The Dish 4358 Leary Way NW, 782-9985, $
For all of Seattle's hippie-dippiness, it's a real project to find a good tofu scramble in town. Luckily, there's the Dish, home of the Slacker Special—a rich, inventive scramble of cheese, enchilada sauce, more cheese, onions, tortilla chips, and eggs or tofu, topped by a dollop of sour cream and salsa and offered with a side of potatoes and toast.
India Bistro 2301 NW Market St, 783-5080, $
This Ballard bistro ranks high for its tandoori combos, curries, dahl, and masalas. Meat, seafood, and vegetarian lovers alike should all find something to fit their cravings here.
Le Gourmand 425 NW Market Street, 784-3463, $$$
Traditional French cuisine done up with fresh Northwest produce makes for down-to-earth yet fancy food, with names that are hard to pronounce but very easy to enjoy.
Ray's Boathouse Cafe 6049 Seaview Ave NW, 789-3770, $$$
This waterfront-dining institution offers both "cafe" and dining-room seating and a wide selection of fresh Northwest seafood dishes that change weekly. But some of its star attractions—Thai mussels in red curry and coconut milk, fried calimari with lemon aoli, beer steamed Manila clams—are on the super-cheap happy-hour specials menu.
Sofrito Rico 2320 NW Market St, 789-0516, $
If you're a friend of the deep-fryer—and you should be—head to this Puerto Rican eatery-and-rum-bar and order a mixed appetizer platter. It's a little bit of crispy-fried heaven, with each nugget boasting its own distinct texture: alcapurrias, or taro dumplings, start crisp, then dissolve into tender mush; the flaky empanada lets loose a tumble of seasoned beef with each mouthful; there are the more stolid tostones (pressed and fried plantains); and best of all is the feathery bacalaito, redolent with aromatic salt cod. Every one of these fritters is made infinitely happier by the ajilimojili, a garlic sauce that walks you right to the edge of overdoing it, but then mellows out with a bit of lemon and oil.
The Apartment 2226 First Ave, 956-8288, $$
Named for the Billy Wilder movie starring Jack Lemmon (which plays on a plasma screen) this sleek Belltown lounge has smart cocktails, fresh seafood, and tasty if not pretty steaks.
Five Point Cafe 415 Cedar St, 448-9993, $
One of Seattle's beloved 24-hour dives, except the Five Point is actually worth going to even if it isn't the only thing open. Get the fries—some of the best in Seattle.
Jai Thai 2132 First Ave, 770-7884, $
Here's good, cheap Thai food at your service, complete with a full bar, comfy lounge, and (weather permitting) an outdoor patio. Jai Thai scores big with their delicious homemade noodles, featured in dishes such as the phad kee mao, a variation on pad thai with wide noodles and curry, and tremendously good with shrimp.
Mistral 113 Blanchard St, 770-7799, $$$
Mistral is one of a few Seattle restaurants offering an unapologetically haute-cuisine experience. The formal dining freaks out some people, as do the prices, but its young chef, William Belickis, gets consistent praise for his high-minded tasting menus, which are sometimes improvised for individual guests. Be ready to spend $100-plus per person.
Saito's Japanese Cafe and Bar 2122 Second Ave, 728-1333, $$$
Nestled in Belltown, Saito's, named for chef-owner Yutaka Saito, who has been preparing sushi since his teens in Tokyo, is a popular spot for fresh and impeccably prepared sushi. The restaurant draws a big lunch crowd, and though it's pricey, most sushi fans will find it to be worth every penny. Saito's also boasts an impressive sake bar, with over 40 selections.
Bleu Bistro 202 Broadway E, 329-3087, $
Bleu Bistro's veggie BLT is a tower of unbuttered, toasted sourdough; cold, perfectly ripe tomatoes; crisp iceberg lettuce; and layers upon layers of marbled, crisply salty "bacon" —the sandwich is not dainty. It is more than big enough for two, making it—at $8.95—one of the best andwich deals in the city.
El Greco 219 Broadway E, 328-4604, $
This Broadway Mediterranean staple—usually crowded due to the cramped layout of the blue-hued dining room—is a great spot to settle in over a bottle of wine and while away the hours nibbling on hummus, tzatziki, and baba ghanoush.
