ACCORDING TO THE last available census, the population of King County has become fully 15 percent foreign born—the largest number in nearly a century. A person can learn that fact, but she won’t truly know it until hers has been the only Anglo face in a South End Salvadorean bakery, or the only English tongue in a packed Factoria dim sum parlor, or until she has shared a bowl of pelmeni in East Bellevue with a Russian grandmother whose vigorous nodding and rolled-back eyes deliver a restaurant review in any language.
The fact is, King County’s 268,000 immigrants have sprinkled bold new flavors across the metropolis; flavors Seattle natives like myself wouldn’t have dreamed of back when Chinese food was the far shore of exotic and we went to Chinatown to get it. Now we’re not so surprised to find delicious Afghan qorma in the suburbs or wonderful Cambodian sour duck soup in a strip mall or to learn, as we did a few months back, that Seattle had become one of the few districts in the country to add ethnic entrées— Vietnamese banh mi, Somali spaghetti—to its school lunch menus. Anyone who’s been through White Center lately or Bellevue’s Crossroads Mall or the uncharted northerly reaches of Aurora Avenue North—or the International District formerly known as Chinatown—knows that where emigrants roam, extraordinary food will follow.
So we contacted King County’s demographer, Chandler Felt, who gave us the most recent (2000 census) numbers for each foreign-born population. Then we asked them where they eat, from the Ethiopian cabbies downtown to the Vietnamese Radio Shack jockeys in Rainier Valley, from the Russian shopgirls of Bellevue Square to a lovely British expat we’re pretty sure would have to kill us if he told us exactly what he was doing in Asia for so many years. They told us their favorites; we chose one of each to share with you, and listed the size of the foreignborn population alongside. A number-one list for each cuisine? C’mon, could you name your favorite child? Think of them instead as the ethnic restaurants we just adore.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 29,285
La Carta de Oaxaca
5431 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle WA
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 entomatad a 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. Closed Sunday.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 26,813
Top Gun Seafood Restaurant
12450 SE 38th St, Bellevue
Top Gun’s fervid popularity is best expressed by the proliferation of “No restaurant parking!” signs in its shared Factoria parking lot. Its authenticity is verified by the burble of Cantonese one hears throughout the vast dining and banquet rooms, reflecting that almost twice the percentage of Chinese-born live in Bellevue than in Seattle. Happily its welcome exceeds that provided by the really depressed lingcod in the lobby’s live tank—and its food almost always exceeds expectations. The storied draws are the daily dim sum (weekdays 11AM–3PM, weekends 10–3)—featuring pot stickers of deserved renown—and the seafood, whether the fat, sweet honey-walnut prawns at one end of the adventure scale or the steamed whole sea creatures at the other. The special assorted hot pot, crammed to the brim of its big clay bowl with beautiful shrimp, scallops, squid and abalone, is a fragrant masterpiece.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 25,911
1036 S Jackson St, Seattle
It had to happen. Many local Vietnamese eateries serve good food at miraculous prices, but their decor varies from plain to shabby to lurid. Now one cooks it even better and presents it prettily in a beautiful, low-lit, exotic-Deco space, complete with miraculous prices. Tamarind Tree does the classics right: steaming noodle soups, suitably seared satay morsels and half chickens, chicken as well as the usual beef in fragrant la lot leaves. The rice-paper wrap-up platter trimmings are generous, the side sauces suitably pungent. And the capacious menu is seeded with novelties: In the Tamarind Tree Rolls, crispy fried cracker and tofu give an enlivening edge to the fresh, bland goi cu’on. Squid stuffed with pork and mushroom, like giant chicken hearts, deliver an overpowering earthy rush. “Yellow fish,” crispy bite-size chunks dredged in turmeric, are a beer treat looking for a tropical beach. The kumquat martini is the standout sip. With all the care lavished on food, presentation and decor, it’s almost reassuring that the cheerful servers always seem to forget one item. Otherwise Tamarind Tree might be too perfect.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 24,295
3201 Beacon Ave S, Seattle
