Well. Seems like I’m doing a Thing with this list again

I’ve devoted 2023’s Best Restaurants in Seattle list to accessibility. I touched on this last year, but even more so this year, I find myself really, really not wanting to fuck with haute cuisine at all ever. As we’re all spiraling deeper into poverty and personal havoc in a city with such extreme wealth disparity, charging an imperial shitload for a meal in a city feels gross—and it’s directly antithetical to building connections and community, which is what food is supposed to fuckin’ do. We all have to eat a couple times per day, for godsake. If I keep seeing $30 fried chicken in my city while our unhoused neighbors go hungry, I will become the Joker. 

Yes, I know that restaurant owners are hurting too from COVID and rent hikes, and that the price of ingredients has soared, and I want to support both parties. To that tune, when compiling this list, I kept an eye on average prices for things like a taco or a slice of pizza in each neighborhood, considered whether the food at these spots is reasonable, then factored in things like innovation, quality, and ambiance. I think we can all win here.

This list will tell you where you can find delicious food to eat in Seattle, more or less regardless of your socio-economical sitch. Accessibility also means options, so I included recs that’re cost-effective if you’re too broke to cook, which is real. I got some criticism last year for not including enough veggie and vegan options on my list, so I tried to do better on that front for 2023. 

With this list, I also hope to promote businesses owned by cool people who you want to be friends with, not faceless multimillion-dollar restaurant groups. I don’t care at all about what’s hot and new; that’s not what we’re doing. In fact, I’d rather pointedly celebrate Seattle’s scruffy old faves so we don’t lose them, seeing as we've watched scores of beloved Seattle restaurants die year after year. 

Finally, it fills me with ardent and boiling rage when people say Seattle doesn’t have a world-class food scene, as they’re wanking to Michelin-starred food galleries for $200 a plate. We do. It’s just in weird office buildings and old dry cleaner's shops, not 10,000-square-foot Redditorial gastropubs in the Amazon Village. I’m gonna prove it with this here list. It’s true that Seattle’s blue-collar, working-class soul has been tricky to find lately, but I’m gonna tell you where it’s hiding. 

Little Duck's crispy potato sticks (left) and garlic eggplant. Meg van Huygen


University District

Average entree price: $15

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: YES 

In an old dry cleaners’ shop off Roosevelt, it’s hard to even notice Little Duck, with its subtle signage, much less to grok that it’s a restaurant you’re looking at. Once inside, there’s no item descriptions on the menu either, only names of dishes in English and Mandarin, so if you know nothing about Dongbei cuisine, as I did going in, you might feel unsure. Well, power through it, because I had one of the greatest, funnest, most memorable friend meals of the year here, six of us perched at the little cafe tables, chowing down and yukking it up while it absolutely pissed rain outside, and that cozy daydream carried me through the winter. This will also happen to you.

We went H.A.M. on this menu, ordered a huge spread of random items, and they all got housed in their entirety—zero leftovers. The table looked like Stalingrad after the war. From that spread, the two dishes that’ve haunted my psyche the most are the eggplant in garlic sauce and the spicy potato sticks

The potatoes are just chunky fries at first glance, but dressed with dried Sichuan chili, jalapeno slices, sesame seeds, and a cumin-heavy chili oil, and the crispness is just divine. They made me wanna write a rundown of the best fries in Seattle, expressly so I could crown these ones the king. The eggplant, meanwhile, was pan-fried on the outside, just the most delicate crust on it, and velvet-smooth on the inside, then drowned in a lake of garlic sauce, not a drop of which was left behind. This dish disintegrates so beautifully into your rice bowl. It also has a mothering ass-ton of garlic in it, which is the yardstick I use to determine whether something is good or not. If you’re not an eggplant believer, this dish will convert you. 

Also utterly destroyed by our crew was a homey, wintry pork belly dish with stewed veg called Northeastern Hodgepodge Simmers, which is my new band name. You join this band when you sit down to eat at Little Duck, and we’re all in it.

Watson's Counter's fruity cereal French toast and K-poutine with a fried egg and brisket. Meg van Huygen



Average entree price: $15

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: YES

It’s dumb to try to put your finger on what exactly Watson’s Counter owner James Lim is trying to do with this project, as some have, because it’s: Whatever he feels like. Is it a Korean fried chicken shack? A brunch spot? A coffee shop for high-echelon espresso geeks, or a modern incarnation of the great American diner? That has KBBQ and a soft-serve machine? Yes.

