In Wallingford, Bizzarro’s awning out front remains unchanged since the place opened in 1986. The decor is the conversation piece. Vintage tandem bike, oversize dog statue in a cart, inverted year-round Christmas tree—more stuff hangs from the ceiling than most restaurants have on their walls. Small plates to share? Not on this menu. Every dish is an appetizer or an entree, and every entree comes with a salad. The bread, ferried to the table soon after you sit down, is free. Sunday is always spaghetti-and-meatballs night; the snap pea carbonara is always on the menu, seasons be damned. Sometimes the best plates of pasta are found in rooms that don’t change, atop laminated tablecloths, paired with one of two wine varietals—red or white. Places as comfortable as the food itself.
All the signals of authenticity are here in this Turkish cafe in Wallingford—hand-painted sign, framed family photos of the old country on the walls, owner Sedat Uysal (who also owns Cafe Paloma in Pioneer Square) holding forth with friends on the front sidewalk. Best is the food, an Anatolian assortment of mezes, salads, and veg-heavy mains—börek to falafel to zucchini pancakes with yogurt—made with freshness and care and priced in the $15 range. Of special note are the full-bodied hummus, brilliant lavished on the fat, yeasty housemade pide bread, and the tavuk bohça, folded phyllo packets of savory leeks and chicken freshened with walnuts and pear, alongside a wild salad fruity with pomegranate molasses.
A couple of rustic Italian ristoranti delight the crowds of Wallingford, Madison Valley, and West Bellevue with fresh, constantly rotating antipasti, contorni, housemade pastas, and mains—some rarely seen, like tortellini in brodo, and a stunning casoncelli with pancetta and amaretto crumbles—and some classic crowd-pleasers. Earthy studies in farmhouse minimalism with plank tables and wrought iron chandeliers, the places are constantly slammed, owing about equally to the affable neighborhood ambience, the reasonable price tags, and the hard liquor.
If a bakery is an exercise in eating with your eyes first, then Tres Lechería by Cubes Baking Company is the kind of workout we can get behind. It’s all too easy to—with the unchecked voracity of a blue, cookie-obsessed puppet—pillage the shelves of this Wallingford bakeshop, a place where the likes of cupcakes and scones take on a boxy silhouette. Indeed the baked goods here are square. But don’t get it twisted; they’re not the slightest bit boring. Half of the treats inside Cubes are inspired by the pastries of owner and baker Kevin Moulder’s heritage and childhood. He grew up in San Antonio, where panaderías bless nearly every corner with Mexican goods—conchas, or seashell-shaped sweet breads; marranitos, or cookies that look like little pigs; and a puff pastry filled with fruit that takes the form of a soup pot, a cazuela. He’s taken a bit of nostalgia and baked it into a quadratic snack.
Nothing soaks up an evening’s intemperance better than a Dick’s deluxe burger with fries and a shake, served till 2am every night of the week. The original Wallingford drive-in debuted in 1954 and has since hatched six more locations, each with the same streamlined menu, eye-catching signs, and 5-cent surcharge for ketchup.
Bite beyond the crust, and you’ll find the true difference between Eltana’s bagels and most Seattle joints’ confections is the texture. Chewier and denser (a result of hand-rolling, which develops the gluten) with a slightly sweet layer underneath heaps of seeds, it’s a true Montreal-style bagel. The decidedly Eastern Mediterranean leaning in toppings completes the sense that you are not in Seattle anymore, whether in this high-ceilinged Pike/Pine pitstop or its two sister locations.
The stunning talents of most of the team from the prix fixe Wallingford vegan destination, Sutra, are in evidence in its larger reincarnation up the street. Though not as pretty nor as serene as its predecessor, it’s got outdoor seating and, better yet, the chef’s vegan-cookery bag of tricks (contrasting textures, layered flavors, a hint of modernism, and good ol’ coconut milk). Single-seating, five-course dinners might include dishes like a smoked carrot-ginger bisque, a beet and sorrel salad with candied walnuts and black lava salt, a Napoleon with roasted cauliflower and truffle celeriac mousse. An earnest moment of gratitude and ringing of a gong before dinner won’t be everyone’s cup of kombucha, but for our money—and not a whole lot of it in this value-rich restaurant—reverence is the appropriate response to this food.
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 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 vehicle 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 dressed with cilantro and served beside a bed of basmati rice boldly seasoned with coriander and turmeric. Yes, vegetarians are uncommonly well served here, but meat dishes shine, like the savory kebab murgh, a chicken filet marinated deeply in yogurt, garlic, turmeric, and a hint of cayenne pepper.
After 16 years of charming regulars with both his shy grace and daily fresh sheet, Ryuichi Nakano sold his Tangletown sushi destination to a new owner, Kyu Bum Han. His presence may be irreplaceable, but the rest of Kisaku is mostly (and mercifully) unchanged, from the tablecloths to the mix of seasonal specialties alongside staple maki and nigiri, at exceedingly reasonable prices. The counter omakase is still the way to go.
It’s the best-looking Thai restaurant in a town crawling with Thai joints. You know the place: that filigreed facade at 45th and Woodlawn in Wallingford. Inside, carved teak covers the walls, lilting Thai folk music lifts the mood, and heavy brass utensils adorn the table. But the real beauty begins when the pad thai lands. Those complex, sour-sweet-savory notes? How pad thai is meant to taste, which is to say, without a swim in that Western cure-all called ketchup. Instead, your waiter will tear in Chinese chives and banana blossom, then grind peanuts, sugar, and dried chilies to your taste. Curries at May are balanced and silken; seafood dishes—like the signature pad grapao samui with sauteed sea scallops, prawns, and calamari in a feisty basil sauce—are brightly seasoned and packed with fish. As the hoppin’ downstairs bar attests—a destination unto itself—the place even offers cocktails.
