. 1411 N 45th St between Interlake and Woodlawn Aves N, Wallingford, 206-633-0801; tilthrestaurant.com.
Northwest Downtown Kirkland was a pretty sorry place to find yourself with an appetite—until this sleek stunner opened off the lobby of the Kirkland Heathman Hotel. The tagline is “farm to table,” which may be the trend du jour, but at Trellis it’s actually meaningful. Here, thick hanger steaks cooked to tender succulence arrive in a sauce electrified with fresh leeks. Homemade ravioli comes stuffed with an herby-sweet winter-squash puree and swathed in a beurre blanc enlivened with powerful bursts of fresh sage and sautéed squash. Chances are the squash, herbs, and leeks were harvested that afternoon, from the chef’s own acreage a few miles north. This earthy orientation lends a homegrown flavor to a classy room, lit with the golden hues of California and ringed by a marvelous outdoor (heated) patio. Great wine list. Heathman Hotel, 220 Kirkland Ave between Third and Main Sts, Kirkland, 425-284-5900; trellisrestaurant.net.
Italian This handsome white-linen, wood-paneled ristorante off the downtown Hotel Vintage Park might appear the product of a hotel—restaurant cookie cutter, from waiters with Continental accents to busers in neckties. But closer inspection rewards with inspired-Italian-with-a-flourish fare—a melting braised pork shank over fat corona beans crowned with horseradish gremolata; crispy duck over farro studded with marinated figs; a distinctively seasoned pasta alla chitarra with braised pork, rosemary, and ricotta—and a record of consistency unusual in a hotel property. The centrally located room is intimate, warmed by a wood-burning oven, and upstairs boasts a private room resembling an aristocrat’s library. 1100 Fifth Ave between Seneca and Spring Sts, Downtown, 206-624-5500; tulio.com.
Northwest More hot than haute, and never haughty, Union is the much celebrated solo outing from vaunted chef Ethan Stowell, a guy who could pull flavor out of cardboard. Lucky for us, he’s working with somewhat better raw materials—hamachi carpaccio, Ligurian olive puree, buttery Columbia River sturgeon—which he accoutres with keen intelligence, assembles into rather pretentious presentations, then underprices. (His multicourse prix-fixe tasting menus are a deal.) This balancing act between high toned and down-to-earth infects the ambience, too: It’s a classy midtown haunt, filled with power brokers and symphony mavens, staffed with unpretentious pros. 1400 First Ave at Union St, Downtown, 206-838-8000; unionseattle.com.
Italian A freshly envisioned, sincere-of-spirit Italian culinary destination masquerading as a Ballard hot spot. Seasoned owner-chef Don Curtiss traveled to Tuscany and found himself a mentor in the ancient walled city of Volterra, from which he learned extravagantly lush dishes like cappellacci pasta stuffed with minced lamb and bell pepper, lavished with tomato cream, pea vines, and fennel; or tagliolini with morels, pork jowl, and summer squash in truffle butter; or a cannellini bean soup, topped with a luscious float of Tuscany’s finest olive oil. A well-priced wine list leaves patrons feeling very well served; the bar, filled with happy socialites, packs ’em in. Service could use some work. 5411 Ballard Ave NW at 22nd Ave NW, Ballard, 206-789-5100; volterrarestaurant.com.
New American If there’s a lazy corner café on the way to the swimming hole in Buford, Georgia, it looks exactly like this downhome spot at 17th and Galer. Sun streams through ceiling-high windows, spotlighting flour-sack-topped tables, where a motley assemblage of happy Capitol Hill neighbors gathers for the kind of breakfast that ends after lunch. They might pop in for coffee and a pear-cardamom muffin, a lemon-blueberry scone, or a homebaked peanut butter cookie that’ll glue your mouth shut. Or they might stay for lunch or dinner, where mushroom-arugula tarts and lamb shank pot pies and crunchy chicken-apple salads and a masterful mac and cheese populate a sophisticated and well-executed rotating list. 1501 17th Ave E at E Galer St, Capitol Hill, 206-328-3155; alwaysfreshgoodness.com. Closed Mon. Not wheelchair accessible.
Pan-Asian It’s enormous, and it better be, since the space is required to seat the zillions who tell the Zagats it’s their favorite spot in town. And what’s not to love? We adore the cosmopolitan pan-Asian purview, encompassing and mastering specialties from Beijing to Bangkok—fragrant duck with steamed buns and plum sauce, Szechuan green beans wizened to perfection, seven-flavor beef (where you can taste all seven!), a slew of pungent soups. Pluses include the double-decker layout, the dead-center downtown location (next to Benaroya Hall), the jumpin’ buzz that comes from being the busiest restaurant in the city—and sometimes even the servers, who are unfortunately too crazed to be consistent. 1401 Third Ave at Union St, Downtown, 206-623-4450; wildginger.net.
European The toast of Belltown since the second it opened, this chef-owned haunt is serious about its food—but not so much as to unduly oppress those who’d rather just mindlessly nosh amid the ever-present crowd of metrosexuals and their mates. (Everyone glows in this arm orange light.) Diners can choose from small plates, pastas, soups, salads, Mediterranean-influenced mains, and a particularly impressive selection of pátés and foie gras—all of which will be satisfying (if at times lacking the courage of their flavor convictions), and none of which ever sacrifices substance to style. Desserts are bliss-outs, including a chocolate mousse with hazelnut sponge cake, toffee, caramel sauce, and white chocolate ice cream that ought to be injected directly into a vein. 2137 Second Ave between Blanchard and Lenora Sts, Belltown, 206-256-2060; restaurantzoe.com.