Here is James Beard award–winning chef Maria Hines’s third property—this one Sicilian, and every inch as nobly organic as her first two (Tilth, Golden Beetle). In a gracious and comfortable space warmed by the leafy limbs of a ficus tree, patrons savor the sunny citruses and olives and capers and tomatoes of Sicily—perhaps in a heaping herby salad, or a briny tangle of housemade tagliarini pasta with clams and pine nuts, or an impossibly moist half chicken topped with a caponata of Brussels sprouts and golden raisins (a dish that embodies the “sour and sweet” of Agrodolce’s name). Some dishes suffer from insufficient innovation or, at brunch especially, size—limitations of an organic mandate, perhaps, that organic food appreciators will be all too happy to forgive.
Bar Cotto Salumeria and Bar Italian
One can pretty affordably assemble a giddy repast from some 10 varieties of salumi, several vegetable nibbles, a half dozen bruschetta, and a dozen or so pizzas at empire builder Ethan Stowell’s sleek nosh bar. Toppings are beautiful on the pizzas—particularly housemade guanciale, mozzarella, and a sweet dusting of fennel pollen—but the crackly-pillowy-blistery crusts are too oily. Instead, try some salumi with torta fritta (the hot, savory beignets Northern Italians melt their salumi around) along with a perky toss of, say, marinated beets with pistachios and golden raisins, and a nice, stiff (exquisite) cocktail.
Cafe Flora Vegetarian
Long the vegetarian standard-bearer in town, this beloved Madison Valley dining room can make gluten free taste good. Its quesadilla starter—roasted yam in a corn tortilla with pumpkin-seed-cilantro-scallion spread, salsa verde, and lime creme fraiche—is happily inhaled. The menu continues in this gleefully inventive vein, careening from one clever textural harvest (artichoke croquettes, served with citrus cream and chili lime sauces on a bed of lentils and slaw with orange-ginger vinaigrette) to the next (grilled polenta cakes with roasted oyster and cremini mushrooms, kale, delicata squash, pomegranate molasses, fig balsamic reduction, and Point Reyes blue cheese). The menu changes with the seasons, but certain dishes—the comfort-filled Oaxaca tacos, the delectable portobello Wellington—must remain lest a city revolt. All are enjoyed in a window-wrapped room, particularly pleasant during weekend brunch, and an atrium complete with burbling fountain.
Copperleaf Restaurant Northwest
Driving from Seattle to this destination restaurant at the Cedarbook Lodge retreat facility and hotel is like falling down a 15-mile rabbit hole: You’re in a separate ecosystem, pristine as a terrarium, amid a spongy wetland of ponds and native gardens, dining in a classy hearthside space that’s a cross between the lobby of a Northwest resort and the living room of a very fortunate friend. It’s a suitably Northwest backdrop for determinedly Northwest fare—perhaps venison two ways with celeriac and tart cherries, or spoonable beef short ribs with organic vegetables and stunning truffle beet relish—presented with laudable execution and strict attention to organic, sustainable ingredients. Dishes can err on the side of safe—but for hungry South County–ites (or folks stuck at Sea-Tac airport, just minutes away), that’s a small price to pay for the best food in miles.
50 North Americana
Pleasant 50 North across from U Village looks like an unassumingly upholstered cafe with a crowd-pleaser family menu starring burgers, flatbread pizzas, salads, and fried chicken plates. Look deeper. The shiny younger sister of Vashon’s Hardware Store pioneers radical territory: sustainable sourcing and vegcentric cooking in a package aimed at everyman. So a plate of meaty Bolognese was actually crammed with vegetables (organic ones!); all-natural short ribs with a sassy pomegranate glaze came with parsnip-celeriac puree and a bright fennel-apple salad; sustainably caught salmon arrived crusted with pistachios upon an organic leek and fennel sauce. It’s bright, intelligent food lavishly accommodating diets from vegan to gluten-free, all day long. What could be more accessible than that?
Future, meet Seattle. Seattle’s already met you, at this sustainable-sandwich minichain, and you taste amazing. The next generation of food businesses—what isn’t edible (organically so or close to it) can be recycled, composted, or rinsed and reused—is the project of a couple of twentysomething childhood buddies, who use repurposed tables and big chalkboard menus. Best, the sandwiches, soups, salads, and sides listed there burst with more than quality and freshness. They are exuberant assemblages of foods that simply taste perfect together—like a slab of blackened cod with sweet slaw on a panino roll, or a superb toss of arugula with flank steak, blue cheese, red onion, and honey-mustard. And all the pristine sourcing and blazing creativity come with a heaping side order of what may be this era’s most important ingredient: value. It’s tough to pay over $12 in here.
Lark 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.
