Secret Congee's artful bowls. Photograph by Amber Fouts

By most measures, Stone Way marks the border between Wallingford and Fremont. That means each hood possesses exactly half of this high-profile strip of dining. No matter—Wallingford might not present as a buzzy restaurant zone, but no other part of town can claim such a rich concentration of Seattle classics, from outposts of local names like Dick’s, Ezell’s, even Molly Moon’s to the quiet might of Kisaku or Pam’s Kitchen. Meanwhile, the newer tech zone centered in Fremont has glossed up Wallingford’s southwest edge.

These are the vegan maestros, the taco joints, and the preponderance of Japanese restaurants that give Wallingford texture, beyond the big names of Stone Way. (Don’t sleep on those either.) Covid continues to wreak the unexpected on restaurants, so confirm current hours and status online before you set your heart on Italian tonight.

 

Fast and Chill

45th Stop 'N Shop Poke Bar

Once upon a time, in 2016, it was novel: A convenience store that sells poke—really good poke no less—in the company of packs of Marlboros and individual size bags of Tim's chips. These days, Seattle is far more savvy in matters of marinated fish salad and unconventional food counters, but those piled-high bowls of tuna and salmon (and other options) still rank among the best, even in a town full of poke joints. Credit the fresh clean-tasting fish and customization options that feel more useful than overwhelming. The “poke pockets” wrapped in deep fried tofu: unmissable.

Buns and dumplings aplenty, including a standup vegan version.

Dumpling the Noodle

Stretched, twisted, extensively folded dough yields hand-pulled lamen noodles, chewy ripples (no, not ramen) that elevate the simple preparations into something craveable. This fast-casual pocket of a restaurant on North 45th Street has equal expertise in buns, wontons, and dumplings with seven different fillings, including admirable vegan versions. The small dining room is steeped in personality, but dishes generally shy away from spice, so wield your own chili crisp accordingly. Dumpling the Noodle does its own delivery(!) after 5pm, but travel times aren’t always kind to food like this; fortunately batches of frozen dumplings let you steam up combos like beef and bell pepper, or pork, chives, and shrimp at home.

Dick’s Drive-In

Seattle’s most iconic drive-in began in 1954 on Wallingford’s main drag; today the burgers, fries, and shakes dispatched beneath a hypnotically spinning sign don’t look much different. Loving Dick’s is an emblem of Seattlehood, available to both lifers and transplants—be they scraping by or affluent, sober or buzzed. It’s an emotion not necessarily based on the contents of that paper sack, but a Dick’s Deluxe packs plenty of uncomplicated charm—a collective quarter pound of fresh beef, properly gooey American cheese, fresh lettuce, mayo, squishy bun, and the gentlest of pickle relish.

Eltana

They’re not Montreal-style bagels, exactly, but these slender little numbers dispensed at the chainlet’s Stone Way shop do share some characteristics with Canada’s famed bagel culture. Eltana boils its bagels in honeyed water and fires them in a wood-burning oven; slightly fatter than a true Montreal ring, they sport a dense crumb, its architecture more aPodment than open-air. But perhaps the coolest thing about the menu is its undercurrent of Levantine flavors, like a Yemenite egg salad sandwich, or honey almond cream cheese that’s sweet without cloying.

Ezell’s Famous Chicken

Original, spicy, and half-and-half combos are Seattle legend for a reason. They’re moist, not greasy (okay…maybe a little greasy)—especially when you order it spicy, along with a few fried livers and gizzards, throw in some cole slaw…and how about just one slice of sweet potato pie? Ezell Stephens went on to found Heaven Sent Fried Chicken, but the original continues; the outpost on 45th has an ample parking lot.

Musashi’s

Musashi’s knows efficiency, from tabletop thermoses of serve-yourself tea (on hiatus because Covid) to the signature chirashi bowls, the most economical and purposeful way to get good quality sashimi into your mouth. Now a few franchised locations exist around town, but the obsession originates with this unassuming little poster-bedecked spot on 45th, where serviceable rolls and upgraded items like grilled hamachi collar are well priced and well suited for our current takeout-centered reality.

