Dandelion 5809 24th Ave NW, 706-8088, $$
A delicately scaled cafe, with glowing lighting, an open kitchen, and a relaxed ease seems downright Californian. The menu is pointedly unfussy: just six or seven appetizers, a few cheese choices, and six or seven entrées, all of it bundled up with lots of farmy name-dropping (Full Circle greens, Oregon Country beef, Quillisascut cheese) to let you know that someone in the kitchen cares about how the ingredients are grown.
The Dish 4358 Leary Way NW, 782-9985, $
For all of Seattle's hippie-dippiness, it's a real project to find a good tofu scramble in town. Luckily, there's the Dish.The Slacker Special is a rich, inventive scramble of cheeese, enchilada sauce, more cheese, onions, tortilla chips, and eggs or tofu, topped by a dollop of sour cream and salsa and offered with a side of potatoes and toast.
Hi-Life 5425 Russell NW, 784-7272, $
Housed in the beautifully renovated Ballard Firehouse. Hi-life serves a delicious breakfast. The Margurita Omelet, a three-egg omelet was filled with the perfect amount of basil, shredded mozzarella cheese and tomato slices glazed in balsamic vinegar.The Fancy French Toast was delicious too. Two huge slices of crusty and thick Essential Bakery bread were soaked to the core in yummy, not-too-sweet vanilla custard and cooked to a crisp, deep golden brown.
La Carta de Oaxaca 5431 Ballard Ave NW, 782-8722, $
If Oaxaca is Mole Central, how are the moles at La Carta? Some black moles have a hint of char to them, to balance out the sugar and chocolate in the sauce, but La Carta's sticks to sweeter notes. It's delicious and mysterious--perfect in tamales wrapped with banana leaves.
Market Street Grill 1744 NW Market St, 789-6766, $$
This is new Ballard--a sleek, sophisticated restaurant painted in IKEA-like colors, with food that seems to take on a bustling city's characteristics by being layered, complex, detailed, and very, very busy. Every dish is embellished up the wazoo, but it doesn't mean that some of them aren't very good.
Ray's Boathouse Cafe 6049 Seaview Ave NW, 789-3770, $$$
Although patrons flock to Ray's outdoor area when the sun hits Seattle, seafood lovers keep coming back once the rains return. The Ballard institution offers both "cafe" and dining-room seating and a wide selection of dishes from the sea, but some of its star attractions are on the super-cheap happy-hour specials menu.
Sambar 425 NW Market St, 781-4883, $$
A younger, nibblier restaurant from the owners of Le Gournand, Sambar specializes in elaborate cocktails and dainty portions of food.
Thaiku 5410 Ballard Ave NW, 706-7807, $
Not your usual smothered-in-coconut-milk Thai food. Some very nice and balanced dishes. Noodle soup with duck is especially good.
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.
Brasa 2107 Third Ave, 728-4220, $$$
One of the current Seattle food stars, Brasa may overwhelm average diners--the menu is far-flung and can be intimidating--but it's a surprisingly fun place to go with a group for appetizers in the bar.
Cyclops 2421 First Ave, 441-1677, $$
Another Belltown restaurant that's often packed, Cyclops earns its popularity by serving good, imaginative food and tasty drinks.
Dahlia Lounge 2001 Fourth Ave, 682-4142, $$
The ruby-red-walled Dahlia Lounge--for better or worse--is one of those quintessential Seattle restaurants that everyone takes out-of-town visitors to. Serving up favorites like salmon (of course), pork loin, and rib-eye steak (plus a few vegetarian options for good measure), Dahlia Lounge tops 'em all off with fancy purées (cipollini), confits (carrot), and emulsions (asparagus). But the real draw is dessert, featuring everything from chocolate cake or blueberry sorbet, to homemade doughnuts or poached apricots.
El Gaucho 2505 First Ave, 728-1337, $$$
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.
Jai Thai 2132 First Ave, 770-7884, $
Jai Thai's phad kee mao is a kind of variation on pad thai with wide noodles and curry, tremendously good with shrimp. Not everything is great, but here's decent, cheap Thai food at your service.
