Dandelion 5809 24th Ave NW, 706-8088, $$
A delicately scaled cafe, with glowing lighting, an open kitchen, and a relaxed ease seems downright Californian. The menu is pointedly unfussy: just six or seven appetizers, a few cheese choices, and six or seven entrées, all of it bundled up with lots of farmy name-dropping (Full Circle greens, Oregon Country beef, Quillisascut cheese) to let you know that someone in the kitchen cares about how the ingredients are grown.
Hattie's Hat 5231 Ballard Ave NW, 784-0175, $$
Hattie's no longer has pot--roast night (rest its soul), but the buttermilk-soaked fried chicken with gravy (and choice of excellent sides) is still around. Breakfast--biscuits and gravy, huevos rancheros, good pancakes with jam--is no longer served all day and night, but is worth getting out of bed for.
Le Gourmand 425 NW Market Street, 784-3463, $$$
Traditional French cuisine done up with fresh Northwest produce makes for down-to-earth yet fancy food with names that are hard to pronounce but very easy to enjoy.
Ray's Boathouse Cafe 6049 Seaview Ave NW, 789-3770, $$$
Although patrons flock to Ray's outdoor area when the sun hits Seattle, seafood lovers keep coming back once the rains return. The Ballard institution offers both "cafe" and dining-room seating and a wide selection of dishes from the sea, but some of its star attractions are on the super-cheap happy-hour specials menu.
Afrikando 2904 First Ave, 374-9714, $
The tasty Senegalese dishes made here--plates of ripe produce and savory meats--are filling, rich with flavor, and unlike anything in town.
The Apartment 2226 First Ave, 956-8288, $$
Named for the Billy Wilder movie starring Jack Lemmon (which plays on a plasma screen) this sleek Belltown loung has smart cocktails and tasty if not pretty steaks.
Brasa 2107 Third Ave, 728-4220, $$$
One of the current Seattle food stars, Brasa may overwhelm average diners--the menu is far-flung and can be intimidating--but it's a surprisingly fun place to go with a group for appetizers in the bar.
Buffalo Deli 2123 B First Ave, 728-8759, $
Rumor has it that the cozy little Buffalo Deli has the best French dip (or would that be Freedom dip?) in town!
Cyclops 2421 First Ave, 441-1677, $$
Another Belltown restaurant that's often packed, Cyclops earns its popularity by serving good, imaginative food and tasty drinks.
El Gaucho 2505 First Ave, 728-1337, $$$
A swank, old school, see-and-be-seen spot to fill up on salty steaks and good martinis. Great for expense-account dinners, or to entertain your parents.
Five Point Cafe 415 Cedar St, 448-9993, $
Another one of Seattle's 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.
Flying Fish 2234 First Ave, 728-8595, $$
One of the first and still one of the best of the high-end, upscale/casual eateries in Belltown. Whole grilled fish, huge platters of well-prepared seafood, and a happening bar all make Flying Fish a must-eat spot. Pricey but justifiably so.
Noodle Ranch 2228 Second Ave, 728-0463, $
A stone's throw from the Crocodile Cafe, Noodle Ranch is an ever-so-slight step up from your many alternative between-band options on Second Avenue--pan-Asian cuisine with some of the best green curry in town.
Two Bells Tavern 2313 Fourth Ave, 441-3050, $
Great pub food, great drinks, and exceptionally friendly service. A comfortable neighborhood joint.
Zoe 2137 Second Ave, 256-2060, $$
A friendly upscale Belltown spot with European sophistication (they're not afraid of kids) and inventive, high-class American cooking.
Ballet 914 E Pike St, 328-7983, $
Under vigorous new ownership, the once-spotty Ballet has reemerged as Capitol Hill's underdog champ of routinely delicious food. Offering an array of Asian, pan-Asian, and Pacific Rim delights (including a much-celebrated pho), Ballet's key asset is shockingly fresh, expertly prepared vegetables--if you're trying to bed a vegetarian, take 'em here and you're a shoo-in.