How is it that the fourth-largest foreignborn population in King County has so few restaurants, you can tote them up on two hands? “We’re a culture of home cooks,” offers Bert Caoili, president of the Filipino Community of Seattle. That explains Beacon Hill’s affable Kusina Filipina, where fronds of greenery arching against bright goldenrod walls and candles burning near stands of books sketch the warmest of homespun scenes. Likewise the food. Eight or so steamtable entrées survey the Filipino devotion to stews: among them comforting chicken and pork adobos, less vinegary here than elsewhere; ginataang salmon, with onions and plump jalapeños bobbing in coconut milk; and bopis, chunks of pork heart and spleen, sautéed with garlic and onions to a mild succulence nowhere near as objectionable as it sounds. Top it off with Filipino coffee from the espresso bar and a bag of pillowy rolls from the bakery.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 16,357
Number One Teriyaki
301 Second Ave Ext S at S Main St, Seattle
Not just a hole-in-the-wall: this one’s a hole in the universe. From the outside it’s an incongruous mission-style dollhouse on the corner of Main, looking no better now than it once did as a taco stop and gyro joint. Inside an untutored patron may assume it’s just another one of the hundreds, make that millions, of teriyaki joints now strewn from Kenmore to Kent and beyond—many of which are, in fact, operated by Koreans. But…what’s that you smell? Request a printed menu and suddenly a world of Korean home-cooking will yawn wide before you, authentic as the food this “mom-andpop-rietor” enjoyed in the kitchen of their native country. Notable are the hai mul pah juhn, or hearty “seafood pancakes,” not unlike omelets, packed with shrimp, squid and scallions; or the specialty of the house, crispy fried fl ounder, impeccable and almost greaseless. Even the generic bee bim bap—the rice-beef-vegetables-egg dish as quotidian for Koreans as cheeseburgers are in the U.S.—is done unforgettably here.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 14,232
1521 First Ave, Seattle
Just as most of King County’s Africans come from East Africa, most of Pan Africa’s delicacies do too: the wots and tibs and rubbery injera breads of Ethiopia. But Ethiopian-born owner Mulugeta Abate wants to enlighten Northwest palates beyond our relative familiarity with his native cuisine. Hence the menu’s grand tour of the Dark Continent, rotating through exotics like Senegalese chicken yassa to South African seafood bobotie to piri-piri chicken from the Portuguese colonies. (And Abate’s evening cooking classes, which feature a diff erent regional cuisine two Tuesdays a month.) Abate’s mother, herself a former restaurateur, does much of the cooking. Her West African groundnut stew, in either its chicken or vegetarian form, is a mellow, muscular pleasure, ladled over turmeric rice alongside a beautifully oiled salad. All of which one enjoys with beer or wine inside a newly expanded Pike Place Market storefront adorned in the burnt and glittering ochres of the starlit Sahara. Closes at 6pm Sunday through Tuesday.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 9,388
15600 NE 8th St / Crossroads Mall, Bellevue
Udupi Palace, part of a microchain with other beachheads in California and Canada, is a rare treat: a genuine South Indian restaurant. That means blessed relief from the meaty Punjabi cuisine that dominates local Indian menus. Southern masalas and curries, deeply aromatic, incorporate all the usual Northern spices plus tamarind, fragrant curry leaf (the plant, not the sauce), and others for which neither we nor our waiters have found names. Sambar, a thin, tart, chili-rich lentil soup, is ubiquitous. But the most distinctive elements at Udupi are the delicate, mildly tangy cakes and pancakes of fermented rice batter and meal that wrap and sop up these goodies: thin, greaseless crepelike dosas, robust uthappam and steamed idly patties (a mother-food counterpart to polenta). As a vouchsafe of Udupi Palace’s authenticity, one need only look around its simple hole-in-the-mall digs, packed with Microsoft programmers and other high-tech H-1B visa workers sopping up a taste of home with their dosas. We feel our math skills improving with each visit.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 8,617
Shiro’s Sushi Restaurant
2401 Second Ave, Seattle
If we were counting individuals of Japanese descent, the number in King County would be almost two and a half times greater. Perhaps that’s why sushi bars spread like herring roe in this town. Shiro Kashiba’s still reigns supreme. After teaching Seattle to love the fine points of mirugai and otoro at Nikko three decades ago, he sold his shingle to the Westin Hotel, bowed out for a couple years, then came back roaring with this gloriously unfussy Belltown hideaway. The small room is elegant in a plain Bauhaus fashion, and you will eat exceptionally well on one of its white tablecloths. But the dozen seats at the sushi bar are the place to be, both for the show and for the entirely unpredictable, sometimes revelatory, off erings of the evening. Best to dispense with ordering (unless you crave uni, which will mark you as a customer deserving of attention) and ask to be surprised. You may be amazed, and you’ll at least be entertained. Shiro and his two partners in slicing are old masters who both respect tradition and dare to invent. Their exuberance seems to rub off; the sushi and show get strangers at the bar chatting like old friends, belying everything you’ve ever heard about Seattleite and Japanese reticence.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 8,558
