Global Eats

50 great joints serving terrific food and rich ethnic culture—right in your backyard.

By Kathryn Robinson October 26, 2012 Published in the November 2012 issue of Seattle Met

The Harvest Vine

Ba Bar

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. 550 12th Ave between E Cherry and E Jefferson Sts, Capitol Hill, 206-328-2030;$$

Baguette Box
In two compact storefronts this operation shoves the darnedest things into baguettes. Braised pork shoulder, moistened with harissa perhaps, or fat chunks of wine--marinated chicken afire with all the mysteries of the Orient. The result is not your daddy’s banh mi—more like your foodiest French friend’s gyro-torta-grinder by way of Ho Chi Minh City, abrim with flavor intrigue, adrip with sauces that leave big permanent stains, and all served up in the most urbane takeout spots in three states. Only a few tables. 1203 Pine St between Boren and Melrose Aves, Capitol Hill, 206-332-0220. $ 626 N 34th St between Evanston and Fremont Aves N, Fremont, 206-632-1511; $ 


Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Gilman Village anymore. Bamiyan boasts a chic bistro 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 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 garlic-yogurt sauce, to evoke the snow-capped mountains of Afghanistan. This is culinary couture, Afghan style. In fine weather a garage door opens the place up to the breezy patio. Gilman Village, 317 NW Gilman Blvd near NW Juniper St, Ste 31B, Issaquah, 425-391-8081; $$ 

BCD Tofu House

No two bowls of the soft tofu stew sundubu jjigae—Korean comfort food at its burbling, fermented finest—are the same. Beef or seafood and the fermented cabbage known as kimchi are mainstays, and seasoning tends to include garlic and red pepper. Like most Korean dishes, sundubu jjigae is served with a bowl of rice along with up to 12 banchan, small dishes of communal snacks that may include cut-up savory pancakes, macaroni salad, pickled squid, pickled sprouts, or a whole fried fish. BCD, in two North End locations, churns out rich, sort-of spicy (want more heat, just ask for it) stews, with prices topping out around $10. Don’t plan to eat again for at least six hours. 3301 184th St SW at 32nd Ave W, Ste 210, Lynn-wood, 425-776-8001. 22511 Highway 99 between 76th Ave W and 224th St SW, Ste 102, Edmonds, 425-670-6757; $

Bistro Turkuaz

Turkish-born restaurateur Ugur Oskay installed her sons to help in the kitchen and her elegant daughter to charm the patrons at the tables. The cozy -Madrona restaurant imparts a primer on Turkish cuisine, long underrepresented in this town. Within these red walls, decorated with art that might be in someone’s classy home, diners can choose dolmas heady with currants and herbs; pan-fried zucchini pancakes called mucver; or first-rate Mediterranean dips, from hummus to cacik (Turkish tzatziki) to baba ghanoush (order the Turkuaz Plate to get them all, along with triangles of warm pita). Select from an array of meat kebabs: zestily marinated, but on a recent visit, overgrilled. Given the otherwise fine performance of this neighborhood jewel, you won’t mind. 1114 34th Ave between E Spring and E Union Sts, Madrona, 206-324-3039; $$ 

Boom Noodle

It’s simply the perfect restaurant for Capitol Hill: -Tokyo-stylish yet genuinely open-armed to scruffies and families. Affordable yet culinarily stimulating. A drop-in laid-back dining room, filled with long cafeteria-like tables, alongside a white-lit bar full of exotic cocktails and intimate two-tops. It’s Boom Noodle—built by the folks who brought us the hippest sushi conveyor belts in town, Blue C Sushi—and its day-into-late-night bustle behind the -floor-to-ceiling windows makes Pike and 12th feel like the hub of the city. Essentially a noodle shop plus—steaming ramen, soba, and udon bowls (including one of the latter crammed with smoked white king salmon and shiitake mushrooms) along with lesser-seen specialties like the Japanese “pizza” called -okonomiyaki—Boom Noodle advances an East-West aesthetic that’s inconsistent, not always authentic, and tons of fun. And now that East-West alliance is also reflected in a couple of area malls. 1121 E Pike St at 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-701-9130. $
504 Bellevue Square, Bellevue, 425-453-6094. $ 2675 NE University Village Ln near NE 45th St, University District, 206-525-2675; $ 

Buenos Aires Grill

The exquisite nocturnal melancholy of Buenos Aires, a European city that’s never forgiven its exile to the antipode, translates beautifully to rainy Northwest nights. And the Buenos Aires ambience is transplanted with all the trimmings: moody, low light, tango performances on weekends, a gallery of street signs and other hometown memorabilia over the bar, baroque flourishes painted on the walls, even—oh carnivory!—leather-wrapped menus hinting at the serious lamb, pork, and especially and surpassingly beef, to which Buenos Aires Grill pays homage. Here there are delirious, defiant quantities of beef: one-pound steaks and bottomless parillada mixed grills, even crispy sweetbreads (didn’t we say defiant?) and morcilla, which is a poppingly juicy, filler-free blood sausage from Barcelona. Even the healthy-sounding espinacas (spinach) is a guilty pleasure, swimming in cream sauce and cheese, laced with chopped ham. Savor the mood while you bear with the notoriously neglectful service. 2000 Second Ave at Virginia St, Ste 103, Downtown, 206-441-7076; Not wheelchair accessible. $$$