Cafe Septieme 214 Broadway E, 860-8858, $
Places all over town have copied Cafe Septieme's trademark blood-red walls, but no place in the city can capture Septieme's ambience. At lunch, have the chicken club or the Septieme salad. At dinner, the schnitzel, the spaghetti carbonara, and the strip steak are all worth the calories. Breakfasts are awesome--and can take the edge off any hangover. Lattes are served in a bowl at Septieme and you're free to sit as long as you like.
Coastal Kitchen 429 15th Ave E, 322-1145, $$
With its revolving, typically delicious menu, Coastal Kitchen rustles up geographically themed "coastal inspired foods" on a seasonal basis. Don't be frightened: It's carved a niche serving food that's both exotic and familiar. One thing that never changes: stunningly delicious brunch items, grouped under the unfortunate title "Blunch."
Crave 1621 12th Ave, 388-0526, $$
Crave is the kind of restaurant that seems to crop up in every district in San Francisco and Brooklyn. It is not a destination restaurant, but cultivates regulars with a slightly industrial space, medium prices, and a menu of homey dishes done up in noble ingredients. Restaurants like this should be a given.
Galerias 611 E Broadway, 322-5757, $$
Scrumptious nouveau Mexican food, jaw-dropping margaritas, and a charmingly laissez-faire wait staff make Galerias a beloved fixture on Broadway. And it's not all melted cheese and mole: Check out the carefully imaginative salad options, which are meals unto themselves.
Vios Cafe & Marketplace 903 19th Ave E, 329-3236, $
Follow the pita-the pita will not lead you atray. Sturdy, yet soft and pillowy, it can be dipped in baba ghanoush, tzatziki, or hummus.
Catfish Corner 2726 E Cherry St, 323-4330, $$
Catfish encrusted with cornmeal, catfish baked and drizzled with spicy, buttery sauce, catfish catfish catfish. Plus, side dishes that are like school food only better: rice and beans, a curry-tinged potato salad, and sweet li'l cornmeal muffins.
CC's Gourmet Burgers 2600 E Union St, 324-2119, $
No chutney relishes, mayonnaise referred to as aioli, or fried cheese sticks. No nonsense. CC's does provide a "fishwich," and chicken and garden burger options, but to be sure, these things sway from the mission: an honest-to-god hamburger.
Ezell's Fried Chicken 501 23rd Ave, 324-4141, $
The best fried chicken in the country, dished out over a low-key neighborhood counter. Oprah has it FedExed directly to her mouth.
Ms. Helen at Deano's Cafe and Lounge 2030 E Madison St, 322-7670, $
Ms. Helen is a one-woman show at a lunch counter inside a bar, and what a show it is. The tenderest possible oxtails, okra stew with corn and tomatoes, fried catfish with a sweet cornmeal crust, and skillet-style cornbread that is so good you'll want to howl. Service can take a while--that's a lot of work for one woman--but you won't begrudge a single second of it.
Philadelphia Fevre 2332 E Madison St, 323-1000, $
The sexy sandwiches at Philadelphia Fevre are filled with fistfuls of shaved meat and creamy melted American cheese.
R & L Home of Good Barbeque 1816 E Yesler Way, 322-0271, $
With its somewhat inarguable moniker, R & L has been providing inexpensive barbeque and soul cuisine--Louisiana style--for over 50 years.
13 Coins 125 Boren Ave N, 682-2513, $-$$$
Dark, swanky, and somewhat spooky, this 24-hour dining den blends a mid-'70s bachelor-pad vibe with freakishly ambitious grill fare. But if you need a top-dollar steak-and-lobster combo at 4:30 am, this is your place.
727 Pine 727 Pine St, 774-6400, $$
The ambience here is pre-2000 boom, and the food seems accordingly opulent--actually, the menu is mostly just elevated versions of things you've had before, eclectic American cuisine and so forth. We like the lounge, for fancy comfort food and happy-hour specials.
Alexandria's on Second 2020 Second Ave, 374-3700, $$
There isn't just one Southern cuisine out there, and the menu at Alexandria's is scattered to the torpid breezes of several southerly regions. It boasts Cajun classics like the jambalaya; soul food standards--fried chicken and catfish, barbecued ribs plus all the sides--the collards, the macaroni and cheese, the sweet potatoes; a Caribbean dish or two.
