Hattie's Hat 5231 Ballard Ave NW, 784-0175, $$
The Southern American-styled menu offers something for everyone, from classic burgers with sweet potato fries to smoked-salmon club sandwiches and buttermilk-soaked fried chicken. (There's good stuff for vegetarians, too.)
Zagi's Pizza Ristorante 2408 NW 80th St, 706-0750, $
This New York-style pie is satisfaction incarnate. A little cornmeal on the bottom of the excellent crust adds body without giving the gritty sensation that your pizza's been dropped on a cornmeal beach. The cheese evades the mountain-of-mozzarella problem, and the flavors are intricate enough to make a plain slice a pleasure.
Dahlia Lounge 2001 Fourth Ave, 682-4142, $$
Serving up favorites like salmon, 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.
Flying Fish 2234 First Ave, 728-8595, $$
One of the first and still one of the best of the high-end, upscale/casual eateries in Belltown. Whole grilled fish, huge platters of well-prepared seafood, and a happening bar all make Flying Fish a must-eat spot. Pricey but justifiably so.
Jai Thai 2132 First Ave, 770-7884, $
Here's good, cheap Thai food at your service, complete with a full bar, comfy lounge, and (weather permitting) an outdoor patio. Jai Thai scores big with their delicious homemade noodles, featured in dishes such as the phad kee mao, a variation on pad thai with wide noodles and curry, and tremendously good with shrimp.
Glo's 1621 E Olive Way, 324-2577, $
Expect to relax with a cup of Glo's coffee while you wait for a table in this delicious, popular, and tiny breakfast nook. Morning burritos, omelets, and eggs done fancy or plain make the wait well worth the time.
Monsoon 615 19th Ave E, 325-2111, $$$
Sparse and simple Vietnamese cuisine in the upscale Monsoon is surprisingly comfortable—and well worth the menu price. Be sure to check out the new dim sum brunch on weekends, which is dreamily delicious.
Ristorante Machiavelli 1215 Pine St, 621-7941, $$
Here is basic Italian food made exactly right—the Bolognese with different meats plus chicken livers, carbonara that is not scrambled but silken and decadent, a restrained but perfect antipasto plate. And the service is some of the best in the city: brisk, excellent, and, above all, dedicated to getting the food on the table while it's still hot.
Ezell's Fried Chicken 501 23rd Ave, 324-4141, $
The best fried chicken in the country, dished out over a low-key neighborhood counter. Oprah has it FedExed directly to her mouth.
Moonlight Restaurant 1919 S Jackson St, 322-3378, $
This place is great for vegetarians, great for non-vegetarians, and altogether great for the purse. Never mind the shady characters that sometimes line the street—they don't hurt people who don't owe them money. Just walk straight past them into the capacious restaurant, and enjoy its vast and original Vietnamese menu.
Matt's in the Market 94 Pike St, 467-7909, $$
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.
Pink Door 1919 Post Alley, 443-3241, $$
It's good to know the restaurant's name because there's no sign outside, just the damn pink door. Inside, you can sit in the rosy dining room (where the light makes everyone look good) or out on a nice deck with a view of the water. The atmosphere is so lovely that even if the food (mostly your basic Italian, dressed up a bit for fun) misses the mark (which occasionally it does), you probably won't mind.
Serafina 2043 Eastlake Ave E, 323-0807, $$
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.
Chiso 3520 Fremont Ave N, 632-3430, $$
The standard sushi options are perfect here but you should absolutely look at the specials list, where you might find little silver smelt, or monkfish liver, or aji (a kind of Spanish mackerel that's less fatty than the usual kind). Chiso is a serene urban spot hidden away in funk-land Fremont, so it's not often very crowded.
Persimmon 4256 Fremont Ave N, 632-0760, $
Brunch that doesn't disappoint. With its jolly colors, beaded curtains, and sad clown paintings in the hallway, Persimmon's look is retro-cute, but not overstuffed. The same goes for the food.
La Botana 8552 Greenwood Ave N, 706-5392, $
It's less well-known than the nearby Gordito's, but La Botana offers a different kind of Mexican dining experience, with sit-down house specialties like chicken in mole. Takeout food is good too, and includes tacos, tamales, and tortas. (Try one filled with cochinita pibil, tangy long-cooked pork.) La Botana opens early (at 10 am), so it's a good place to catch Mexican breakfast: eggs with shredded beef (machaca), chorizo, and huevos rancheros.
Sea Garden Seafood 509 Seventh Ave S, 623-2100, $
First things first: This Chinese classic is open until 3 am on the weekends. Then there's the food: seafood plucked from the aquarium, and prepared with consistent skill. Especially good: the whole crab in ginger sauce.
Tai Tung 655 S King St, 622-7372, $
Here is emotional fortitude in a bowl: Tai Tung has about 20 varieties of soup and hot pots, plus tons of specials—from comfort foods (sautéed string beans with shredded pork) to modest luxuries (wok-seared crab). You'll want to sit at the counter with the regulars.
Harvest Vine 2701 E Madison, 320-9771, $$
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.
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, $$
Bamboo Garden is heaven on earth for any vegetarian when the craving for some delicious Chinese food hits. Because Bamboo Garden uses vegetable protein when creating its "meat" entrées, everything on the menu (which boasts over 100 selections), from the sweet-and-sour chicken (my favorite) to the braised-chicken-and-shark-fin soup, is safe for the vegetarians in the group. Surprisingly, everything's delicious enough for the carnivores too.
Steel Pig BBQ 601 Roy St, 213-5870, $
The small Pig Out has a bit of everything: ribs, chicken, and catfish (which features melting, tender fish inside a briskly seasoned coating). The sauce on the ribs was very good: vinegary and sweet, with a little pepper kick.
Rainier Valley/Beacon Hill/Mount Baker/Columbia City
Willie's Taste of Soul 6305 Beacon Ave S, 722-3229, $$
Willie himself looks like he may have starred opposite Pam Grier in one of her '70s movies: He's strapping and charismatic even while wearing a plastic apron. His barbecue is worth the trip down south to Beacon Hill: Ribs and brisket have a pleasant campfire tone, while Willie's sauce is not too sweet and packs a little vinegar punch. Greens, too, are delicious.
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.
Agua Verde Cafe and Paddleclub 1303 NE Boat St, 545-8570, $
Along with offering yam tacos and mango margaritas and hominy stew, this cottage-like restaurant 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.
Calypso Caribbean Kitchen 7917 Roosevelt Way NE, 525-5118, $$
The hallmarks of Caribbean cuisine—jerk spices, rum, brown sugar, coconut, lime—permeate Calypso's menu, but the influences of other cuisines are at work here as well. The jerk dishes are very good.
Jitterbug 2114 N 45th St, 547-6313, $$
Situated 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 3 pm.
West Seattle/White Center
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.