Lampreia 2400 First Ave, 443-3301, $$$
This quiet foodie mecca serves some understated, artful, and thickly delicious food: you know, foie gras, cheese, chocolate. If you're super serious about fine food, this is the place to go.
Le Pichet 1933 First Ave, 256-1499, $$
Unfussy, delicious, clean, uncluttered, real. Here is the place to indulge your cravings for all the weird, wonderful things the French do to meat, such as rillettes, confit, and pâté. Screw cinnamon rolls--what's better than a weekend breakfast of a cheesy baked egg and a tiny cup of espresso? Le Pichet could so easily have gone over the top with the preciousness and the pretentiousness and the expensive food; praise the Lord, it didn't.
Mama's Mexican Kitchen 2234 Second Ave, 728-6262, $
No one ever admits to liking Mama's Mexican Kitchen but people eat there all the time, making it the most popular guilty pleasure in town. Maybe it's because every delicious dish they serve is enormous and smothered in cheese.
Marco's Supperclub 2510 First Ave, 441-7801, $$
A truly urban place--one where a lot of people share a small space and interaction is inevitable, not to say guaranteed--serving truly urban food, with ethnic flourishes from all over. The gossamer fried sage leaves have become something of a legend.
Marjorie 2331 Second Ave, 441-9842, $$
Food from all over the place: There's both fish sauce and mango salsa on the menu. It's eclectic, and the quality varies from one region to the next.
Mistral 113 Blanchard St, 770-7799, $$$
Mistral is one of a few Seattle restaurants offering an unapologetically haute-cuisine experience. The formal dining freaks out some people, as do the prices, but its young chef, William Belickis, gets consistent praise for his high-minded tasting menus, which are sometimes improvised for individual guests. Be ready to spend $100-plus a person.
Saito's Japanese Cafe and Bar 2122 Second Ave, 728-1333, $$$
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.
Toi 1904 Fourth Ave, 267-1017, $$
Toi, first a dance club, second a restaurant, is a great place to wine and dine your date and then get your dance on.
Cafe Septieme 214 Broadway E, 860-8858, $
Places all over town have copied Cafe Septieme's trademark blood-red walls, but no place in the city can capture Septieme's ambience. At lunch, have the chicken club or the Septieme salad. At dinner, the schnitzel, the spaghetti carbonara, and the strip steak are all worth the calories. Breakfasts are awesome--and can take the edge off any hangover. Lattes are served in a bowl at Septieme and you're free to sit as long as you like.
Capitol Club 414 E Pine St, 325-2149, $$
For those who scoff at the idea that an urban elitist joint like the Capitol Club--menu items here include braised lamb shank and butternut ravioli--could possibly outdo such Joe Public places as Red Mill, Red Robin, and Dick's as Seattle's burger mecca, I challenge you to give up your pseudo-populist pretensions and spend the money on this standard treat. The Capitol Club's hefty organic Kobe beef burger--secreted away near the bottom of the menu--comes with a huge dollop of roasted-pepper relish and a colorful array of vegetable-root chips, and is served perfectly charred.
Chapel 1600 Melrose Ave, 447-4180, $
This sleek but unpretentious bar has food that is anything but typical fare to accompany drinking. The foie gras has the texture of butter, it's infused with port, red currant and blueberry jam. The flavors are subtle and the foie gras is a guilty pleasure, the ultimate Catholic comfort food. The Wildcard is great for sharing; the assorted cured meats, imported cheeses, olives and marinated mushrooms are supposed to feed two but easily grazed for four.
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 as the temperature drops and the rain starts to fall.
Jamjuree 509 15th Ave E, 323-4255, $
This family-owned restaurant is a Capitol Hill favorite for seafood, curries, noodle dishes, and other Thai standards. With plenty of veggie options (they work small miracles with green beans) and street-style food, such as fish cakes and chicken satay.
Kimchi Bistro 219 Broadway E, 323-4472, $
Korean dishes are often spicy and always soulful (they like barbecue too, you know), and every entrée comes accessorized with funky, pickley kimchi and another little vegetal treat. Oxtail soup, with clear slippery noodles, has an unmistakable fragrance. Bibimbop, the classic rice bowl, comes with a rainbow of marinated veggies, beef if you like it, and a very lightly fried egg on top.
