Beacon Hill’s neighborhood gathering spot is this sun-painted wedge of a cafe that serves dishes that are part coastal Mexico, part homey diner. Most food isn’t spicy, exactly, but has a hospitable hum of warmth to it—which is also a good way to describe the service. Breakfast is available until 3pm; after that, it’s prime time for a margarita.
Lucky Beacon Hill, that one of the town’s most emphatically destination-worthy pizzerias occupies a vintage storefront in the heart of the neighborhood. The place bubbles, from the sheer crush of devotees inside its tidy, clean-lined quarters to its wood-fired pizza crusts—crispy and flavorful like Neapolitan with a little more tooth to the chew. These pies are the province of master pizzaiolo Jerry Corso, who delivers a short list of Italian regional antipasti, seasonal salads, and terrific Italian desserts. As for drinks, there’s wine, beer, and cocktails—those skew Italian, too. Though the most Italian thing in the place might be its back patio on which one sips an Aperol spritz in the sunshine.
Windy City Pie was the best deep dish in town—until it spun off this destination for sourdough-crust pies inside Beacon Hill’s Clock-Out Lounge. It’s all that crisped cheese goodness, now with a saltier, slightly tangy crust, a style that hovers somewhere between Chicago and Detroit. The Pepperoni Paint Job, with its dual layers of meat, is a great introduction, but the experimental specials, like slices inspired by quiche or everything bagels, are bizarre and wonderful.
It may be surrounded by Vietnamese businesses, but weekends at Foo Lam are all about dim sum. Regulars fill round tables, spinning lazy susans and gesturing to the passing pushcarts for another plate of spare ribs, egg custard tarts, juicy siu mai—those flowerlike dumplings of pork and shrimp—or even more carnivorous platters of tripe or chicken feet. Popular dim sum spots in the C–ID can come with an hour-long wait at prime time; here tables and parking are plentiful.
After a stint as head chef at Sitka and Spruce, Logan Cox opened a restaurant on Beacon Hill that’s ostensibly just a casual neighborhood spot, yet 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 yogurt 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 the 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. Brace yourself for a wait, but that’s what the Lambrusco spritzes are for.
Nothing here is fancy—not the dining room with its magenta walls and acoustic tile ceiling. Not the signature dish, Peru’s charcoal-roasted rotisserie poultry and golden fries. But man, that chicken is good. It’s hard to bypass that superbly seasoned pollo a la brasa, but the menu of Peruvian staples like ceviche and lomo saltado is endlessly great—and has remained a rocking value over the years.
American/New American, All-Day Breakfast
If La Medusa is Columbia City’s dining room and Tutta Bella its kitchen, Geraldine’s is its breakfast nook. Packed with families, clattering with action, and staffed with the kind of servers who stop and clap when a toddler does the Pancake Dance in the aisle—let’s just say this modern urban diner ain’t the place for an intimate talk, or, for that matter, any kind of talk at all. It is, however, a swell place for sour batard french toast, crispy hash browns, and divine coffee cake by morning, chili and hand-formed burgers by afternoon—from folks who value quality ingredients, in a sensational brick and windowed room that has become the warm soul of its neighborhood.
For more than a decade, Island Soul has melded Caribbean flavors with creole cookery—washed down with a healthy dose of rum—along Columbia City’s shop-lined thoroughfare. Crackle into a plate of tostones, plantain chips with sweet red onions, which taste wickedly fried but are actually roasted in garlicked oil. End to end the long menu is just terrific—from the jerk chicken, suffused with smoke and jumping off the bone; to the fried 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 with flavors every bit as bright and vivid as the sunshiny place and its friendly welcome. Desserts redefine decadence.
The bold, briny flavors and Moorish influences of Sicilian food have long been a fixture in downtown Columbia City. The place is now on its third ownership, but they’ve retained the classics—the salt cod fritters in tomato sauce bright with capers and garlic, the perciatelli con le sarde studded with sardines, raisins, pine nuts, fennel, and olives. Summer through mid-October 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.
Senegalese expat Mamadou Diakhate greets, cooks, serves, and cleans in this skinny four-table restaurant in Columbia City with the biggest smile and warmest welcome in four counties. Marinated lamb in a creamy peanut sauce (lamb mafe) and tilapia stuffed with garlic and herbs in a tomato-based vegetable stew over broken jasmine rice—the Senegalese national dish, thiebou djeun—are musts in here, as are rarely seen drinks like bissap juice (a fruity concoction made with Senegalese sorrel) and bouye (a milkshakey product of the baobab tree). Things may take a while, and in this enchanted place you won’t care.