Pam’s Kitchen

At Seattle’s Caribbean classic, the jerk chicken sandwich reigns supreme. A round of fried coconut bread provides a bewitchingly crunchy wrap for meat fiery in jerk spices. But chef-owner Pam Jacob’s talents extend far beyond that chicken; born in Trinidad, she infuses her menu (and her Instagram) with cultural context for fiercely loved staples like curry goat and rum punch. 

Rancho Bravo

Freddy Rivas’s reliably great tacos happen at a Capitol Hill drive-through, as well as in an old Winchell’s, very lightly converted into a walk-up counter on 45th Street. Here, in the parking lot, fans were doing the whole “eat under a tent” thing before it was a state mandate. The Wallingford location has a smaller menu but still pulls off an impressive, affordable range of burritos, tortas, tamales, and tacos (both hard shell and Mexico City­­­–style, laced with onion, cilantro, and lime).

Rocking Wok

“Hidden gem” is an overused term when talking restaurants. But how else to describe this miniature, multitalented dining room tucked a few tree-lined blocks off Wallingford’s dual thoroughfares? Normally, boisterous groups occupy the handful of big round tables, spinning lazy susans to access salt and pepper shrimp, hand shaved noodles, and basil chicken. Taiwanese students from the University of Washington quelled homesickness with hard-to-find favorites: braised pork stew, texture-rich oyster omelets, stinky tofu that means business. Crowds and international students might be on hold, but the food still shines, including a flavorful vegetarian menu (especially the basil eggplant) and a thousand-layer pancake that’s the stuff of carby dreams.

Secret Congee makes a classic chicken version (below), but a riff on tom yum (top) is a fan favorite.

Image: Amber Fouts

Secret Congee

The customers in socially distanced formation outside a Wallingford juice bar aren't there for smoothies. But rather bowls of congee, rice porridge thoughtfully tricked out with braised pork belly and Sichuan peppercorns, or blue crab and garlic. Owner JP Lertsirisin tapped local chefs and cooks from a range of cuisines to bring big flavors to a comfort food usually served with minimal adornment. Secret Congee operates out of a commissary kitchen in the same building as Juisala juice bar and takes orders on the sidewalk out front. Ordering ahead is always a good idea, as is a sidecar of perfect, golden youtiao. 

TNT Taqueria serves the neighborhood breakfast tacos, lunch salads, and straight through to dinnertime margaritas.

Image: Amy Vaughn

TNT Taqueria

The lemon-yellow exterior on 45th screams for your attention, but the all-day menu shifts the focus entirely to the customer. Did you want to start your day with sweet potato and kale breakfast taquitos? Fancy three different types of tacos in your lunch platter? Should dinner consist of a massive burrito or a salad-like option that eschews the tortilla entirely? Legacy local restaurant group Chow Foods is behind this friendly taqueria, its menu full of well-sourced ingredients, dishes refreshingly versatile and durable in takeout form.

Tres Lechería

Kevin Moulder founded his bakery as Cubes, a Mexican-style bakeshop where everything—cakes, scones, savory muffins, tarts—was square- or cube-shaped. Over time he changed the name and chilled out on the cubes, but he leaned all the way into the Mexican confections of his youth, specifically tres leches. Now this business centers on the confection that incorporates three forms of milk to create decadently soaked cake layers atop a light and airy sponge. Tres Lechería does ample wholesale, but you can preorder a slice (in flavors like matcha, Mexican mocha, coconut, or cookies and cream) to pick up at his 45th Street storefront, or find them in nicer grocery stores like Central Market or Met Market. They’re even square-shaped.

 

On the Fancier Side

Cantinetta

This plank-tabled, iron-chandeliered dining room—the eldest of Cantinetta’s trio of restaurants—arrived on Wallingford Avenue in 2009. Seattle and its dining scene might change at warp speed, but Cantinetta has endured elegantly, thanks to Tuscan fare at its rustic best: fresh, constantly rotating antipasti, contorni, pastas made over at sibling restaurant Como, and mains. After opening briefly for takeout this fall and closing for the holidays and January, Cantinetta’s original location should reopen soon.

