Hattie's Hat 5231 Ballard Ave NW, 784-0175, $$
With stiff drinks, good food, and a gorgeous hand-carved bar, Hattie's is one of Ballard's most beloved joints. The Southern American-styled menu offers something for everyone, from classic burgers with sweet potato fries to smoked-salmon club sandwiches and buttermilk-soaked fried chicken. (There's good stuff for vegetarians, too.)
Hi-Life 5425 Russell NW, 784-7272, $
Housed in the beautifully renovated Ballard Firehouse, Hi-Life serves a delicious breakfast and daily brunch, and perfectly good dinners, too. Highlight of the A.M.: Fancy French Toast, two huge slices of crusty and thick Essential Bakery bread soaked to the core in yummy, not-too-sweet vanilla custard and cooked to a crisp, deep golden brown. Highlight of the P.M.: Well-wrought wood-fired pizzas.
La Carta de Oaxaca 5431 Ballard Ave NW, 782-8722, $
Scrumptious Oaxacan food—lamb stew, chiles rellenos, dark sweet moles—at incredibly reasonable prices have made this place a crowdpleasing favorite.
Smokin' Pete's BBQ 1918 NW 65th St, 783-0454, $
The pork ribs are meaty and succulent, served "dry" with the sauce on the side, and the brisket is so seductively tender you'll blush. There's also chicken, wonderful sausages, and a number of sandwiches, including the Slow Joe Pork Sandwich—tons of smoky pulled pork on a hoagie roll, smothered in sauce.
Five Point Cafe 415 Cedar St, 448-9993, $
One of Seattle's beloved 24-hour dives, except the Five Point is actually worth going to even if it isn't the only thing open. Get the fries—some of the best in Seattle.
Le Pichet 1933 First Ave, 256-1499, $$
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.
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—serving truly urban food, with ethnic flourishes from all over. The gossamer fried sage leaves have become something of a legend.
Noodle Ranch 2228 Second Ave, 728-0463, $
A stone's throw from the Crocodile Cafe, Noodle Ranch is a step up from your many alternative between-band options on Second Avenue—pan-Asian cuisine with some of the best green curry in town.
Ballet 914 E Pike St, 328-7983, $
Ballet is Capitol Hill's humble 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 (but not look like you're trying too hard), take 'em here and you're a shoo-in.
From the day it opened its doors to do business, 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.
Osteria La Spiga 1401 Broadway, 323-8881, $
The foods of Italy's super-blessed Emilia-Romagna region (whence come Parma ham and Parmigiano cheese). Pastas, especially noodles with truffle butter, are lovely, and the sandwiches—a few excellent ingredients in a chewy, griddle-cooked flatbread called piadina—are just heavenly.
Vios Cafe & Marketplace 903 19th Ave E, 329-3236, $
From the man who created Broadway's El Greco comes this new Capitol Hill jewel. Self-service cafe by day, casually elegant restaurant by night, and deliciously Greek all the live long day, Vios is a culinary universe unto itself. Sit at one of the long wood tables and enjoy a legitimate Grecian feast, from the eggs dishes, yogurts, and sandiwches of breakfast and lunch to inspired entrees and flowing wine of the evening. (And take something home from the fresh deli counter.)
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.
13 Coins 125 Boren Ave N, 682-2513, $-$$$
Dark, swanky, and somewhat spooky, this 24-hour dining den blends a mid-'70s bachelor-pad vibe with freakishly ambitious grill fare. But if you need a top-dollar steak-and-lobster combo at 4:30 am, this is your place.
Assaggio 2010 Fourth Ave, 441-1399, $$$
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 sandwich is great.
Campagne 86 Pine St, 728-2800, $$$
Unlike its casual cousin downstairs, Campagne is a full-on special-occasion restaurant serving French-style food adapted to Northwest ingredients (with the Pike Place Market right outside their door, they've got a lot to work with, after all). You can watch the staff professionally sidestep each other in the tiny box of a kitchen (their window looks out on Post Alley) as they whip up some of the finest food in the city. Don't embarrass us—dress nicely, please.
Earth & Ocean 1112 Fourth Ave, 264-6060, $$$
The 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.
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.
