12 Courses at Tarsan i Jane 🎶

Perfecte Rocher’s restaurant isn’t new, exactly, but this summer he and wife his wife Alia did away with any half measures at Tarsan i Jane in Fremont. They replaced the dining room’s two-tops and four-tops with one long counter that seats just 10 people. They expanded the menu into one 12-course sequence of bites (or go big with the six-course upgrade).

The intensely personal service might not be for everyone, but there’s no forgetting that food. Rocher pulls off complex, nuanced bites with few assists other than a kitchen that runs on fire, and a hardcore fermentation program. Each one is beautiful, and weaves his Valencian heritage with Pacific Northwest traditions together with a liberal dash of modernism. My dinner began with snacks like the Rocher family blood sausage dotted with yuzu, then progressed onward to bites like a “ceviche” of wild saskatoon and huckleberries, and a savory xuxo pastry made with aerated local stout. This meal feels inordinately special, right down to the artful gin and tonics, and unlike anything else in Seattle.

11 Peanut Butter Brownie Bites from Lowrider Baking Company 🎶

In October, Emily Allport’s roving cookie bakery moved into the Georgetown Trailer Park. Most of her cookies are broad and relatively thin, with just the right dash of surprise: Fall’s caramel apple snickerdoodles are properly chewy. Brown butter triple chocolate chunk is your classic chocolate chip, graduated from finishing school. Then there are those chubby little rounds with geological deposits of chocolate. They look like something your mom (or dad) might contribute for a school bake sale, and shamelessly harness two forms of lunchbox nostalgia in one powerhouse cookie. The only downside: a sandy texture that’s really hard to vacuum out of the crevices of your car after polishing off three on the drive home.

10 Al Pastor Tacos from Carmelo's 🎶

When I saw this family-run taqueria open back in October with almost near-immediate hype, I had to find out for myself. Oh sweet lord the hype is real. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of singing the praises of Carmelo’s Tacos inside the Hillcrest Market (or from its Olive Way–facing walkup window). The counter’s Mexico City–style offerings include carne asada, al pastor (for the purists, this one’s not carved off a spit, but the lightly grilled pineapple slice on top is perfect), and one called campechano, which is the divine combo of chorizo, asada, potato, and nopal (cactus), all doused in mild verde and roja salsas, the latter a blend of guajillo and ancho chiles. When it comes to lunch, well, in the wise, vernacular words of Cardi B: You know where I’m at, you know where I be.

9 O'Clock Run for a Great State Burger Breakfast Sandwich 🎶

Listen, okay, hear me out. Austin has breakfast tacos. Meanwhile, New York City is rife with bacon, egg, and cheese sandos. I said it for What We’re Eating Now in Seattle Met’s January issue, and hotdamn I’ll say it again: Seattle has an opening for The Quintessential Breakfast and Great State Burger has one helluva nominee. GSB is making the good case for an English muffin hugging scrambled egg, cheese, and—OMFG, there’s a griddled hash brown in there! It’s fast, easy, portable, and straight-up good. Fine qualities to have in the most important meal of the day, right?

8 Slices of South Town Pie's Pastrami Pizza 🎶

I’m all for the classics—anoint me with pepperoni grease any day of the week—but when I want something truly singular, I look to South Town Pie in South Park where Sam Crannell (formerly of LloydMartin) has crafted what he’s christened “unicorn pies.” This one I’m particularly fond of. The pastrami pizza, in its own way, is a classic of a deli sandwich variety: cubes of Zoe’s pastrami, caramelized onions, sweet crinkle-cut coins of dill pickles, all suspended in a melty gruyere fondue. And what’s that ringing the pie’s crunchy-edged perimeter? It’s the magical mixture of “everything” seasoning—yes, that blend you thought was only reserved for bagels makes a salty-sesame appearance on the crust of this pizza. It’s a superb slice, one I imagine “The Fireside Gourmet” would approve of.

7 Slurps of Turmeric Noodles at Pho Bac Sup Shop 🎶

Arguably, and with totally valid justification, the primary reason to go to Pho Bac Súp Shop is the súp: Big, shiny stainless steel bowls of pho, some with all the meat bits, or two big-ass short rib bones, or hunks of bone-in, slow-poached chicken. The family behind the Pho Bac in a red boat knows pho. Full stop. But the literal golden child of the menu is the sunshine-yellow turmeric noodle, flat and wide ribbons swimming in a flavorful “OG pho bac sauce” and topped with fried shallots. Bonus: It comes with a sidecar of dipping broth because, let’s be honest, you still need to scratch that pho itch. And when I'm not slurping noodles or broth, I'll finally pull my head out of my bowl to sip whatever crisp Cloudburst brew Súp Shop currently has on tap. 

