Jerk Shack is a Caribbean escape from its urban surroundings.

Image: Lauren Colton

At Jerk Shack, Dinner Is a Getaway.

When it comes to island flavors, Trey Lamont doesn’t play around. The Seattle-born chef knows how to coax them into a crock of mac and cheese, say, or a rack of smoked ribs. Six years ago, he and his partners started peddling Caribbean soul food out of a roving truck, Papa Bois. Now Lamont, who’s joined forces with the owners of Black Bottle and Bar Vacilando, throws down Caribbean-inspired dishes in Belltown, where sunshine-yellow walls and turquoise seating feel more tropical getaway than Northwest dining. A half chicken, fried and spiced with a secret jerk rub, arrives on a cutting board, knife protruding from its center—a definitive step back from portable food truck fare. Solid margaritas and a rotating mojito double down on the vacation vibes.

Renee Erickson Does an Artful Amazon Deep Dive.

Renee Erickson’s nod to the midcentury Manhattan hotel bar, tucked at the base of the Amazon Spheres, took on an almost Lewis Carroll feel once she turned friend and virtuoso curator Curtis Steiner loose to fill the many shelves and curio cabinets with vintage naturalist specimens and elegant oddities. This high-end cocktail haunt feels like a dim and moody alter ego for a chef who usually specializes in whitewashed and winsome, but the food menu, its script reminiscent of a wedding invite, is undeniably Erickson (and as broad as what you’ll find in most of her restaurants). Beef carpaccio delivers notes of anchovy, a crab tartine comes piled with Dungeness. Salads bespeak the season, and both the salty-crispy chips and their dip of fennel and dill are housemade. The unexpected showstopper, however, is a dressed-up version of a Seattle hot dog complete with whipped cream cheese, jalapenos, and a shower of salmon roe, served on a silver platter. Deep Dive began as a side project to Willmott’s Ghost, the Italian restaurant that should debut right after press time, but quickly proved to be its own memorable experience.

Cortina’s broad menu includes fried dough, great salads, and beautiful seasonal compositions.

Cortina Is Everything Ethan Stowell.

Ethan Stowell turned the dark ’90s den formerly known as Sullivan’s Steakhouse into a white wainscoted, leather-upholstered superstrain of his restaurant DNA, where luxury dining means having a power outlet at every table. Cortina serves just as many pastas as Stowell’s noodle-centric Tavolàta, plus crudo, eminently shareable pizza, the current Northwest season in salad form, a dynamite burger, and cobb salad–esque lunch staples for the office crowds in the high-rise above. It’s possible to become a regular here and never lay eyes on the restrainedly elegant dining room: Most of the action at Cortina happens in the lounge or at the long bar, a handy destination when you’re in need of happy hour downtown.

The Shambles Is More than Meat (and Beer).

Maple Leaf’s megacasual restaurant–beer bar–butchery will ruin you for any jerky served without a sprinkle of sea salt. Or charcuterie dishes that don’t sing with smoky lardo, lightly cured ham, and spot-on soppresata—a host of different flavors and textures that display the breadth of what chef Seamus Platt can do with meat. Dismiss this place as beef-fueled Guy Fieri bait, though, and you’d miss the nuance in a side dish of foraged mushrooms that accompanies so many great sandwiches, some shockingly rich vegan chickpea stew, and a “greens and veggies” menu section that proves the kitchen does roast stone fruit or housemade goddess dressing just as well as roast tri-tip and sausage. The other half of the magic here is the beer list, a smart amalgamation of mostly local breweries that bears testament to co-owners Matthew Brady and Joel Klemenhagen’s backgrounds in the local beer scene.

A chirashi bowl of rice blanketed in raw fish is as satisfying to Instagram as it is to eat.

Image: Lauren Colton

Fremont Bowl? Better Go Early.

A pastiche of how Seattle eats right now would look a lot like this: subway tile, crowds awaiting takeout. So much poke. But before raw fish salad seized our fast-casual imaginations, there was chirashi. This Japanese comfort food spot surfs a breaker of buzz thanks to its version—rice blanketed with an almost obscene amount of raw fish. Salmon, three types of tuna, shrimp, and broiled eel glisten on Instagram, but the reality is every bit as vivid and pleasurable as the social media imagery. The donburi, rice bowls topped with rich broiled eel, seared salmon, or tonkatsu, satisfy on a more visceral, if less photogenic level.

Deep Dish Gets Even Better at Breezy Town Pizza.

Dave Lichterman, maker of the town’s best Chicago-style deep dish at Windy City Pie, opened a new pizza place. Like its predecessor, it’s really a glorified counter inside a bar, this time the Clock-Out Lounge on Beacon Hill. If Lichterman’s in a confessional mood, he’ll tell you he likes Breezy Town’s pies better. He’s not wrong. Here, his signature rim of savory browned cheese encircles a thick—tangier, more salty—sourdough crust. The dual-layered Pepperoni Paint Job remains Breezy Town’s gold standard, but embrace Lichterman’s penchant for experimentation. Special pies topped with rabbit and gravy, or a brunch play on a croque madame, look like ironic riffs and taste like they were always meant to be pizza.

Dinner at tiny Opus Co. is even more personal at the chef’s counter.