This menu’s kinda weird, you guys, e.g., the brisket poutine, which has occupied a space in my mind for a few months. First of all, the size of this thing. A trough of poutine, so completely gravied-over that you can barely see the fries. (It’s coffee-based red-eye gravy, of course.) Beecher’s curds swim in the gravy–french fry swamp below, then a fat chunk of fall-apart brisket’s balanced on top, with a fried egg draped over that, should you choose to add one, and green onion/sesame seed confetti scattered everywhere. It’s a real culinary Hatchet Face: ugly, messy, sloppy, but kind of sexy? 

Crispity, gochujangy Korean fried chicken and waffles is another celebrated Watson’s staple, along with the KBBQ platter, with pork belly, rice, kimchi, K-peppers, and ssamjang—you gotta add the perilla + romaine leaves for making ssams. There’s green apples in the kimchi, always a pleasure. Everyone loves the cereal French toast too, made from Macrina Bakery’s whole-wheat cider bread and crusted in your choice of knockoff Fruity Pebbles or knockoff Frosted Flakes, French-toasted, then served with a side of maple syrup and a hat of orange-rosemary whipped cream. 

The restaurant's whole concept began with its specialty coffee program, including fascinating beverages like a nitro Vietnamese coffee and an espresso old-fashioned (with bitters and orange, but no alcohol), along with housemade syrups like tellicherry-cardamom. And Lim’s been freestyling on the soft-serve tip lately, offering a light jasmine tea flavor in June and a lemon-basil one for July. “Next, we might do a soft-serve flavored with a very, ahem… well-known… spicy, savory… traditional Korean condiment,” he quipped. Sometimes feels like maybe folks don’t always get this menu, but hey, I’m a giant mark for a creative new idea, and this guy’s got a million of ’em.

ʔálʔal Cafe's bison barbacoa tacos and cedar tea. Meg van Huygen


Pioneer Square

Average entree price: $8.50

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: YES

An unusual choice for a best-restaurants list, since there are only three entrees on the whole menu, but this is exactly the kind of restaurant these lists should be supporting, not celebrity chefs and megalithic restaurant corps. This is the point right here. 

Operated by the Chief Seattle Club and located on the ground floor of its landmark housing complex, ʔálʔal Cafe serves indigenous-grown coffee and dishes as well as native-made products—like condiments, cookbooks, dry rice and beans, and other interesting tidbits. (In Lushootseed, ʔálʔal is pronounced “al-al” with a glottal stop between the syllables, and it means “home”—it’s also the name of the apartment building upstairs.)

In addition to supporting the Chief Seattle Club, which houses indigenous Seattleites, and working to decolonize the food industry and reintroduce indigenous culinary foods from tribes across the continent, the cafe serves a bison barbacoa taco that’s a serious and real contender for best taco of my life. Top five for sure. Made with Cheyenne River Sioux bison, blue corn tortillas, pickled onions, and some kind of enrapturing, worldview-melting chile sauce, these tacos were projected on the walls of my skull for weeks after I ate them, and I still haven’t had a better taco since. I also enjoyed the rabbit stew, made with tepary beans, corn, and squash—especially with a dose of smoky green hot sauce from native-owned Sakari Farms. They also do a blue corn mush for breakfast, mixed with juniper ash and wojape, a Dakóta compote made from berries—it’s fantastic topped with a seedy granola. 

Aside from a few pastries, that’s it. Those are the entrees. Right now, ʔálʔal Cafe is still mostly IDing as a coffee shop, with a full-service espresso program; beans are from Salish Grounds on Squaxin Island in the South Sound, strongly aromatic with a deep chocolate flavor. The cedar tea, served iced, has a shivery quality to it that made me go get a second glass the instant I finished the first. You can order it with mashed raspberries, and it’s lovely both ways. 

Not even a year old, ʔálʔal Cafe is still rehashing its menu and figuring out what’s selling, what’s not, and what’s possible in the future. We want this culturally important restaurant to succeed, so it can continue to help Seattle’s indigenous people find stability through housing, create and foster community, and add more indigenous dishes to its menu! To do that, its fledgling form must learn to fly, so let’s support the shit out of them. 