6 Dozen Mochi Doughnuts from Raised Doughnuts 🎶

Mi Kim and her business partner I-Miun Liu—who opened Dynasty Room in the Chinatown–International District and East Trading Company on Capitol Hill—have been behind the city’s most hyped openings of the year. And with good reason. Raised Doughnuts is a Central District utopia of seasonal flavors—cranberry thyme, gingerbread fritter, snickerdoodle—but my favorite one isn’t a fried manifestation of Kim’s masterful way with flavor combos. It’s much simpler. The mochi doughnuts, at least a half dozen of them at a time, are smaller than Kim’s other creations, still, it’s all about that chew from the rice flour and the familiar crunch from the sugary exterior—enough to make a person get up early on a Saturday to get the fresh first batch.

5 Slices of Duck Breast at Kamonegi 🎶

Mutsuko Soma is a woman who knows duck. This fine animal has been Kamonegi’s motto since her popup days (“kamo” means “duck” in Japanese) and its meat populates two of the restaurant’s best dishes: Her signature duck and leek soba, and yakitori meatballs that pulse with spice. But one cold night I ordered a simple plate of smoked duck breast, served next to a salad of endive, fig, and a mixture of blue cheese and kewpie mayo that illustrates the term umami better than any dictionary ever could. Strip away the pyrotechnics of spice or the artistic marvels or hand-cut soba noodles and you really appreciate that duck, the cold smoke amplifying its savory charms. This plate was merely an intermezzo between the tempura course and my bowl of soba, but reinforces why Kamonegi was Seattle Met’s restaurant of the year. Even its quieter moments are magic.

4 Types of Charcuterie from the Shambles 🎶

The ordering of charcuterie is a very fraught thing. You either quickly mumble to your waiter that you’ll have a plate of charcuterie, pronounced with a hard “ch” and a soft trail of consonants that quietly, presumably follow. Alternately, you might request shah-koooo-tay-ree with a comically Monty Pythonian French accent. However you do it, definitely don’t skip the dried-and-cured meats at the Shambles in Maple Leaf, where chef Seamus Platt works meaty wonders in the kitchen. The house meat board comes by the one, two, or three cuts—but order a fourth for good luck—like a melty-fatty prociutto, “smoky lardo, lightly cured ham, and spot-on soppressata.”

3 Meatballs from Homer 🎶

It’s hard to truly mess up a meatball. It’s perhaps even harder to make a comforting combo of meat, seasoning, and some sort of warming sauce into something awe inspiring. Do not conclude a meal at Logan Cox’s smashing new restaurant on Beacon Hill without at least one order of Homer’s lamb and pork meatballs. They come as a trio, in a tomato sauce with layer upon layer of flavor—dried fruits, cinnamon and yogurt whey—hiding underneath coins of tomatillo that deliver a happy hit of acid. The sauce benefits from all those ingredients, but also a lengthy reduction to pack those flavors even tighter. Like everything else at Homer, a lot of unseen labor perfects dishes that come off rustic and casual.

2 Halves of Sawyer's Burger 🎶

At first, ordering a familiar burger from a menu with jojos and matzo ball pho and oxtail nachos feels like a missed opportunity for adventure. But then it arrives, a majestic butte of bun and double-decker wagyu patties, grilled in mustard, and a fat slice of golden tomato. Here, the secret sauce consists of caramelized onions and mornay, a far richer way to achieve the melty texture usually bestowed by processed cheese.

After dissecting all the other items on chef Mitch Mayers’ fantastical menu, I ran out of space before I could sing the praises of this burger. But here I am, weeks and months later, remembering it with an ardor that borders on inappropriate.

...And an Ikura-Topped Hot Dog in a Dark Bar 🎶

Is it the hot dog itself, or the act of eating it at a gracefully undulating bar, whilst rubbing elbows with a taxidermied grebe inside a glass cloche? There's no arguing that ambience reins at Renee Erickson's new cocktail destination, a luxuriantly dim midcentury Manhattan hotel bar that’s hurtled across space and time to occupy the, uh, undercarriage of the Amazon Spheres. But as hot dogs go, Deep Dive’s is a carefully crafted upgrade—complete with silver platter—of the drunken late-night Seattle Dog. Beef comes from cows that rubbed shoulders with Erickson’s own herd, smoked with hazelnut shells. House baker Ben Campbell fashions the superlative seeded buns. On top: cream cheese whipped to texture-balancing perfection, and slices of jalapeno and pickled onion that add a level of gaiety in keeping with the room. A luminous, liberal dose of ikura on top delivers pops of salty goodness.

Seattle Met's food team counts down to December 25 with our favorite food memories from this year's crop of new restaurants. (In no particular order other than in service to the lyrics of a centuries-old earworm Christmas carol.)

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