8125 161st Ave NE, Redmond
Now, stop snickering. Yes, “British” is an ethnicity—just ask anyone belonging to the ninth highest immigrant population in King County—and, notwithstanding what the French have been saying for a thousand years, it does have a cuisine. For proof we have Neville’s, the tearoom abutting British Pantry, Redmond’s veddy English bakery and gift shop. Dark wainscoting, country curtains, pub signs and the quiet background plinkings of strings combine to create a pleasant village setting for the generous platefuls of bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, ploughman’s lunch and on down the list of usual suspects. Nothing too creatively broadening, mind you—just a very solid plate of fish ’n’ (tasty plank-cut) chips; a Lancashire pastry with succulent pastry; a featherweight scone, pocked with golden raisins and served with cream and jam. Expats will go all misty over Boddingtons Ale, beans at breakfast and trifle for dessert; skeptics will just be grateful that the salads—festivals of fresh greens and vegetables, some dressed lushly with fresh Stilton—are so mercifully inauthentic.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 6,713
The People’s Pub
5429 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle
This lively Ballard haunt is one of the only places to go in town for German food. The name telegraphs no-nonsense proletariat simplicity, but the place exudes the Old World charm of a campus Rathskeller. This is reinforced by the incredible array of beers— some eight to 10 German brews on tap, along with a list of bottled beers as long as your arm—with menu suggestions for pairing them with food. Which is delicious, by the way: lots of amply portioned appetizer noshes, leading up to the whole bratsschnitzel-goulash gamut. Try the fork-tender Jägerschnitzel, which arrives with brown-sugar sauerkraut and soft, buttery spaetzle.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 5,456
From Russia with Love
1424 156th Ave NE, Bellevue
Like Tolstoy said: Location, location, location. Situated dead-center amid East Bellevue’s burgeoning Russian population, Sergey Dunayev’s From Russia with Love was crammed to its rafters with caviars, caraway breads, pickled herring, Korkunov chocolates and other blue-ribbon Russian imports, then augmented by the greatest hits of Russian home-cooking, lovingly prepared. One could enjoy big steaming heaps of the Russian dumplings known as pelmeni, fat blintzes and bowls of borscht, and syrniki, or farmer’s cheese pancakes, slathered with sour cream and preserves. It was enough to make a babushka weep—the one I was with nearly did—and not least because there was only one table. So Dunayev took the plunge, moving the retail biz to a storefront in Crossroads Mall to recast his original space down the street as a proper restaurant of the same name. We haven’t reviewed the new operation, which formally opened just last month. But we just can’t imagine that his new eggplant salads and beet salads and piroshki and kutabis (Azerbaijani stuffed flatbreads) won’t be every bit as delectable as the ones he built his reputation on.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 5,213
Kirirom Restaurant & Bakery – CLOSED AS OF 9/14/09
19417 36th Ave W, Lynnwood
Seventies easy-listening music is the soundtrack, and a blandly pleasant stripmall storefront the setting. And still we keep coming back to Kirirom, the Lynnwood Cambodian bakery and café run by a family of expats whose patriarch was a baker in Phnom Penh. That’s where they got their recipes for Chinese doughnuts and fruit Danishes (Cambodianishes?). The baguettes, fresh-made daily, are crammed with curried chicken or barbecue pork or divine lemongrass-marinated shortrib slices for fat sandwiches crunchy with fresh vegetables, moist with mayonnaise and insane with cheap—$3.85 or less. For the pure Cambodian experience, aim into the sour duck or chicken soups. For the true Cambodian experience, where food is liberally borrowed from across East Asia, choose among Kirirom’s 90-plus soups, stews, noodle and rice dishes, stir-fries and salads, and at least one gently sensational chicken curry.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 3,899
2605 E Cherry St, Seattle
