A mod shot of Italy in the heart of Pike/Pine, Artusi is Cascina Spinasse’s sister aperitivo bar; stocked to the nines with grappas and amari and the stuzzichini (“little nibbles”) to offset them. Spinasse chef Jason Stratton is the artist at the helm (that’s his art on the walls too, believe it or not), presenting the occasional echo of next door—do not pass up the salsa tonnata, or tuna mayonnaise, in either house—but mostly staking out territory that’s more minimalist and contemporary than Spinasse’s. If it’s on the menu, go for the tripe with bone marrow and black truffles, in which the tender braised tripe plays a pastalike role in a superrich sauce. Lively till late.
Ba Bar Vietnamese
This open-all-day-and-half-the-night nosh bar is Eric and Sophie Banh’s love song to the street food they ate as children in Saigon—and therefore hews to a more traditionalist standard than we’ve seen in their Monsoon restaurants. Where those represent bright fusion, Ba Bar serves up street-style classics: like noodle bowls topped with grilled chicken or charry prawns or Peking duck, with peanuts and caramelized shallots and greens and nuoc cham; seared catfish wraps fragrant with turmeric and dill, full of frisky greenery; or big, loaded bowls of pho, heady with basil and onions and mint and sprouts and fork--tender sheets of flank steak. Ingredients are scrupulously sourced and lovingly handled; beverages, coffee to cocktails, are bright and free flowing. The only flaw in this engaging model is service that’s well meaning but diffident. Open till 4am weekends.
One of the last serious dinner houses in Belltown is this square room with high-backed booths and cozy spaces, swathed in autumnal hues—a bona fide warm restaurant in a city smitten with the stark and minimal. Here the friendly welcome, rustic fare, and affordable price tags (most entrees under $20) all
lack pretension. The chef’s hand stays firmly on the Italian tiller, turning out a housemade pappardelle Bolognese, a panzanella starring handmade mozzarella, branzino with frisee salad, and a perfect pizza crust.
Cafe Presse French
It’s the most come-as-you-are French cafe in town, suffused with a casual dailiness that makes it dangerously easy to become a regular. And by the looks of it, half the students at the neighboring Seattle U are—popping in to the front room for a quick croque monsieur and some televised European football, a linger in the hidden back room over dazzling roast chicken, or a glass of Ricard at the busy bar, perhaps with a little something off the charcuterie list. That deja vu you’re having right now is courtesy Le Pichet, Presse’s downtown cousin, which has been stylishly mining similar territoire for years. Think of Presse as the more quotidian of the two, with its international newspapers and magazines for patrons’ perusal, its all-day casse croûte menu, its way-low prices, and its informal joie de vivre. The food defines unfussy elegance, from the classy bibb lettuce and hazelnut salad to steak frites in exquisite Madeira sauce.
5 Spot Americana
Take a ride up the Counterbalance to the 5 Spot. Better yet, walk, as penance for the sinfully large feast you’re about to consume: Heaping helpings are the 5’s franchise. This Queen Anne institution for weekend brunch is one of Chow Foods’ original crowd-pleasers. The atmo is upscale diner in large, noisy quarters with cushy booths. Lunch and dinner menus pay tribute to Southwest, New England, Southern, and Northwest cuisines, and a regional American “theme menu” wild card is thrown in for good measure. It’s all down-home real-good—the sort of place that makes smoky, sweet, saucy barbecued wings and oily French-fried artichoke hearts with delish bready mushroom “cuzins”—and whatever fails to astonish can still be counted on to satisfy. The full bar sure will. Very popular with families.
Hing Loon Chinese
Not even the cruelly fluorescent lighting in this Chinatown dive diminishes its affable welcome nor the hold it has on the legions of fans who live for its bubbling hot pots and smoked duck. If Cantonese seafood is Seattle’s largest Chinese restaurant category, Hing Loon delivers its broadest representation—much of it directly out of the live tanks gurgling in the corner. A thousand regulars know that the 50-plus sheets of paper taped to the wall list the day’s specials—and that those specials, plus the finest black-bean-sauce squid in the city—are the ones to try. (They also know that the Loon is a big after-the-party haunt, hopping till 2am Fridays and Saturdays.)