Kauai Family Restaurant's Lau Lau-Kalua Pig Combo. Meg van Huygen



Average entree price: $13

Veggie options: BARELY

Vegan options: NAH

Every time I’ve mentioned Kauai Family Restaurant to anyone who’s from Seattle, they have yelled, “OH MY GOD, I LOVE THAT PLACE,” into my face, and then timidly confessed that they never go there anymore. I get it, especially if you don’t drive; it’s on a dusty side street in industrial Georgetown, kind of a schlep if you don’t live or work down there. To boot, their hours of business—Monday through Friday, 10 am to 3 pm—are a narrow window if you’re working days.

Make it happen. You should go tomorrow. Open since 1993, Kauai Fam is serving Hawaiian classics here with real and true aloha, plus a big chalkboard of daily specials with a rainbow drawn on it by a child. Everything’s on point, from the kalua pig to the fried saimin, and it’s all served unfussy, low-key, and cheerful. This is my favorite mac salad in Seattle—well, possibly tied with chef José Garzón’s, when he has it—and I never skip the cucumber kimchi on the side. Lawai ginger fried chicken, lau lau, pork abodo, chicken long rice, all the musubis. Plus, thanks to the adjoining Cakes of Paradise bakery, they almost always have the elusive-in-Seattle butter mochi in stock!! You want it. 

We’re fortunate to have a wealth of Hawaiian restaurants in Seattle, but there’s been a corporate slickness building up around them lately that Kauai Fam will almost certainly never have—it’s stayed grassroots. (That’s not to say that Hawaiian food can’t be upscale, only that this glaring corporate flavor isn’t super tasty.) As well, my recommendation isn’t just about their delicious-in-my-opinion food, but also the impassioned way other people speak about this restaurant. I’m not from Hawaii and not an authority on this culture, but even if I didn’t love the food, the emotion with which homesick Hawaiians talk about Kauai Family Restaurant is sincerely moving. You’ll witness it all around you when you walk in the door—or just by speaking its name to someone who’s ever been there. 

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Beacon Hill

Average entree price, assuming you want a minimum of two tacos: $12

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: A FEW

On this rock I will build my church: It’s true that Seattle used to Not Have Any Real Mexican Food, which is something transplants love saying, but guess what! This is now obsolete info. The metro area expanded tremendously in both population and demographic in the last two decades, and we have it now. You have to stop saying this. To say this is to say that you don’t think Mexican people live here. 

Seattle and its penumbra actually have a pretty decent representation of different styles of Mexican cuisine nowadays, but especially tacos. However, the whole rest of the universe agrees the price of admission for a taco to be good is a handmade tortilla, and Seattle doesn’t 100% get this yet. My previously favorite taqueria got bought last year and switched to prepackaged tortillas, and now their tacos taste like books.

Fortunately, plenty of local taquerias do make their own tortillas—Maíz, Tacos Chukis, Tacos & Beer, and Carmelo’s, just for starters. The undeniable winner of Seattle’s tacosphere, though, is Carnitas Michoacán in Beacon Hill. Why? It’s the tortillas, yeah, and it’s also the meat. This place started life as a carniceria, so the meat quality is leagues and fathoms above anyone’s. They do have solid veggie options as well—dig the elote tamal or the loaded-up veggie burrito. Most tacos are a staggering $2.89 too, so you can afford to really strap the feedbag on. 

I love so many things about this taqueria, starting with the chewy, fat-imbued, housemade tortillas and the chicharron-studded carnitas (AND the al pastor AND the camarones AND the pozole…). The salsa bar with a half-dozen fresh, vivid sauce options alongside the escabeche and radishes and limes. I like the friendly staff, the part-time vibe of the crowd, the colorful murals, and the still-extant butcher-bodega next door. If you think the tacos at Carnitas Michoacán aren’t legit, then nothing in Seattle ever will be.

Ludi's owners Tito Greg Rosas and Rita Rosas Glenister and Spam-silog. Meg van Huygen



Average entree price: $13

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: NOT REALLY

If you haven’t heard the news, our dear and precious Ludi’s went away and now it is back, to great cries of ecstasy across downtown Seattle. This family-owned Filipino diner has a long backstory that’s the stuff of Broadway musicals, but quickly: Greg Rosas started out washing dishes at the divey and somewhat dangerous Turf Restaurant and Lounge as a teen in 1978, bought the joint decades later, and renamed it after his foster mom, who took him in as an orphan in Manila. Then he staffed it with family members and added killer Filipino dishes to the gritty old diner menu. 