Osteria la Spiga Italian
A lot of people adored the rustic La Spiga on Broadway, and a lot of people adore its sprawling replacement on 12th. They just aren’t the same people. The menu offers the same simple housemade tagliatelle and tortelli and crisp flatbread piadina, augmented now with more meat plates and enough vegetable sides to bliss out the herbivores. It’s the setting that’s grown up, much the way freckle-faced girls grow into tawny sophisticates. Once a hangarlike garage, the renovated Piston and Ring Building stands as a shrine to urbanity in shades of concrete and warm wood, with windows, which extend from the floor to the soaring ceiling, overlooking La Spiga’s broad deck. A loft raises private parties into the rafters. Beneath it the young and the old and plenty of the black clad, along with chefs wielding sheets of fresh pasta, buzz as if they had located the very epicenter of the Capitol Hill scene. (Which they have.)
So casual and clattering is this hard-edged room with concrete floors and raw beams and giddy splashes of popsicle brights, a person wandering in off the street might never suspect that here lives some of the most sophisticated fare in the Pacific Northwest. After all, it’s Jerry Traunfeld in the kitchen—he who once brought off nine-course feasts at the Herbfarm, and who is now performing a somewhat more modest version of the same endeavor: the seven- or 10-dish platters, thali, he picked up on a research trip to India. So it’s small-plate dining, only with the considerable bonus of the chef choosing the combinations. At Poppy the technique results in some glorious dining: carrot matchsticks exotic with clove and lemon thyme, perhaps, along with gazpacho bright with melon and mint and a chunk of pink albacore with green tomato, peppers, and fennel. This is not Indian food but a Northwest tasting menu, from one of the Northwest’s finest chefs. Starters and desserts, a la carte available for around $5, are unmissable.
Restaurant Zoë New American
Zoë Deux.0 is the Capitol Hill (read: more casual), post–Great Recession (read: there’s a burger!) version of the beloved classic, formerly of Belltown, with a dinner menu full of French-influenced small plates, yolk-dripping salads, meaty mains, and diminutive desserts. Modern methods, like Banyuls gelee cubes on a frisky steak tartare or luscious sous vide lamb ribs over black lentils, don’t call attention to themselves so much as smartly enhance the rustic preparations. All in a beautiful corner space delivering atmosphere from the Napalike garden entry to the manly industrial main room to the winsome sunroom with the boho-farmhouse vibe. Come as you are!
National superstar chef Michael Mina brings approachable French to downtown Seattle, and the generically elegant surroundings, manic atmosphere (the “Last Bottle” wine boards clack out deafening updates whenever the cellar’s down to one bottle), and “concept dining” belies what turns out to be a serious kitchen, dedicated to local sourcing and capable of fine things. Of particular note are the composed salads, pork-lentil preparations, and “deconstructed” beef Bourguignon featuring a melting hunk of Painted Hills short rib. The place shines brightest as a drop-in wine bar, with a thoughtful selection of bottles and trusty bar nibbles (check the foie gras sliders) befitting its central downtown location.
St. Dames Vegetarian
It’s vegetarian (even vegan and/or gluten free), situated in a South End public housing project, and owned by lesbians who renounce high--fructose corn syrup. When some comedian creates a TV spoof called -Seattleiana, it will undoubtedly be set at St. Dames. But dismiss the vivid little candlelit destination dinner house at your own peril, for it is well loved for its nuanced way with brunch and dinner comfort foods, butternut gnocchi (with mushrooms, hazelnuts, and blue cheese, served with kale) to “meatloaf” (nut and lentil loaf in a ketchup glaze with whipped -vegetables, served with kale). And if a spinach-yam quesadilla with vegan remoulade was a bit wanting in the flavor department, a side of Indian-spiced hush puppies with tamarind-mint dip handily banished the bland. As did a margarita made of frisky jalapeno tequila, available as part of St. Dames’s nicely stocked bar.
Sitka and Spruce Northwest
Seattle’s locavore dining scene got prettier the moment intense young practitioner Matt Dillon relocated Sitka from the darkest cranny in Eastlake to perhaps its most radiant height. From tables, counter seats, and a communal board in the sunlight-drenched corner of Melrose Market, diners can survey Seattle’s own Les Halles through vintage panes—there’s the butcher, there’s the blossom shop—or Dillon and crew in the open kitchen, composing the simple, hearty seasonal plates he’s known for. Look for produce adoration, enormous flavors, compulsive seasonality, and more than a few Middle Eastern tweaks—on plates that at lunchtime feel appealingly noshy, like sweet whole carrots over chickpea puree with harissa and fried mint, and at dinnertime may take your breath away.
Can a restaurant achieve enlightenment? Seattle’s premiere vegetarian haunt, perched like a lotus in Wallingford, comes close. Chef and co-owner Colin Patterson wants dining to be intentional and communal: hence, one or two five-course prix-fixe seatings comprise the night, and before dinner he sounds a gentle gong for a collective moment of gratitude. If it all sounds a little woo-woo—oh yes, he also owns a yoga studio—just hang on until the food arrives. Patterson, former chef of the famous Blossoming Lotus on Kauai, is truly an herbivorous genius. He’ll top a salad of frizzled greens with grilled peach, dill dressing, and feisty julienned strips of cayenne, for instance, or build an ethereal lasagna of—get this—golden beets, creamed spinach, heirloom tomatoes, and figs. Food, in short, to satisfy the most carnivorous skeptic and—against this uniquely wholesome backdrop—feed the soul.
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 creme fraiche, 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.