4135 University Way NE (U-District), 632-6822. Mon-Sat 11 am-9 pm, Sun 4-8 pm. $
"Sea Shanty" is a poetic name, conjuring up gulls against a salty sky and squat, battered boats glistening with fish, while large, bushy-bearded men contemplate the roiling ocean in their wet, black boots. The restaurant stands out among the throngs of greasy and unmemorable places on the Ave in the University District, with its whimsical sign illustrating said sea shanty. Like the decor, the food is straightforward and deceptively simple. The Shanty's transformational vision of fish and chips is the genius of Paul and Kitty Lam--originally from Hong Kong--who challenge the British doctrine of heavy beer batter. Their brilliant Asian interpretation of this neglected art form puts the fish back into "fish and chips." That is why it's okay to indulge in the all-you-can-eat special ($4.95 lunch, $6.95 dinner). Cod, halibut, prawns, scallops, and even oysters are available grilled or poached. Appetizers, such as the fresh Steamed Mussels ($5.95) with lemon and butter, or Scallops with Bacon ($6.95), emphasize fresh, flavorful seafood: that which can stand boldly on its own, without a lot of spice or fancy treatment. My only disappointment resulted from the absence of beer. RACHEL KESSLER
315 E Pine St (Capitol Hill), 748-0627. Tues-Sat 5-10 pm, closed Sun-Mon. $$
A meal can't help but be romantic and delicious in this setting: High ceilings that disappear into darkness, candlelight, an odd assortment of intimate-sized tables, and a great jazz soundtrack fill the modest space, with a bright, open kitchen glowing at the center of it all. It felt so very small and European when our waitress, Christine, picked up my baby and began dancing around the restaurant. The chef/owner's garlic and herb-infused French inspirations provide an aromatic feast while you wait, sipping wine from the short but solid wine list. The Filet Mignon ($25) provides consistent joy for many regulars, while the rest of the small but large-hearted, meat-loving menu is something to keep coming back for. Daily specials include two seafood dishes, and portions are generous--so, no, you cannot possibly eat both. What is really troublesome about this place is dessert. French-press coffee or espresso, and then... The Decision: It is agony to have to choose between port-poached pear, crème brôlée, and a French pastry before re-entering the world. RACHEL KESSLER
L.A. Seafood Restaurant & Lounge
424 Seventh Ave S, 622-8181. Mon-Thurs, 11 am-2:30 am; Fri-Sun, 11 am-3:30 am. $$
When faced with the provocative, meaty succulence of L.A. Seafood's Chinese cuisine, any lingering vegetarian commitments evaporated at some point before, during, or after we ordered the wonderfully prepared half-duck, which was served with white steamed buns, dark sweet sauce, and a heap of julienned scallions. Chef Lee does present over 15 vegetarian entrées (all under $8.50), but his extensive menu mainly focuses on dishes native to his home region in Canton. We did not venture to try the Light Soy Pig Ears or Braised Goose Webs with Sea Cucumber, but our Chicken-Mushroom Soup with Bamboo Pith ($8.95) was delicious and savory, as was the expertly seasoned Cod with Mushroom and Tofu Hot Pot (seasonal price), with chunks of salt pork and ultra-moist fish hidden in batter-fried pockets. Chef Lee also offers more recognizable Chinese fare: Kung Pao Chicken, General Tso's Chicken, chow mein, and the like. The lunch menu sports a "noodle bar," where you can pick the type of soup noodles you want and match them with meats, vegetables, wontons, or fish balls. (All soups are $4.50 and under.) STACEY LEVINE
Jet City Pizza Co.
