Norm's Eatery and Ale House
460 N 36th St, 547-1417

Sun, Tues, Wed 11:30 am- midnight; Thurs-Sat 11:30 am-2 am; closed Mon.

Elliott Bay Brewery
4720 California Ave SW, 932-8695

Mon-Thurs 11:30 am-11 pm; Fri-Sat 11:30 am-1 am; Sun noon-10 pm.

Cocina Esperanza
3127 NW 85th St, 783-7020

Tues 4:30-9:30 pm; Wed-Thurs 11:30 am-9:30 pm; Fri 11:30 am-10 pm; Sat 4:30-10 pm.

The Cabin Tavern
19322 Richmond Beach Dr NW, Shoreline, 542-1177

Sun-Thurs noon-10 pm; Fri-Sat noon-midnight

I'll admit it: In the five months I've been writing for this paper, I've spent a lot of time downtown and in the International District and probably neglected your neighborhood.

A few weeks back I solicited your input on hearty, well-priced restaurants around town, and, in light of my regret, I've followed up on your responses. I know I won't quite get it; fondness accumulates in the places you visit most often, when the servers know you and the food tastes like home. I can only report what I picked up as a visitor.

In Fremont, there is the calm, dark welcome of Norm's, where the homemade potato chips, seasoned with salt and pepper, are everything that is warm and crisp and good. Norm's gravy-slicked meat loaf ($9) is seasoned with poblano peppers, an inessential, though inoffensive, embellishment on a fine, dense slice of meat. Note to mom: It's served with nutritious green beans, and properly cooked ones at that. Tavern salads tend to be a little overwhelming, as was Norm's, a heavily dressed spinach salad ($11, with white beans and fried onions) piled so high that it was tricky to eat--I left a serious pile of shrubbery on the table.

Everything about West Seattle's Elliott Bay Brewery says brewpub, from the brick walls and bright lighting to the jolly banners and thick-middled crowd. It was jam-packed on a Friday, but the staff handled the crowd with kind attention. From a menu of jalapeño poppers, hummus, and burgers galore, we ate surprisingly dainty steamed clams ($10.95), served in a bread-soaking broth of winy goodness, a good match for the brewery's own rye ale. The (not especially) New Mexican chili ($2.95), served with kitschy exuberance in a little stone bowl with acid-red potato chips, hit the spot on such a cold evening. The Reuben ($8.25), my litmus test for pub-style food, was almost perfect, although its puffy marbled rye bread couldn't handle the sandwich's ample corned beef and sauerkraut juice. There was no room for dessert, but the ice cream float made with stout left me curious.

In Ballard, there's Cocina Esperanza, a brand-brand-new restaurant. It's a plucky little spot with persimmon walls and a menu that's both Mexican and American, without excessive cross-pollination between the two. It's really too new to review--a few dishes lacked spark--but turned out a well-dressed caesar salad ($5.95, not as easy as it sounds) and an ancho-chili braised lamb ($13.95) full of the stewy goodness I'd like to see more of around town.

My real discovery, though, was the Cabin Tavern, which has stood near the water in Shoreline since 1927, long before the waterfront mansions grew up around it. The entrance is dark-paneled and nautical with fishing nets and a plastic octopus; toward the back, things lighten up into a sort of living room, with pale blue walls and a white brick fireplace. The joint was staffed by a cook/waiter/ dishwasher/bartender who somehow found time to give us samples of the house-smoked meat loaf and London broil before we ordered. The meat loaf ($6.75) was a little baroque, what with the smoky flavor and the bell peppers mixed into the meat, but so tender and juicy that it worked. A chunky puréed tomato soup ($5) had a rich back note of what I think were red peppers and maybe even some Parmesan. But my favorite detail was the Nut Bar, a brilliant little invention that warms four different compartments full of nuts to a perfect, fragrant temperature, exactly the warm toasty feeling I got from driving halfway to Canada to hang out in a little tavern by the shore.

So as the new year comes around, I'll keep a closer eye out for neighborhood places--not just the taverns--and in the meantime, it's up to you chefs and restaurateurs to open outside downtown. The provinces are calling.