Kingfish Cafe 602 19th Ave E, 320-8757, $$
From the day it opened its doors to do business, some five or so years ago, the lines into Kingfish have never diminished. People still wait, often for an hour during the weekends, to eat its fancy soul foods, and absorb its atmosphere of jazz and black American prosperity. Buttermilk fried chicken, thick and sweet collard greens, spicy and flesh-soft catfish are a few of their treasured items.
Linda's Tavern 707 E Pine St, 325-1220, $
Good bar food and standard, very solid breakfasts. One of Seattle's best drinking joints, with a killer jukebox.
Monsoon 615 19th Ave E, 325-2111, $$$
Sparse and simple Vietnamese cuisine in the upscale Monsoon is surprisingly comfortable--and well worth the menu price.
Oasis Cafe 1024 E Pike St, 323-3293, $
Live in Seattle long enough and you start to feel like we have more Thai restaurants than freakin' Thailand. The lunch specials are outstanding here though, setting it apart from the many Thai restaurants on Capitol Hill. You can spend under $10 on a full meal--an entrée, Phad Thai, and steamed rice, plus a bowl of miso soup. The Buddhist Tofu is especially rich, its golden garlic sauce (peppered with spicy red flakes) covering tofu, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, and mushrooms with just enough flavor to avoid drenching the food.
Ristorante Machiavelli 1215 Pine St, 621-7941, $$
Here is basic Italian food made exactly right--the Bolognese with different meats plus chicken livers, carbonara that is not scrambled but silken and decadent, a restrained but perfect antipasto plate. And the service is some of the best in the city: brisk, excellent, and, above all, dedicated to getting the food on the table while it's still hot.
Six Arms 300 E Pike St, 223-1698, $
Good, non-adventurous food and stellar beer. A very relaxed, comfortable place.
Tango Tapas Restaurant & Lounge 1100 Pike St, 583-0382, $$
Tapas (of course), moderately priced and enjoyed in a posh, comfortable environment. Great bar, plus on Monday nights, all bottles on Tango's wine menu are half the listed price.
Catfish Corner 2726 E Cherry St, 323-4330, $$
Catfish encrusted with cornmeal, catfish baked and drizzled with spicy, buttery sauce, catfish catfish catfish. Plus, side dishes that are like school food only better: rice and beans, a curry-tinged potato salad, and sweet li'l cornmeal muffins.
Meskel 2605 E Cherry St, 860-1724, $$
The menu at Meskel extends beyond the standard wots (stews rich in berbere, a Ethiopian chile-based spice blend), tibbs (cubed-meat sautes), and veggie combos, and there always seems to be something special simmering up in the kitchen. Here the injera isn't just a floppy, edible utensil, but a lively flavor unto itself, lending a cool, pleasantly sour counterpoint to all the slow-cooked stews.
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.
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.
Cafe Paloma 93 Yesler Way, 405-1920, $$
Mediterranean food with the emphasis on Turkey-such as some lovely little Turkish meatballs in a bright tomato sauce. Much of the food is of the sort of tapas/meze/happy-hour ethic, but prepared with care and delicious pita, and likely as not the jovial owner will check in with you from time to time to see how everything is.
Matt's in the Market 94 Pike St, 467-7909, $$
Only a few tables and a small bar tucked into a cozy second-floor restaurant. The place overlooks the big Market clock and a bit of the Sound, but the real draw is the clean simplicity of everything surrounding it--from the décor to the food. The dinner menu changes every two months but features plenty of seafood selections.
Palace Kitchen 2030 Fifth Ave, 448-2001, $$$
Expensive but worth it--if you can get a booth along the wall. The tables along the windows are cramped and the glare from the streetlights can be annoying. Terrific, hearty food, apple-wood grill, and awesome appetizers. The pork chops are terrific, the drinks are strong, and the monorail zips by overhead.
Pan Africa Market 1521 First Ave, 652-2461, $
This sunny cafe has dual menus: one rotates with African food from around the continent, from the slightly spicy Tanzanian groundnut stew to a chicken braised with dates in a more Moroccan vein. The other is devoted to Ethiopian standbys like spicy braised chicken, lentil stew, and beef with tomatoes.
