Ballard

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 potroast 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.

Hi-Life 5425 Russell NW, 784-7272, $
Housed in the beautifully renovated Ballard Firehouse. Hi-Life serves a delicious breakfast. The Fancy French Toast was delicious. 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.

The Other Coast Cafe 5315 Ballard Ave NW, 789-0936, $
You know what sounds good? A huge, cheesy, potentially messy sandwich. Go here.

People's Pub 5429 Ballard Ave NW, 783-6521, $
If you're looking for the kind of hearty fare Germans use to power through dark, cold winters, the People's Pub's Kraut-friendly menu may be just what you need. Giant Wiener schnitzel helps to soak up its many brands of beer—some of which are meals in and of themselves.

Ray's Boathouse Cafe 6049 Seaview Ave NW, 789-3770, $$$
Although patrons flock to Ray's outºdoor 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.

Belltown

The Apartment 2226 First Ave, 956-8288, $$
Named for the Billy Wilder movie starring Jack Lemmon (which plays on a plasma screen) this sleek Belltown lounge has smart cocktails and tasty if not pretty steaks.

Dahlia Lounge 2001 Fourth Ave, 682-4142, $$
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.

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.

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.

Mistral 113 Blanchard St, 770-7799, $$$
Mistral is one of a few Seattle restaurants offering an unapologetically haute-cuisine experience. The formal dining freaks out some people, as do the prices, but its young chef, William Belickis, gets consistent praise for his high-minded tasting menus, which are sometimes improvised for individual guests. Be ready to spend $100-plus per person.

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.

Queen City Grill 2101 First Ave, 443-0975, $$
Seafood is the weeknight attraction at this longstanding Belltown corner spot, but weekends become overcrowded with hot-n-horny singles trolling for fun.

Capitol Hill

1200 Bistro 1200 E Pike St, 320-1200, $$
A bit of Belltown on Capitol Hill serving grown-up comfort food: a burger with Gorgonzola, pasta with smoked tomato sauce, grilled duck with potatoes. Plus, some really sophisticated-looking drinks.

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.

Broadway New American Grill 314 Broadway E, 328-7000, $$
Open early, open late, the Broadway Grill offers a good menu of perfectly okay renditions of American standards. Very popular with the gays and those who love them.

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."

Deluxe Bar & Grill 625 Broadway E, 324-9697, $
A great place to duck into during a rainstorm for a bowl of soup and some cozy cocktails, or to toss back some pints before taking in some subtitled gem at the nearby Harvard Exit. Food is good, but before its froofy remodel, the Deluxe had the greatest fries in the world. Sigh.

The Green Papaya 600 E Pine St, 323-1923, $$
Best known as "that Vietnamese place under the Press Apartments," the Green Papaya offers a full bar and sturdy takes on Vietnamese standards (with plenty of vegetarian options) in Crate and Barrel-furnished décor.

Hana 219 Broadway Ave E, 328-1187, $
Located on the lip of Broadway Alley, Hana is one of Capitol Hill's best bargains for sushi and teriyaki. Clean and casual, and usually quite crowded, it's still worth the wait.

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.

Support The Stranger

Piecora's 1401 E Madison St, 322-9411, $
Sure, there's an Italian menu, but Piecora is a simple destination for one thing: pizza by the slice, made to order.

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.

Satellite Lounge 1118 E Pike St, 324-4019, $
Boasting some of the most generous drink specials in town, Satellite Lounge is terribly underutilized by Seattle's hung-over community, whose heads would be quickly relieved by the salty, heavy breakfasts served on Saturday and Sunday mornings—particularly the eggs-and-steak dish. The Satellite also has excellent chicken wings—maybe the best on Capitol Hill.

Siam on Broadway 616 Broadway Ave E, 324-0892, $
Still the best good ol' Thai food to be found in Seattle. Weekend evenings can be busy, but always worth the wait.

Central District

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.

Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant 1325 E Jefferson St, 860-0403, $
What distinguishes Mesob from its numerous competitors is a certain lightness it achieves in what should otherwise be very heavy meals. The meats, the bread, the stews, the African greens, even the egg, which sits at the center of a wide variety plate, do not burden the stomach, but with assistance from honey wine, seem to be absorbed with great ease and satisfaction.

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.

Downtown/Pioneer Square

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.

Dragonfish Asian Cafe 722 Pine St, at the Paramount Hotel, 467-7777, $$
Sort of a pop-culture Asian restaurant where you can snack on cuisines from 'round the Pacific Rim. A good place to try dim sum (on weekends) for beginners: roasted-duck spring rolls, Chinese bacon and scallion mini-quiche, shiitake and salmon satay with a wonderful noodle salad, and savory spare ribs with hoisin sauce.

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.

El Puerco Lloron 1501 Western Ave, 624-0541, $
It means "the crying pig," ostensibly because the food is spicy but perhaps because life can be pretty colorless if you haven't been to this hot-pink-and-blue cafe for a while. The food is dished up cafeteria-style, and until you've had a tamale there, you haven't had a tamale. And yes, those are homemade corn tortillas.

The Green Room 1426 First Ave, 628-3151, $
Housed within the Showbox, the adjacent bar features a fresh and vibrant menu of American cuisine.

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.

Oceanaire Seafood Room 1700 Seventh Ave, 267-2277, $$$
Oceanaire has a kind of Titanic glamour, without the doomed feeling—although people were suspicious of this spiffy, expensive seafood restaurant opening when our economy was at its lowest. But Oceanaire has somehow proved them all wrong. Could the lobster cobb salad have something to do with it? The oysters Rockefeller? The insanely fresh fish? Dunno.

Tulio Ristorante 1100 Fifth Ave, 624-5500, $$
While Tulio's menu boasts some amazing and delicious-sounding Italian entrées (like lamb sirloin in a balsamic glaze), it's the impressive wine list that keeps people coming back.

Typhoon 1400 Western Ave, 262-9797, $$
If you want Thai food in Seattle, all you have to do is turn around and there are six billion choices at your feet, but if you want Thai food in Seattle and you want to get a little fancy and impress a date at the same time, look into Typhoon. Typhoon is a bit more expensive and has a little more ambiance than your typical local Thai joint.

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 Macy's, you can rent hookah pipes.

Eastlake

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.

Siam on Lake Union 1880 Fairview Ave E, 323-8101, $
Same great food as the original legendary Broadway location, offered in a snazzier, more expansive setting. Plus, E-Z parking!

Fremont

Brad's Swingside Cafe 4212 Fremont Ave N, 633-4057, $$
This wood-paneled cafe is probably best known for its hearty soups, ranging from seafood chowder to Caribbean-flavored lamb and venison stew.

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.

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.

Fremont Classic Pizzeria & Trattoria 4307 Fremont Ave N, 548-9411, $
Great pizza and entrées in a cozy, friendly neighborhood space.

Greenwood/Phinney

Carmelita 7314 Greenwood Ave N, 706-7703, $$
Carmelita is the city's highest-minded vegetarian restaurant, with elaborate dishes that set out to make you forget the portobello-mushroom "steak" that passes for a vegetarian meal at so many restaurants.

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.

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.

Stumbling Goat Bistro 6722 Greenwood Ave N, 784-3535, $$
Here, a purist philosophy results in a small, restrained menu. You might think you could cook this stuff at home, but don't be misled—it is precisely this simplicity, this lack of pretension or fuss, with a careful focus on each ingredient and its true flavor, that makes the food very good. The menu changes frequently; generally there is beef, pork, chicken, one type of fresh fish, and a risotto.

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.

International District

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.

Huong Binh Restaurant 1207 S Jackson St, 720-4907, $
A neat Vietnamese restaurant serving traditional Vietnamese combos.

