Stateside: A fresh, airy space filled with all the right details. Jennifer Richard

Walking down Pike Street to have dinner at Stateside on a recent evening, I narrowly avoided stepping in feces while passing under a large, glowing sign that read "Wine Cheapest in the Capital Hill." There are few places on Capitol Hill that I would describe as transportive, but that's exactly what Stateside is: a fresh, airy space filled with all the right details—concrete floors, old wood, vintage-style chairs—that make it feel warm and well-worn. Lovely palm-leaf wallpaper and an abundance of plants—big philodendrons and staghorn ferns—hint at the tropical climate of Vietnam, from where chef and co-owner Eric Johnson takes his culinary cues. At Stateside, you feel comfortable but also wonderfully far away.

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Johnson spent more than a decade in France and China cooking for revered chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He chose to settle in Seattle, and he came with a specific vision: to cook Vietnamese food—the meeting point between Chinese and French cuisines. There's no shortage of places to get great Vietnamese food in Seattle, but what Johnson pursues feels different: respectful renditions of the cuisine, a mix of dishes both familiar and new to Seattleites, with an emphasis on complex flavors and masterful technique.

Jennifer Richard

With sardines escabeche ($12), Johnson lightly pickles the oily fish by bathing the filets in a warm, sharp vinaigrette made of fish sauce and ginger. Several generous handfuls of fresh herbs—mint, basil, and coriander—enliven the dish, while garlic chips, deeply toasted and crispy, add a welcome boost of texture and flavor.

Despite the smattering of crunchy, fried taro bits that topped a warm salad of black trumpet mushrooms and braised leeks ($13), the overall texture of the dish was a little too soft and mushy. However, the sauce alone—a combination of funky fermented black beans with nutty and sweet brown butter—was marvelous, especially when enriched by the yolk of a lacy-edged fried duck egg.

A meal at Stateside should always include an order of the fantastic chili cumin pork ribs ($13)—juicy, succulent, and fall-off-the-bone tender. The ribs are braised first, then rolled in whole cumin seeds and fresh red chilies before being pan-seared, giving them a fantastic, crispy exterior. (On a side note: whole cumin seeds! Why don't more chefs use them? They're so fragrant and pleasurable to crunch through.)

While Stateside feels more casual than fancy, both the front of house and back of house nail the details that can elevate a meal to a fine-dining experience: Servers are knowledgeable and comfortable fielding questions about ingredients and cooking techniques, while the kitchen expertly courses the meal, sending out dishes in just the right order at just the right pace.

Jennifer Richard

In the midst of a big meal of bold flavors, an entrée of clam rice ($23)—a bowl filled with jasmine rice, clams and mussels (perfectly cooked and taken out of their shells), roasted peanuts, pork rinds, red onion, and herbs—came exactly when we needed it, its clean flavors providing a respite. The dish comes with a separate bowl of hot clam broth (despite its unappealing murky gray color, it was delicious and deeply flavorful), a plate of traditional accompaniments (shrimp crackers, sliced star fruit), and a pitcher of salty, fermented shrimp paste. Diners are told to mix the different elements together. What could have been an awkward and overwhelming encounter with an unfamiliar dish was made easy by our server, who assured us: "You know best. Just do what feels right and intuitive."

Something else that felt right: digging into a steaming bowl of goat curry ($19). The huge, tender chunks of goat—grilled first, then braised in coconut milk—remained unapologetically gamey, able to match the strong flavors of the curry. It's a thick, rich, and filling dish but also miraculously bright, thanks to the fresh curry paste made with lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaf.

At night, Stateside feels somewhat secretive: The front door doesn't open directly onto the street, so you must first take a step into a small, dark alcove. Once inside, though, it's clear that the word on Johnson's food is out: The dining room is packed, even on weekday nights. If you don't feel like dealing with the wait, Stateside is open every afternoon and makes for a lovely, quiet lunch spot.

On a rainy day last week, I slurped tamarind fish broth ($13)—an expertly balanced sweet-salty-sour soup with chunks of rockfish and pineapple, slices of slick okra and spongy taro stem, along with tomato and citrusy rice paddy herb—and stared out the window. I was still on Pike Street, but I felt somewhere else entirely. recommended