Image: Sarah Flotard

Don’t Let Opus Co.’s Modest Demeanor Fool You.

It’s Middle America crossed with Korea, here in Seattle—a place that turns whole pigs or lambs into a shank spiced with cumin, tender belly, or a play on spam
that kicks off the $55 chef’s menu. This homespun progression of shared plates is an amazing deal given the bounty of pickled vegetables that surround smoky sausages, and crazy-intriguing salads like lacinato kale and pears in a peanut-chili relish. Is it a stretch to call Opus new? Perhaps, but Mark Schroder’s tiny restaurant on Phinney Ridge, which combines his upbringing with years spent cooking for Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, became one of the town’s most quietly phenomenal dinner destinations the moment it arrived late summer 2017.

More People Should Know D’La Santa.

“In Mexico, people don’t just eat tacos and burritos and rice and beans.” That’s Angelica Villasenor’s mission statement for her restaurant on north Capitol Hill, which serves regional dishes and sizzling, perfectly seasoned steak from the same ranches that supply the city’s high-end beef temples. Next up in exceeding your expectations: The chile en nogada, a sauce-drizzled poblano pepper stuffed with three different meats, plus texture and nuance from green apple, three types of nuts, and the traditional pomegranate seeds on top. Villasenor brought driftwood from her native Guadalajara to assemble the whimsical tree in the dining room. What she didn’t do was invest in PR, so this companionable 10th Ave spot remains an undersung gem.

Supreme’s Ono pizza—meaning “delicious” in Hawaiian—lives up to the name with fried chicken, kimchi, and American cheese.

Audacious Pizza Reigns at Supreme.

Ma‘ono chef Mark Fuller’s a lot more fun since he pivoted away from Spring Hill’s fine dining expectations. So is his food. What his pizza bar on California Ave lacks in proper plates or utensils, or napkins not from a dispenser, it makes up for with gonzo pizzas, fun frozen drinks, and a blaring soundtrack seemingly lifted from some illicit teen house party on an old WB show. The lineup of white- and red-sauced pies start in familiar Americana territory, like the double pep with ample curled-edge pepperoni, and get ever bolder. One of the best sports bits of Ma‘ono’s famed fried chicken, kimchi, and slices of American cheese. They all come on a crust that hints at Fuller’s culinary cred (and that of his lieutenant, Cam Hanin), and that finesse bobs up again in seemingly retro side dishes like wings, a Caesar, and the cult favorite garlic knots.

Don’t Skip Reckless Noodle House.

Name notwithstanding, this Central District spot (yes, date night ready; yes, slightly casual) erupts with Vietnamese herbs and fiery spices in precisely the way chef Kenny Lee—formerly of Jerry Traunfeld’s Chinese-inspired Lionhead restaurant and Din Tai Fung—intends. From a scorching wok, Lee builds heat in dishes like braised beef cheek noodle with sharp pickled mustard greens in Sichuan chili oil, but even the green papaya salad with bird’s eye chiles packs a punch that could make you flush bright pink. Solid cocktails, courtesy of co-owners Bryce Sweeney and Mario Eckert, help put out any fires.

This isn’t your convenience store Choco Taco—thank Mitch Mayers’s dessert whiz ways for that.

Image: Lauren Colton

Sawyer Perfects Hospitality and Choco Tacos.

There were so many reasons to anticipate this newcomer just off Ballard Ave: The cool space, the pedigreed chef, his emphasis on hospitality. Mitch Mayer’s timbered, booth-filled dining room delivers, and then some. The former Lark chef de cuisine takes sophisticated liberties with comfort food—matzo ball soup in a pho-inspired broth, oxtail nachos, crispy jojos in a pool of homemade ranch, cheesy bread piqued with spicy ‘nduja. The culinary chops that make all this novelty work become more obvious farther down the menu, in platters of steak and rotisserie-cooked porchetta. Sawyer is one of the year’s most exciting new arrivals, even before you factor in the housemade s’more choco tacos that appear on just about every table after dinner.

Meatheads Dig Brass Knuckle Bistro. So Do Vegans.

Case Justham smokes his own pulled pork and cures his own ham. He concocts the flaming hot pepper paste for his Nashville-style fried chicken. And you best believe he’s the guy responsible for the 40-odd hot sauces clustered next to the counter. The surprise here isn’t that Justham’s meat game is strong—he was most recently a sous chef and butcher at the Swinery—but how many vegans love this place, since Justham devised a host of plant-based swaps for his spot-on flavor combos. This White Center sandwich shop may rely on the cooler of beer and a weapon-themed mural for ambience, but the food is testament to Justham’s deep skills and the infinitely variable possibilities of a good sandwich. Oh yeah—great fries, too.


Carbs We Love

Deep Sea Sugar and Salt

The airstream cakeshop graduated to brick-and-mortar digs in Georgetown, which makes it slightly easier to score a six-layer slice before they sell out.

Petite Galette Closed

Sara Naftaly’s counter creperie hides in Chophouse Row, but her talents with sweet and savory French flavors are on full display.

Westman's Bagel and Coffee

The properly chewy bagels. The heavy doses of excellent schmear. That bacon egg and cheese. No wonder this stand on Madison comes with a perpetual wait.

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