Alibi Room 85 Pike St, 623-3180, $$
Located underneath Pike Place Market, the offhand chicness of the Alibi Room makes it a great place to hang out for drinks and board games or to have a simple, tasty dinner. Beloved by local cineastes.
Assaggio 2010 Fourth Ave, 441-1399, $$$
The ebullient Mauro Golmarvi presides over Assaggio, shaking hands and kissing babies. This is food in the tradition of tourist-friendly Italian restaurants, but no matter--some of it, such as the brodo aconetano (mussels, clams, scallops, and bay shrimp packed in a fragrant tide pool of creamy saffron broth), is very good.
Bakeman's 122 Cherry St, 622-3375, $
Bakeman's turkey sandwich is legendary, and has been around longer than most things in Seattle. You line up cafeteria-style, and you better know what you want: light or dark meat, white or wheat bread, cranberry or no. Other stuff is good; the turkey sand is great.
Earth & Ocean 1112 Fourth Ave, 264-6060, $$$
The minimalist Zen-inspired restaurant attached to downtown's W Hotel plays host to a widely varied menu. You'll find wild-boar sausage and oysters, mache and salmon, wild mushrooms and scallops, all mixed and matched and dished up high on tiny plates. Plus: fancy top-shelf drinks and slick desserts.
Elliott's Oyster House 1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56, 623-4340, $$
Raw oysters are what the late Laurie Colwin would have called a "cheap luxury," meaning you can enjoy them in small amounts--and therefore not nurse feelings of deprivation from high lifestyle--for a moderate price. You might not get full on a half-dozen oysters, but you will be more than satisfied.
Etta's Seafood 2020 Western Ave, 443-6000, $$
Alongside its many celebrated seafood items, Etta's also offers a juicy, pleasing wedge of iceberg lettuce doused with Thousand Island dressing among its fancier salads. Props to the iceberg, yo.
Il Bistro 93-A Pike St, 682-3049, $$
Off the cobblestones that run under Pike Place Market, Il Bistro is a nice spot for a cozy date or to get away from the bustle and savor some tippy-top-shelf scotch. Bowls of pasta and zesty cioppino are satisfying choices among other Italian fare.
Bandoleone 703 N. 34th St, 329-7559, $$
Perfect. If you want to impress a date. Perfect. If you want to celebrate an anniversary. Perfect. If you need a place for a friend's birthday. Perfect. If your parents are in town. Perefcet. Perfect. Perfect. A cozy, noisy, elegant resaurant 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, $$
The standard sushi options are perfect here but you should absolutely look at the specials list, where you might find little silver smelt, or monkfish liver, or aji (a kind of Spanish mackerel that's less fatty than the usual kind). Chiso is a serene urban spot hidden away in funk-land Fremont, so it's not often very crowded.
El Camino 607 N 35th St, 632-7303, $$
Fancy Mexican food, with fancy drinks and cute waiters. Don't miss the deep-fried plantain chips with guacamole.
Fremont Classic Pizzeria & Trattoria 4307 Fremont Ave N, 548-9411, $
Great pizza and entrées in a cozy, friendly neighborhood space.
Kwanjai Thai 469 N 36th St, 632-3656, $
Located in the Thai-food capital of Seattle--where Thai restaurants outnumber baby strollers almost two to one--the casual Kwanjai Thai has earned a reputation as being worth the wait. They're serious about their noodles, soups, and star-spice ratings, and many swear it's the Thai talk of the town in Fremont, which is saying a lot.
Longshoreman's Daughter 3510 Fremont Pl N, 633-5169, $
Diner food with imaginative twists. Great breakfast, served into the afternoon.
Acorn Eatery & Bar 9041 Holman Rd NW, 297-0700, $$
The Acorn Eatery & Bar serves Italian food (pasta, pizza) as well as local entrées (salmon).