Cafe Presse

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. But don’t let the informality fool you: This food defines unfussy elegance, from the classy bibb lettuce and hazelnut salad to steak frites in a Madeira sauce so exquisite you’ll want to slurp it through a straw. 1117 12th Ave between Madison and Spring Sts, First Hill, 206-709-7674; $

As hidden as a cherished secret, this intimate room tucked into the belly of Pike Place Market (off the Inn at the Market courtyard) is a masterpiece of textured neutrals and twinkling candlelight. It’s as sleek a spot to squire a date as to school a novice in the art of bibimbap. Chefs all over town are discovering the fusion appeal of Korea’s ferocious cuisine, and this chef—on exuberant display in the display kitchen—produces such novelties as bulgogi sliders and kimchi fried rice with bacon and mozzarella (and fine gingery cocktails), side by side with the kalbi-braised short ribs and kimchi pork belly of the classic canon. Purists will be horrified—where is the fire in the banchan side dishes?—but everyone else will be grateful for the gentle introduction. 86 Pine St between First Ave and Stewart St, Pike Place Market, 206-443-5443; $$$

When Chantanee swapped humble digs for a sleek lounge more befitting its 425 pedigree, some of its mom-and-pop charm got lost in the shuffle. Despite the creamy surroundings Thai-hards should note the number of dishes one just won’t find elsewhere, along with real-deal touches like crunchy shrimpies and crab paste in the papaya som tam; or chili sauces and serrano soys so authentic to Thailand they’ll take you there. The adjoining bar, Naga, is the Eastside destination for smart cocktails: Ask the barkeep to make you anything with rum or cachaca. 601 108th Ave NE between NE Fourth and NE Eighth Sts, Ste 100A, Belle-vue, 425-455-3226; $$ 

Chiang’s Gourmet

There’s something for everyone in this converted root beer stand off Lake City Way and its sister in Renton, off menus marked Szechuan, Chinese (heavy on the Taiwanese), Vegetarian, and American. The last is not Chiang’s at its finest, so if you’re on the moo shu trail, head elsewhere. Among Chiang’s standouts are terrific homemade noodles, green onion pancakes, and Taiwanese breakfasts complete with sweet soybean milk and Chinese doughnuts, served weekend days 10am to 3pm. 7845 Lake City Way NE between NE 77th and NE 80th Sts, Lake City, 206-527-8888 and 17650 140th Ave SE, Renton, 425-235-8877; $

Copper Gate

How Ballard is this: The neighborhood’s skankiest dive has been reborn as its hippest watering hole. The folks who brought us Thaiku and La Carta de Oaxaca have brought out Ballard’s inner Viking—the ship’s hull in which the bar is housed will be your first clue—with a menu paying pithy, masterful homage to the under-represented cuisine of the big guys in the horned helmets. So you’ve got aquavit-braised short ribs, pickled herring, and killer fish cakes with tarragon aioli, along with lively cocktails like the Fjellbekk (a refreshing lemon-vodka number) and Stor Agurk (savory, with cucumber and fennel-y aquavit). It’s a fond, authentic, and more-than-a-little--ribald tribute to Seattle’s Scandinavian heritage—and we raise a hearty Skål to the first bar in Seattle to make it. (Just don’t bring the kids—they’re not allowed in and it looks so bad when you leave them on the sidewalk.) 6301 24th Ave NW at NW 63rd St, Ballard, 206-706-3292; $ 

Din Tai Fung Dumpling House

The coup represented by Bellevue scoring the only Northwest outpost of the revered Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung cannot be overstated: Upon its Lincoln Square opening, waits were clocking in at two and three hours. The reason? Quite simply the finest xiao long bao, or Chinese soup dumplings, in the universe. From the creamy entryway of this high-end dumpling house you can see behind the glass 20 or so young chefs hand-rolling, filling, and decoratively pinching the tender-fleshed little morsels, whose pretty swirls will arrive at your table in their round bamboo boxes, to be plucked out with chopsticks, then placed carefully upon a soup spoon. Pierce the pale dough with your chopstick; the spoon bowl will flood with the savory broth. That’s your cue to put the whole glorious mess in your mouth and thank god there are nine more in the box. 700 Bellevue Way NE between NE Seventh and NE Eighth Sts, Ste 280, Bellevue, 425-698-1095; $