Among several good choices along Cherry Street’s Little Ethiopia, Meskel is the best-looking: a warm, modern split-level space, entrance around the back, close-packed with tables of well-dressed, multihued people all cheerily eating with their hands and sopping with injera bread. Service is in the usual Ethiopian style: varied vegetables, stews and legumes mounded upon an injera platter, plus a meat dish (and pepper level) of your choosing. Meskel serves more lamb dishes than many of its neighborhood counterparts, but the sauces—20 or so spices, from cloves to cumin to chile, deeply infused with slow simmering—have that familiar, slow- burning, fragrant warmth. Biggest surprise is the home-country drink list—XXX beer, cloudy with a tease of Belgian-style secondary lactic fermentation and a match for the complex sauces; and Gouder, a robust Ethiopian red wine so good we stopped at the quick mart across the street for a bottle. We knew we’d find it. This is Little Ethiopia.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 3,383
4543 University Way NE, Seattle
You will wait, probably outside in the rain, for one of the 20 seats. You will be rushed through your order by a waiter who has all the patience of the Soup Nazi. The place rarely opens on time and only takes cash; the food will sear your lips clean off. Man, this is fun! Many cities have their crazy-cheap line-out-the-door novelty ethnic—see House of Nanking in San Francisco’s Chinatown—but Thai Tom stands out in part because our other outstanding Thai restaurants are so overwhelmingly polite and polished. Polished this ain’t. As scion of the family that owns the longtime Eastside standbys the Thai Kitchens, ownerchef Tom Suanpirintra knows what he’s doing— he just does it at lightning speed, three pans at a time, with little-of-this-lot-of-that imprecision, over leaping fl ames in an open kitchen the size of a coat closet. His pad thai is some of the freshest in town; his swimming rama and (not on the menu) green curry are ample and fine. Star-ratings are holy writ in this room; warn all relevant body parts. And alas—the place every partyer longs to wrap up the night in closes at 9PM (8 on Sundays). “The chef, he gets tired,” explains a waiter needlessly.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 2,482
1714 18th Ave, Seattle
It’s like falling through the rabbit hole. One moment you’re at Madison Street’s climb up Capitol Hill; the next you’re in Gdansk, amid a teeming press of Polish speakers tucking into platters of breaded pork chops and succulent cabbage rolls. Welcome to the Polish Home Association, or Dom Polski, the Polish cultural center and social club that has held down this patch of Capitol Hill for nigh on a century. “When this was built, this was the boonies,” said Paul, a longtime member. “Had to be—we Poles, we like to party.” And that they do, every Friday night from seven to ten with home-cooked dinners and a full bar, and again Sundays noon to 4. (Nonmembers pay a $1 entry fee.) Your pierogi may be lukewarm and your red wine may be cold— you should have ordered Zywiec beer—but portions are hearty and the cultural immersion is intense. The room is every community center hall in every town, bedecked with provincial wall hangings and vintage photographs. Don’t stop there: The big upstairs ballroom is sometimes filled with children learning traditional folk dances.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 1,743
1719 SW Roxbury St, White Center
It’s like calling Pike Place Market a fruit stand. Oh, there’s a bakery all right—big colorful cases full of sugar cookies and pan mexicanos, sticky buns and the seductively caramelly Caribbean bread pudding called budin, among other diet products. But the savories in this merry fluorescent-lit mercado— see, there’s the menu, all in Spanish, over the register—are what compel so many devotees, Salvadorean and otherwise, to make White Center a stop on their way wherever. Exhibit A: Number 14, featuring a deep-fried sweet plantain damming a purple lake of creamy refritos, crunchy bits of fried cassava root, charred nuggets of the fried pork known as chicharrón, one of the fi nest moist tamales in three counties, curtido, the brisk Salvadorean cabbage salad and a pupusa—a Salvadorean stuffed tortilla—oozing flavor and enough delicious grease to end the oil crisis now and forever. Díos mío, it’s good.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 1,687
Casuelita’s Caribbean Café
81 Vine St, Seattle
For a city as resolutely non-Caribbean as Seattle—um, just look outside—we do cherish our Caribbean restaurants. And why on earth wouldn’t we, when they include such torrid treasures as the Pan-Latin Bandoleone and Mojito Cafes, the Puerto Rican Sofrito Rico, the über-Cuban Paseo? And, of course, Casuelita’s, that rum-drenched junction of Belltown and Barbados, where the ever present Happy Hour crowd is actually as interested in the callaloos, conch fritters, Jamaican patties and curried goat as they are in the 70 rums behind the bar. (Well…almost as interested.) Co-owner and chef Richard Dwyer, British-born scion of a Guyanese father and a Jamaican mother, raided the family recipes to create piquant noshes aplenty: among them the eponymous casuelitas, little cornbread cups spilling over with slow-burn black beans and chipotle-chili butter; and the Bahamian shrimp, all rum-glazed over glistening greens. The loud lofted room is a balmy escape, with walls that are the color of dark rum—or just start to seem that way after awhile. A much folksier Casuelita’s warms up Judkins Park. Closed Sundays. Other location: 2608 S Judkins St, Seattle, 206-329-1202.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 1,657