Globe 1531 14th Ave, 324-8815, $
The ideal destination for a healthy vegan lunch. The biscuits and gravy are addictive—especially with the salty little kick of broiled tofu on top. Should you need a little color in there among the browns, there are collard greens, which have a tangy, vinegary smack that is exactly right, and whole-corn grits.
HoneyHole 703 E Pike St, 709-1399, $
Serving the biggest and sloppiest hot sandwiches in Seattle, HoneyHole will quiet any grumbling stomach screaming for comfort food. Plus, a glorious full bar!
Lark 926 12th Ave, 323-5275, $$$
The stress of eating at an expensive restaurant is missing from Lark, partly because everything is delicious, and also because you order two or three small dishes and taste lots of other things and therefore you don't have much opportunity to worry about what you're missing. The food is also not particularly "fancy," but the menu radiates both intelligence about excellent classic combinations and innovation.
Pho Than Brothers 516 Broadway E, 568-7218, $
Unconscionably inexpensive, Than Brothers is devoted to pho and pho alone—excusing the delectable cream puffs—and has it down to a science.
Ristorante Machiavelli 1215 Pine St, 621-7941, $$
Here is basic Italian food made exactly right—the Bolognese with different meats plus chicken livers, carbonara that is not scrambled but silken and decadent, a restrained but perfect antipasto plate. And the service is some of the best in the city: brisk, excellent, and, above all, dedicated to getting the food on the table while it's still hot.
Rosebud Restaurant and Bar 719 E Pike St, 323-6636, $$
A warm place with warm food and good drinks, the Rosebud is one of the few cafes on Capitol Hill where people can talk while dining or drinking. The music, which is usually classical jazz, never overwhelms a conversation, and so it's perfect for a work meeting or a date. Great happy hour, well-prepared though pricey food.
Siam on Broadway 616 Broadway Ave E, 324-0892, $
Still the best good ol' Thai food to be found in Seattle. Weekend evenings can be busy, but always worth the wait.
XO Bistro 2359 10th Ave E, 328-6444, $$
While dedicated restaurantgoers have probably seen similar fare in similar surroundings, XO Bistro gets the important parts right. Excellent appetizers like the tarte flambé (or, in English, bacon pie) and a seemingly bistro-trademarked sluggishly friendly service make the whole place into the very model of "satisfactory."
Hidmo Eritrean Restaurant 2000 S Jackson St, 329-1534, $
The heart of Eritrean cuisine is injera, the spongy, slightly sour pancake bread that serves as serving platter, sauce sopper, and utensil. I find injera-eating one of the most collegial ways to share food, much better than the frenetic passing of small plates, or the vague menace of forks reaching across the table to try someone else's meat. Instead each person wraps their hand in a hygienic hunk of flatbread and grabs a morsel of whichever preparation looks appealing. Double dipping is nearly impossible.
Moonlight Restaurant 1919 S Jackson St, 322-3378, $
This place is great for vegetarians, great for non-vegetarians, and altogether great for the purse. Never mind the shady characters that sometimes line the street—they don't hurt people who don't owe them money. Just walk straight past them into the capacious restaurant, and enjoy its vast and original Vietnamese menu.
Alexandria's on Second 2020 Second Ave, 374-3700, $$
There isn't just one Southern cuisine out there, and the menu at Alexandria's is scattered to the torpid breezes of several southerly regions. It boasts Cajun classics like the jambalaya; soul food standards—fried chicken and catfish, barbecued ribs plus all the sides—the collards, the macaroni and cheese, the sweet potatoes; a Caribbean dish or two.
Bakeman's 122 Cherry St, 622-3375, $
Bakeman's turkey sandwich is legendary, and has been around longer than most things in Seattle. You line up cafeteria-style, and you better know what you want: light or dark meat, white or wheat bread, cranberry or no. Other stuff is good; the turkey sandwich is great.