Just a wide spot between walls in Wallingford’s Tangletown commercial district, Mkt. delivers dinners straight out of the Ethan Stowell playbook—meaty grilled rabbit and fried quail with rosemary, vegetal potato-squash gnocchi with crisped shallots and thyme—in an intimate space that glows golden from the sidewalk. In this crowded room, comfort and ease take second place to din and vitality, and the kitchen’s not always spot on with its conceptions. But cocktails are unassailable, and a certain port-glazed fig tart with pistachio gelato is the stuff of dreams.
Wallingford’s casual sushi mainstay (with an outpost in the shadow of the landmark Chinatown Gate, too) is evidence pristine raw fish need not be fussy and overly upscale. Musashi's knows efficiency, from tabletop thermoses of serve-yourself tea to the signature chirashi bowls, the most economical and purposeful way to get good quality sashimi into your mouth.
Heavy Restaurant Group’s Pablo y Pablo offers quite the take on the baja-style taco. Most of the requisite parts remain: housemade tortillas with locally sourced masa, a bed of crisp cabbage, a drizzle of beach-blond aioli, pico de gallo for a little sweetness. A crustacean crown of soft-shell crab adorns the three-bite taco, delivering flavors unmistakably rich and earthy. It’s in the “Baller” column of the menu for a reason. And, as some ballers do, consume said tacos or any other Mexican offerings on the roomy front patio facing 34th Street.
At the newer Wallingford iteration of the cheerful University District classic, the jerk chicken sandwich reigns supreme. A round of fried coconut bread provides the fragrant and bewitchingly crunchy wrap for fire-breathing morsels of moist white and dark meat in jerk spices, gussied with cabbage and peppers. Insanely flavorful.
Ethan Stowell does Mexican? Well, yes but this family-friendly taco and margarita joint is Mexican the way Stowell’s kid-focused Frelard Pizza Company is Italian. Let’s just say there’s a play area upstairs and the menu includes a cheese quesadilla and a salad of cold watermelon topped with fizzing, crackling Pop Rocks. Margaritas come fast, and tacos come heaped with well-seasoned meat. They’re legitimately good—even the “mom taco” made with crunchy hard shells and ground beef—but there’s a reason the nachos and street corn show up on every table. If you’re bringing kids, call ahead to book a table upstairs by the play area; they fill up fast.
Maria Hines's original (and now only) restaurant has always been her best—in a cozy Wallingford bungalow named for soil at its most fertile, the chef reaches for the gold standard of fresh and seasonal food: organic certification. Ninety-five percent of her food comes from certified-organic sources—a mandate that can limit Tilth’s purview, but here shows off Hines’s standard of care, which her crew brings to everything from sous-vide sablefish with fried green tomato to pea risotto with basil and truffle oil.
Time was, 20-plus years ago, you had to trek to Filiberto’s in outer Burien to find pizza made the way it was meant to be made: thin crusted and barely scorched in a wood-fired brick oven built by Neapolitan masons. Now, many burn wood, but none to better effect than the cozy Tutta Bella, a cornerstone of Columbia City’s renaissance. The toppings show zealous attention to proportion, quality, and authenticity, from real San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce to a seasonal wild mushroom special heavy with funghi. Salads and desserts are the only extras; the shaved fennel in the insalata di Salerno is an especially nice home-country touch. Newer outposts in Wallingford, South Lake Union, and Issaquah spread the love—if not the warm, old-brick atmosphere.
Menu items at Wallingford’s retro-western burger joint have names like Chili Nelson and Folsom Prison Bleu; the decor and soundtrack follow suit. But owner Gary Reynolds (the guy behind Revolver Bar) also appreciates a good SpongeBob reference: The Dirty Dan is a fiery-tart roar of fried jalapenos, torrential queso, and spicy lemon sauce, all within a traditional sesame bun cheeseburger.
In summer it’s pure Hamptons. Glide in by boat, tie up along Westward’s north Lake Union dock, then snag an Adirondack chair lined up resort-like along the shore. Next: Choose among beautifully shucked local oysters and sip shandies and pink champagne. These balmy afternoons ripen into long twilit evenings of roasted rainbow trout, herby grilled octopus salad, blistered rapini, and braised lamb shoulder with tzatziki—people speak of them afterward in terms typically reserved for lost Paris weekends and first loves.
What began as a yakitori destination with a confusing numeric name, 4649, has morphed into an izakaya that pays particular attention to dishes from Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Chef Keisuke Kobayashi grew up in its largest city, Sapporo, and prepares the region’s zangi fried chicken, a barbecue-style lamb dish here dubbed Zin Gis Kahn, and Hokkaido scallops in butter. The rest of the menu is equal parts Japanese staples (adept ramen, okonomiyaki sashimi, and pressed sushi) and drinking snacks that veer in a more Northwesterly direction, like uni bruschetta and shishito peppers. Between the food, the expanded space, and the roster of sakes and Japanese whisky, Yoroshiku is one of those chill neighborhood restaurants that’s solidly worth a trip from another part of town.