Harvest Beat

Five-course dinners might seem a tough fit for pandemic life, but Wallingford’s vegan destination nonpareil managed to translate its astonishing multicourse meals to takeout, sending fans home with menus built around mushroom spanakopita or curried cashew paneer, and even some suggested wine pairings. Meanwhile, a more casual lunch menu and market stocked with roasted beet garlic hummus, cookies, and creamy salad dressing offered a more relaxed insight into the kitchen’s plant-based talents.

Joule's sharp interior, and equally bold rice cakes.

Joule

Few restaurants in Seattle will reliably blow your mind like Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s original. When Joule moved from 45th to its larger, stylized digs on Stone Way, it acquired a sort of steak house identity, but leave it to Yang and Chirchi to take a staid and prescribed menu format and make it explode with chili oil, scallion pancakes, and Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto. The small front patio continues serving many of its dine-in customers, while a takeout menu offers more travel-friendly iterations of Joule’s big flavors. Spicy rice cakes forever.

Kokkaku

A casual steak house on 45th comes steeped in Japanese sensibility, from the seared wagyu sushi on the starter menu to the pork tonkatsu made with a pedigreed Lan-Roc cutlet. The beef lineup mixes posh Japanese A5 wagyu with reasonably priced New Zealand bavette, and creativity infuses classic steak house sides—garlic anchovy mashed potatoes, arugula salad with salmon carpaccio and just the right dressing. Unexpected and welcome: a pasta menu, full of wagyu Bolognese and uni cream fettuccine. The food feels like a special occasion, without the rarefied prices.

Kisaku

For 16 years, Tangletown’s sushi destination identified itself by its chef, Ryuichi Nakano. Thankfully new owner Kyu Bum Han stokes the flames of Kisaku’s many charms, from the unmissable sushi counter omakase (at least in the days of dine-in) to the mix of seasonal specialties alongside impeccable maki and nigiri. This is one of those special places equally suited to a special occasion or a casual weeknight hang.

Mkt.

Ethan Stowell’s tiniest spot, at Tangletown’s compact crossroads, has always put its own spin on the restaurateur’s Northwest-Italian playbook. The kitchen balances Stowellian staples (burrata, rigatoni) with steak, seasonal gnocchi, cider-glazed duck breast, and its signature grilled green beans, crisp and salty as any french fry. Right now Mkt. offers one- and two-person takeout meal packages, in keeping with other ESR spots, as well as an a la carte menu, plus a few tented tables streetside and limited indoor dining.

Westward recently got a makeover, but fresh oysters remain essential.

Image: Amber Fouts

Westward

Glorious beneath umbrellas in summer, now thoroughly tented for winter, Westward is one of the city’s best waterfront patios, full stop. That honor has much to do with the glittering expanse of Lake Union and Seattle’s skyline, displayed at an angle you never see on postcards. But a recent makeover courtesy of Renee Erickson’s Sea Creatures Restaurant Group (who acquired the restaurant in 2018) upped the food game with a menu that spans the Pacific coastline. Fresh oysters remain central, now joined by scallop ceviche in aguachile and bottles of wine from Baja’s vaunted Valle de Guadalupe region. A few staples remain from the Josh Henderson era: the clam dip got spicier; the roasted half chicken sits atop chimichurri. The credits have rolled on the Steve Zissou decor in the dining room, now redesigned to better accommodate future crowds.

 

Perfectly In Between

Bizzarro Italian Cafe

The awning outside hasn’t changed since the neighborly Italian restaurant opened in 1986.  Inside, the walls and ceiling drip with flair: vintage tandem bike, oversize dog statue in a cart, inverted year-round Christmas tree. The menu is comforting in its consistency: elk Bolognese, sugar snap pea carbonara, an uncomplicated caesar. Not that Bizzarro can’t adapt; the Sunday spaghetti and meatballs special became an everyday menu item when the pandemic hit (because what are days of the week at this point anyway?). While the restaurant is steeped in neighborhood lore (Il Nido’s Mike Easton first cooked Italian food here), Bizarro just opened a second location in White Center.

