Friends love it when I tell the sour cream story.

I was 18, drunk, stoned, and, of course, intensely hungry. I was, in fact, so drunk and stoned and hungry that I ate an ENTIRE CONTAINER OF SOUR CREAM--with a spoon--thinking all the while it was plain yogurt. I was so far gone that I thought I was eating yogurt. Christ. I still turn red when I think about it.

I am sharing my tale of gastronomic shame because it is important to understand that it was a sour cream kind of night when I first stumbled into Bill's Off Broadway. Fortunately, there were no condiments lying around.

Instead, I attacked a small cheese pizza ($8.50). This time--unlike the sour cream incident, when I obviously couldn't taste a goddamn thing--I tasted everything in great detail, all flavors and textures of inebriated pizza somehow sharper and more pronounced than in sober pizza. I wasn't too drunk to be impressed with the thick, pillowy crust (and its deep golden hue), which provided a sturdy foundation for the universal-drunky-food partnership of red sauce and cheese, rippled with browned spots. That was a perfect late-night meal: hot, salty, and greasy, exactly what I needed to make the room stop spinning.

I have since returned many times to Bill's--alone with a month-old Harper's at the bar; for Friday-night decompression drinks with officemates; for satisfying, unpretentious grub when I don't feel like "going out." (Besides those lovely pizzas, Bill's also offers salads, appetizers such as quesadillas, sandwiches--including giant hot Italian subs--and comforting plates of spaghetti/ ravioli/lasagna with marinara and meatballs.) It's impossible to feel the social pressures of "going out" at Bill's, with its smooth wooden tables, worn green carpet, mounted TVs, and potted plants everywhere. Every time I'm in there I overhear someone talking about sports. There's always a friendly bartender in overalls. The waiters--God bless 'em--are sweet (albeit sometimes flustered and preoccupied). I've shown up with dirty hair and PMS. It's entirely possible to find ground beef in every item you order.

It's a good thing I was so disoriented that first night; who knows how much longer I would have continued to stupidly ignore this place? I had passed by a million times, on my way to obvious places like Linda's and Hot Mama's. Bill's was a silent older brother, humble and solid, right under my nose. It's been under everyone's nose since 1980, thanks to owners Don and Colleen Stevens, who address loyal customers on the back of their menu with the most charming note I've seen since the love letter Marco Morelli wrote me back at Green Hills Elementary School: We make our own dough, grate our own cheese, and slice our own meats and vegetables. We feel as though this is the only way to assure quality and consistency... we hope that you agree that you have found the best pizza in Seattle and will come back often.

Amen. Basic cheese* is always reliable ($8.50/$13/$16 for s/m/l), and there are 27 different toppings to choose from; or try combos like the Kick'n Chicken*, with roasted chicken, peppers, and mushrooms; or Beth's Special, topped with artichoke hearts, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and feta (both $12/$17/ $20). (*Important note: I have found that these in particular reheat beautifully, and also hold up well as delicious cold breakfast items. Just FYI.)

Lunches are my favorite, due to specials like shepherd's pie, jambalaya, and chunky soups and chili made from scratch. I tried a burger special ($5.95, with soup/salad) last week, and it put me in the best mood: Ribbons of bright green-leaf lettuce and cool roma tomato slices balanced a seasoned patty with melted cheddar and long strips of bacon that poked out of the burger, brushing salty grease on my chin. I took big bites, and washed it all down with cola. Behind me, a skinny mechanic, alone on his lunch break, was yelling and going apeshit over video golf. I kept eating, wiped my chin, and sort of fell in love with him.

Bill's Off Broadway

725 E Pine (Capitol Hill), 323-7200. Open daily 11:30 am-midnight (Fri-Sun till 2 am), Sun 1 pm-midnight.