After a fire and sudden lease renegotiation in 2017, the iconic Seattle restaurant shuttered—but Rosas and his daughter, Rita Rosas Glenister, just triumphantly reopened in June 2023, two blocks north of the original spot! Now we can all once again merrily stuff ourselves with pork chops and loco moco and Spam & eggs and giant lumpias and garlic fried rice and chop chop and banana sauce to our heart’s content, hosanna, amen. 

As I said last month, the coconutty, royal-purple ube pancakes seem to be everyone’s star here, but for me, it’s the long-silog—the breakfast plate with eggs, garlic fried rice, and sweet longganisa sausage. My first bite since the shutdown had me straight-up intoxicated on euphoria. As well, it is very exciting to wield the foot-long beef lumpia like a tasty deep-fried sword. Most of all, though, I’m astounded that we actually have these things back, somehow, after they were taken from us. What a gift Seattle’s been given. We’ll never take you for granted, Ludi-baby.

Kamonegi's tempura kabocha wings and duck seiro soba. Meg van Huygen



Average entree price: $23

Veggie options: YES!

Vegan options: YES!

This is the fine-diningest restaurant on this list, but lemme argue with my shadow about that for a sec. Yes, Kamonegi won every single restaurant award in 2018–'19, and YES, Chef Mutsuko Soma was up for a James Beard last year, so one might be hoodwinked into thinking it's too haute to be accessible. But one'd be wrong. 

Kamonegi is whatever you want it to be. The space is small and modest, the entrees max out at $25, and no one cares what you wear while you eat them. The price tag for this product is pretty absurdly reasonable, considering that Chef Soma is doing old-world Japanese soba, made the way her grandmother did, where she personally hand-grinds the buckwheat flour for her noodles. That’s punk as fuck, tbh. The space is super chill too—you can go here to celebrate a birthday or to spice up a Wednesday. It’s noodles, and noodles are for everybody.  

They also happen to be incredible. Flawless soba, served in various iterations like seiro duck broth, shrimp bisque, oyster gochujang, and mushroom nanban, to name a few. Chef Soma is doing marvelous things with mushrooms and duck in particular: I regularly fantasize about the tempura kabocha squash “wings” with duck demiglace and will set a psychic yearly alarm for autumn, anticipating its return to Kamonegi’s menu. I could drink a pint glass of that sauce. A truly sob-worthy dish. Ditto for the foie gras ice cream with shio-koji caramel, sat atop a duck fat mochi. 

This menu is always changing up with compelling new flavor combos, but whatever is on offer there will be stupendous. (I'm a fan of Chef Soma's always-creative pizza pop-up at Lupo, alongside Chef Cam Hanin, for the same reason.) Just show up, let the menu flow over you, and don't let the accolades or suggested reservations throw you off—Kamonegi’s not necessarily fine dining. It's just really, really good.



Average entree price: $11 for sandwiches, $18 for combo plates

Veggie options: YES!

Vegan options: YES!!

Unbeknownst to me until recently, Mediterranean food isn’t a monolith, with culinary nuances to be found from nation to nation—and Hummus Café has turned me into an eager student of Egyptian cuisine this year, as I slowly absorb all the delicious details. 

First of all, owners Nani and Jimmy Konswa make my very favorite hummus AND baba ghanoush in town, as well as the greatest lamb shawarma around. This is the lamb of your dreams. Grassy, rich, robust. You’ll be scooping up the puddle of lamb fat with your finger once the pita is gone. That said, as an avowed meat lover, I still get the veggie combo about half the time at Hummus Café. The combo gets you four different picks on one plate, so the idea is you get both the lemony, sumac-speckled hummus AND that smoky, olive-oily baba ghanoush, and then you can add two light, crunchy falafel balls, made the Egyptian way with green fava beans and drizzled with tahini. Dolmathes is a great choice for the fourth slot. Then use your pita like a shovel and get to work. 

“Almost all the veggie dishes on the menu are also vegan,” Nani adds proudly, when asked about vegan status. 

Hummus Café also serves kushari, the national dish of Egypt—it’s a casserole of macaroni, lentils or garbanzos, rice, caramelized onions, and lots of garlicky tomato sauce, the ultimate in saucy, carby comfort food. Ful medames, a stew of fava beans, olive oil, lemon, tahini, and tomatoes that’s served with pita, was a dreamy late breakfast last week. And their basbousa, an almond-semolina cake that originated in Egypt, is a mandatory must-eat too. 