Gordito's Healthy Mexican Food 213 N 85th St, 706-9352, $
Huge, healthy portions and an absence of lard and fat make this one of the neighborhood's busier joints.
Manna Smoked BBQ 10410 Holman Rd N, 782-5491, $
Texas-style barbecue done right with briskt, ribs, and sausage. The smoky baby-back pork ribs were this non-Texan's favorite
Red Mill Burgers (Phinney Ridge) 312 N 67th St, 783-6362, $
Perhaps most famous for the aromatic heaps of freshly fried bacon ready to be crisscrossed on a burger, Red Mill just might offer the best in Seattle--especially the green-chile-draped southwestern version. (Full veggie options accommodated.)
Saktaro 14053 Greenwood Ave N, 365-6025, $$
From the miniature prawns with big chunks of pancetta and goat cheese to the top sirloin and halibut and risotto cakes, Saltaro delivers on every front, with plenty of its namessake salt.
House of Hong 409 Eighth Ave at Jackson, 622-7997, $
Top-notch food and fast-paced dim sum. Hesitate too long over a dish in the cart and it's gone.
Malay Satay Hut 212 12th Ave S, 324-4091, $
Three cuisines fuse under the heading of Malaysian food: the intense sweetness possible in Chinese food joining the slower, more lumbering heat and weight of Indian and the brightness of Thai that we identify with cilantro and fish sauce. Here, you'll want the roti canai (soft Indian flatbread served with a potato curry), the Belachan okra (okra sautéed in pungent shrimp paste), and perhaps a whole steamed fish.
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.
Yoshinobo Japanese Restaurant 520 S Jackson St, 405-4646, $
Yoshinobo's food is rich in ordinary pleasures: the exquisite variety of the bento box, the clean-as-a-whistle sushi, the nabeyaki udon topped with tempura and a lovely poached egg. The tatami rooms are serene, but the U-shaped bar with the Captain Kirk chairs is strictly bizarro-world.
Canlis 2576 Aurora Ave N, 283-3313, $$$
Fancy folks, businesspeople, and retirees love this atrium-like dining room that serves upscale surf-and-turf and specialties like wasyugyu tenderloin. Take your parents. Make them pay.
El Diablo Coffee Company 1811 Queen Anne Ave N #101, 285-0693, $
In addition to cinnamony hot chocolate and cafe cubanos sweetened with a little caramelized sugar, El Diablo offers nice snacky bits: coconut cake and sandwiches and cheese plates, plus milky tropical fruit shakes (batidos) made with mangos, papayas, and the like.
Kaspar's 19 W Harrison St, 298-0123, $$
Famous for the Tower, a three-tiered sampling of appetizers that is chosen by the chef and changes nightly, Kaspar's is a good way to get your fill of fancy food. After you and your date have devoured the Tower, be sure to save room for the desserts, which are always impressive and delicious.
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.
Shanty Cafe 350 Elliott Ave W, 282-1400, $
Your basic coffee-shop breakfast, in a sort of lumberjack atmosphere. The Shanty actually looks like a shanty, but never mind. Here are sympathetic waitresses who are brisk, but keep your coffee cup full.
Shiki 4 W Roy St, 281-1352, $$
Owner Ken Yamamoto is the only chef in Washington State certified to handle fugu--the blowfish with the poisonous liver. If you like taking your life in your hands, this is the place to do it, although there are lots and lots of things on the menu (and gorgeous sushi) that are quite delicious and not life-threatening.
Tup Tim Thai 118 W Mercer St, 281-8833, $
We've never heard an ill word spoken about the comfortable yet convenient Tup Tim Thai. Maybe that's why its lunch and dinner hours are consistently bustling and its regulars refuse to eat Thai anywhere else.
Rainier Valley/Beacon Hill/ Mount Baker/Columbia City
Jones BBQ 3216 S Hudson St, 725-2728, $
BBQ enthusiasts have said that Jones BBQ in Rainier Valley has the best ribs and the best Arkansas-Texas-influenced sauce in town. It's one-stop shopping for barbecue fans.