Campagne 86 Pine St, 728-2800, $$$
Unlike its casual cousin downstairs, Campagne is a full-on special-occasion restaurant serving French-style food adapted to Northwest ingredients (with the Pike Place Market right outside their door, they've got a lot to work with, after all). You can watch the staff professionally sidestep each other in the tiny box of a kitchen (their window looks out on Post Alley) as they whip up some of the finest food in the city. Don't embarrass us—dress nicely, please.
Hurricane Cafe 2230 Seventh Ave, 682-5858, $
The Hurricane Cafe (one of the city's few 24-hour joints) keeps trying to reinvent itself, seemingly fighting the fact that it always has been and always will be the smoky, noisy after-show ritual of Seattle's late-night crowd. The wait staff's generally lazy (with a few exceptions), and the food is always half-assed, but who gives a fuck? It's 4 am and you want to eat.
Ibiza Dinner Club 528 Second Ave, 381-9090, $$
Dining here isn't too far from the maddening bar crowd—separated by just a futuristic metal mesh drape—but the expansive space feels fabulously decadent. Table settings are immaculate and considering the pomp and the circumstances, prices are bizarrely low. Three courses for three might set you back a hundred bucks—not bad for feeling like you've Arrived. As for the food, it's often great, otherwise valiantly good, and always beautiful.
Maximilien in the Market 81A Pike St, 682-7270, $$
The classily designed Maximilien in the Market is a charming French restaurant (with great views of the Sound) good for both family outings and romantic dinners for two. The menu offers a broad range of French standards, from escargot and foie gras to cassoulet, and butter-rich sauces are prepared by the book. If you hit them at brunch time, be sure to order one of their near-perfect Bloody Marys.
Salumi 309 Third Ave S, 621-8772, $
We love Salumi so much that we have a nickname for it: We call it "Hello, meat." At Armandino Batali's busy, narrow storefront/counter/tiny restaurant in Pioneer Square, you can find house-cured Italian meats all made by Batali and his talented staff—along with hot and cold sandwiches, and platters that feature cooked meats (sausages, meatballs, oxtails) as well as cured meats (various salamis, coppa, pancetta, prosciuttos, tongue, and cured lamb).
Tulio Ristorante 1100 Fifth Ave, 624-5500, $$
While Tulio's menu boasts some amazing and delicious-sounding Italian entrées (like lamb sirloin in a balsamic glaze), it's the impressive wine list that keeps people coming back.
Le Fournil 3230 Eastlake Ave E, 328-6523, $
The croissants from Le Fournil cannot be eaten without a considerable mess: Each bite creates a shower of pastry shards, while inside the crisp exterior the croissants are moist and coiled like a perfect wave. The plain croissant is perfect as it is, but try the chocolate, almond, raspberry, peach, and apple versions if you must. Le Fournil also makes tasty sandwiches.
35th Street Bistro 709 N 35th St, 547-9850, $
The Girard & Dominique smoked-trout salad dazzles you with its presentation, then kicks you in the shins while you figure out how to eat it. A fillet of smoked trout—like smoked salmon only less briny, with an almost sweet smokiness—sits between a pile of lightly dressed mixed greens and an airy cream concoction, along with triangles of toasted brioche and slices of cucumber.
Bandoleone 703 N. 34th St, 329-7559, $$
A cozy, noisy, elegant restaurant with spicy, tasty Spanish-style cuisine. It's a little pricey, but you'll feel satisfied about dollars well spent.
Chiso 3520 Fremont Ave N, 632-3430, $$
The standard sushi options are perfect here but you should absolutely look at the specials list, where you might find little silver smelt, or monkfish liver, or aji (a kind of Spanish mackerel that's less fatty than the usual kind). Chiso is a serene urban spot hidden away in funk-land Fremont, so it's not often very crowded.
Paseo 4225 Fremont Ave N, 545-7440, $
In its essentials, Paseo's pork sandwich is like a Caribbean bahn mi: grilled pork on a sturdy roll with cilantro and lettuce, and not stingy with the mayonnaise. However, a bahn mi is a tidy little operation, and a pork sandwich from Paseo is a lovely mess, with dripping marinade and onions that have been grilled for so long that they just give up and become a sweet, mellow tangle. Other things here—like the jerk chicken—are very good, but it's the pork that you remember.
