2232 Queen Anne Ave N (Queen Anne), 284-9040. Dinner daily 5-10 pm; lunch Tues-Fri 11:30 am-2:30 pm. $$

Queen Anne's best Italian restaurant feels like a "special occasions" kind of restaurant. You know -- after the wake, before the wedding, whatever -- there are some events which require that special blend of elegant dining with a relaxed atmosphere. With a candlelit dining room and the affable owner Salvio as your host, Buongusto offers that same serene experience. But the best part is, this is not Rocky's Italian food; this is minty olive oil on tomato bruschetta ($5.25), pumpkin ravioli with raisins and walnuts ($12.95), perfectly spiced beef and grilled vegetable lasagna ($11.95), and a host of other delicate wonders. The food and ambience are so enjoyable, in fact, you'll find yourself eagerly counting the days till the next wake! NATHAN THORNBURGH

The 5 Spot

1502 Queen Anne Ave N (Queen Anne), 285-SPOT. Breakfast 8:30 am-3 pm; lunch 11:30 am-5 pm; dinner 5 pm-midnight. $$

The 5 Spot has gone to great lengths to earn my business. They spent this summer serving the cuisine of Key West, where I grew up, and followed it up by switching to the foods of San Francisco, where I went to high school. I was skeptical about the Key West idea, but finally decided to give their San Francisco cooking a try. But the "themes" are little more than an excuse for new wall art and menu puns -- the Timothy Leary Granola Parfait ($5.25), for example. The 5 Spot actually offers normal, nine-to-five diner foodstuff; yuppified, but still damn good. The buttery and perfect French Toast ($6.50) alone has brought me back three times. The "themes" may be the bait, but it's the breakfast that will hook you in the jaw. NATHAN THORNBURGH

The Fremont Classic Pizzeria & Trattoria

4307 Fremont Ave N (Fremont), 548-9411. Sun-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm. $

Across the street, the Swingside holds court with expensive entrées and gourmet dreams, but at the Classic, people can relax and get rowdy for cheap. This little pizzeria has been open for nine years, building up a slew of regulars who fill its small, wooden dining room and outside patio almost every night of the week. The portions are huge, the garlic bread comes with almost everything, and the chef is happy to prepare special requests. The house wines are surprisingly good, and the menu is varied enough that everyone will discover their favorite dish quickly and learn to stick to it every time. Flavors are not always concrete when it comes to the pasta ($6.50-$13) -- the sauces tend to go overboard one way or another, but the pizzas ($12-$17) are magnificent. People come to pick them up all night, jamming the tiny doorway and waving money around. MEGAN HAAS

Noble Palace

4214-A University Way NE (U-District), 632-7248. Open daily 11 am-10 pm (Fri-Sat till midnight). $$

Once named Proud Bird (nicknamed "Dead Bird" by Ave rats), and now renamed and relocated to a cool, spacious, haven-like room, this place is still the best for Chinese fare in the U-District. No frozen peas and carrots in your subgum here! Everything's fresh. Huge, outstanding soups come in many varieties, including bestsellers Won Ton Noodle and Sui Kau Noodle, in which the dumplings are handmade (sui kau is a mixture of shrimp, pork, and black elephant-ear mushrooms). At $3.95 per megabowl, it's a steamy winter favorite. Other specialties include Shrimp-Stuffed Tofu ($11.95), satisfyingly chewy Chow Fun ($5.95), and various seafood dishes. Beer is available, and there's a large vegetarian selection. Waitresses in crisp black and white are gracious, considering how busy the place gets during weekday lunchtimes. STACEY LEVINE

Triangle Tavern

3507 Fremont Place N (Fremont), 632-0880. Open daily 11:30 am-11 pm (Fri-Sat till midnight, bar till 2 am). $$

The Triangle Tavern is appropriately shaped like a triangle, and has triangle-shaped art on the walls. That said, the menu -- with a nice selection of pizzas, seafood, salads, and sandwiches -- is diverse and consistently good. On my last visit, I ordered the spinach lasagna ($9.25, fresh and tasty), which came with a mixed greens salad (could've been better). My boyfriend ordered the Middle Eastern plate ($7.95), which had generous portions of hummus, baba ghanoush, feta cheese, and pita slices. We shared the Shellfish Appetizer ($7.95) -- mussels in a savory broth -- which was like a treasure from the sea. Warning: The Triangle is a great place to go when it isn't crowded, but when it gets slammed, the waitstaff seems to disappear. I prefer going on a weeknight, when the setting is more subdued. JEN CHAROWHAS

Valdi's Ballard Bistro

5410 Ballard Ave NW (Ballard), 783-2033. Tues-Sun, 7 am-9 pm, closed Mondays. $$

Valdi's Ballard Bistro sits neatly toward the end of Ballard Avenue, where a snippety Julia's stood before. While initial appearances hint at another boring upscale joint, reality is another matter -- Valdi's specializes in "Scandi fusion fare." Our Gravlax plate ($5.25) showcased salmon with a fresh dill cure, placed attractively on pedestrian toast hunks and drizzled with a sweet mustard-oil concoction. Pecan-Crusted Eggplant ($11.95), crunchy and smothered in mozzarella and a tomato-basil sauce, deliciously gave until it could give no more. The Roasted Duck Breast ($18.50) effectively brought together three incongruous ingredients: The black currant sauce softened the musty muskiness of the duck, while the tart red cabbage danced its jaunty Scandinavian jig o' the taste buds. JIM ANDERSON

"Where to Eat" Price Scale (per entrée)

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

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