Quarter Lounge 909 Madison St, 332-0772, $
The substance of these Cajun dishes will not disappoint you--however, you will wish there was a little more of them. The catfish sandwich and chicken strips are both excellent.
Rippe's 2801 Alaskan Way, Pier 70, 267-0236, $$
The concept-"Seattle's Blue Jeans Steakhouse"-is a little cheesy, but boy is the steak damn good. (It should be, considering that Rippe's is run by the team behind Belltown's swelligant El Gaucho.) The meat is dry-aged for four weeks until it's silky, beefy, and tender, and not the least bit mushy. Some of the details are a bit awry (rock-hard tomatoes, watery crab in the crab cocktail), but when the meat is this good, you can forgive a few things.
Zaina Food Drinks and Friends 108 Cherry St, 624-5687, $
At Zaina, they know how to overstuff a pita well, crowding it with veggies like eggplant, garbanzos, marinated peppers, and onions. Chicken's tasty too, but unnecessary amidst the vegetable glory. A mess is pretty much guaranteed: For a few dollars more, you can keep your cuffs clean and get a plate of the same elements, but it's less fun. At the downtown branch near the Bon, you can rent hookah pipes.
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.
Serafina 2043 Eastlake Ave E, 323-0807, $$
A rustic Euro-Italian restaurant in a low, easy-to-miss Eastlake building. Bright, delicious ingredients--fresh peperonata, white Spanish anchovies, tender pea shoots--lift the menu from suffocating red sauces to a variation on Tuscan purity. Even simple dishes such as flank steak (so easy to abuse) are treated with care.
Bandoleone 703 N. 34th St, 329-7559, $$
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.
Dad Watson's 3601 Fremont Ave N, 632-6505, $
A part of Oregon's McMenamins empire, Dad Watson's has the usual big burgers, big booths and tables, and big pints of beloved beer, like the Terminator Stout. While Oregon must endure Starbucks, we can enjoy McMenamins, a far more relaxed and less viral corporation.
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.
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.
Persimmon 4256 Fremont Ave N, 632-0760, $
Brunch that doesn't disappoint. With its jolly colors, beaded curtains, and sad clown paintings in the hallway, Persimmon's look is retro-cute, but not overstuffed. The same goes for the food.
The Red Door 3401 Evanston Ave N, 547-7521, $
More yuppie gloss than Fremont funk, the Red Door is a crowded beer-and-bar-food standby, with standard-issue sandwiches, burgers, shellfish, and fish and chips.
Greenwood Mandarin Restaurant 7307 Greenwood Ave N, 783-6426, $
A fine Chinese restaurant run by a fine family.
La Botana 8552 Greenwood Ave N, 706-5392, $
It's less well-known than the nearby Gordito's, but La Botana offers a different kind of Mexican dining experience, with sit-down house specialties like chicken in mole. Takeout food is good too, and includes tacos, tamales, and tortas. (Try one filled with cochinita pibil, tangy long-cooked pork.) La Botana opens early (at 10 am), so it's a good place to catch Mexican breakfast: eggs with shredded beef (machaca), chorizo, and huevos rancheros.
Mr. Gyros 8411 Greenwood Ave N, 706-7472, $
Mr. Gyros turns out the solid standards of quick Middle Eastern food: falafel, schawerma, kabobs, baba ghanoush, and hummus. The chicken schawerma stands out: It's scented with a hint of cinnamon, slathered with tahini, and wrapped in a thin pita.
OK Corral 8733 Greenwood Ave N, 783-3356, $
There are no menus at OK Corral, but if you order "the hook-up" you'll get that giddy sense that you know the secret handshake. The hook-up means a load of meat and an array of sides--at least four large ribs, two or three pieces of chicken, a hot link, beans and greens, and either a wedge of cornbread or a cluster of hush puppies--as well as all the "ghetto juice" (also known as Tang) the establishment has to offer. Caution: the hook-up is more than enough to feed two people.
Prost! 7311 Greenwood Ave N, 706-5430, $
This tavern is all about the beer, with a dizzying selection of German imports. On Wednesday nights, the dinner special--rippchen mit sauerkraut--is a must. This salty little treat is a gorgeous piece of pork tenderloin, smoked unto pinkness and then long-cooked until it just about falls apart in a pot of sauerkraut.