Acorn Eatery & Bar 9041 Holman Rd NW, 297-0700, $$
The Acorn Eatery & Bar serves Italian food (pasta, pizza) as well as local entrées (salmon).
Szechuan Bistro 212 N 85th St, 781-1818, $
Szechuan Bistro is not much to look at—just a modest little place offering a good bowl of hand-shaved noodles with sesame sauce, and other fiery Szechuan specialties: eggplant in garlic sauce, mapo tofu, and the salt-and-pepper pancake.
Maneki Restaurant 304 Sixth Ave S, 622-2631, $
The sushi bar is a nutty accumulation of all kinds of kitsch, both Japanese and not. Maneki is a sort of secret sushi hangout for the not-so-wealthy: good food, decent prices.
Sea Garden Seafood 509 Seventh Ave S, 623-2100, $
First things first: This Chinese classic is open until 3 am on the weekends. Then there's the food: seafood plucked from the aquarium, and prepared with consistent skill. Especially good: the whole crab in ginger sauce.
Cafe Flora 2901 E Madison St, 325-9100, $$
A mecca for vegetarians desiring a night out as first-class culinary citizens. From drinks to dessert, the Flora experience is intoxicating enough to stun even the hoariest carnivore into submission, at least for an evening.
Voilà! 2805 E Madison St, 322-5460, $$
Voilà!'s bistro menu features coq au vin, pâté, and even the occasional frog leg special. The salads are lovely, and the spicy North African merguez is really succulent and decidedly lamb-y.
Cafe Soleil 1400 34th Ave, 325-1126, $
Breakfast here is American, while dinner is Ethiopian by way of Madrona (with a few pasta dishes as well). The stews are delicious, with greens not cooked unto limpness but fresh and light. It's all served with the traditional sour injera bread, but you might be tempted to use a fork.
Hi-Spot Cafe 1410 34th Ave, 325-7905, $
Two words: Pint-size mimosas. So much better than those dinky champagne flutes that are gone three times before your breakfast arrives. Even the hearty toast and good-as-Grandma-makes jam is yummy, and that's not just the mimosa talking.
Bamboo Garden 364 Roy St, 282-6616, $$
Bamboo Garden is heaven on earth for any vegetarian when the craving for some delicious Chinese food hits. Because Bamboo Garden uses vegetable protein when creating its "meat" entrées, everything on the menu (which boasts over 100 selections), from the sweet-and-sour chicken (my favorite) to the braised-chicken-and-shark-fin soup, is safe for the vegetarians in the group. Surprisingly, everything's delicious enough for the carnivores too.
Canlis 2576 Aurora Ave N, 283-3313, $$$
Fancy folks, businesspeople, and retirees love this atrium-like dining room that serves upscale surf-and-turf and specialties like wasyugyu tenderloin. Take your parents. Make them pay.
Malena's Taco Shop 620 W McGraw St, 284-0304, $
If you get tired of the showier restaurants on Queen Anne Avenue, Malena's offers relief in the form of a small, spare dining space, a no-nonsense white board of a menu, and tasty tacos and burritos filled with homemade salsa, carne asada, and carnitas.
Mecca 526 Queen Anne Ave N, 285-9728, $
An old-timey counter-and-booth-style diner, for those times when only dependable food can hit the spot. The jukebox is a history lesson unto itself.
Rainier Valley/Beacon Hill/ Mount Baker/Columbia City
Pho Hoa 4406 Rainier Ave S, 723-1508, $
Keeping it simple: Pho Hoa—with a sister restaurant in the International District—is a sweet Vietnamese neighborhood soup shop that's nearly always busy.
The Wellington 4869 Rainier Ave S, 722-8571, $
The dressed-up Southern menu is small but complete—what more do you need than gumbo, smothered pork chops, fried chicken, catfish, red beans and rice? Well, you need side dishes, and lots of them; each entrée comes with two, and extras are $4 each. You also need peach cobbler. Trust me.