At first glance, the former auto body shop with the raw-timbered, barrel-vaulted ceilings telegraphs old-school Americana—diner counter with barstools, TVs with the game on, ample, shaded patio, a free parking lot in downtown Columbia City—but a look at the menu shows the kitchen is actually a lab for inventive Asian fusion, heavy on the aloha. This is by far the most restauranty of the laudable, local Marination chain, with a menu spanning dishes from spicy salmon poke to intelligent comfort foods like, sigh, fries topped with kalua pork, kimchi mayo, and a fried egg. Open breakfast, lunch, and dinner—and the fried balls of yeasted dough known as malasadas, thank heaven, are available at all of ’em.
When Seattleites crave tacos, they’ll drive past a half dozen ordinary joints in search of that particular parking lot, that particular taco truck. And everyone has a favorite: For some, Taqueria Los Potrillos at Rainier and Graham; for others, South Park’s Taqueria El Rincon. As for us, we point the car toward Columbia City and slam on the brakes when we get to the tricked-out Tacos El Asadero bus. Here they prepare carnitas to be both juicy and crispy; here they fry our mulitas with just the right ratio of cotija cheese to chicken to exquisite grease. Portions are huge and prices way reasonable. Best of all, indoor seating (with spinning stools!) and covered outdoor seating supply something akin to comfort. Sort of.
Just eight people per seating file in from Rainier Avenue to sit at Aaron Verzosa’s kitchen counter. What follows is a meal of 10–12 courses that breaks Filipino cuisine down to its essence—in both flavor and cultural context—and builds them up again using only ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. That might mean a bread course of heirloom wheat pandesal with shallot butter, miki noodles with dungeness crab and bacon marmalade, and clever shifts, like sinigang whose tamarind flavor profile gets replicated with puckering accuracy thanks to Oregon cranberries. Verzosa introduces each course with a bit of backstory, but in this tiny Hillman City storefront, with a group of fellow diners small enough to share an elevator, the result is more magical than precious.
People are far more inclined to detour through Hillman City since the very careful proprietors of this refurbished gas station began peddling their Peruvian-style charcoal-roasted rotisserie chicken. Choose quarters, halves, or wholes—dark or light meat (some nights juicier than others, alas)—then fill out your plate with your choice of insanely terrific sides: lime-glazed sweet potatoes, crunchy kale salad, a carb loader’s dream of cheesy potatoes. Technically the only seating is at outdoor picnic tables, enclosed to keep out the elements in winter (read: bring the Polartec)—but the chile-spiced brownies for dessert have warming properties of their own.
Some barbecue joints are temples of meat and technique, a place to evaluate smoke rings and eschew sauce. However, enter this little pink storefront on Rainier and it feels like you just scored an invite to an epic family barbecue. And a really nice family, at that. Brisket is tender, rib meat can’t wait to part ways with the bone, and it all comes slathered in a flavorful tomato-based sauce. Sides are barbecue standards (baked beans, yams, coleslaw, potato salad) but are clearly made with care and no shortage of extra steps. This means fluffy corn bread and mac and cheese that isn’t overly soupy; the greens—cooked with bits of chopped-up brisket end—might be the best barbecue greens you’ll eat in this lifetime. Yes, you’ll be crazy full by the end of it all, but if Thanksgiving happened in summertime, it would taste like Emma’s sweet potato pie.
If restaurateur Gary Snyder hadn’t had such screaming success peddling french toast and Bloody Marys at Geraldine’s Counter by day (see above), he might never have imagined a quality, family-friendly spot to stuff those same appetites with burgers and Manhattans by night. The midcentury-styled Heyday takes its job as dinnertime default for its Mount Baker-Leschi Ridge neighbors very seriously, offering affably snappy service, intelligent cocktails (adult milkshakes!), appealingly vegetal sides, fine Kennebec fries, and a lineup of eight-or-so original burgers, like one with a bison patty, bittersweet interplays of radicchio, red onion, maple syrup, Beecher’s sharp cheddar, and mustard seed sauce. If you can’t taste every element every time—come back tomorrow and you will.
Enter this restaurant on Mount Baker’s main drag, recently returned from a lengthy hiatus, and the first thing you’ll notice is the stunning view. Followed closely by the arrestingly beautiful food, like risotto imbued with herbs and lemon and topped with crunchy Japanese-style tatsuta-age sweetbreads. Chef Toshiyuki Kawai applies the ethos of his native Japan to French cuisine, and Iconiq (yes, the name is cheesy) strikes a tricky balance between ambitious dining and the sort of casual neighborhood hang Seattle so enjoys.