2357 10th Ave E (Capitol Hill), 322-6300. Daily 11 am-11 pm; slices available 11 am-4 pm. Takeout and free delivery. $$
Jet City's trademark--"Finally, Gourmet Pizza Delivered!"--may not seem like any big news in a neighborhood chock full of fancy pizza joints, but their consistently high quality and relatively low prices make this place a must-try. Cheese pizzas start at $8.99 for a 12-inch and $10.99 for a 15-inch (toppings are $1-$1.50); specialty pizzas, like the popular Northwest Garlic Gourmet, range from $12.99-$16.99. Besides the typical stuff, a variety of unusual toppings like green olives (hard to find!), smoked oysters, lettuce, Mandarin orange slices (delicious!), cashews, and green chilies are offered, and you can also get Alfredo, pesto, barbecue, or taco-bean sauce in addition to traditional marinara. Even different crusts are offered: classic hand-tossed, roasted-garlic herb, and my favorite, beer-batter pan. If for some unfathomable reason you don't want pizza, try the grinder sandwiches ($5.99), pasta dinners ($6.99-$7.99 for a gut-busting portion with salad and garlic bread), or tasty Hot Wings ($4.49 for 10 pieces). If all that weren't enough, you even get free pepperoncini and extra sauce with every pizza, along with coupons worth even more free stuff. MELODY MOSS
Pecos Pitt BBQ
2260 First Ave S (South Seattle), 623-0629. Mon-Fri 11 am-3 pm. Cash only, smoking encouraged. $.
Eating at the Pitt is a lesson in masculinity, and not so much "dining" as "fueling" deep in the flatlands of resolutely undecorated industrial Seattle. Every timed lunch break, a long line of people shift back and forth, hungry. There are two order-taking windows where you shout your minimalistic menu decision: beef or pork, shredded or chopped; beans or chips. Fountain sodas, one size fits all. Maybe a hot link on the side. Sauce: mild, medium, or hot. Sandwiches are all $5.45, sides are around a buck. Everyone gets the foil-wrapped sandwiches in a bag. Most get back in the truck and head out. Those privileged with a bit of time can sit on one of the outdoor picnic tables, eating the sandwiches with a plastic spork. Passing trucks flatulate diesel to pick up speed. The sandwiches taste good, and kill hunger for the rest of the day. Pecos Pitt has been making these sandwiches for 20 years. There used to be other things on the menu, like coffee--but they cut that out. NATHAN THORNBURGH
2132 First Ave (Belltown), 448-8597. Mon-Sat 5-10:30 pm (reservations recommended on weekends). $$.
You could walk past this place a hundred times before noticing it. It's probably the only restaurant in Belltown that doesn't call attention to itself. But Italians don't need to be flashy to get respect, and Il Gambero will eventually muscle anyone into submission because they serve the best Chicken Marsala ($15.95) in the city. Period. The chicken swims in perfectly formed red wine sauce and mushrooms, looking as good as a bodyguard in leather. You can get a side of pasta (served with just the right amount of sauce) for a little extra. Il Gambero isn't as "romantic" as it would like to think--the wine does more than the atmosphere--but if you arrive early, you can have a cocktail in "the Volare Room," Gambero's slender, low-lit side-bar with a wonderfully kitschy name. TRACI VOGEL
1314 E Union St (Capitol Hill), 325-5217. Mon-Fri 7:30 am-6:30 pm, Sat 8:30 am-5 pm, closed Sun. Cash only. $.
It's best to visit La Panzanella on a sunny Saturday, when the smell of freshly mown grass reminds you that there's life in the city; when you're too lazy even to barbecue, but you want something warm. La Panzanella grills incredibly good and good-looking deli sandwiches on focaccia, salami with cheese on tiny baguettes, and eggplant on round bread that has some Italian name (all $2-$7). The place is all about Italy--rich pastas, peppers broiled until tender, miniature bottles of spicy carbonated beverages, fruit granitas, and layered baked desserts, downy with powdered sugar. This is a casual heaven! During World Cup Soccer Championships, watch out for bitter Italian men drinking dark, dark coffee. TRACI VOGEL