Willie's Taste of Soul 6305 Beacon Ave S, 722-3229, $$
Willie himself looks like he may have starred opposite Pam Grier in one of her '70s movies: He's strapping and charismatic even while wearing a plastic apron. His barbecue is worth the trip down south to Beacon Hill: Ribs and brisket have a pleasant campfire tone, while Willie's sauce is not too sweet and packs a little vinegar punch. Greens, too, are delicious.
Juan Colorado 8709 14th Ave S, 764-9379, $
A lovely family-run diner-style Mexican restaurant. Delicious and reasonable.
Muy Macho 8515 14th Ave S, 763-7109, $
Damn good and cheap. The tacos arrive with just meat and salsa—not, thank heaven, doused in cheese. And the array of meats includes the tripe and brains and such—but for the less daring, the pork variations are amazingly good.
Cafe Lago 2305 24th Ave E, 329-8005, $$
A clean, bright restaurant with big windows that look out onto the leafy Montlake neighborhood. Customers cram the place for the fresh handmade pastas and delicious rustic pizzas. There may be a wait, but don't worry: There's a bar.
Calypso Caribbean Kitchen 7917 Roosevelt Way NE, 525-5118, $$
The hallmarks of Caribbean cuisine—jerk spices, rum, brown sugar, coconut, lime—permeate Calypso's menu, but the influences of other cuisines are at work here as well. The jerk dishes are very good.
Flowers Bar & Restaurant 4247 University Way NE, 633-1903, $
Every day of the week, from 11 am to 3 pm, Flowers has a Mediterranean-inspired vegetarian buffet. After that, it serves a combination of Mediterranean and American starters and entrées. Plus, with its dark colors, triphop and jazz music floating from the bar, and abundance of glass and Parisian mirrors, Flowers is the most fashionable hangout on the Ave.
Hillside Quickie's Vegan Sandwich Shop 4106 Brooklyn Ave NE, 632-3037, $
Seattle's only health-conscious, hiphop-oriented deli serves opulent sandwiches that are filling but not heavy, and spicy but not to the point of masking the ingredients.
Sahara 4752 University Way NE, 527-5216, $$
Sahara still has that funny training-manual quality that some ethnic restaurants have a hard time giving up: an overly pedantic waiter and lots of sampler platters of its kabobs, falafel, and veggie dips. But the food is tasty (with a stellar baba ghanoush), and your entrée comes with a cute little cup of lentil soup and very tasty rice.
Bizzarro Italian Cafe 1307 N 46th St, 545-7327, $$
Occasionally verging on the cutesy, Bizzarro nevertheless manages to keep it together while seducing devoted diners with good wine, art-bedecked walls, the occasional singing waiter, and damn good food, of the traditional-yet-exciting pasta variety.
Blue Onion Bistro 5801 Roosevelt Way NE, 729-0579, $$
This former gas station has been converted into a cozy home-style bistro where just a few bucks can get you a fully satisfying bistro-style lunch of soup, salad, and a sandwich. All-American dinners get jazzed up with quality ingredients (duck breast with maple-sausage glaze, alongside fish sticks made of salmon, and mac 'n' cheese made with blue cheese) while staying in the moderate price range.
Jitterbug 2114 N 45th St, 547-6313, $$
Weekend breakfasts at Jitterbug are a treat—if you can handle waiting a while for a table (the narrow restaurant fills up quickly, and folks linger over their meals). Their huevos rancheros are the perfect hangover cure (the right combo of salt and comfort), and gingerbread waffles are a sweet early-morning option. For later dining, Jitterbug's cutesy menu offers traditional crowd-pleasers like roasted chicken, ravioli, or market-fresh fish (and the kitchen's been known to whip up late-night breakfasts on request).
West Seattle/White Center
Jade West 6032 California Ave SW, 932-9840, $
Sit down at the low counter and choose between your favorite greasy American favorites (French toast, hamburgers, etc.) and your favorite greasy Chinese favorites (fried rice and chow mein). Chef/owner Wah will customize each order for you with flair.
West 5 4539 California Ave SW, 935-1966, $
If you're looking for something heavy and comforting, some down-home cooking that could put you into a food coma, then head over to West Seattle's West 5. They serve up some impressive meatloaf and macaroni and cheese that'll get you off to a good start.