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.
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.
Yanni's 7419 Greenwood Ave N, 783-6945, $$
If you think you don't like Greek food, Yanni's may very well convert you. It's a neighborly place where the waiters will gently nag you about your Greek pronunciation, and where everything lamb is spiced and delicious. Dolmathes are not the cold little bombs of the deli case, but warm and bursting with ground meat and rice.
Zeek's Pizza 6000 Phinney Ave N, 789-0089, $
As much a hangout as a pizza place. You know--large pies of sauce and thick cheese, large pitchers of foamy beer, loud music.
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.
Mike's Noodle House 418 Maynard Ave S, 389-7099, $
Congee, a salty porridge made from rice, is the perfect mid-winter comfort food. Dip into the wide selection of congees at Mike's--the rock cod is a particularly satisfying choice.
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.
Szechuan Noodle Bowl 420 Eighth Ave S, 623-4198, $
A no-nonsense source of fabulous Sino-starch, The Bowl specializes in all things doughy, from bowls of ropy noodles to hand-pleated gyoza to scallion pancakes. Nearly everything served there possesses a deeply satisfying chew.
Tai Tung 655 S King St, 622-7372, $
Here is emotional fortitude in a bowl: Tai Tung has about 20 varieties of soup and hot pots, plus tons of specials--from comfort foods (sautéed string beans with shredded pork) to modest luxuries (wok-seared crab). You'll want to sit at the counter with the regulars.
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.
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.
Harvest Vine 2701 E Madison, 320-9771, $$
In a perfect world, you would never have to eat anywhere else. Each tapas dish is perfect in some way: aged Spanish cheeses, lovely anchovies, seared sea scallops, mushrooms sautéed with leeks and scrambled eggs, a whole pan-fried trout, Spanish ham... you could sit at the counter and have one amazing dish after another slide right by you. That would be heaven indeed.
Madrona Eatery 1138 34th Ave, 323-7807, $$
Offering a mixed bag of pub food and finer cuisines, Madrona Eatery is a family-friendly, early-to-bed local watering hole.
St. Clouds 1131 34th Ave, 866-655-5269, $$
An ambitious, good-hearted, elegant neighborhood joint, offering everything from nightly dinner (stylish spins on American standards) and happy hour (half-price drinks every weekday from 5-6:30 pm) to weekend breakfasts and late-night fare, with "light dining" offered till 1 am (2 am on weekends). Good food and drinks in a coolly charming atmosphere.
Canlis 2576 Aurora Ave N, 283-3313, $$$
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, $$
Famous for the Tower, a three-tiered sampling of appetizers that is chosen by the chef and changes nightly, Kaspar's is a good way to get your fill of fancy food. After you and your date have devoured the Tower, be sure to save room for the desserts, which are always impressive and delicious.
Malena's Taco Shop 620 W McGraw St, 284-0304, $
If you get tired of the showier restaurants on Queen Anne Avenue, Malena's offers relief in the form of a small, spare dining space, a no-nonsense white board of a menu, and tasty tacos and burritos filled with homemade salsa, carne asada, and carnitas.
Mecca 526 Queen Anne Ave N, 285-9728, $
An old-timey counter-and-booth-style diner, for those times when only dependable food can hit the spot. The jukebox is a history lesson unto itself.
Shanty Cafe 350 Elliott Ave W, 282-1400, $
Your basic coffee-shop breakfast, in a sort of lumberjack atmosphere. Here are sympathetic waitresses who are brisk, but keep your coffee cup full.
Shiki 4 W Roy St, 281-1352, $$
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.
Steel Pig BBQ 601 Roy St, 213-5870, $
The small Pig Out has a bit of everything: ribs, chicken, and catfish (which features melting, tender fish inside a briskly seasoned coating). The sauce on the ribs was very good: vinegary and sweet, with a little pepper kick.
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.
Pho and Banh Mi Saigon Restaurant and Deli 810 Rainier Ave S, 323-5570, $
The tofu sandwiches are deservedly famous and go for two dollars. Dine-in options are vast and delicious. There's papaya salad with beef jerky, and 13 varieties of pho. It's all good, and it's all cheap.