Golden Beetle
Middle Eastern / Mediterranean

Maria Hines’s second Seattle restaurant resembles her first, Tilth, only in its near-complete use of organic ingredients. Beyond that this sky-blue Ballard storefront lit with lanterns is a world unto itself: a fertile Eastern Mediterranean world, full of straight-up renditions of hummus and kibbeh meatballs and lamb tagines and the like. These cuisines are rare as rhinos in this town, so her classic touch with their unique spice palettes is welcome. But the real magic happens when Hines lets fly the playful, intelligent innovation that earned her the James Beard award, in satisfying riffs on dishes like halibut falafel with charmoula, spinach-stuffed phyllo “cigars” (delish with cocktails in the sceney bar), or velvety chunks of seared albacore over pilaf and the Turkish version of aioli, tarator. 1744 NW Market St between 17th and 20th Aves NW, Ballard, 206-706-2977; $$$

Green Leaf

Now in two urban locations, Green Leaf gives you everything you want in a hole-in-the-wall and nothing you don’t: plentiful plates of fresh and wholesome Vietnamese food delivered on handsome ceramic plates by extremely friendly folks at giveaway prices (not much over $10). The pretty, two-level International District original has lunchtime lines, but it’s the better looking of the two; the newbie is the dark and sprawling basement of the Labor Temple in Belltown. Whichever you choose, order the Vietnamese pancakes: thickly embedded with shrimp, nearly cream-textured, brimming with bean sprouts, swaddled in fresh basil, mint, and lettuce greens, and anointed with drips of briny fish sauce. The menu offers many other appetizers in addition to salads, phos, and other soups, rice-based entrees (of which the spicy lemongrass chicken is commendable), and vermicelli bowls. 418 Eighth Ave S at S Jackson St, International District, 206-340-1388. $ 2800 First Ave between Broad and Clay Sts, Belltown, 206-448-3318.

The Harvest Vine
Spanish / Small Plate

The best tapas in Seattle come from behind the copper counter where Basque chefs assemble platitos of glistening octopus or veal tongue or smoked sturgeon, wedges of tortilla, crab-stuffed piquillo peppers, venison in pepper sauce, sumptuous garlic prawns, grilled sardines—and on and, hiccup, on. Good luck snagging a seat at that bar. With a party of eight or more, however, you can reserve the newer downstairs txoko, or “little corner,” with its Old World open-beam construction and stone walls. A big communal table, plentifully lubricated, is the best way to enjoy tapas anyway. Weekend brunches are the best-kept secret in town, for omelets and pan tostadas and the buttery, vanilla-sugared pastries called caracolillos. 2701 E Madison St at 27th Ave E, Madison Valley, 206-320-9771; $$$$

Hu’o’ng Bình

This storefront treasure isn’t fancy, but it is revered among Vietnamese for serving unheralded specialties from around the old royal capital of Huê, the epicenter of Vietnamese cuisine. And it’s stayed focused for two decades on turning out some of the very best Vietnamese food in town, using impeccably fresh ingredients, for no more than $10 a person. Of particular note are soups, especially thâp câ’m, a clear pork broth with egg or glass noodles, a full brace of squid, shrimp, sliced pork, and quail eggs; and (weekdays only) mî vit tiêm, a rich star-anise-teased duck and vegetable broth with egg noodles and black mushrooms and a braised quarter-bird. Great sweets and candies. 1207 S Jackson St between S King and S Main Sts, Ste 104, International District, 206-720-4907. $

Island Soul

Island Soul is brought to us by the folks who ran the charming Casuelita’s Island Soul in Judkins Park, relocated for Rainier Avenue visibility, and renamed to distinguish it from their cousin’s enterprise, the formerly related Belltown Casuelita’s. Got that? Neither do we—and you won’t care either once you crackle into a plate of tostones, fried plantain chips with sweet red onions, which taste wickedly fried but are actually roasted in garlicked olive oil. End to end the long menu is just terrific—from the jerk chicken, suffused with smoke and jumping off the bone; to the pan-fried red snapper, lavished with a powerful escovitch sauce full of onions and peppers; to a platter of curried goat, packing a perfect little sting; to the sweet, moist coconut corn bread. It’s soul food gone Caribbean—or jerk food in the hood—with flavors every bit as bright and vivid as the sunshiny place and its friendly welcome. Desserts redefine decadence. 4869 Rainier Ave S between S Edmunds and S Ferdinand Sts, Columbia City, 206-329-1202; $$ 

Elevating its Totem Lake strip mall by its very presence, the cozy wood-clad Izumi is swathed in tradition, from classical music to old-country waitresses in kimonos; from sukiyaki dinners—soup, salad, sunomono-, and rice included!—to the eminent Shito Kamioka behind the sushi bar, where he’s presided for over 25 years. Tables are full of Japanese businessmen enjoying classics like big unctuous chunks of black cod in caramel-lush teriyaki sauce, artfully presented with carrots and pea pods, and pristine bowls of perfect rice. 12539 116th Ave NE between NE 124th and NE 128th Sts, Kirkland, 425-821-1959; $$