This humble lunch counter does a brisk takeout business, but I prefer to sit down and soak in the vibe. Soccer’s on the TV in Arabic, there’s lush houseplants everywhere, hand-drawn signs for mint limeade and hibiscus tea adorn the counter, and Nani is always warmly chatting with everyone who stops in. I always have the happiest little meal here, tucked behind the row of plants with my symmetrical platter of dips, as the traffic surges outside at 85th and Greenwood. So, if there’s better lamb or hummus in town, I don’t want to know about it. But I’d bet money there’s not.

Wonder's Veggie Combo and Sunset Cocktail. Meg van Huygen


Central District

Average entree price: $16

Veggie options: YES, TONS

Vegan options: YES, TONS

In a city with dozens of fabulous Ethiopian restaurants, it’s the ambiance, the people, the experience of dining in the space that really skyrockets Wonder up to the top. From the street, this may look like a normal pedestrian condobar, but a step inside will change the channel on ya. Especially if you’re there on a Friday or Saturday evening, where you’re met by a live jazz band, and even more so if your server is the charming Dagi, who just radiates vibrance and exuberance. Not even exaggerating. 

So many things to love about Wonder. There’s a separate bar serving Ethiopian and domestic beers as well as cocktails—I like the Sunset, made with cardamom-cinnamon-ginger-clove tea, lime, muddled mint, simple syrup, and your choice of liquor. (I recommend rum, or with no likker at all.) There’s a great li’l outdoor space, and half a dozen screens for sports, if you like those. They have a gluten-free injera option for my bestie. The restaurant takes its name from the huge neon Wonder Bread sign on the roof, a relic from the old bread factory that once stood in this spot, and boy, I sure love that too.

But it’s the food I love the most. My pals and I always get a meat combo ($32.99) and a veggie combo ($17.99), which each feeds three or so—and I will uncontrollably swipe all of the vegan yatiklit wot and the meaty zilzil tibs from my co-diners so look out. And I’m real obsessed with the green chicken after my last visit: it’s stewed collard greens, ginger, garlic, onion, and big bodacious chunks of juicy chicken. Wonder does the full Ethiopian/Eritrean coffee ceremony, including incense, popcorn, and a blue-green sprig of rue to steep in each cup. We all love that spiced Addis tea that comes in the Sunset cocktail, served hot or iced, and the t’ej, a sour, funky mead with gesho leaves added to the ferment, that’s served in those rad long-necked glass flagons (bereles).

Anyway, you get it: This is another enchanted place where you roll up with a constellation of friends, spend a few hours carousing, and then think about how perfect that meal was all year long. Try it.

Oliver's Twist's Cambodian McRib (left) and chef Darwin Chaisy cooking butter parmesan loc lac noodles. Meg van Huygen



Average entree price (for Oliver’s Twist): $15

Veggie options: YES, TONS

Vegan options: YES, TONS

Okay. I was initially shy about putting this one on this list, because it’s a work in progress, but… I gotta. Here’s the deal.

It’s no secret that I’m a loud champion of Oliver’s Twist, the can-do neighborhood cocktail bar that polymorphed into a Cambodian restaurant in response to the COVID shutdown. While chronicling owner Karuna Long’s struggles with OT’s postage-stamp kitchen, his adaptation of his mom’s reverse-engineered Cambodian diaspora recipes, and his ambitions to open a dedicated resto to serve them in the old Martino’s space up the street, I logged more hours there over the last calendar year than the other spots on this list combined. 

Then, once the story was done, I just kinda… kept hanging out there. At least twice weekly, I crave that fuckin’ cinnamon-anise braised pork on rice with the fried egg on top, and the curry-parmesan loc lac noodles (available in a vegan version), and their molassesy Dark ‘n Stormy with juiced ginger and Cruzan blackstrap rum. The kroeung chicken thigh bowl, available with jackfruit in place of chix, which reminds me of a lemongrassy Khmer cover of the curry chicken that you get a teriyaki hole, has countless times been my up-super-late-still-working dinner. Too pale words to describe this menu, but… Christ, everything is so gooooood. 

The timing’s just off to cameo on a list like this, since OT’s in flux. Their sibling restaurant, Sophon, is clocked to open in August at long last, and the staff’s white-knuckling in anticipation, all hands on deck. In response, chef Darwin Chaisy is doing a pared-down lineup right now, with odd specials here and there, and it shifts with the tides. Currently, OT’s got a Cambodian take on a McRib, made with low-and-slow barbecued pork rib in char siu sauce, rice wine/apple cider pickles, sweet onions, and bird’s-eye chili on a Hawaiian roll, and it’s just ludicrously delicious—but I can’t promise they’ll have it two weeks from now.

