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.