Japonessa Sushi Cocina

Why yes, as a matter of fact, those are jalapenos cradling your snow crab legs and eight-spiced tuna. Japonessa may be downtown’s sushi cocina, sexing up Japanese food with Latin inflections (think chili ponzu, think mango shiso glaze), but purists take heart: The chef is the seasoned Billy Beach—Umi alum and onetime Kushibar owner—and the sushi is consistently more substantive and solidly prepared than all the hot noise and scene might suggest. Creations like agedashi tofu and tempura fried brie, followed by a monstrous $18 Street Fighter II Roll, open the mind and the palate. And the pocketbook—though happy hour seems to roll straight on through the day here. 1400 First Ave between Pike and Union Sts, Downtown, 206-971-7979; $$ 

Kabul Afghan Cuisine

It looks like a hole-in-the-wall from the street, but inside candles, white tablecloths, and live guitar music some nights impart a down-to-earth brand of exotic elegance. The cover of the menu reveals how the city of Kabul originated, and upon turning its pages diners are invited to choose their own culinary adventure. Paper-thin unleavened Afghan bread becomes a magic carpet for jan-i amma, a delicate and soothing combination of yogurt, minced cucumbers, onions, and mint. The qorma-i sabzi, a soft melange of spinach and scallions, is invitingly dressed with cilantro and served beside a bed of basmati rice boldly seasoned with coriander and turmeric. Yes, vegetarians are very well served here, but meat dishes shine, like the savory kebab murgh, a chicken filet marinated in yogurt, garlic, turmeric, and a hint of cayenne. 2301 N 45th St at Corliss Ave N, Wallingford, 206-545-9000; Not wheelchair accessible. $$

Kafé Neo

For two decades, Kafé Neo has served honest, full--flavored, refreshingly nongreasy Greek fare to a clientele that knows the difference—and now in three Snohomish County locations (including one out of our geographical purview, in Marysville). Its music is a mix of everything Greek, from 1920s classics for the old folks to the latest CDs from Athens. Its menu covers the basics and more: pastitsio and browned--butter pasta, fish and calamari gyros, peppers stuffed with lamb and feta, a dinnertime olive list. (Will that be kalamata or green nafplion with your retsina, sir?) A slow-roasted lunchtime lamb entree is so rich it seems deliciously sinful to eat it while the sun shines. Desserts are equally varied; don’t miss the moist orange-walnut karithopita, the ultimate coffee cake. 21108 Hwy 99 at 212th St SW, Edmonds, 425-672-3476. $ 15130 Main St, Mill Creek, 425-357-0512; $

Kaname Izakaya and Shochu Bar

Scarlet lanterns reading “Izakaya” light up the doorways of Tokyo snack bars, beckoning weary workers with early-evening belts and bites. Two such oblong fixtures dangle outside Kaname, where worn hardwoods and lager-promoting table tents feel as spot-on as the menu—fried chicken, chilled tofu, snowball-size panko-crusted croquettes—and the focus on shochu, an earthy spirit made from potato, barley, or rice that they sip like crazy in Japan. The place is filled with downtown white collars who hop the light rail from University Street Station with happy hour on their minds. 610 S Jackson St between Maynard and Sixth Aves S, International District, 206-682-1828; $$

Kasbah Moroccan

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, and a back room 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 fingers, and you finish with sweet mint tea. (Bring the kids; they won’t believe their good fortune.) In between you feast on five courses, from the flaky bistella appetizer enclosing minced almonds and chicken (as a stand-in for the traditional pigeon) in sweet phyllo to the lovely lamb and chicken preparations, many embellished with the golden raisins, apricots, and preserved lemons of Moroccan favor. If flavors sometimes lack the courage of their convictions, let the belly cam show: The dancer conveys no such reticence. 1471 NW 85th St between 15th and Mary Aves NW, Crown Hill, 206-788-0777; Closed Mon. $$$

Kisaku Sushi Restaurant

Warm and sweet as the inside of a yam, Kisaku offers the deep skill of sushi craftsman Ryuichi Nakano along with the sort of neighborhood hospitality that welcomes toddlers to the sushi bar. With shy grace -Nakano-san presents an unusual diversity of seasonal delicacies—cod sperm sacs, green sea urchin—along with more usual suspects, then undercharges for them. It’s a genuine treat to sit at the bar to enjoy Nakano-san’s selection in the form of chef’s choice omakase (he tweets his daily fresh sheet @-kisakusushi), and nonsushiphiles should order the mackerel in syrupy miso sauce, a revelation. Parking’s a beast in this part of Tangletown, so arrive duly warned. 2101 N 55th St between Meridian Ave N and Keystone Pl N, Ste 100, Wallingford, 206-545-9050; $$

La Carta de Oaxaca

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. 5431 Ballard Ave NW between 22nd Ave NW and NW Market St, Ballard, 206-782-8722; Closed Sun. $