King Cafe 723 S King St, 622-6373, $
Never too full, never too empty, and furnished with rather cheap chairs and tables, the King Cafe serves some of the best dim sum in Seattle. Their shrimp balls are unmatched, as is their sticky rice, which is huge and wrapped in large blue-green lotus leaves. The dim sum, offered from 11 am to 5 pm, arrives at the second-floor dining room on a mini-elevator, down the shaft of which the casually dressed Chinese waiters send their orders. Sadly, the King Cafe is closed Wednesdays.

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.

Madison Park

Nishino 3130 E Madison St, 322-5800, $$$
Nishino, considered one of the premier places to get sushi in a sushi-crazed town, offers its top-quality fare in lively surroundings. Open since 1995, the sushi bar is always bustling, and the room rings with exclamations of delight from ecstatic diners. The service is leisurely and friendly. Because of Nishiro's popularity, it's best to book reservations in advance. They also offer a variety of other dishes, if raw fish isn't your cup of tea.

Madrona/Leschi

Cafe Soleil 1400 34th Ave, 325-1126, $
Breakfast here is American, while dinner is Ethiopian by way of Madrona (with a few pasta dishes as well). The stews are delicious, with greens not cooked into limpness but fresh and light. It's all served with the traditional sour injera bread, but you might be tempted to use a fork.

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.

Queen Anne

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.

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.

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.

Orrapin Noodle Experience 2208 Queen Anne Ave N, 352-6594, $
It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel: You pick your noodles (fat, thin, clear, and so on), then you pick your soup (duck, spicy beef, halibut, veggie), and then you see how the story turns out. Actually, it's pretty hard to screw up, and the space is charming.

Racha 537 First Ave N, 281-8883, $$
So you're in the Queen Anne neighborhood and you want a safe bet for some pad thai? Go to Racha. It's littered with yuppies, but the food's delicious.

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.

Panos Kleftiko Taverna 815 Fifth Ave N, 301-0393, $$
You could make a whole dinner out of appetizers here, out of tzatziki and baked olives and stuffed artichoke hearts and chopped peppers. But the rest of the menu looks good, too.

Roti 530 Queen Anne Ave N, 216-7684, $
For lunch, Roti gives you a convenient little feast with a beginning, a middle, and an end. North Indian classics are assembled in a DIY buffet, with the requisite dahl, lovely vegetable-and meat-based curries, plus naan, chutney, and rice pudding to balance out your meal.

Rainier Valley/Beacon Hill/ Mount Baker/Columbia City

Baja Bistro 2410 Beacon Ave S, 323-0953, $
Good Mexican food isn't easy to find in Seattle, and I certainly wouldn't have guessed that Beacon Hill would be the destination for it. But Baja Bistro turns out to be the home of great Mexican fare.

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.The combination of salad and pizza, which sounded strange at first, was perfect.

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

Cucina De Santis 1759 First Ave S, 587-4222, $
Michael de Santis, owner and chef of the cucina, serves 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.

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.

Pig Iron Bar-B-Q 5602 First Ave S, 768-1009, $
The staff is of the hip, hot variety and the food comes in only medium-huge portions on cool-looking tin trays, with sides nested in matching cylinders. So even though no one's calling you "honey"—the hospitality's still fine, and the pulled pork is almost falling-apart tender, with crisped edges here and there.

Stellar Pizza & Ale 5513 Airport Way S, 763-1660, $
In this warehousey old space you can get pizzas that tilt between the classic and the nouveau (although we prefer the former), excellent sandwiches such as the meatball and the "Local 174" (Italian sausage, provolone, marinara, and hot peppers), and plenty of PBR on tap. Pretty much the heart of social life in Georgetown.