So, she's transitioning, and soon she will bloom. I can confidently defend these menus even in limbo, whatever’s on them, so I’m naming both Oliver’s Twist and Sophon as one of Seattle’s best—as a conjoined twin for now. Once Sophon blossoms, Oliver’s Twist can revert to its roots as a craft cocktail bar while retaining some of that cool Khmer flavor, and Sophon will shine as an innovative full-service Cambodian bistro AND a cultural + arts hub for a community that badly needs more representation in Seattle. But for now, they're a little inseparable.

This history-making project has at times moved in fits and starts, but oh god, it’s almost ready, and I feel crazy lucky to get to witness Sophon's genesis era. It's like watching fruit ripen. See you in August.

Stevie's Famous Pizza's Square Normie MacDonald. Meg van Huygen



Average entree price: $6 for a real big slice 

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: NOPE

Stevie’s Famous Pizza is in Burien, which is not Seattle, full disclosure. Burien’s food scene is fucking lit right now, so you should want to go there anyway. If you don’t drive, like me, it’s easy to take the new Rapid Ride H Line, but yeah, takes a minute. You can spend that time, though, getting completely psyched about the Rhodes Scholar-level pizza you’re about to eat. 

So back in 2018, self-named pizza dorks Shane Abbott and Justin Harcus were responsible for the transmogrification of Harcus’s former workplace, the Fremont location of Via Tribunali, into Lupo, and like, don’t get me started on the local Neapolitan pizza consortium, but… suffice it to say that there’s nothing they didn’t improve upon. The pizzaizolo duo’s casual project, Stevie’s Famous Pizza, subsequently opened in late 2022. Where Lupo is a sit-down candlelit affair, Stevie’s is closer to New York-style pizza—but even bigger!—and made with naturally fermented sourdough using grains from right here in Washington State, all in an '80s-esque pizzarcade setting. The pizza here is also cooked a little hotter, so it’s crispy as all hell, and the overall quality of the cheese and sauce and all the toppings have leveled up times a thousand. “It’s not really NYC—it’s its own style,” Abbott says. “It’s Burien-style pizza.”

They’re all spectacular, but my go-to pie here is the Normie MacDonald, featuring aged mozz, pepperoni cups, coppa, burrata, grana padano, and hot honey on an organic tomato base—although I’ll lay waste to any ingredient combo at Stevie’s. Everything's even better on Square Pizza Day (aka Monday): the pies have those knurled, Maillarded edges, like the perimeter of a brownie pan, and are finished with more sauce on top of the cheese, for an intense sauce deluge. You can feel the taste of tomato raising up your arm hairs. The veggie pie, with ricotta cream, provolone, fresh mozz, mushrooms, pickled red onion, chives, and pecorino, is a complete fucking banger too. I’ll smash 'em all.

You can see the family resemblance between Lupo and Stevie's—the pizza is equally masterful, but pretty diametrically opposite one another on the pomp spectrum. If Lupo is Steely Dan, all buttoned-down professional cool-dude jazz on the outside and dweeby mathematic alchemy when you scratch the surface, then Stevie’s is Hall & Oates: leopard-print blazers and big-hair pop rock on the outside, but the same real nerd chops are going on underneath. Plus a fat-ass bassline (the dough) and an irresistible hook (the ingredients) in each track, and every one's a hit. 

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Maple Leaf

Average entree price: $20 if you include sandos

Veggie options: A COUPLE

Vegan options: A COUPLE

Lord have mercy on me. I slept on this place for too many years, and at last, I have awoken. 

Hopefully you already know this, but: the food is so good at Mojito, it’s a shock to your system. It will make you regret your life choices, all the meals you ate that you could have spent eating this instead. It rearranges your week’s priorities. Fireworks in the sky-type shit. I am being completely real about this to you. 

Hard to say which dish at Mojio first flip-turned my life upside down, but it’s between the lechón asado and the vaca frita. Having never heard of vaca frita, I wouldn’t have thought to order this Cuban dish based on the name (It means “fried cow” in Spanish!), but I wasted my life by not doing this earlier. A crispy cousin of ropa vieja, vaca frita is a heavily seasoned chuck roast, which is cooked down for hours with garlic and onions, then fried-out in a similar way to carnitas and dressed with lime juice. The flavor/texture combo here is just skull-crushing, unspeakable, profound. Rich, bright, earthy, meaty, crunchy, acidic, but that doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s like… a citrusy beef… nest. Served on black beans and rice. Why would you want to eat that? You don’t know, but you can’t stop.