1471 NW 85th St, Seattle
A camera affixed to the undulating midriff of Kasbah’s belly dancer would reveal an exotic scene a world away from Crown Hill’s insistent Scandinavi-tude: tapestried walls, low-slung ottomans around brass tables, fez-crowned waiters and a room in back bedecked in scarves like a bedouin tent—all under Alhambran lamps set to perpetual twilight. Welcome to dinner in the Maghreb, where your hands are washed at the table, you eat with your fi ngers and you finish with sweet mint tea. (Bring the kids; they won’t believe their good fortune.) In between you can order à la carte, but it’s so much more fun to get the five-course feast—if only for the flaky bistella appetizer, nicely done here, enclosing minced almonds and chicken (as a stand-in for the traditional pigeon) in sweet phyllo. There are lovely lamb and chicken preparations, many embellished with the golden raisins, dates, apricots and preserved lemons of Moroccan favor, then served over couscous. If flavors sometimes lack the courage of their convictions, let the belly-cam show: The dancer conveys no such reticence. Closed Monday.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 1,091
600 SW 43rd St, Renton
A hundred years ago roughly one-third of Seattle’s foreign born came from Scandinavia. That percentage has plunged—now it’s more like 1/65th—but all that local heritage invites contemplation. Why, in a region built in part upon the labors of Scandinavian fishermen, are there so few Swedish restaurants? And why does the highest-profile full-service Scandinavian restaurant in the area, a furniture store commissary, regularly desiccate its cooked fish? Happily, Ikea’s café does something else right: the Swedish culinary extravaganza known as the smorgasbord. It’s a big groaning board of smoked salmon, excellent pickled herring, cucumbers and capers, pickles and mustards, cheeses and cabbages, beets and bready meatballs—all laid out for you to pluck from at will, then pay for at 50 cents an ounce. Like everything else at Ikea this represents an impossible bargain, not to mention a clean, well-marked, and user-friendly cafeteria-line experience, complete with an adjoining play area for the non–pickled herring set.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 1,056
El Chalan – CLOSED AS OF 9/14/09
11060 16th Ave SW, White Center
There aren’t a whole lot of Peruvians in King County, which may explain why it’s never a problem snagging a table at El Chalan, Lima-born Raul Villalobos’s converted Wendy’s in White Center. What do norteamericanos know anyway about ocopa, fat slices of potato draped in creamy cheese and the Peruvian black mint huacatay? (This gringa knows it’s an acquired taste.) Or chicha morada, a gloriously refreshing Peruvian punch made from corn, pineapple, lime, cinnamon, cloves and anise? The fact is the Northwest is a natural for the Peruvian diet—fi sh-rich, starchy enough to satisfy our midwinter comfort-food needs and sparked with chilis aplenty for the verve our palates demand. Villalobos’s version can be toothsome indeed, like his arroz con mariscos, where cilantro and lime intertwine with 3,000 other seasonings in the pepper-studded rice and its florid coronet of shellfish and seafood. Closed Monday.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 988
Malay Satay Hut
212 12th Ave S, Seattle
Malaysian cooking, like Malaysia itself, is Asia’s crossroads: where all cultures and cuisines—Chinese and Indian, Indonesian and Thai, Muslim and porcophile— meet, mingle and sometimes rumble. Malay Satay Hut covers them well, in two locations and with a menu you’d need a year (happy prospect!) to travel. Set your mind to noodle soup and you must still choose among curried veggies, Malay prawn mee, Thai tom yum, wontons, whatever the heck mee rebus is and nine more varieties. Considering the name on the door, the satay had better be excellent, and it is. The shrimp-studded Singapore Rice noodles, stir-fried in mild chili oil and tossed with egg, chicken sausage and vegetables, is served by the heaping bowlful; best arrive hungry. The fruit drinks—especially the avocado shake—are like fresh tropical breezes. Service can be brusque and harried, but as Pan-Asian vacations go, this one’s a bargain. Other location: 15230 NE 24th St, Redmond. 425-564-0888.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 893