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.
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria 4918 Rainier Ave S, 721-3501, $
I couldn't decide between pizza or salad, and both seemed too indulgent even for rule-breaking. But that either/or decision was quickly and conveniently resolved when we ordered the Pizza Insalata alla Tutta Bella. The thin oven-baked crust is seasoned with sea salt and olive oil and then topped with a choice of salad. There's the basic ($5.95), classic Caesar ($6.50), Salerno ($7.50), and my choice the Napoli ($8.50), which has salami. The combination of salad and pizza, which sounded strange at first, was perfect.
SoDo/Georgetown/ South Park
Cucina De Santis 1759 First Ave S, 587-4222, $
Michael de Santis, owner and chef of teh cucina, servies up family recipes, rich on red sauce and melted cheese, fried peppers and onions whose smell beckons you to eat more than you really should.
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, $$
Unfamiliar components like fufu and egusi melon seeds come together with chicken and spicy okra stew to create a perfect balance of flavor and texture. Also tempting is the Nigerian pepper soup, which, as the menu informs us, is "consumed in great quantities by beer and palm wine drinkers."
Casa D'Italia 2615 NE 65th St, 525-7747, $
Casa D'Italia turned me into a drooling hero addict. the gateway sandwich was a seven-dollar number, the Joe Pesci: Italian tuna fish, tomato, and mixed greens. You'll be hooked too.
Cedar's on Brooklyn 4759 Brooklyn Ave NE, 527-5247, $$
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.
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.
S.U.B.S. Sandwiches 4754 University Way NE, 441-6366, $
They've got all the usual sandwiches here, but the 16 or so different Italian-meat combos (with copacolla, a peppery cured ham called prosciuttini, pepperoni, different kinds of salami, and mortadella) are what you've come for. Or else a sandwich of small, dense, tangy meatballs served warm with melted provolone on honey-ish wheat bread.
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.
Essential Baking Company 1604 N 34th St, 545-3804, $
Delicious European sandwiches, plus amazing bread.
Luau 2253 N 56th St, 633-5828, $$
Fun and crazy--expect Polynesian ambiance complete with thatched roof and oversized pupu platters.
Murphy's 1928 N 45th St, 634-2110, $
A great Irish joint with a spectacular beer selection and good bar food.
Nell's 6804 E Green Lake Way N, 524-4044, $$
Low-key, understated dishes made from seasonal local food. Sounds too good to be true, right? Philip Mihalski lets the ingredients do their own advertising, especially when he's flaunting the good stuff: porcini mushrooms, Black Mission figs, saffron, shaved black truffles, and veal sweetbreads.
Pacific Inn Pub 3501 Stone Way N, 547-2967, $
Your basic bar that happens to have unbelievably good fish and chips. Especially the fried oysters: a decently hard coating on the outside, but somehow still oystery and full of brine inside.
Spud's Fish & Chips 6860 E Greenlake Way N, 524-0565, $
Fish and chips done right. A classic Seattle restaurant.
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, $$
Backporch BBQ has been under new management and has a new, revamped and very tantalizing message.
West Seattle/White Center
Mashiko 4725 California Ave SW, 935-4339, $$$
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.
Phoenecia at Alki 2716 Alki Ave SW, 935-6550, $$
Food from all over the Mediterranean basin--the accents are Sicilian, Spanish, Turkish, Moroccan, Greek, and Middle Eastern, but they function as suggestions rather than strictly traditionally correct dishes. The bouillabaisse is what everyone talks about.
Spud's Fish & Chips 2666 Alki Ave SW, 938-0606, $
Fish and chips done right. A classic Seattle restaurant.
Taqueria del Rio 10230 16th Ave SW, 767-9102, $
At the little market that houses Taqueria del Rio, you can by dried chiles by the pound, Mexican candies galore, or a plastic statue of Jesus or Tweety Bird. In the dining area, the ceiling's hung with paper flags, the booths are lined in parrot-print fabric, and the conjunto music blares over the speakers. At $2.75, the fish taco runs a little pricey for the neighborhood, but it's overstuffed with fried fish bits, cabbage, and salsa, so who's complaining?
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.