Ever since Amazon employees discovered it, the crowd at this International District restaurant and bar has skewed young and hip. But in fact, it does not get more old-school in Seattle than the century-old Maneki, a homey haunt of homely delights kept in line—and lines—by a couple of no-nonsense aunties and traditional Japanese cooks. Regulars know to look to the whiteboard for exceptional daily specials, which may include monkfish liver in season, either braised or sliced cold over shredded daikon with ponzu sauce. Yep, there’s a sushi bar, but Maneki shines brighter for its bar snacks and home-style entree combos. 304 Sixth Ave S between S Jackson and S Main Sts, International District, 206-622-2631; $

Ma’ono Fried Chicken and Whisky

Chef Mark Fuller transformed his high-end, award-winning Spring Hill Restaurant into the more affordable, more Hawaiian Ma’ono Fried Chicken and Whisky. The mood now is lighter, as if the West Seattle storefront is suddenly more comfortable in its skin. The old menu’s down-market superstars, such as the half-pound beef burger and the saimin noodle bowl (with the richest smoked pork and ham broth in town), feel like the heart of the menu, with plates of Hawaiian fusion in the form of steamed barbecue pork buns with shoyu-harissa dip or a bun full of Portuguese sausage, pickles, and chicken liver pate. Best is the chicken for which they changed the concept: Every night (reserve early!) 30 all-natural birds are brined, soaked in buttermilk, dredged in flour, battered, floured again, fried in peanut oil—and fried again. The result is, well, perfect. 4437 California Ave SW between SW Genessee and SW Oregon Sts, West Seattle, 206-935-1075; $$ 


Hajime Sato’s bustling West Seattle sushi joint has always been very Seattle: deeply traditional and thoroughly modern in the very same bite. And now that modernity requires environmental awareness and action, Mashiko is really on a roll. Since phasing out Atlantic salmon, Southeast Asian shrimp, and other endangered and at-risk seafood, demand for Sato’s seats and bar stools has only increased. With reusable chopsticks made from wheat products in hand, environmentally conscious eaters pout, just a little, about the soft-shell crab and black cod liver that no longer make the cut, and cheerfully inquire about the domestic catfish that replaces off-limits fresh-water eel. (It’s marinated to almost the exact same sweet and buttery effect, without the hairy, sort of scratchy texture of unagi). A Japanese-born, traditionally trained sushi chef making sustainability seem sexy and slathering just a little cream cheese here and there? Only in Seattle, folks, only in Seattle. 4725 California Ave SW between SW Alaska and SW Edmunds Sts, West Seattle, 206-935-4339; $$ 


Among several good choices along Cherry Street’s Little Ethiopia, Meskel is the best-looking: a warm, modern split-level space, close-packed with tables of well-dressed, multihued people all cheerily eating with their hands and sopping with injera bread. It’s all served 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 counter-parts, but the sauces—20 or so spices, from cloves to cumin to chili, deeply infused with slow simmering—have that familiar, slow--burning, fragrant warmth. 2605 E Cherry St at 26th Ave, Central District, 206-860-1724. Closed Mon. $$

Mezcaleria Oaxaca

Ballard’s La Carta de Oaxaca is where Seattleites learned to spoon hunks of moist chicken flesh off the bone, swaddle them in warm corn tortillas, then lavish them thickly with a mole negro of unfathomable nuance and fire. Now atop Queen Anne, La Carta’s -little sister Mezcaleria Oaxaca peddles the same carefully traditional fare—Oaxacan tacos and enchiladas and posoles—with the addition of slow--roasted, chili--marinated goat, and a mezcal bar serving 13 varieties of that cowboy cousin of tequila. Atmo is slightly folksier and more homespun than that of its Ballard sib—bring the -family!—but the joint radiates its authenticity through a haze of amber light worthy of any worm. 2123 Queen Anne N between Boston and Crockett Sts, Queen Anne, 206-216-4446; $$


Seattle came of age as a Pacific Rim city the instant Monsoon unleashed its splendors upon the residential eastern side of Capitol Hill. Until then, unbelievably, there hadn’t been a contemporary Vietnamese restaurant in town: no sleek love child of a worldly European bistro and a seasoned Vietnamese kitchen; no ingenious hybrid of Northwest (as in freshness) and Southeast (as in Asian). By the time an even more elegant branch had opened in Old Bellevue, the place had become a bona fide legend—and all because of some of the region’s most extraordinary, and consistent, food. The grilled beef wrapped in la lot leaves and the drunken chicken are two of the most famous dishes in town, with good reason. It’s no wonder folks are so forgiving of the slow service. Weekend morning dim sum features both French and Vietnamese selections. Monsoon: 615 19th Ave E at E Mercer St, Capitol Hill, 206-325-2111. $$ Monsoon East: 10245 Main St at 102nd Ave NE, Bellevue, 425-635-1112; $$ 