Meanwhile, “roasted marinated pork with sautéed onions” is such a simple description for a masterwork like the lechón asado, I’m kind of insulted on its behalf. Lechón is roast suckling pig, so it’s supposed to be juicy and tender and it feels stupid to point this out, but. The juiciness and the tenderness of the meat are off the charts and into the stratosphere here, with the sweet mojo marinade and porky richness coming through in stereo. There’s other places in Seattle that serve lechón in other styles, and quite a few great ones, but no lechón will ever compare to this lechón. My life’s lechón. 

(I said this about Lasa Sandwiches and Pearls in Lynnwood last year, fwiw.)

Mojito also initiated me into the cult of pabellón, the national dish of Venezuela: shredded beef stewed in a dense, brick-red chili-onion-tomato sauce. Total flavor powerhouse. I add maduros to everything I order here, by the way, because I fucking love maduros, so get those. Still a fresh convert to this menu, my plan is to pull up on an autumn Sunday so I can experience the sancocha de cola (oxtail soup)—I have high expectations.

To add to all of this wonderment is Mojito’s funny, chatty owner Luam Wersom and his equally chatty staff, who make a point to go around to each table and seduce each customer into friendship. Wersom’s a good dude too, providing thousands of meals a year to the University District Food Bank and FamilyWorks Seattle, among other local charities. Go visit his little yellow triangle bistro, get the best meal of your lifetime, and then let him rizz you up afterward—you’ll be hooked forever.

Gainsbourg's the Gainsbourger with an added fried egg. (Always add the fried egg.) Meg van Huygen



Average entree price: $17 if it’s not happy hour

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: A FEW

Gainsbourg is my sweet French-adjacent neighborhood diner, and I write about it all the time, but our love affair really entered its belle époque this year when I moved back to the old nabe, after a few years away. This is one of my favorite restaurants in the universe, fiction or nonfiction. They have the world’s best hamburger, first off, a swirling amalgam of lamb AND beef to which you can add things like Gruyere, a fried egg, or ham—and it’s only seven bucks at happy hour! But burg aside, I sincerely love every item on this menu with all of my heart, from the macaronis et fromage to the white wine-sauteed mushrooms with shallots, which I will eat unabashedly with a spoon. The well-curated mixed olives, the luxurious duck-fat frites, the roasted tarragon carrots when they happen to appear on the chalkboard. 

The way to go is to order a few small plates and languidly stroll through them, like a flaneur of food. It’s not actual French cuisine, I get that, but I do not care. Every dish at Gainsbourg feels like a meticulously choreographed intersection of simple and bijoux. Affordable, too: the spendiest item, the hanger steak, is $21, with most items priced substantially below. All the cocktails are pretty and pristine as well—my signature is the Microphone Czech with gin, Becherovka herbal digestif, celery shrub, tonic, and lime, with the tonic swapped out for soda—and the specials are always artful and exceptional. I could go on.

The other day, my regular laptoppin’ cafe was packed, and I ended up at the bar top at Gainsbourg at 4 pm on a Tuesday. Bit early for dinner, but fuck it: I treated myself to a decadent solo meal of the artisan baguette with sea-salted Euro butter, a tureen of olives, the roasted beet salad with red and gold beets, walnuts, and blobs of fourme d'Ambert cheese, and a big French press with cream—all for me. Took two hours, but I faced that entire baguette by myself plus all of the butter, et non, je ne regrette rien

I emphatically recommend taking yourself on an afternoon date to Gainsbourg in this way, maybe adding some of the duck-fat frites or a crème brulée, or even a glass of Côtes du Rhône, sitting at the bar by the naked-lady absinthe fountain, and just taking in the Yé-yé pop soundtrack and the smells and the details of the space. Soaking in the splendor of just being. Self, you just got Franced.

Fort St. George's meat sauce spaghetti with garlic mayo and their ever-revolving specials board. Meg van Huygen


Chinatown–International District

Average entree price: $17

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: A COUPLE

In the atrium of this '90s-era office building in the heart of Chinatown, look up at the mezzanine above the dusty signs of the travel agency, and you’ll notice there’s folks… eating dinner up there, in what’s essentially a glassed-in office hallway. That’s weird. Go up the staircase, and you’ll find the bar half of Fort St. George, originally a gutter-ass dive, and its open-air kitchen and skinny makeshift dining room extending along the balustrade on the right. 

