“How do you do this every year?” a friend marveled last week, when the November issue of Seattle Met hit the stands, headline screaming: 25 Best Restaurants of 2012.

“With relish,” I replied, honestly.

Every year I’m aware that there must be no luckier professional than myself in the world. All summer and most of fall I anonymously visit the best restaurants in Seattle—of which there are considerably more each year. I sample what they’re proudest of, critically assess atmo and service, compare outcomes with intentions.

And then…I stew.

Everyone from my poor family to my regular baristas know that I walk around in a state of mental disrepair for several months, as I struggle to assemble a coherent package with a unique viewpoint and plenty of variety and a list that avoids predictability but still remains true to the meaning of “best.”

Last year I did the straight-up Best Restaurants—no qualifiers, no “best new,” no biggest trendsetters. Just the top 25. It was a terrific collection, if I do say so myself, which actually holds up remarkably well today (if you don't count the transformation of Spring Hill into Ma’ono, and the recent closure of Bisato). How to follow it?

With an Only-in-Seattle attitude, I concluded. When I began reviewing restaurants in the ‘80s, Seattle was still a Boeing backwater—more a big town than a city, without much claim to the world stage.

Somewhere since then, Seattle became a brand.

College friends who used to pity my provenance began to jockey for a spot in my guestroom. And of all the things Seattle got famous for—tech innovation, edgy music and arts, being green (in every sense of the word), sensational coffee—our status as the source for great seafood and produce and, therefore, end-of-the-rainbow for hundreds of chef innovators, thrust us to fame as a foodie’s Nirvana.

My standard in compiling this list of 25 was to include only those restaurants which capture something essential to Seattle’s soul. The best Pike Place Market hideaway. Our craft booze obsession. Our farm-fresh fixation. Our civic identity as a cluster of vital neighborhoods with active Third Places. The best exemplar of our best ethnic cuisine. A few idiosyncratic wild cards—because Seattle is, after all, the land of the quirky.

Yeah, it’s missing some of your favorites—it’s missing some of mine, too. Stunners like The Harvest Vine and Crush, Cafe Juanita and Rover's, though rigorous in their use of Northwest ingredients, wouldn’t lose their essential identity if transported to another city. Conversely, some of the joints long-timers might expect to appear on such a list just didn’t earn a berth—but not for lack of my effort. (Oh Ivar’s! How I adore your history, your views, that astonishing deck off Northlake, even your krazy method whereby guests order takeout…everything, alas, but your lackluster food.)  

See what you think. Comment away! And for heaven’s sakes go out and eat some of this marvelous stuff: It’s like sucking the very marrow of our city.

You know, if you like that sort of thing.