Seattle’s most sublime sushi. This neighborhood favorite draws tony patrons in two shifts—Madison Park matrons early in the evening, young professionals in black for later seatings—but everyone is warmly welcomed by the cheery sushi chefs behind the bar. It’s supremely artful, and not just thanks to the dreamlike Fay Jones paintings that warm the austere, high--ceilinged room. The really dazzling art is the exquisite raw seafood. One kampachi sashimi appetizer featured delicate strips of the fish fanned in a star around the plate; the sweet, smooth tuna—followed by a crunch, then the kick, from a paper-thin jalapeno slice—-delivered a heady rush even for a non-sushi-lover. The omakase sampler is a house favorite because it’s unforgettable. The cooked offerings—seared halibut cheeks with cilantro, for example—are ever-so--delicately flavored, but the sushi is the reason so many diners become devotees. When those chefs at the sushi bar send you off with a chorus of goodbyes, they’re pretty sure they’ll be seeing you again. 3130 E Madison St at Lake Washington Blvd E, Madison Park, 206-322-5800; $$$

Noodle Boat Thai Cuisine
In the finest Thai food, spices all play their positions, each identifiable, all working as a team. Curries and noodle dishes at the unassuming, color-splashed Noodle Boat are delicious, big league examples. Little touches, like lime leaves torn rather than cut for more flavor in soups and a pungent, hand-mixed chili paste, make Noodle Boat a standout. Meang kum is essential, a thoroughly authentic roll-your-own appetizer: Roasted coconut, crushed peanuts, lime wedges (leave the peel on), red onion, and Thai chilies are wrapped into emerald, nutty cha plu leaves hard to find outside Thailand. (Word has it the owners return there regularly to stock up on several ingredients.) It’s an explosion on your palate. Shrimp and chicken tumble with steamed banana blossoms, roasted coconut, lemongrass slivers, and cilantro in the Queen of Banana, a house specialty. Warning: They play serious with heat here. Venture beyond “medium” and you’re toying with fire. 700 NW Gilman Blvd between Seventh Ave NW and Maple St NW, Ste E104B, Issaquah, 425-391-8096; $ 

Panos Kleftiko Taverna

About as Old Country as it gets in newfangled -Seattle. Panos Marinos has been around awhile, at two ill-located precursors in the ’80s and early ’90s, but his spot in the Lower East Queen Anne restaurant district is the keeper. Kleftiko means “thieves’ den,” which well describes the irresistible hole-in-the-wall intimacy: wood-beamed ceilings decked with rustic copperware, cozy low light and spongy orange walls, all the banquettes and little cafe tables it can possibly hold (almost always full); Panos’s cooking and greeting a dolma’s throw away. The menu’s a culinary tour of Greece and includes two dozen appetizers, several lamb, chicken, and prawn entrees, and no moussaka. The entrees from -Nafplion, Marinos’s hometown, are standouts: kota nafplion, marinated, cheese-and-ham-stuffed chicken breast; and garidhes meh feta, prawns baked in a fragrant tomato-wine sauce with feta. Olives baked with lemon peel and herbs are a revelation from another age. A no-reservations policy assures a guaranteed pretheater crowd. 815 Fifth Ave N between Aloha and Valley Sts, Queen Anne, 206-301-0393; Closed Sun. $$ 

Pho Bac

What looks like 100 years’ worth of splattered soup stains the walls and floor of Pho Bac’s triangular fishbowl at Boren and Jackson, a joint that strains the decorative limits of the plastic poinsettia. That said, in a city veritably drowning in the Vietnamese beef noodle soup known as pho—this funny little institution (and its sister just six blocks away) does a version for the ages. Each slurp of the broth echoes with chlorophyll-bright scallions and cilantro, all of which is so harmonious with the savory thin-sliced beef and tangle of rice noodles you almost don’t feel the need to doctor up your bowl from the side plates of bean sprouts and basil, lime wedges and sliced jalapeno. But oh, what a mistake that would be. 1314 S Jackson St at Boren Ave S, 206-323-4387. 415 Seventh Ave S between S Jackson and S King Sts, International District, 206-621-0532. ¢

Red Lantern
Chinese / Korean

The talk of Chinatown is the contemporary Jackson Street bistro with the sleek interior and the red lanterns, where Shanghai favorites are interspersed with Korean rarities like fermented black bean ja jang -noodles. Not to be missed are the crispy green long beans with black beans and minced pork; perfect basil-lime shrimp, lightly crusted and bursting with juice; and tender honey spareribs, suffused with wood smoke. The International District has never been a date-night destination, but here’s a bona fide contender—with decorative pretensions, $12-ish price tags, and clever East-meets-West desserts like a silken black tea creme brulee. 520 S Jackson St between Fifth and Sixth Aves S, International District, 206-682-7211; $