Kedai Makan Malaysian
Move over, Little Uncle. That Capitol Hill Thai food stall proved that all you need is a well-traveled cook and a wide spot in the sidewalk to peddle destination Asian food. Say hello to Kedai Makan, a farmers market vendor that found its own teensy kitchen (no tables, no seats) along the rise up Olive Way. Order on the sidewalk, and through the red Dutch door comes swoony, crisp roti canai with curry, a bronzed and crackling nasi goreng tangy with brine and edged with fire, and a rotating menu of other Malaysian thrills—almost all under $10. It’s open late (2:30am weekends)—but don’t go calling this sumptuous and careful cuisine drunk food.
La Carta de Oaxaca Mexican
The brick walls of old Ballard meet the terra-cotta tiles of old Mexico in the single most teeming, table-turning, earsplitting, salsa-sloshing sensation in town. While you’re waiting for your table—it’s not a matter of if in this reservation-free zone—thank the Dominguez family, who emigrated from Oaxaca and brought their home-cooking matriarch with them. There she is now, behind the salsa bar, making mole in the open kitchen. It’s a lush, sweeter-than--standard- rendition and an intricate complement to the pork and tortillas in the Number 18. Another stunner is the entomatada plate, in which marinated paper-thin strips of grilled beef arrive with folded corn tortillas in one of the finest tomatillo sauces north of the border. From the wall of arty light-box photographs to the SRO bar in back, the place couldn’t be more Ballard—which renders its deeply authentic food and dirt-cheap down-to-earth humor all the more revelatory.
Moshi Moshi Sushi Japanese
What looks to be about as Ballard Avenue as it gets—a teeming sushi salon with edgy lime-green walls and a bona-fide mixologist in the bar—turns out to be much more. The kitchen presents a more traditional take on Japanese food and sake than Seattle-rollers may be accustomed to. Oh, he crafts Seattle rolls—and other Japanese bar snacks to soak up the cocktails in the popular pre- and postdinner happy hours—but he also offers classics like Kyoto-style mackerel-and-white-kelp pressed sushi or clam miso soup. It’ll take but one buttery bite of the kasuzuke, grilled black cod marinated in miso and sake lees, to prove that Moshi Moshi is more than just another pretty Ballard face. That said: The life-size faux sakura tree with the dainty pink-lit “blossoms” may be the prettiest thing we’ve ever seen in a restaurant.
Oddfellows Cafe and Bar Americana
The prowlers of Pike/Pine have taken to its all-day commissary with unmitigated glee, and why not? Oddfellows covers all waking hours (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night), with espresso and a lineup of house-baked pastries by morning, meadow-fresh salads and hearty soups and paninis by day, warming nouveau comfort food (short ribs on polenta, shephard’s pie) by night, and cocktails and wines and foamy pints whenever. Prices are recession--friendly, and the place itself exudes the kind of rumpled, been-here-forever comfort that is the stock-in-trade of owner, legendary Seattle bar maker Linda Derschang. The place is deafening.
The Old Sage Gastropub
This smoked-meats-and-whiskey bar from the prolific Brian McCracken and Dana Tough (Spur, Tavern Law, the Coterie Room) feels like a casual watering hole but traffics in haute cuisine—with each of its eight or so nightly meats smoked in wood, herbs, corn, bamboo, or other mediums. (When’s the last time you dined on lavender-smoked pork cheeks and $40 drams of single malt in a place blaring classic rock?) The food can be sumptuous: a gorgeously composed plate of roasted and raw gourds, where smoky roasted squash, curled cuke slices, and chunks of compressed watermelon come masterfully accented with mint leaves, dollops of yogurt, and Calabrian chili.
Palace Kitchen New American
Medievally lit, anchored by a twinkling bar, lined with -floor-to-ceiling windows, dripping with chandeliers, peopled by…everyone—this is the Tom Douglas restaurant Seattleites love best. Oh sure, it’s the food: big satisfying plates of items like grilled mustard sausage and applesauce or Piedmontese ravioli or goat cheese fondue or grilled rib steak with chanterelle jus. But more, it’s that the Palace virtually crackles with the energy of a smashing cocktail party, till well after most restaurants are shuttered for the night. It’s the place where you can pop in for a plate of sausage and grits at midnight (it’s open every night until 1am), assured that the server will know just the right cocktail to accompany it, and confident that you won’t be drinking alone. Reservations are essential; pity they don’t take them for parties of less than six.
