CROW Pretheater sophisticates meet arty hipsters.

COMPILING A BEST RESTAURANTS ISSUE in Seattle is a little like trying to choose the best water in Puget Sound: There’s a stunning lot to choose from. And best…for what? For one diner “best” might mean the newest “It” restaurant to open in the last year; for another, it might mean one of our enduring classics. On one night “best” might signify a great place to take the kiddies, while on a very different night it might mean the place to go for an odyssey through one great chef’s unique vision. Sometimes “best” means food from around the world. Sometimes it means a place pulsating with Seattle’s unique urban vibe.

And so we’ve chosen 30 of the finest, divided into the same categories you use in choosing restaurants, each entry loaded with the kind of insider tips you won’t get off the restaurant’s Web site. In choosing we used the following recipe: Take one restaurant critic seasoned with two decades’ experience reviewing Seattle restaurants. Sprinkle with the input of trusted informants far and wide. Marinate in many, many, many dining rooms for the better part of a year. Let simmer. Puree in word processor for, oh, three months—and voila!

Since any restaurant is only as good as its staff, we highlight some of the best of Seattle’s restaurant personnel and assemble a Dream Team so fine, it’s enough to make a diner lay awake nights salivating over the restaurant they could create. Think fantasy baseball—for restaurant geeks. Then turn to our Trend of the Year nomination to discover that the latest fashion in restaurants is something that could actually put an end to the restaurant as we know it. (And no—it’s not that buzz kill of a raw–food disclaimer the state now mandates on every menu.)

The message? Quick—now’s the time to visit Seattle’s great restaurants! Lucky thing you’ve got your guide!