Tamari Bar only makes 18 bento boxes a night.

Tamari Bar

In a year in which new Japanese restaurants have permeated every part of the city, from kaiseki to soba to ramen, chef-owner Makoto Kimoto’s latest Capitol Hill izakaya outpost reminded us that his home country’s cuisine can party too, with Instagrammable tabletop staircases of fresh sushi, Wagyu beef sizzling atop hot stones, and a photogenic bento box of nine starters that’s the tic-tac-toe of appetizers.

Rider

There are more inspired destinations for wood-fired seafood entrees or a $20 burger, but this ultra-visible restaurant across from the downtown Nordstrom has proved a handy happy hour hangout for locals. The bar menu includes most of the dining room highlights, like crab toast, a dynamite shaved kohlrabi salad, and some excellent fries.

Plenty of Clouds

The former Anchovies and Olives space on Capitol Hill is now a relaxed neighborhood hang that traffics in powerful flavors. Chef Travis Post’s exploration of China’s Sichuan and Yunnan regions informs dishes like dumplings in a particularly nuanced fiery chili oil, and rice cakes wokked with cured ham, tomato, and Chinese celery.

Central Smoke

Reconcepts can be dicey, but Eric Banh turned his upscale Vietnamese steak house, Seven Beef, into a more rugged space where smoke pervades everything from cocktails to brisket to the chicken in the fried rice. To do this, he brought in chef Mike Whisenhunt, a man whose gift is finding nuanced flavor in a piece of bacon thick as a deck of cards (he offsets the usual maple flavor with nuoc cham). His tenure at Revel and Brimmer and Heeltap makes Whisenhunt the rare chef who can pull off a menu that’s slightly southern, more overtly Asian, and sometimes just straight-up beefy.

Jiaozi! Temporarily Closed

A dozen dumpling crescents arrive, still bearing the crispy, lacy “wings,” a remnant of the starch and water that contribute to a really good pan fry. Inside: tender lamb and shreds of carrot, all fragrant with cumin. This is just one, the best one, of a dozen different fillings at this mustard-walled dumpling house in Chinatown–International District.

Tiny animals and great nachos are on the loose at Ethan Stowell’s Super Bueno.

Super Bueno

Good food plus a place for your kids to play: The formula that keeps sibling restaurant Frelard Pizza Company hopping is replicated on Stone Way, this time with margaritas and nachos in sizzling cast-iron pans. The food strays high-end here and there, but mostly it’s Ethan Stowell’s sincerely inauthentic take on Mexican flavors: Pop Rocks on top of watermelon salad, mix-and-match tacos filled with fried cod or jackfruit or super-seasoned carnitas or brisket. Weirdly, the can’t-miss item here is the “mom taco”—crispy shell, ground beef, Ortega salsa. Just one part of the ample happy hour food lineup.

Le Messe

This year, Brian Clevenger kept right on building an empire out of pasta, seafood, and seasonal vegetables. His third restaurant carries that formula (along with his penchant for minimalist dining rooms) into Eastlake, on a tide of parmesan-showered rigatoni, squid ink spaghetti tossed in lush Plugra butter with breadcrumbs, and grilled bread topped with foie gras mousse. Clevenger’s a master of pasta combos that sound simple and come off elegant, and restaurants that do the same.

Wa'z

Japan’s kaiseki-style dining is an art permeated with rules, but chef Hiro Tawara sets aside most of them to focus on the essence of this tradition: Small plates that tell the story of a season. Wa’z serves a single menu that changes at the start of each month. The six-course version happens only in the dining room; the full eight- or nine-course menu means the chef’s counter, where Tawara and his cooks explain the provenance of the black cod marinated in miso, or the legend that inspired a chilled somen noodle soup with cherry tomatoes and disks of key lime.

Meaty Johnson's

Whether you find the name eye-rolly or hilarious, it’s hard to argue with the barbecue that originates, rather unexpectedly, from this narrow old storefront on Pike/Pine. Owner Zac Johnson jumped through permitting hoops galore to install two commercial smokers upstairs that yield tender dry-rubbed brisket, pulled pork, and St. Louis–style ribs, all of which radiate the subtle flavor of Johnson’s many-spiced house rubs. His sauce hits that not-too-sweet spot between vinegar and Kansas City–style versions.

Birch

During the week, Jeffrey Kessenich caters dental seminars in a facility that just so happens to boast incredible Lake Union views. On Fridays and Saturday nights, he runs a restaurant here that might serve you heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella foam, then a perfectly cooked piece of albacore somehow not upstaged by its bed of sliced beets and a yogurt sauce with dill. Dinner definitely has that popup vibe, especially if you go the tasting menu route, but sampling Kessenich’s clean flavors against a backdrop of bobbing yachts and twinkling waterfront is a lovely novelty, indeed.

Little Neon Taco

This isn’t Monica Dimas’s first taqueria—that would be the OG Neon Taco inside Nacho Borracho—but damn if this isn’t her prettiest: bright, airy, minimal in its decor. Better still, the menu more than makes up for the visual simplicity with bold, flavor-packed bites: nine-ish tacos, some of which are gloriously laden with slabs of crispy pork belly and fresh salsa, tortas, mole pork ribs, plus an ever-rotating agua fresca to quell spice flareups.

The Instagram-worthy, gloriously messy short rib pho at Pho Bac Súp Shop.

Pho Bac Súp Shop

On any given night you’ll find patrons leaning over their stainless-steel bowls of steamy, soul-gripping pho. But this shop in Little Saigon goes beyond its titular Vietnamese noodle soup. Three Pham siblings, who all grew up in their family’s Seattle restaurants, opened a spot that’s as comforting as your closest pho joint—except add a quartz bar that serves whiskey shots with an aromatic pho broth chaser and a tropically inclined cocktail list. Golden-hued turmeric noodles with a mountain of sprouts and herbs and a sidecar of hot broth will have you questioning your loyalty to the pho.

Ramen Danbo

One of the latest ramen chains to join Seattle’s de facto ramen region on Capitol Hill also happens to feel like the busiest, with near-nightly rushes of soup-slurping diners. In the land of ramen and freedom of choice, bowls are customizable down to the noodle thickness, broth richness, and spice level.

Little Chengdu

Tangles of housemade wheat noodles engulfed in flame-red chili oil, tingly Sichuan-peppered beef, spicy pork dumplings—everything that comes out of this quaint restaurant off Rainier Avenue brings flavor emblematic of the Chinese city for which it’s named. Owners Alison Deng and Sia Zhang construct the menu with an eye to what’s trendy back in Sichuan and a nod to their childhood favorites.

Barbecue Smith

Jason Jacobs plays with fire and smoke. Chuck Shin, of the eponymous Chuck’s Hop Shops, supplies the beer. And together the duo run a damn fine barbecue joint in Roosevelt. Orders of brisket arrive ringed with a perfect pink perimeter; meat that clings to the pork ribs falls if you just look at it. The meat is solid, as are the familiar sides (mac and cheese, slaw) but none so unexpectedly complimentary as spicy, crunchy kimchi made by Shin’s own mom.

South Town Pie

When Sam Crannell shuttered LloydMartin last year we sighed, forlorn, only to perk up when the chef popped up at this South Park pizzeria where he crafts the menu. Classics are firmly represented, but it’s the specialty pies—take the pastrami-topped pizza with gruyere fondue, dill pickles, and an “everything” seasoned crust—that make it worth straying from your beloved pepperoni.

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