9400 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle
At last, a Brazilian joint in Seattle that gets it right. Not perfect—that would hardly be Brazilian—but right, from the cozy tropictoned setting in the cozy neighborhood of Maple Leaf to the bossa nova music mix. Genial proprietor Sam Hassan serves a wellbalanced sampling of dishes from around his homeland: a fragrant Bahian moqueca thick with dendê palm oil, served vegetarian or with chicken, bay shrimp and fish, or juicy, lightly cooked prawns. Carnivores will find good grass-fed beef (now that’s Brazilian) and natural pork served as entrée steaks or as fried bite-size chunks with bacon and onions. Sides, many vegan, range from classic couve greens to savory quibebe pumpkin puree. Anyone grousing that the food is too mild should know that here, as in Brazil, the fire’s kept in the jar of marinated malagueta peppers on each table, to be dribbled to taste. Wash it all down with something from what must be this town’s longest Portuguese wine list. Closed Monday.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 779
12926 Mukilteo Speedway, Lynnwood
Feeling Hungary? Budapest is just off the Mukilteo Speedway, where Elizabeth Muszka will feed you till you’re fit to burst. Big pots of hearty goulash and potato soup may be simmering on the stove next to warming tables laden with stuffed cabbage rolls, moist pork loin cutlets in mushroom gravy over buttered parsley potatoes, and chicken paprikas sautéed with fresh vegetables and finished with sour cream. There really ought to be a warning label on the door of this deli-style strip-mall storefront—that clapping sound you hear is every diner’s arteries slamming shut—but it’s great for the occasional splurge, especially if it’s Tuesday and Elizabeth’s made her bacony hunter’s chicken with homemade spaetzle. Closed Sunday and Monday.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 763
Panos Kleftiko Taverna
815 Fifth Ave N, Seattle
Up Greekwood—er, Greenwood—Way, a body can romp amid the panoramic olive selection and well-oiled Pan- Mediterranean mezes at Olive You or the Hellenic home cooking and impromptu folk dancing at Georgia’s Greek Restaurant. On Lower Queen Anne, one simply heads to Panos. Panos Marinos’s irresistible hole-in-the-wall is cozy low light and wood-raftered ceilings hung with copper pots, packed most nights with fans relishing his culinary tour of Greece. The entrées from Nafplion, Panos’s hometown (kota nafplion, marinated chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese; and garidhes meh feta, prawns baked in a fragrant tomatowine sauce with feta), stand out. So does anything he cooks in tomato sauce; laced with clove and cinnamon, it makes squid sing. Closed Sunday.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 537
Phoenicia at Alki
2716 Alki Ave SW, Alki
It’s not fusion—think of it as postethnic. Twenty-plus years ago Lebanon-born Hussein Khazaal delivered the best Middle Eastern food for miles around. Later he experimented with an Italian seafood spot and went recipe-hunting in North Africa. Now he’s put it all together in a succinct but wide-ranging Pan-Mediterranean menu, which in a deeper sense might be labeled Lebanese: The Phoenicians, the original Lebanese, were the footloose sailors who first tied all the Mediterranean lands together. Dinner might progress from baba ghanoush to Tuscan bread salad and pomegranate-marinated calamari to roast lamb with risotto. Or perhaps start with Moroccan eggplant with penne, saffron-and-tomato-based ouillabaisse, and pizza topped with fontina, roasted eggplant and rosemary lamb sausage, then finish with baklava and Turkish coffee. And that’s without the specials, which tend toward seafood. The mix is all quite harmonious, united as it is by the lingua franca of garlic olive oil. Closed Monday.
FOREIGN-BORN POP. 353
317 NW Gilman Blvd, Issaquah
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Gilman Village anymore. Bamiyan boasts a chicbistro interior, low-lit and neutral toned, but its playful explorations of the gloriously complex cuisine of Afghanistan takes the diner entirely away. The qorma-i tarkari, or vegetable stew, is rich with coriander and turmeric, served alongside basmati rice with coriander seeds and plump raisins; the murgh kebabs, large pieces of white-meat chicken, local and hormone-free, are marinated overnight in garlic, ginger, saffron, cayenne and a wash of lemon, then grilled to greatness. Those who’ve dined at the Seattle area’s other Afghan restaurant, Wallingford’s sumptuous Kabul, will note Bamiyan’s more picturesque presentations: the quruti appetizer features angular wedges of spongy bread stacked and bathed in tangy garlicyogurt sauce, to evoke the snow-capped mountains of Afghanistan. This is culinary couture, Afghan style. When the sun shines and the weather is fine a garage door opens the place up to the breezy patio.