Snow Mountain Buns

Hong Kong Bistro, $6.25

Hong Kong Bistro lies along a strip of Chinatown-International District restaurants that are always open for any American holiday, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. This dynamic is a remnant of when Chinatowns across the country navigated the dualities of both extreme Westernization in aesthetic representation, while also maintaining their focus as economic and social centers for AAPI communities. If you are lucky enough to avoid the crowds of diners that swarm the Bistro during lunch or dinner, carefully sift through the menu of infinite possibilities and seek out the “雪山包,” or “Snow Mountain Buns,” which feature a shattered top crust like the more traditional Pineapple Buns. Snow Mountain Buns, however, are filled with a delectable taro filling, balancing the line between creamy and earthy. Like other root vegetables, taro has its place in the savory and sweet dishes of East Asian cuisine, but there is an element of intrigue to its appearance in this dim sum delicacy. ANN GUO

Cà Phê Chuoi

Hello Em Viet Coffee, $6.75

The cà phê chuoi topped with banana chips, salted peanuts, and a pandan egg cloud. MEGAN SELING

Looking down the menu at Hello Em Viet Coffee and you might think you've wandered into a dessert shop—cà phê brûlée, a coffee capped with egg cream and a torched sugary topping, or cà phê my dua, an iced coffee topped with a coconut cloud, pandan dust, and toasted sesame seeds—but don't be fooled. These drinks aren't sugar bombs. There is nuance in Hello Em's creations. The Vietnamese coffee shop is owned by Yenvy Pham and Nghia Bui, and Pham, as co-owner of Phở Bắc Sup Shop, Phởcific Standard Time, and the Boat, is a semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur in Washington in this year's James Beard Awards. These aren't the sickly sweet, only-look-good-for-Instagram coffee drinks. Pham and Bui bring balance to their creations. They source their beans from Vietnam and roast them in-house in a Neuhaus Neotec air roaster. The result is a coffee bold and rich enough to hold its own against an array of sweet additions. My favorite is the cà phê chuoi with caramelized banana, coconut, and an egg cloud topped with salted peanuts and banana chips. A tip: Before you mix it all together, take one of the banana chips and dip it into the egg cloud. Get a few peanuts on there, too. That's your amuse-bouche—crunchy, sweet, fruity, salty, creamy. Then stir the drink just a few times and take a sip. The earthy coffee hits first—and it hits hard—but it's mellowed out by the sweet, melting cloud and coconut milk. Stir a little more and sip again. Go slow, let the layers swirl. There's no need to rush perfection. MEGAN SELING

Bacon Mochi Skewer

Secret Fort, $6 

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Keisuke Kobayashi’s block-long takeover of Wallingford continues at Secret Fort, an excellent new addition to the buzzy mob scene at Yoroshiku—his original ramen-focused izakaya—and Indigo Cow, the wildly popular destination for Hokkaido-style soft serve. At Secret Fort the spotlight is on live-fire yakitori, with a narrow open pit of charcoal anchoring the open chef’s kitchen, molten hot embers burning, skewers perched dramatically. Classics like glazed chicken thigh with tare and yaki onigiri with sweet miso go flying around the busy dining room, but it is the bacon mochi skewer at Secret Fort for which my rapture is reserved. 

I grew up in the PNW suburbs, and my understanding of “mochi” was for many years the exclusive remit of sweet treats and wrapped ice cream desserts. In preparations like this one, mochi is wonderfully neutral with no sweetness added. The emphasis instead is on texture; when grilled, mochi’s ineffable, ooey-gooey chew softens and dissolves upon itself ever so slightly, yet also develops a slight crisp around the edges. This crispiness is emboldened thusly by a wrapped rasher of bacon, and the two disparate elements—smoked pork and soft rice cake—fuse together marvelously. It’s crunchy and chewy and soft and smokey, and a touch of charcoal from the open-fire cooking helps the flavors blend. I cannot believe it’s just $6. It is really so good. JORDAN MICHELMAN

Two Piece Alaska Cod and Chips

Emerald City Fish & Chips, $7.95

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I want to say straight off the bat that the best people work at Emerald City Fish & Chips, a small joint whose windows view Rainier Avenue and the ghost of Silver Fork, a restaurant and Black cultural institution that was replaced a decade ago by a Safeway gas station. Emerald City Fish & Chips is still here, and their two-piece Alaska cod and chips are made with the kind of goodness (back-home goodness) you expect from some of the best people in my town. CHARLES MUDEDE 

Carne Asada Burrito

Carmela’s Tacos, $8.50

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Carmelo’s Tacos serves the most magical burritos in Seattle. If food is like music, the menu here is a symphony. The flavors are explosive, with spices balanced like a tightrope walker on a unicycle, and the carne asada (my favorite burrito variation) is a love letter written in meat juice. And that sauce! A volcanic eruption of spiciness. The beans and rice are also top-notch, contributing a soft earthiness to the dish, like a warm hug from a giant teddy bear made of tortilla. And let's not forget the guacamole—smooth and fresh like a party popper has burst in your mouth. A celebration of taste and texture! The only thing that can keep me from going on and on about how amazing these burritos are is stuffing one of them in my mouth to stop me from talking. MATT BAUME

Tavern Burger

Loretta’s Northwesterner, $7

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My senses overwhelmed me as I ate the Tavern Burger right the fuck up at Loretta’s Northwesterner’s wooded, windowless, and cozy bar. The dish's ingenuity lies in how simple it is: beef, melted cheese, pickles, onion, special sauce, bun. The beef is charbroiled to smokey perfection, the cheese cheeses, the alliance between the pickles and onion is holy, and the toasted bun holds it all up. It tastes exactly the way I remember burgers tasting when I was a child—slightly greasy, but refreshing and supremely filling. The burger pairs well with a beer (duh), their fries, and a hockey game played on mute at the back of the bar. JAS KEIMIG

Lamb Kebab

BlackStar Kebab, $9

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Back in Ghana, Priestwick Sackeyfio was a semipro soccer player, and he’s spun this theme into his career over the last couple decades in Seattle, where he coaches kids’ soccer and runs a kebab truck—named for Ghana’s national soccer team. Using peanut-based suya, sort of a textural mix between a sauce and a spice rub that he imports from friends, BlackStar does grilled kebabs in lamb, chicken, and shrimp, and they’re all the best things about street food: spicy and nutty, gingery and clovey, charred and smoky. I like the lamb kebab the most; it’s high-quality organic meat, and the grassy richness shines through the suya sauce. A big one is nine bucks and counts as a small meal, just a la carte, but can I also recommend the fried red plantains, which Priestwick dunks in the deep fryer? You know when you roast carrots and the ends get all knurled and candied? They’re like that. I always house about half of the plantains before my ass hits the seat. <3 MEG VAN HUYGEN