Judkins Barbecue 2608 S Judkins St, 328-7417, $
Good, cheap barbecue in a comfortable setting.
Rose Club Cafe 3601 S McClellan St, 725-3654, $$
The unpretentious neighborhood cafe serves homemade-tasting breakfasts and lunches. Wooden booths permit privacy, although the place is more cozy-casual than romantic.
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.
SoDo/Georgetown/ South Park
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.
Pecos Pit BBQ 2260 First Ave S, 623-0629, $
If you're trapped in South Seattle, and your mouth won't stop watering at the thought of tender, smoked meat, hit up Pecos.
Wazobia West African Cuisine 170 S Washington St, 624-9154, $$
Unfamiliar components like fufu and egusi melon seeds come together with chicken and spicy okra stew to create a perfect balance of flavor and texture. Also tempting is the Nigerian pepper soup, which, as the menu informs us, is "consumed in great quantities by beer and palm wine drinkers."
Big Time Brewery & Alehouse 4133 University Way NE, 545-4509, $
The quintessential college bar. Wood-warm, with big and aged tables, the joint offers affordable and hearty food for lean students and rich and dark beers for full professors. Their chili is worth its price.
Calypso Caribbean Kitchen 7917 Roosevelt Way NE, 525-5118, $$
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.
Cedar's on Brooklyn 4759 Brooklyn Ave NE, 527-5247, $$
This treasured U-District hole-in-the-wall offers reliably delicious Indian and Middle Eastern fare (tandoor-cooked meats, Indian curries, great falafel) that you'll find yourself craving with shocking regularity.
Shultzy's Sausage 4114 University Way NE, 548-9461, $
Shultzy's used to be a tiny, crowded storefront where you had to fight your way up to the grill, manned by friendly and sausage-mad college guys. Now it's a nice, spacious restaurant, but the essentials are the same: tremendously excellent sausages (kosher, andouille, Italian, you name it), onions and peppers optional, plenty of sauerkraut if you like it.
Sunlight Cafe 6403 Roosevelt Way NE, 522-9060, $
Vegan and vegetarian comfort food. Very good, and popular, breakfasts.
Thai Tom 4543 University Way NE, 548-9548, $
Sit at the counter and watch cooks ladle varying portions of sauces, meats, vegetables, and spices into crusty woks, and keep the ingredients dancing frantically on blackened surfaces over tall flames. Ingredients don't spend a lot of time on the fire, so they don't suffer from the overkill-spice-absorption and mushiness you often find in Thai restaurants. This is vibrant, macho cooking-some of the best Thai food in Seattle.
Diggity Dog 5421 Meridian Ave N, 633-1966, $
A popular neighborhood hangout, with hot dogs that are pretty good. They could be served a little hotter, but at least Diggity Dog isn't stingy with the sauerkraut.
Luau 2253 N 56th St, 633-5828, $$
Fun and crazy--expect Polynesian ambiance complete with thatched roof and oversized pupu platters.
Stone Way Cafe 3620 Stone Way N, 547-9958, $
This tiny neighborhood cafe boasts a regular breakfast crowd who give high marks to items like omelets and biscuits and gravy. Lunch is good too--down-home food (think burgers and other standard diner fare) served up quick.
Da Bro Ribs 6459 California SW, 938-7868, $$
Backporch BBQ has been under new management and has a new, revamped and very tantalizing message.
West Seattle/White Center
Guadalajara 9214 45th Ave SW, 935-8595, $
Guadalajara has all the standard fare like quesadillas, enchiladas and tacos, plus token American favorites, like steak and grilled cheese. But it's their authentic Mexican dishes that are superb.
Mashiko 4725 California Ave SW, 935-4339, $$$
Don't expect to leave the Ikea-stylish Mashiko for less than $30 a pop, and that's if you plan on eating light. That said, the fish is incredibly fresh, plentiful, and tasty, and the rolls are more creative than your standard California-roll-and-spicy-tuna affair. For those who can't decide, they have a couple of sashimi sampler plates at prices that range from expensive to very expensive, but if you've got the corporate card for the night (or you're just rich like that), this is the place to go.