Italian / Sandwiches

Yeah, this is the place you keep hearing about: the sliver of a Pioneer Square salumeria where the Batali clan proves, sandwich after savory sandwich, that scion and New York celeb chef Mario Batali isn’t their only claim to greatness. The fresh and cured meats are why. The Batali’s old family recipes and apprenticeship with Tuscan butchers have resulted in a product quite unlike any other in town. It’s only open at lunch—there’s a line nearly every day waiting for them to unlock the doors—for meaty two-fisters of porchetta or prosciutto, or aromatic meatballs, and much more. You may eat at a communal table; probably you’ll have to take it to go. You can also carry out their coppa or prosciutto or fresh sausage. Of course the best way to experience the glory of this food is to reserve one of their twice weekly private tables for up to 10—off a long waiting list. 309 Third Ave S between S Jackson and S Main Sts, Pioneer Square, 206-621-8772; Closed Sat–Mon. $

Salvadorean Bakery
Latin / Bakery

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 caramelly Caribbean bread pudding called -budin, among other diet products. But the savories in this merry fluorescent-lit mercado—see, there’s the menu, much of it 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 26, 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 finest 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. Dios mío, it’s good. 1719 SW Roxbury St at 17th Ave SW, White Center, 206-762-4064; $

Samurai Noodle
A clothes closet feels spacious by comparison, but this International District ramen-ya (along with its sibling on the Ave) is a near-perfect rendition of the tiny noodle shops of Japan. At lunch, lines inevitably trail out onto the sidewalk. About 20 diners touch knees under tiny tables. The steamy aroma of cooking noodles and savory broth is tantalizing. Offbeat ramen presentations, like soups flavored with chili-hot chicken stock or miso, are fun, but the star is unquestionably the tonkotsu ramen. A massive ceramic bowl of creamy, buttery soup sloowww--distilled from pork bones swirls with braids of thick al dente ramen, slices of pork, and nibbles of green onion and mushrooms. Diners lean over to inhale the heady perfume, then dig in, slurping in ecstatic joy. On a chilly, drizzly day, there is simply no better lunch in Seattle. 606 Fifth Ave S at S Weller St, International District, 206-624-9321. 4138 University Way NE at NE 42nd St, University District, 206-547-1774; $


Two college buddies backpack through Southeast Asia and develop an addiction to Malaysian street food. With the help of a Malay auntie, they recreate the scene in a house restaurant in Wallingford—bright red walls graffitied with local lingo—along with their favorite dishes, all under $10: curry puffs (the one don’t-miss on a seriously great menu), roti canai, red curry, and the best satay in Seattle—crispy and juicy with homemade peanut sauce. It’s small, with only a handful of tables, so consider grabbing takeout or getting a stool at the counter. 1711 N 45th St between Densmore and Wallingford Aves N, Wallingford, 206-547-0597; $ 

Laotian / Thai

The proprietors of this spotless Roosevelt refuge are Lao, but much of the menu is Thai—some of the best in town in fact. It can be hard to tell where one cuisine ends and the other begins, but Laotian dishes tend to be earthier and less sweet, notably a pungent, shrimp-paste-infused version of shredded green papaya salad. Also to try: gai yang, curried game hen, and toam kaim moo, stewed pork in sweet soy sauce with veggies and boiled eggs, sister to classic Vietnamese thit heo kho. And a tip: the V is pronounced like a B in Savatdee, Laotian for “hello.” 5801 Roosevelt Way NE between NE 58th and NE 59th Sts, University District, 206-331-9666; $

Sea Garden

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. 509 Seventh Ave S between S King and S Weller Sts, International District, 206-623-2100; $

Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant
Ever gargle molten lava? If so, the fire brew burbling in the notorious hot pot of Seattle’s most authentically Szechuan restaurant will taste familiar. There’s other Szechuan fare at this International District institution: Sauteed pork and preserved vegetables is a surprisingly light, delicate classic of the cuisine; eggplant with garlic sauce—bright with garlic, ginger, and hot soybean paste tossed with deep-fried eggplant—another delicious Szechuan specialty. The draw, though, is the communal-table hot pots spiked with flaming chilies. Dip beef, pork, tripe, lamb, tofu, and vegetables in the simmering oily broth for a leisurely meal that’s just at the delectably spicy edge of pain for your palate. The other half of the pot’s filled with a well-seasoned broth splendid for cooking the savory dumplings that make dinner complete. Parking’s a challenge; the place is hidden among the rest of Jackson Street’s culinary treasures. It’s well worth the hunt. 1048 S Jackson St between 10th and 12th Aves S, International District, 206-720-1690; $

663 Bistro

The workingman’s cafe with the bistro sheen may look like a Chinatown storefront (this block’s a bit dodgy), but inside, the clattering and brightly lit 663 is really a Hong Kong–style cafe—and, in our view, the best of that genre in town. Here live gentle Cantonese won-tons and great salt-and-pepper chicken wings and terrific barbecued meats and a surprisingly mean curry; the city’s best pea vines and a glistening haystack of pan-fried chow mein noodles studded with seafood. Barbecue from the takeout corner spreads the joy. Night owls know to get their orders in before 2am weekends to beat the barflies. 663 S Weller St between Seventh and Maynard Aves S, International District, 206-667-8760. $