Fiasco

Heavy Restaurant Group’s cavernous Italian restaurant at the foot of Stone Way strikes the company’s signature balance: Not too cool for cheesy garlic bread or barbecue chicken pizza but able to pull off a respectable cacio e pepe or chicken parm. The critical mass of tech workers in adjacent Fremont appreciate the chopped salad, salami sliders, and 11-inch pizzas with flavor bomb combos. Nearby families make liberal use of the kids menu and seasonal specials. Everyone benefits from the deep list of Italian wines.

Kabul Afghan Cuisine

Low-key charm infuses the candle-lit dining room, but it’s the kebabs that established this corner spot on 45th Street as a majorly undersung Wallingford mainstay. Lamb and beef sport grill marks and a spark of coriander; chicken tastes of garlic, turmeric, and a hint of cayenne pepper. Even the basmati rice packs more flavor than you’ve any right to expect for prices these reasonable. The long menu means vegetarians have just as many options as meat eaters.

Pablo y Pablo's cavalcade of tacos.

Image: Brooke Fitts

Pablo y Pablo

Heavy Restaurant Group has bracketed the base of Stone Way with Fiasco’s Italian menu and, a few blocks to the east, Pablo and Pablo’s sleek taqueria. Here, nachos come in classic and vegan iterations, and taco flavors inform a chopped salad. Actual tacos might be stuffed with carnitas, banh mi–inspired pork belly, or a whole fried soft-shell crab. Kids items and a host of bowls and burritos bolster Heavy’s reputation for broad appeal: This taqueria serves chocolate chip cookies, but also dynamite cocktails. Consume them via takeout or on the roomy front patio facing 34th Street.

Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria

The chainlet’s Neapolitan pies were among the first in the region to earn a rigorous VPN certification from the official governing body of pizza in Naples. Now the company’s seven locations include this timbered space on Stone Way, with a glass-enclosed bar so cool you can forget you’re drinking that cocktail inside a family-friendly pizza restaurant. (Of course, the side patio comes in particularly handy at the moment.) Tutta Bella balances Italian tradition with American accessibility—restraint with fresh mozzarella, heavy on the Italian sausage, or on smoked mozzarella and pistachio puree on a white pie. Starters, salads, and a handful of pasta dishes offer a ton of non-pizza options.

Union Saloon

Oh, to have a place like Union Saloon down the street, with its oversize wooden booths and a vibe that strikes the seemingly simple balance of careful and chill. But calling this place a neighborhood bar doesn’t do justice to food that remixes vintage comfort with 2021 seasonality: hearty open-face sandwiches, German chocolate layer cake, even housemade chips and onion dip. The newly covered and heated patio includes a private fireside tent you can reserve for your party, and your party alone.

The Whale Wins retooled itself as an all day cafe, equally suited to takeout or tabletops.

Image: Brooke Fitts

The Whale Wins

Renee Erickson’s elder Wallingford outpost, a wood-fueled, white-marbled haven on Stone Way, made an early pandemic shift to become an all-day cafe. Now the open kitchen prepares a mix of French-tinged comfort food—breakfast frittatas, sandwiches of smoked turkey or maybe jambon and apple butter—and Ericksonian favorites like gnocchi parisienne and a mighty pork chop. Everything is designed for takeout or consumption on the (small, charming, semi-covered) patio. A larder, the other half of the Whale’s new identity, is more extensive than you might guess, stocked with dried beans, local cheese, legitimately appealing gifts, and beautiful produce from farms like Billy’s. Oh, and plenty of wine. The late-afternoon casse-croûte menu calls out to anyone who misses happy hour.

Yoroshiku

Quietly, but in a dining room that’s doubled in size over the years, Keisuke Kobayashi puts out izakaya fare that’s careful, crazy fun, and unlike anything else in Seattle’s constellation of Japanese restaurants. Born in Sapporo, Kobayashi pays particular tribute to dishes from his native Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, like the region’s zangi fried chicken or miso ramen. The rest of the menu is equal parts Japanese staples—a bevy of ramens, including a gluten-free version, okonomiyaki, pressed sushi, drinking snacks like spam fries. Snacks might be a good idea if you plan to explore the bar full of sake and Japanese whisky. Yoroshiku feels every inch a neighborhood joint, yet solidly worth a trip from other parts of town.

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