FSG belongs in every city guide to Seattle, as an indelible and crucial piece of our culinary identity. There’s nothing else like it—it’s the knuckleball of Seattle restaurants. Fort St. George serves yōshoku cuisine, a Japanese interpretation of Western comfort-food classics that’s taken on its own identity as part of Japanese cuisine—to which owner Ikuko Maekawa has added bits and bites from American culture, like cheesy fries and banana milkshakes. It’s kind of like how Björk allegedly writes her lyrics in English, translates them into Icelandic, and then translates them back into English to make them extra kooky.

If you’ve never had this style of food and the idea of grilled beef tongue or kimchi and cod roe in spaghetti shakes you up, I urge you to just charge in. To gain power, you must first give up control, and the power to be gained here is knowing about your new favorite dish on earth. There is a lot of fucking spaghetti on this menu, all good, but the hero is the meat sauce with garlic mayonnaise, lookin’ straight out of the Spaghetti Factory but crisscrossed with garlicky, extra-eggy Japanese mayo. Not interested in your preconceived opinions about mayonnaise and where it does and doesn't belong. Just do this. Twirl that shit up. You’re gonna clean that plate, I promise. 

In addition to being one of the all-time CULINARY TREASURES of SEATTLE HISTORY, Fort St. George has a rep for real strong pours and is the first place I ever got blackout drunk to the point where my brain was no longer forming new memories. (They’ve eased up a bit since then.) It’s also where I first had omurice, a soft, savory omelet on ketchup-flavored rice, later to become famous on the internet, as well as doria, a cheesy seafood rice casserole. 

Speaking of knuckleballs, this is totally where you wait for your boyfriend while he’s at the Mariners game. Last time, we were texting as we individually got loaded—he on $14 IPAs and me on shōchū-based King St. Lemonades—and when he was like “Mariners suck and I’m starving, can’t take it anymore, omw,” I ordered the garlic meat spaghetti AND the shrimp/scallop doria, along with a plate of menchi katsu (breaded, deep-fried meatballs, often on special), and the server delivered it the exact second he walked through the door, and you should have seen this man’s face. The for-real greatest day of his life. We were like locusts.

Thai Tom's kitchen and the famous drunken noodles with tofu. Mark DeJoy


University District

Average entree price: $12

Veggie options: YES

Vegan options: YES

We all know about Thai Tom, I hope, but I’m putting it here because I don’t want people to forget about it. Owner Tom Suanpirintra passed away in 2021, much too young, and it makes me worry. Let it be known that, if you thought the food quality might have fallen off, good news: it's as baller as ever. 

Opened in the early '90s, Thai Tom was one of the O.G. Thai restaurants in Seattle—understandably, since Tom’s mom, Lisa Suanpirintra Ruhl, opened Bellevue’s Thai Kitchen in 1981. An Eastside kid, Tom was once described to me as the Michael Jackson of chefs, because he’d wear tons of black leather and jangly cuffs and metal jewelry and do cool shit like point at the wok and make it burst into flames. His food’s even more unforgettable—like the gorgeous, barely charred noodles on the Pad See You Again [sic], with just a lacy singe from the wok's breath, or the spicy-smooth swimming rama studded with peanuts and herbs, all made at mach speed by a member of the KISS Army. 

Devastating that Tom’s no longer with us, but head chef George Kijsondhi, who’s been running the whole show at Thai Tom since Suanpirintra stepped back from the grill in 2004, is still carrying on the tradition to the letter. The place still crackles with energy: the dining room layout is still cluttered and cozy, the grill is still right up in your grill as you eat (when you sit at the bar, which you should), and the cooks still do all the dope pyrotechnics. The menus are still handpainted wooden slabs, the entrees are still cheap as chips, and the drunken noodles will still make you groan with base pleasure on every bite. Nothing has changed here.

The Ave needs Thai Tom, as does the city—and don’t let the fact that we no longer have Suanpirintra around make you skip it, because surprise, you’ve been experiencing the supposed New Way for almost 20 years now. The usual line outside hasn't been seen lately, so just saying. This restaurant quintessentially represents Seattle’s true culinary soul: a place where students and professionals alike can eat deliriously well, all snuggled up with their neighbors, for around twelve bucks. Let’s keep it that way.