Spicy Talk Bistro

Fine Szechuan food is a thing of rare beauty in these parts, and if it’s spotted at all, it’s likely the doing of chef Cheng Biao Yang, the Chinese expat who gave us Greenwood’s Seven Stars Pepper, then the International District’s Seven Stars Pepper, then -Bellevue’s stunning Szechuan Chef. Now Yang is plying his delectable trade at a slick storefront in Redmond, painted somewhat bizarrely with foot- and handprints and decorated with all manner of hanging tchotchkes, but serving up the same extraordinary hand-shaved chow mein noodles, green onion pancakes, and fire-breathing Chong Qing hot chicken he made his name on. Spice aficionados will marvel that food this mouth-numbing can still carry real flavor complexity; Marymoor Park picnickers will just be happy the place is nearby. 16650 Redmond Way between 166th Ave NE and 168th Ave NE, Redmond, 425-558-7858; $ 

Sushi Kappo Tamura

Sushiphiles have been following around Taichi -Kitamura for years—from his days training with Shiro’s maestro Shiro Kashiba, to his late, great Chiso in Fremont, to his monthly cooking sorties up to sushi-starved Whidbey Island. Now he holds forth in a serene space on Eastlake done in sleek neutrals, and it may be his finest yet. His passion is the multicourse chef’s-choice freshness parade known as omakase—it may star stunning Snake River Ranch beef shoulder, or velvety morsels of local albacore you can cut with your tongue—which costs $100 and 24-hours’ worth of notice. But regular diners have the same access to Kitamura’s exquisite sources and will benefit just as richly from his uncommonly refined and silken way around a raw fish. Servers, deeply informed, are usually terrific. 2968 Eastlake Ave E at E Allison St, Eastlake, 206-547-0937;

Venik Lounge
Small Plate

One thin slice of Seattle’s emerging worldly elan can be found along the 200 block of Ninth Ave North in the South Lake Union district. There, across from the ornamental ironworks and next door to the Russian spa, the barkeeps at the swank, micro-mini Venik Lounge pour infused vodkas for the arty sophisticates and junior bohemians who dwell nearby. These infusions are the happy product of a long courtship between vodka and a juicy counterpoint—cherries, say, or garlic and hot pepper. The ancient Russian way is to down one like a shot, then plunge into the banya (Russian steam bath) before the sweetness has had a chance to burn off the back of one’s throat—there to be whapped with a bunch of birch sticks called a venik. The new Seattle way is to sip and nibble at Venik—a caviar plate, a Niçoise sandwich, a shot of borscht—then steam it all off at Banya 5 next door. (It’s owned, whaddya know, by the same folks.) 227 Ninth Ave N between John and Thomas Sts, South Lake Union, 206-223-3734; $

Vios Cafe and Marketplace / Vios Cafe at Third Place
Greek / Deli

My big fat Greek deli: A festive family room of a spot importing all the community and color of the Greek marketplace to both North Capitol Hill and the Ravenna strip. Walls drenched in the hues of olive trees and the wine-dark sea, lilting bouzouki music, long communal tables, a generously stocked play area for the kids, a deli counter, imported olive oils and pastas for sale, a staff of large-hearted employees—it all adds up to an ambience of irresistible warmth, against which the sandwiches, meze plates, vegetable salads, and meat dishes simply shine. The grilled and pita-wrapped chicken souvlaki, draped in bright tzatziki, is notable, as are the more upmarket dinners. This owner founded Broadway’s El Greco; here as there, he manages to infuse Greek classics with his own distinctive flourishes and consistently make it all taste inevitable and comforting. All that…and retsina, too. Vios Cafe and Marketplace: 903 19th Ave E at E Aloha St, Capitol Hill, 206-329-3236. Closed Mon. $$  Vios Cafe at Third Place: 6504 20th Ave NE at NE 65th St, Ravenna, 206-525-5701; Open daily. $

Wild Ginger

Both locations are enormous, and they better be, since they’re required to seat the zillions who tell the -Zagats it’s their favorite spot in town. And what’s not to like? We favor the cosmopolitan pan-Asian purview, encompassing specialties from Beijing to Bangkok—fragrant duck with steamed buns and plum sauce, Szechuan green beans wizened to perfection, seven-flavor beef (where you can taste all seven!), a slew of pungent soups. Pluses include the dead--center downtown locations (-Seattle’s next to Benaroya Hall, Bellevue’s at the Bravern), the jumpin’ buzz that comes from being the busiest restaurant around—and sometimes even the servers, who are unfortunately too crazed to be consistent. 1401 Third Ave at Union St, Downtown, 206-623-4450. $$$ 11020 NE Sixth St at 110th Ave NE, Bellevue, 425-495-8889; $$$

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