Noble Palace

4214-A University Way NE (U-District), 632-7248. Daily 11 am-10 pm (Fri-Sat till midnight). $$

Once named Proud Bird (nicknamed "Dead Bird" by Ave rats), and now renamed and relocated to a cool, spacious, haven-like room, this place is still the best for Chinese fare in the U-District. No frozen peas and carrots in your subgum here! Everything's fresh. Huge, outstanding soups come in many varieties, including bestsellers Won Ton Noodle and Sui Kau Noodle, in which the dumplings are handmade (sui kau is a mixture of shrimp, pork, and black elephant-ear mushrooms). At $3.95 per megabowl, it's a steamy winter favorite. Other specialties include Shrimp-Stuffed Tofu ($11.95), satisfyingly chewy Chow Fun ($5.95), and various seafood dishes. Beer is available, and there's a large vegetarian selection. Waitresses in crisp black and white are gracious, considering how busy the place gets during weekday lunchtimes. STACEY LEVINE

Bacchus Restaurant

806 E Roy (Capitol Hill), 325-2888. Daily 11 am-11 pm. $$.

At first glance the Bacchus appears upscale, with its meandering ivy, strings of lights, Grecian-style columns, and 1930s murals of Russian folk tales. Upon closer inspection, however, you'll discover that the place is a bit worn--which only makes it more appealing, with its homey, neighborhood feel. This Greek restaurant has all the classics, like moussaka, souvlaki, keftethes, avgolemono soup, and plenty of tatziki dressing. The combination platters--especially the Athenian Plate ($12.50)--are perfect for the indecisive, and offer a good variety. There are many tempting individual entrées as well, and the lamb dishes are especially appealing. The Kokinisto Arni ($11.95)--sautéed lamb with vegetables, wine, cloves, cinnamon, and tomato sauce, served with rice and potatoes--is tender and perfectly spiced. There are only two desserts, Baklava ($3.50) and Galactoboureko, a lemon custard baked in a phyllo pastry ($4), but both are superb. MELODY MOSS

Zaina Food, Drinks, and Friends

108 Cherry St (Downtown), 624-5687. Mon-Fri 11 am-9 pm. Open on occasional Saturdays; call ahead to check (closed Sundays). Also a location at 2615 NE 65th St (Ravenna), 525-7747. $

The decor is a jumble: Hookah pipes and Israeli postcards and all manner of Middle Eastern bric-a-brac line the walls of this lunchtime joint. Everything here is made from scratch: From the satisfyingly smoky and charred-tasting Babaganoush Plate ($4.55) to the succulent Chicken Schwarma ($5.50), Zaina features extremely fresh, Greek-influenced, Middle Eastern cuisine. Flavors are distinct and sharp in the lovely Schwarma ($5.95) as well as the Vegetarian Platter ($8.99), a huge delight featuring smatterings of cold salads, such as couscous with a chopped-greens mixture crowded with sweet red onion, as well as heaps of olive-oil-roasted vegetables and beans. It's topped off with a ladle of soup, which may sound odd, but the soup intensifies the flavor of this happy mélange. The basics here are reliable: Pita bread is moist and dense, and Zaina's hummus is truly garlicky. You'll never want that store-bought pap again. STACEY LEVINE


304 Sixth Ave S (International District), 622-2631. Daily 5:30-10:30 pm. $$

Maneki, Seattle's oldest sushi bar, originally opened in 1923. Returning from internment after World War II, Maneki's owners found their grand restaurant ransacked. They reopened at the current location, which has stayed small in the interest of quality control. Jeanie, who now owns and runs Maneki, puts together Japanese home cookin' and a comfortable environment to enjoy it in. Her gracious and friendly presence, along with the sushi chef's craftsmanship and the waitstaff's lightning-quick service, make Maneki feel like a Japanese diner, the kind of place one might visit regularly. Then there is the food itself: The weekly specials range from merely interesting to outright exotic. I conservatively sampled the Tempura-Battered Deep-Fried Smelt chilled in a spicy pickled sauce ($4.25), Salmon Croquettes ($3.95), and Beef and Pickled Daikon Radish ($3.95). I won't waste words describing the intense joy that eating these small dishes gave me, because the weekly specials change (duh) weekly, depending on the availability of fresh seafood and the chefs' whims. The ever-changing, never-boring specials are reason enough for return visits. RACHEL KESSLER


5212 Rainier Ave S (Rainier Valley), 721-9162. Daily 8 am-midnight. $

Banadir throbs yellow and slightly rumpled at the edge of cutesy downtown Columbia City. On a hot day, it is reminiscent of Somalia, plants and posters proliferating in the sweltering heat; thankfully, mango and Safari Isbarmuto drinks ($1 each) provide relief. Breakfast is served until noon, featuring dishes such as Liver, Chicken or Beef Stew, and Foule with injera for around five or six bucks. Lunch and dinner are served with seasoned rice, spaghetti, chapati, or muufo. I thoroughly enjoyed both the Hilib Ari ($8), marinated goat meat with onions, green peppers, and Somali spices; and Beef Steak ($7), sliced thin, with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers in a spicy sauce. I noticed King Fish ($7) and a T-Bone Steak ($8) that, had I not been so full, would have piqued my interest. I really wanted to order a steak sandwich for dessert, for these reasons, in order of importance: (1) the "Steak Sandwich" neon sign buzzing in the window, (2) the price, $3. My inability to order this desired steak sandwich indicates how fully Banadir sated my appetite. RACHEL KESSLER

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up