Asian Fusion, Chinese
A tangle of naked wheat noodles topped with minced pork seems like a simple dish—until it’s tossed with the red pool of sesame and chile oil that hides underneath, coating it with glossy heat. These noodles are emblematic of the Rainier Avenue–adjacent restaurant itself: Outside, Little Chengdu is a fairly nondescript, blocky building, but inside, spicy dumplings and a host of Sichuan-peppered dishes reveal big flavors.
The Mount Baker neighborhood has embraced the intimate light-drenched space with the wood-fired pizza oven from the moment it opened in 2006. It’s just the kind of come-as-you-are-for-just-what-you-feel-like joint that raises community fellowship—and appetites. By morning there’s egg dishes, buttery pastries, and plenty of Caffe Vita espresso, followed by pizzas, sandwiches, and salads all day. At dinner there’s table service for the same menu of simple Italian eats. Blue-ribbon toppings generally best crusts in the execution department, but that stops none of the families who cram the joint from toting their doggie bags across the street to Mount Baker Park. Over the past 13 years, this location has spun off others in Bryant, Mercer Island, and West Seattle.
The decor is tropical shabby-chic in this southeast Seattle splash of Southeast Asia, and the service diffident. But the food is welcoming—classic Lao dishes, warm, oily, and pungent. Sticky rice, the chewy, comforting regional staple, served in wicker baskets, is the glue—almost literally—that holds it all together. The crackling sweet-and-sour deep-fried fish and a heaping portion of piquant, tangy, slightly briny squid salad are not to be missed. And don’t forget: It closes at 8pm.
On Rainier, across from the lakeshore, a ferociously legit wood-fired oven from Italy produces Neapolitan pizza with thin, blistered crusts and a rigorous certification from Naples’s governing body of pizza authenticity. Toppings and sauces are still plenty mild; purists might even say too mild, but much of Pulcinella’s charm lies in its atmosphere, a former roadside tavern filled with laughing regulars and very affable servers—ask for the backstory on the upside-down sign.
American/New American, All-Day Breakfast
Charming waterfront restaurants abound on Lake Union and Elliott Bay, less so on Rainier Avenue. Here, an atmospheric 1920s filling station made of stacked stones is reimagined as a lodgy sort of neighborhood restaurant. Sure, there’s all manner of sandwiches (including a prime rib dip), but all-day breakfast is the jam here, especially country fried steak or french toast on the umbrella-shaded patio.
Sisters and Albuquerque natives Miki and Yuki Sodos have parlayed their plucky Belltown hangout, Bang Bang Cafe, into this much larger full-service restaurant near the Othello light rail station. A few staples from the cafe also appear here—the Bang Bang burrito, the vegan mac and cheese—fleshed out with a proper menu of starters, entrees, even a kids menu. Bang Bang glories in the Hatch chile salsa that defines the cuisine of the Sodoses’ home state; here you’ll find it smothering Frito pie, enchiladas, chile rellenos, and a hefty burger. It’s the sort of easy spot every neighborhood should have, right down to the large bar area with way-better-than-average cocktails.
Owner Solomon Dubie brings Ethiopian coffee traditions to Seattle (a city with a significant Ethiopian population and full of Ethiopian coffee but little sense of Ethiopian coffee culture) inside a former Rainier Valley convenience store. Coffee’s poured from an ornate clay pot that looks like a cross between a teakettle and a desk lamp. Grounds steep at the bottom of the pot, called a jebena, and produce a surprisingly clean—and strong—cup. The avole, the first brew of the first pot, begins Ethiopia’s traditional coffee ceremony.
What dark art of the grill injects the taste of peppers and onions into the very essence of the finely chopped beef? How is it that meat juice and cheese sauce fuse into a super strain of flavor? The $10 cheesesteak from this tidy Rainier Valley strip mall may not yield answers—but probably leftovers.
Mexican, All-Day Breakfast
In a little strip mall across from the Othello light rail station, breakfast magic happens all day long. Meat (bacon, sausage, or the clear winner, chorizo), cheddar, fluffy eggs, and diced potato in a $7 package so dense it requires actual physical exertion to lift. Or, get that same combo inside a $2.75 oversize breakfast taco with a flour tortilla that’s almost criminally fluffy.
Over the past decade, they’ve added locations in Maple Leaf and Georgetown, but the pizzeria’s original outpost in Seward Park is the origin story of this pizza hangout with a love of old-school mixtape cassettes. It offers a few tables in shiny, crisply appointed spaces and stellar pies, along with salads and apps and ice creams. But Flying Squirrel is all about artisan toppings—cured meats from Salumi, chicken from Roy’s BBQ, Maytag blue cheese, and locally grown produce—on chewy, sinking crusts bound up with tangy tomato sauce.