Quinn’s Pub Fare
A simply terrific gastro-pub, located in the wood--raftered and brick-walled heart of Pike/Pine, and packed to those rafters from 3pm through to close, every night of the week. The food is leagues more sophisticated than you might expect from a beer hall—when’s the last time you had seared foie gras or steak tartare in a pub?—and gets better the higher up the pretension chain you go. (In other words, skip the burger, get something like a radicchio pork belly salad.) The beer list is long and inspired, and the space is slick, soaring to two levels, lined with windows, staffed by the Village People, and filled with that ineffable who-knows-what that draws a crowd and declares it a party.
Radiator Whiskey Bar Food
Supple whiskies, smoky meats, a Bourbon-hued room as lived in as a rawhide boot, Showgirls strip joint right out the window—now here’s what eating paleo oughta be. Owned by the folks from Matt’s in the Market across the hall, food is accorded real attention here—from the crackle-crusted fried pork shank on a bed of green aioli and draped in Mama Lil’s Peppers to the porchetta sandwich overloaded with pulled pig cheeks, smoked cheddar, and a softly fried egg. The booze list is equally careful, with a happy surfeit of Manhattans; join the club and bartenders will mix your favorite cocktail in your own personal flask.
RockCreek Seafood and Spirits Seafood
Chef Eric Donnelly built his casual raw-beamed fish house as a Montana fishing lodge smack in the heart of upper Fremont. And if the deep menu seems overambitious—a dozen each of small plates and large ones, and that’s just the seafood—Donnelly has navigated his share of long menus in corporate restaurants, with startling success. Here, his wild Mexican prawns over Anson Mills grits is a sure-handed and bright Napa Valley–style plate; his mad variety of finfish preparations, often topped with handfuls of leafy herbs, are exact and supremely satisfying. Affable service completes the picture. Open late.
Sea Garden Chinese
The room looks unchanged since the ’40s, which is odd since it opened in 1981. But get beyond the entry, with its clutter and its crab tanks, and you’re in for some of the most authentic, tightly executed, and clockwork-consistent Cantonese seafood in town. The place is revered for its black-bean crab (don’t blame us for your laundry bill), but Sea Garden’s squid dishes are its most authentic—particularly the crispy shingles of salt and pepper squid fired with chilies. Open till 3am weekends.
Spur Gastropub Small Plate
A decidedly elegant feel dominates within the gun-metal, grommet-bolted walls and towering ceiling of this shaft of a Belltown gastropub: a thinking drinker’s hideaway that’s as comfortable in its skin as anything in Belltown. Artisan cocktails (employing boutique liquors, topped with foams, even flamed for effect) and substantive noshes land somewhere between studiously impressive and extraordinary; noshes like butterfish over pea puree with morels or pork belly sliders with mustard and smoked orange marmalade.
Toulouse Petit Kitchen and Lounge Cajun
Don’t let the filigreed wrought-iron light fixtures, the gleaming inlaid wood tables, the soaring arched windows, the wall of flickering candles, the crush of posturing singles in the underlit bar—or the fact that its sister restaurant is the meet market Peso’s next door—-divert your focus from Toulouse Petit’s menu, a startlingly complete survey of the French Quarter faves we hardly ever see in this town. It’s intelligent, flavor-forward fare—endive salad with chervil and tarragon and smoked trout, fat Louisiana shrimp and grits lit with cayenne and plenty of garlic—with lots of fresh oysters, charcuterie, dizzying libations, even a long list of steaks. With legions of staff and diners and all-day open hours, it could be argued the place is taking on too much. Shhh—don’t tell ’em.
Via Tribunali Pizza
The folks we have to thank for Caffe Vita have given Seattle Neapolitan pizzerias with atmosphere so thickly Italian you could cut it with a pizza wheel. They’re storefront slots making little visible to-do from the street and going enchantingly dusky in the evening. As for what they serve, it’s the real Neapolitan deal: springy, salt-licked, heat-blistered crusts sparsely topped with sprightly tomato sauce, along with every imaginable combination of mushrooms, bufala mozzarella, fresh garlic, cured meats, fresh sausage, and so on. The pies are slid into the roaring brick oven for, oh, 20 seconds or so, whereupon all they’ll need for company is an olive- and prosciutto-packed house salad, a good bottle of sangiovese, and an appreciative maw. Don’t bother with a doggie bag: The Trib’s pies, ephemeral joys, go soggy upon cooling.