Maria Hines’s Sicilian restaurant is every inch as nobly organic as the James Beard award–winning chef’s groundbreaking original, Tilth. In a gracious and comfortable space warmed by the leafy limbs of a ficus tree, patrons savor the sunny citruses and olives and capers and tomatoes of Sicily—perhaps in a heaping herby salad, or a briny tangle of housemade tagliarini pasta with clams and pine nuts, or an impeccable half chicken topped with a caponata of brussels sprouts and golden raisins (a dish that embodies the “sour and sweet” of Agrodolce’s name). Some dishes suffer from insufficient innovation or, at brunch especially, size—limitations of an organic mandate, perhaps, that organic food appreciators will be all too happy to forgive.
The snug russet room off the lobby of the Mayflower Park Hotel is one of downtown’s most convenient restaurants for a shopping stop, and one of its most alluring for an amber-lit dinner. The food can be majestic—from paella to memorable meat dishes, like pan seared duck breast with two kinds of mushrooms or petit rib roast in a rioja butter sauce. Though all this makes it feel like a special-occasion destination, Andaluca remains a hotel restaurant, one that changes its menu seasonally. Complimentary valet parking at this central downtown address is the just cherry on top.
In a quiet corner of Capitol Hill, wedged between a 7-Eleven parking lot and a teriyaki joint, lies Aviv Hummus Bar, a bright antidote to its ho-hum surroundings. Falafel takes a quick dip in the fryer before it arrives, hot and fresh, as does warm pita alongside a bowl of creamy hummus: A wooden pestle swirls the Levantine spread, creating a well for tahina and whole chickpeas bathed in olive oil.
Turkish-born restaurateur Uğur 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; panfried 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.
One of the reasons Seattle's working masses don’t want to leave Pioneer Square. A sweet lunch stop (plus dinner weekends) with a nice sturdy lentil soup, salads with pita, and other Turkish/Mediterranean plates. Fir floors and brick walls give the place an old-time Pioneer Square feel. Everyone’s here.
With the exception of the showstopping Venetian chandelier commissioned for the entryway, Cicchetti plays modern, angular sophisticate to sibling-restaurant Serafina’s older-world Italian rusticity. And from upstairs, the sweep of the Seattle skyline will send a Manhattanesque shiver down the spine of any urbanite. Look for stunning cocktails and the noshes to support them, reflecting the myriad Mediterranean influences the Moors hauled with them to Venice, from clams in fennel-saffron broth and prosciutto–goat cheese pizza to flatbread dips and crispy polenta cakes.
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 on. Good luck snagging a seat at that bar. With a party of eight or more, however, you can reserve the 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.
Logan Cox, previously the chef at Sitka and Spruce, has opened a neighborhood restaurant on Beacon Hill that puts out some of the most vivid flavors in the city right now. The rugged ease of dishes large and small belies the deliberate hours of stewing, grinding, and roasting that transform something as humble as meatballs into a kefte-inspired monument amid a pool of sauce—tomato and fried fruits, cinnamon and yoghurt whey, reduced for hours into something so rich it’s more syrup than sauce. Homer dedicates a menu section to things one might spread on saucer-size pitas, which arrive at your table almost too hot to touch, soft interior still puffed up with hot air from the dome oven in the corner of the open kitchen.
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. 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 entrée 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.
The bold, briny flavors and Moorish influences of Sicilian food were unrepresented in this town till La Medusa took a chance on Columbia City. The place is now on its third set of owners, but they’ve retained the classics—the salt cod fritters in tomato sauce bright with capers and garlic, the spaghetti con le sarde studded with sardines, raisins, pine nuts, and olives—and even bettered a few things, like crispy-crusted pizzas. In summer try the prix-fixe Market Dinners when the Columbia City Farmers Market is in full bloom. Though the restaurant can make legitimate claim to culinary pretension, it’s just-folks enough to give the kids a hunk of pizza dough on arrival. It’s small, but uncomfortable chairs keep the waits short.
Tagines and garlicky dips, mezes and moussakas and glistening lamb kebabs—this all-day restaurant beside the lobby of the Hotel Ändra is Tom Douglas’s tribute to his wife Jackie’s Greek heritage, showcasing better than any of his other restaurants his uncanny genius at making smart food into comfort food. Some of the best breakfasts in Seattle happen here.
One of Bellevue’s enduring treasures is the unpretentious, Eastern European–flavored eatery specializing in the sweetly pillowy pogacha bread of Croatia. This they top like a pizza or stuff like a sandwich, with cheeses and smoked meats and roasted vegetables, then send for a spin through the applewood-fired oven to arrive chewy within and crisp at the edges. Salads, soups, and pastas are housemade—try the portobello ravioli—and servers accommodating. Two locations in Bellevue and one in Issaquah render Pogacha a chain, but few Eastside restaurants manage to feel so distinctive—especially the original, whose central hearth and bright persimmon walls displaying the work of local artists transform downtown Bellevue into a neighborhood. Great for families.
The blanched, lofted space splashed with Santorini blue and pulsing with noisy Pike/Pine vitality is home to the Greek flavors of owner-host Thomas Soukakos’s youth, plated beautifully. Salads bursting with ripe tomatoes and fresh herbs, smoked cod fritters, vivid tzatziki—all can be assembled into winning noshfests and lubricated with ouzo, quite affordably during happy hour. Larger plates might include grilled octopus or a za’atar-crusted rack of lamb.
Like its siblings (Purple Cafe, Barrio, Meet the Moon, Lot No. 3), this warm and windowy Stone Way sprawler extends an outstretched arm to everyone—vegans and burger lovers, fans of Middle Eastern muhammara dip and fans of french fries, you get the idea. And though it’s nobody’s high-end spot, that’s its appeal—food with just enough interest (and virtually no challenge) to please everyone but the snobs. Servers are endlessly welcoming, the booze program is too, and chop salads and fried chicken define comfort food for a new era. Bring the team; the place is huge.
My big fat Greek deli: A festive family room of a spot importing all the community and color of the Greek marketplace to the St. Joe’s neighborhood of North Capitol Hill and the Ravenna commercial 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.