Dandelion 5809 24th Ave NW, 706-8088, $$
The menu at this delicately scaled cafe is pointedly unfussy: just six or seven appetizers, a few cheese choices, and six or seven entrées, all bundled up with lots of farmy name-dropping (Full Circle greens, Oregon Country beef, Quillisascut cheese) to let you know that someone in the kitchen cares about how the ingredients are grown. Very simple, careful food that's often very, very good.
The Dish 4358 Leary Way NW, 782-9985, $
For all of Seattle's hippie-dippiness, it's a real project to find a good tofu scramble in town. Luckily, there's the Dish, home of the Slacker Special—a rich, inventive scramble of cheese, enchilada sauce, more cheese, onions, tortilla chips, and eggs or tofu, topped by a dollop of sour cream and salsa and offered with a side of potatoes and toast.
Hattie's Hat 5231 Ballard Ave NW, 784-0175, $$
With stiff drinks, good food, and a gorgeous hand-carved bar, Hattie's is one of Ballard's most beloved joints. The Southern American-styled menu offers something for everyone, from classic burgers with sweet potato fries to smoked-salmon club sandwiches and buttermilk-soaked fried chicken. (There's good stuff for vegetarians, too.)
Flying Fish 2234 First Ave, 728-8595, $$
One of the first and still one of the best of the high-end, upscale/casual eateries in Belltown. Whole grilled fish, huge platters of well-prepared seafood, and a happening bar all make Flying Fish a must-eat spot. Pricey but justifiably so.
Le Pichet 1933 First Ave, 256-1499, $$
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. 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.
The Central Cinema 1411 21St Ave, 686-MOVIE, $
Diners at the Central Cinema can eat in the bistro or in the theater itself. There is nothing more amazingly perfect than watching a good movie with a well made personal pizza and a big glass of beer. Warning: Eating with forks and real plates in the dark is just as tricky as it sounds.
Dinette 1514 E Olive Way, 328-2282, $$
At Dinette, a whole section of the menu is devoted to toast, and there's something both humble and fancy about Dinette's crusty bits of bread overlaid with smoked salmon, green beans and mascarpone; or chevre, bell peppers, and smoked sardines. The food is of the most welcome kind: unpretentious and low-key, but also a little refined.
Hillside Quickie Vegan Sandwich Shop 324 15th Ave E, 325-6429, $
This health-conscious, hiphop-oriented deli is vegan heaven on earth, serving opulent, organic tofu-, tempeh- and seitan-based subs and sandwiches that explode with spicy flavor.
Moonlight Restaurant 1919 S Jackson St, 322-3378, $
This place is great for vegetarians, great for non-vegetarians, and altogether great for the purse. Never mind the shady characters that sometimes line the street—they don't hurt people who don't owe them money. Just walk straight past them into the capacious restaurant, and enjoy its vast and original Vietnamese menu.
94 Stewart 94 Stewart St, 441-5505, $$$
Walking into 94 Stewart is like finding out your blind date is really really cute—and has an accent. While the thought of eating salmon might make a local's eyes roll, the version here is grilled to an almost eerie perfection. And when the slightly goofy server says, "all the appetizers are great" he fucking means it. Practically perfect.
Palace Kitchen 2030 Fifth Ave, 448-2001, $$$
Expensive but worth it—if you can get a booth along the wall. The tables along the windows are cramped and the glare from the streetlights can be annoying. Terrific, hearty food, apple-wood grill, and awesome appetizers. The pork chops are terrific, the drinks are strong, and the monorail zips by overhead.
Serafina 2043 Eastlake Ave E, 323-0807, $$
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.
Brad's Swingside Cafe 4212 Fremont Ave N, 633-4057, $$
This wood-paneled cafe routinely pleases the masses with an ever-changing menu of pan-Mediterranean delights. Fans praise the authenticity of the Italian/Sicilian dishes, joined on Brad's menu by a variety of seafood, soups, and a wealth of vegetarian options.
Jai Thai 3423 Fremont Ave N, 632-7060, $
Here's good, cheap Thai food, dished up in a stylish environment. Jai Thai scores big with their delicious homemade noodles, featured in dishes such as the phad kee mao, a variation on pad thai with wide noodles and curry, and tremendously good with shrimp. While the Jai Thai venues in Belltown and Capitol Hill court partiers with full bars and swanky lounges, the Fremont base cuddles up to regulars with its new Thai-American breakfast, served 7am-noon on weekends.