Brad's Swingside Cafe 4212 Fremont Ave N, 633-4057, $$
This wood-paneled cafe routinely pleases the masses with an ever-changing menu of pan-Mediterranean delights. Fans praise the authenticity of the Italian/Sicilian dishes, joined on Brad's menu by a variety of seafood, soups, and a wealth of vegetarian options.
Fremont Dock 1102 N 34th St, 633-4300, $
The Dock is known primarily as a dive bar, so don't expect hoity-toity cuisine here. The dark, smoky Fremont fixture serves just enough grub to grease up your stomach for its drinks. A full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu offers a mix of standard diner fare, from steak and eggs to apple pie.
Kwanjai Thai 469 N 36th St, 632-3656, $
Located in the Thai-food capital of Seattle—where Thai restaurants outnumber baby strollers almost two to one—the casual Kwanjai Thai has earned a reputation as being worth the wait. They're serious about their noodles, soups, and star-spice ratings, and many swear it's the Thai talk of the town in Fremont, which is saying a lot.
Burrito Loco 9211 Holman Rd NW, 783-0719, $
One of the best burrito joints in town, Burrito Loco stuffs fluffy tortillas with flavorful ingredient—including appropriately seasoned beans—then grills the folded package for some extra gusto before delivering it to your table.
Carmelita 7314 Greenwood Ave N, 706-7703, $$
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.
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.
Pho Bac 1314 S Jackson St, 323-4387, $
The building that shelters Pho Bac is as famous as the little Vietnamese restaurant's bowls of angelic pho. The place is on the very edge of 14th Avenue and Jackson Street, before the streets merge and swerve into Rainier; its large windows look out onto the streets and businesses that make up Little Saigon; and those who walk by always see within it the shadows of numerous people working hard at emptying large bowls of good, cheap pho.
Nishino 3130 E Madison St, 322-5800, $$$
Nishino, considered one of the premier places to get sushi in a sushi-crazed town, offers its top-quality fare in lively surroundings. Open since 1995, the sushi bar is always bustling, and the room rings with exclamations of delight from ecstatic diners. The service is leisurely and friendly. Because of Nishino's popularity, it's best to book reservations in advance. They also offer a variety of other dishes, if raw fish isn't your cup of tea.
Hi-Spot Cafe 1410 34th Ave, 325-7905, $
Two words: Pint-size mimosas. So much better than those dinky champagne flutes that are gone three times before your breakfast arrives. Even the hearty toast and good-as-Grandma-makes jam is yummy, and that's not just the mimosa talking.
Queen Anne/Lower Queen Anne
Banjara Cuisine of India 2 Boston St, 282-7752, $$
Admirable daals and vindaloos, stuffed naan and tandoori, all presented with a visual flair. But Banjara's claim to fame is the fried calamari appetizer, flecked with green bits of cilantro.
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.
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.
La Medusa 4857 Rainier Ave S, 723-2192, $$
Authentic Sicilian food in Columbia City: Note the presence of sardines and anchovies, as well as more Middle Eastern touches like pine nuts and raisins (the legacy of Sicily's invasion by the Moors).
Juan Colorado 8709 14th Ave S, 764-9379, $
A lovely family-run diner-style Mexican restaurant. Delicious and reasonable.
Stellar Pizza & Ale 5513 Airport Way S, 763-1660, $
In this warehousey old space you can get pizzas that tilt between the classic and the nouveau (although we prefer the former), excellent sandwiches such as the meatball and the "Local 174" (Italian sausage, provolone, marinara, and hot peppers), and plenty of PBR on tap. Pretty much the heart of social life in Georgetown.
Cafe Lago 2305 24th Ave E, 329-8005, $$
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.
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.
Eva 2227 N 56th St, 633-3538, $$
Amy McCray's menu is both worldly and grounded, with good honest cooking. She's got a nice knack for sides like chorizo-bread pudding with sherry-braised rabbit, squash spaetzle with a veal shank, and corn pudding with pork loin.
Nell's 6804 E Green Lake Way N, 524-4044, $$
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.
West Seattle/White Center
Phoenecia at Alki 2716 Alki Ave SW, 935-6550, $$
Food from all over the Mediterranean basil—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.
Taqueria del Rio 10230 16th Ave SW, 767-9102, $
At the little market that houses Taqueria del Rio, you can buy 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?