The Bungalow Wine Bar and Cafe
2412 N 45th St (Wallingford), 632-0254. Tues-Sat 1 pm-midnight (closing times vary); closed Sun-Mon. $$.
If a restaurant were a Mystery Date, the Bungalow would most definitely be a dream, not a dud. Warm and cozy, the cafe is located in a snuggly upper-story den and living room of a neighborhood house, complete with a happily crackling fireplace. The Bungalow is literate and sensitive (there's a poetry bookstore downstairs), but also outdoorsy, with cafe tables available on the deck during warm-weather lunches. The staff has an exhaustive knowledge of wine, but is totally friendly and unpretentious about it. Most importantly, when you get down to business, we're talking multiple orgasms, baby: The kitchen whips up hot French, Italian, and Northwest dishes with casual aplomb. Go and fall in love. Better yet, take your dates there, and make them fall in love with you. D. TRAVERS SCOTT
2305 24th Ave E (Montlake), 329-8005. Tues-Thurs 5-9:30 pm, Fri-Sun 5-10 pm, closed Mon. $$.
Some restaurants put all their energy into one aspect of the dining experience, and really get it right. Cafe Lago is one of those places. Rather than waste energy on fancy decor, finding the perfect location, and music or lighting, this is a clean, simple place where the focus is on the food. Plain white walls surround two brightly lit rooms where the one splash of Italian-style personality is limited to the black-and-white checkerboard floor. Sure, there are a few framed photos on each wall, but it's clear that everything's designed to keep from drawing attention away from the main focus. Lago has raised its wood-fired pizza to an art form, so you'll fight over the last piece of Salsiccia ($13.50)--a sausage-and-red-pepper number--and lighter takes on Italian standards such as antipasto (available in vegetarian and carnivorous varieties) and lasagna. But it's Lago's pizza that'll keep you coming back. CHARLES ROSENBERG
4735 University Way NE (U-District), 523-5275. Lunch daily 11:30 am-3 pm; dinner Mon-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sun 3-10:30 pm. $.
A U-District institution for nearly 10 years, Neelam's offers a true rarity in Seattle: first-rate Indian food at bargain-basement prices. Entrées, which include a wide selection of vegetarian specialties, curries, and tandoori meats, range from $5.95 to $14.95, with the majority ringing in at under $10. But for the most spectacular deal, go for either the Thali or Maharaja dinners: huge platters for a mere $9.95 and $11.95, respectively. Both dinners include entrée, appetizers or salad, daal (beans), raita (spiced cucumber yogurt), rice, naan (flatbread), dessert, and beverage. For the latter, try the Mango Lassi--a creamy, fruity tea concoction that beats the hell out of those overpriced juice-bar drinks. Neelam's offers real truth-in-advertising, too, with their no-bullshit vegetarian dishes and reliable spice levels. If you still don't believe Neelam's moniker, "Authentic Indian Cuisine," look around you: The faithful crowd of Indian patrons is surely a good sign. MELODY MOSS
Aurora Cinema Grill
130th St N and Aurora Ave N, behind Outback Steakhouse (North Seattle), 364-8880. Check The Stranger's Movie Times section for listings. Tickets $5.75; $3.75 for children 12 and under, seniors, and all shows before 6 pm. $.
The combination of restaurants and movies in a single space is hardly a novel idea, but the Aurora Cinema Grill introduced Seattleites to the concept just last summer. Here you'll enjoy cushioned swivel chairs, excellent sightlines, and the couch-potato luxury of having complete meals delivered right to your seat, with perfectly dimmed lighting (which prevents any embarrassing waitstaff stumbles). The menu includes familiar bar appetizers like popcorn, fries, buffalo wings, and nachos, plus pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and desserts. The All-American Burger with fries ($6.50) is a good, trusty bet; for the more adventurous, try one of the "cheeses from around the world" plates, like the Canadian Black Diamond Cheddar ($6.25), which includes salami, French bread, and a mini apple. And of course, there is a decent selection of reasonably priced beer and wine. Now you no longer have to choose between a barren theater environment and watching videos in your well-stocked but boring home. MELODY MOSS
Price Scale (per entrée)
$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up