Chinook's 1900 W Nickerson St, 283-4665, $$
Chinook's is perfect if you need to find a place that has enough character to please food snobs, but that is still comfortable enough to bring those older, out-of-town relatives. The lingcod is a surprising treat despite its wretched name and the crab cakes buck Seattle's tendency towards dried puffs of blah. Far from perfect, Chinook's is still an important weapon to have in your arsenal should guests drop in from one of those red states.
El Chupacabra 6711 Greenwood Ave N, 706-5392, $
El Chupacabra is something of a Bimbo's west; it indulges in the same kind of wacky Mexican baroque decor as the Capitol Hill standby. Surprisingly, it's the chicken that's the standout here. It's super-tender and stewed in a slow burning chipotle sauce. Plus, they've got a deck.
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.
Cafe Flora 2901 E Madison St, 325-9100, $$
A mecca for vegetarians desiring a night out as first-class culinary citizens. From drinks to dessert, the Flora experience is intoxicating enough to stun even the hoariest carnivore into submission, at least for an evening.
Cafe Soleil 1400 34th Ave, 325-1126, $
Breakfast here is American, while dinner is Ethiopian by way of Madrona (with a few pasta dishes as well). The stews are delicious, with greens not cooked unto limpness but fresh and light. It's all served with the traditional sour injera bread, but you might be tempted to use a fork.
Queen Anne/Lower Queen Anne
Bamboo Garden 364 Roy St, 282-6616, $$
Bamboo Garden is heaven on earth for any vegetarian when the craving for some delicious Chinese food hits. Because Bamboo Garden uses vegetable protein when creating its "meat" entrées, everything on the menu (which boasts over 100 selections), from the sweet-and-sour chicken (my favorite) to the braised-chicken-and-shark-fin soup, is safe for the vegetarians in the group. Surprisingly, everything's delicious enough for the carnivores too.
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.
Szmania's 3321 McGraw St, 284-7305, $$$
High atop Magnolia's bluffs, Szmania offers a whimsical, multi-culti mash-up of flavors from around the world. The food—great piles of stuff in rich, saturated colors and flavors—isn't always as dazzling as you'd hope, but stick with the imaginative seafood options and you'll be pleased.
Rainier Valley/Beacon Hill/Mount Baker/Columbia City
Baja Bistro 2410 Beacon Ave S, 323-0953, $
Good Mexican food isn't easy to find in Seattle, and I certainly wouldn't have guessed that Beacon Hill would be the destination for it. But Baja Bistro turns out to be the home of great Mexican fare.
Smarty Pants 6017 Airport Way S, 762-4777, $
A vast array of hot, delicious sandwiches—every damn one of 'em available vegetarian-style, with homemade field roast—served up in a charmingly funky space. Beyond the sandwiches exist other delights, including Frito Pie (!) and a full bar.
Agua Verde Cafe and Paddleclub 1303 NE Boat St, 545-8570, $
If the sun is out, the water will be shimmering behind this cottage-like restaurant that, along with offering yam tacos and mango margaritas and hominy stew, also rents kayaks by the hour. The menu of simple, fresh food—tacos (meats, fish, and vegetables), empanadas, sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, nightly specials, and sublime desserts—recalls the cuisines of Baja, Oaxaca, Tampico, and salt-sprayed Mexican beach towns.
Casa D'Italia 2615 NE 65th St, 525-7747, $
Casa D'Italia turned me into a drooling hero addict. The gateway sandwich was a seven-dollar number, the Joe Pesci: Italian tuna fish, tomato, and mixed greens. You'll be hooked too.
Jitterbug 2114 N 45th St, 547-6313, $$
Siutated across the street from the Guild 45th moviehouse and under vigorous new non-Chow Foods management since summer, Jitterbug is a perfectly fine choice for casual pre- or post-cinema dining. The menu offers thoughtful spins on nouveau American standards, seasonal surprises, and—sweet mercy—breakfast served till 3pm.
Spud's Fish & Chips 6860 E Greenlake Way N, 524-0565, $
Fish and chips done right. A classic Seattle restaurant.
West Seattle/White Center
The Blackbird Bistro 2329 California Ave SW, 437-2875, $$
This classy new blue-hued restaurant—brought to you by the owners of Mission—specializes in organic, seasonal food. On a recent visit, that meant a delicious mix of pan-fried whole trout, baby-spinach salad with pecan-encrusted goat cheese, and garlic-rich sautéed calamari (with peppered ahi), all of which was affordable and very filling.