Afrikando

2904 First Ave (Belltown), 374-9714. Open daily: lunch 11 am-2:30 pm; dinner 4-10 pm. $$

As we entered this Senegalese restaurant, our eyes fell on a wall decorated with maps, masks, and pieces of art -- all conspiring to remind us that we were about to have an Authentic African Experience. Senegalese cooking combines the flavors and methods of preparation of France, West Africa, and the Middle East. We began our foray with Akra, a plate of homemade fritters made with black-eyed peas, served under a spicy red sauce with baby shrimp ($4.95). My companion's face lit up when he was presented with a plate of Debe, nuggets of grilled lamb seasoned with an aromatic blend of cumin, coriander, and cloves ($15.95). But the king of them all is Thiebu Djen, a wonderful, juicy steak of pristine halibut, stuffed with parsley and habañero pepper and stewed in a delicious, rich tomato sauce with eggplant, carrots, cassava, and cabbage ($14.95). PAUL AXELROD


Agua Verde Cafe

1303 NE Boat St (University District), 545-8570. Mon-Sat: Lunch 11 am-4 pm; dinner 5-9 pm; closed Sundays. $$

Whether you sit inside or out, you can't go wrong with Agua Verde's setting. You can eat outside next to the boats in Portage Bay, or sit inside and look out the big windows, soaking in the warm decor. Agua Verde uses Baja and Oaxaca Mexican cooking styles as its starting points, adds some "Northwest fusion," and ends up with an ambitious, inexpensive, flavorful menu. It's hard to know if fish tacos are in or out, but here the De Pescado Tacos de la Casa ($3.75 for two) don't disappoint. Nestled earnestly in two tortillas were nice little pieces of grilled halibut or smoked salmon, modestly covered by shredded cabbage and lightly sauced. The crab cakes (Bocoles de Congrejo, $7.50) were stunning not only in their robust and fresh taste, but also in their inviting appearance. JIM ANDERSON


Andaluca

407 Olive Way (Downtown), 382-6999. Breakfast Mon-Sat 6:30-11 am, Sun 7 am-12 noon; lunch Mon-Sat 11:30 am-2:30 pm; dinner Sun 4-10 pm, Mon-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm. $$$

Situated at the base of the Mayflower Hotel, Andaluca is a respite from its bustling downtown neighbors. Because of its darkish ambiance and intimately small dining room, it is well suited for serious romantic and familial dining. Andaluca's cuisine reflects a mélange of styles that is rambunctiously European. Flavors run the gamut from Greek to Italian to Moorish Mediterranean. Dishes range from Crisp Duck Cakes with Apricot Chutney ($8.50) to Cabrales Beef Tenderloin with Marsala Glaze, Grilled Pears, and Mashed Potatoes ($24) to Lamb Loin with Grape Leaves ($22.50). Reservations are recommended, particularly for dinner and weekend breakfasts. RIZ ROLLINS


Gordito's

213 N 85th St (Greenwood), 706-9352. Open daily 10:30 am-9:30 pm; closed Tues. $

The name means "fat boy," and Tomas and Marlene Ramirez, the owners of this popular neighborhood place, are used to feeding ranch hands in their native Michoacan. Indeed, the Burrito Grande ($5.99) is inviting with its acre of meat, two giant flour tortillas, and black beans, and it comes wet or dry (burritos, like sex, are best wet). Served in an ambiance best described as "busy," the mighty enchiladas are bubbly with cheese, the quesadillas are bigger than CD-ROMs, and the fajitas are huge, sweaty piles of meat or prawns and roasted peppers. There's a salsa bar, and it's all cheap and allegedly healthy, with plenty of vegetarian options. MICHAEL HOOD


Red Mill Burgers

312 N 67th (Phinney Ridge), 783-6362. Tues-Sat 11 am-9 pm; Sun noon-8 pm; closed Mon. $

Burger is possibly the world's most popular food stuff. Why then, here at the edge of the heartland, are great hamburgers so hard to find? Red Mill serves a burger with sautéed hot peppers, thick-sliced bacon, and grilled onions, with a choice of regular yaller (cheddar) or pepper jack that is juicy and hot. To Red Mill's credit and fame, they got THE BEST ONION RINGS dang near on the planet. Cornmeal-crusty, spicy fried rings that will make you forget about most folks' french fries. Hot like heck -- when that incendiary ring slides outta its crusty skin onto you drool-soaked chin, you'll only holler with greasy-faced glee. RR


Solvorn

2232 NW Market St (Ballard), 783-7670. Tues-Wed 11 am-4 pm; Thurs-Fri 11 am-7 pm; Sat 9 am-7 pm; Sun: 9 am-3 pm; closed Mondays. $$

One of the only Scandinavian sit-down restaurants in the city, Solvorn is owned by chef Mark Morin, who keeps the Norwegian and Danish menu small, focusing on daily specials. The cafe's light wooden tables and open kitchen area offer an air of restrained cheer, and Morin's down-to-earth aesthetic keeps his menu from being too nouvelle or complicated. Solvorn offers hearty country food -- savory foods like Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, pickled herring, sliced rutabaga with butter, and fiske (fish) pudding. For lighter fare, the lunch menu includes traditional, European-style open-faced sandwiches, with toppings like smoked salmon, ham 'n' Jarlsberg, shrimp, or cervalate (sausage), which come with garnishes like fresh fennel or sliced hard-boiled eggs. STACEY LEVINE


Toyoda Sushi

12543 Lake City Way NE (Lake City), 367-7972. Sun-Mon 5-9 pm; Wed-Thurs 5-9:30 pm; Fri-Sat 5-10 pm. $$

Outside Toyoda there is often a line of people waiting to get inside the restaurant's modest single room, which is clean, airy, and unpretentious with rice paper lanterns and wooden tables. The sushi chefs greet you with genuine happiness, and soon the waitress is giving you a glass of cool, crisp plum wine ($3.25). Steaming towels and flawless miso soup ($2) begin a meal that takes your palate through such wonders as Spinach Sesame Salad ($3.95) or Goeduck Sauté ($4.95). As for sushi, stand-outs include the creamy Yellow Tail ($5.25) with green onions, and Spider Maki ($8.95), a blend of juicy crab meat, avocado and cucumber. A full menu of non-sushi options includes an achingly tender Teriyaki Beef ($12.95). MEGAN HAAS

"Where to Eat" Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up

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