University District/Ravenna

Agua Verde Cafe and Paddleclub 1303 NE Boat St, 545-8570, $
If the sun is out, the water will be shimmering behind this cottage-like restaurant that, along with offering yam tacos and mango margaritas and hominy stew, also rents kayaks by the hour. The menu of simple, fresh food—tacos (meats, fish, and vegetables), empanadas, sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, nightly specials, and sublime desserts—recalls the cuisines of Baja, Oaxaca, Tampico, and salt-sprayed Mexican beach towns.

Cafe Lago 2305 24th Ave E, 329-8005, $$
A clean, bright restaurant with big windows that look out onto the leafy Montlake neighborhood. Customers cram the place for the fresh handmade pastas and delicious rustic pizzas. There may be a wait, but don't worry: There's a bar.

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.

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.

Queen Mary 2912 NE 55th St, 527-2770, $$
High tea, for ladies and their friends—pleasingly British, but not coyly so. Take solace in crustless finger sandwiches, scones, crumpets, cookies, beautifully cut fruit, and chocolate tea-cake.

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.

Sunlight Cafe 6403 Roosevelt Way NE, 522-9060, $
Vegan and vegetarian comfort food. Very good, and popular, breakfasts.

Wallingford/Green Lake

Bizzarro Italian Cafe 1307 N 46th St, 545-7327, $$
Occasionally verging on the cutesy, Bizzarro nevertheless manages to keep it together while seducing devoted diners with good wine, art-bedecked walls, the occasional singing waiter, and damn good food, of the traditional-yet-exciting pasta variety.

Blue Onion Bistro 5801 Roosevelt Way NE, 729-0579, $$
This former gas station has been converted into a cozy home-style bistro where just a few bucks can get you a fully satisfying bistro-style lunch of soup, salad, and a sandwich. All-American dinners get jazzed up with quality ingredients (duck breast with maple-sausage glaze, alongside fish sticks made of salmon, and mac 'n' cheese made with blue cheese) while staying in the moderate price range.

Elemental 3309 Wallingford Ave N, 849-2542, $$
Before I say anything else about Elemental, let me just get this off my chest: braised shortribs on a garlic waffle. Because, brothers and sisters, braised shortribs on a garlic waffle is a very good thing. Think about it: a soft golden waffle, with the round fragrance of roasted garlic, peeking its little squares out from under a juicy pile of long-stewed meat. It's perfectly comforting food, but not boring and somehow it avoids being that knowing "pop" food from the early '90s.

Essential Baking Company 1604 N 34th St, 545-3804, $
Delicious European sandwiches, plus amazing bread.

Eva 2227 N 56th St, 633-3538, $$
Amy McCray's menu is both worldly and grounded, with good honest cooking. She's got a nice knack for sides like chorizo-bread pudding with sherry-braised rabbit, squash spaetzle with a veal shank, and corn pudding with pork loin.

Jitterbug 2114 N 45th St, 547-6313, $$
Weekend breakfasts at Jitterbug are a treat–if you can handle waiting a while for a table (the narrow restaurant fills up quickly, and folks linger over their meals). Their huevos rancheros are the perfect hangover cure (the right combo of salt and comfort), and gingerbread waffles are a sweet early-morning option. For later dining, Jitterbug's cutesy menu offers traditional crowd-pleasers like roasted chicken, ravioli, or market-fresh fish (and the kitchen's been known to whip up late-night breakfasts on request).

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.

West Seattle/White Center

Capers 4521 California Ave SW, 932-0371, $$
A gourmet-food-store-slash-elegant-bistro with all the makings for a sophisticated dinner, to eat in the shop or make at home.

Da Bro Ribs 6459 California SW, 938-7868, $$
Short ribs that really will melt in your mouth.

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.

Spud's Fish & Chips 2666 Alki Ave SW, 938-0606, $
Fish and chips done right. A classic Seattle restaurant.

Sunfish 2800 Alki Ave SW, 938-4112, $
In the summer, Sunfish is one of the best places in Seattle for outdoor dining. In the cold, rainy winter, however, their lightly battered halibut and fries will keep you warm.