THERE ARE MAYBE two dozen cities on the planet where the top 10 restaurants are tougher to call than in Seattle. Lucky us. Thank our extravagance of edible resources, entrepreneurial enterprise, and culinary exuberance. But man it makes a restaurant critic’s life hard.

Anointing just 10 has a choosing-your-favorite-child whiff to it. Each has its lovable qualities, its lovable quirks. One worships at the altar of the finest Shigoku oyster, the freshest heirloom tomato. Another sets family-style feasts upon banquet tables, inviting a shared communion that goes much deeper than dinner.

But here’s what it came down to for us. Whose service best captures the intelligent flavor of Northwest hospitality? Who bestows beauty and precision to plate and place, at every single meal? Who transforms the world’s finest raw ingredients into dishes that shimmer with invention and intention—but, mostly, that taste good? Who expresses the rooted sense of place that imbues a restaurant with a soul?

This year’s ultimate short list—take our word and our belt size for it—was culled from a list a whole lot longer. For each restaurant (listed in no meaningful order) you’ll find the chef or owner’s vision, my critical appraisal, and a list of the place’s noteworthy dishes.

Read it…and eat.