2nd Avenue Pizza
2015 2nd Ave (Downtown), 956-0489 Mon-Thurs noon-3 pm, 5:30-10 pm; Fri noon-3 pm, 5:30 pm-3 am; Sat 5:30 pm-3 am. $
Like a rabid dog needs water, like a newborn needs a hug, pizza toppings—in order to perform their gustatory rodeo antics—require a crust as good as 2nd Ave Pizza's. Their cheese pizza ($1.75 per slice, $12 for an 18" pie) successfully balances design and flavor. No gimmicks here, just solid crafting and proper heating. Ditto for the pepperoni ($2 per slice, $13 per pie), which zigs and zags its way into our hearts. The bountiful salad ($2.50) teems with tang and a zesty spirit—mixed greens, walnuts, (yet more) blue cheese, kalamata olives, and tomatoes add up to one hell of a salad bargain. (JIM ANDERSON)

Afrikando
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

The Asteroid Cafe
1605 N 45th St (Wallingford), 547-2514. Open daily; lunch 10 am-3 pm; dinner 5-10 pm (Sat-Sun till 11 pm). $$
The Asteroid Cafe would like to dispel the rumor that they are merely a coffeehouse. This small storefront in Wallingford is a full-fledged, authentic Italian restaurant focusing on South, Central, and Northern Italy, where owner Marlin Hathaway has spent much of his time. The Asteroid is small, and you might feel crowded if you're in a romantic mood; but the food, beginning with a stunning, complimentary bruschetta, will make up for any lack of privacy. The pastas are a work of art, and the portions are immense; but you will keep eating. A few unusual dishes, like the Wild Boar ($15.95), have developed a following, and the daily dinner specials often feature unique seafood entrées. Hathaway is also proud of his wine list, which spans several regions of Italy but concentrates on Tuscan reds. MEGAN HAAS

Avenue One
1921 First Ave, 441-6139. Lunch Mon-Sat, 11:30 am-2 pm; Dinner every night 5:30-10 pm; Bar until 2 am. $$$
You have found yourself a restaurant that's nice — no, elegant — but intimate. You are escorted past the whispering front bar, through the champagne peach warmth of the main dining room, to an intimate back parlor.
Three things on the menu promise to be as extraordinary as this time you're spending with yourself: Tuna Tartare Wrapped in Nova Smoked Salmon with Dill-Mint Vinaigrette ($9) comes as twin towers of seafood, on a dish dotted with discs of thinly sliced radish and lemon zest. Potato and Salt Cod Galette with Roasted Red Peppers ($8) arrives in a pool of warm cream and chives, a thick cake with two stems of chives reaching out like antennae from a crown in full blush with sweet roasted peppers. The French Onion Soup Gratinie ($6) is thick and slightly sweet, gilded with a rich, natural broth and anchored by a still-bubbling cheese. RIZ ROLLINS (6/24)

Ballard Bait and Tackle
5517 Seaview Ave NW (Ballard), 784-3016. Mon-Fri 9 am-2 pm, Sat-Sun 7 am-3 pm. $
Ballard Bait is really and truly a bait purveyor, with friendly looking little herrings lined up in pretty little rows in the bait cooler (they may be dead, but they're still kinda cute). The food here is way simple, with the toaster oven standing tall and proud as the only cooking gear in sight. You can have a traditional sandwich (we're instructed to choose a meat, cheese, and bread), or you can get the open-faced crab sandwich. There are two soups every day, a Caesar with or without crab meat, and an extremely serviceable choice of beer, wine, and espresso. The "market price" the day we visited for the crab sammich was $9.95. JIM ANDERSON

Brasa
2107 Third Ave, 728-4220. Open 5 pm-2 am, Mon-Sat; closed Sundays. $$$
Brasa's the latest in a troupe of upscale eateries sprouting up around Belltown. Their fare changes daily, and is accommodating enough for vegetarians but decidedly carnivorous in a splashy sense, with forays into venison and wild game. We started the meal with an appetizer of pan-fried calamari which, while palatable, was neither outstanding nor unusual. For dinner, my host ordered the roast suckling pig, while I settled for the less-than-exotic lamb chops. Both were on the bland side -- not bland enough to complain about, but rather, just a foiled intrigue. RIZ ROLLINS (4/28)

Century Ballroom Cafe
915 E. Pine, 320-8458. Brunch Sat-Sun, 8:30 am-3 pm; Lunch Mon-Sat, 11 am-2 pm; Dinner Mon-Wed, 5:30 pm-12 am; Thurs 5:30 pm-10 pm; Fri 5:30 pm-12 am. $
With the renowned Chef Rip at the helm, the Century Ballroom Cafe is capable of achieving great heights. Red curtains and tidy white tables offer a hint of elegance, contrasting with the funky space. The menu offers tapas, salads, soups, desserts, and beer and wine.
Red and tangy, the Chick Pea and Harissa Spread ($3.50) served as a perfect complement to the delightfully nutty house bread. Both the Paci?c Snapper ($8.95) and Portobello Mushrooms with Snap Peas, Mustard Greens, Fresh Mozzarella, Roast Onion and Tomato Sauce ($7.95) were done in parchment paper, which achieved its age-old goal of locking in freshness and moisture. The parchment paper evoked fond memories of foil meals on childhood scouting trips; perhaps Rip, too, was a scout, and this is his salute to his childhood avocations. JA (7/1)

Credenzia Oven
10 Mercer St, 284-4664. Hours: Lunch Tues-Fri, 11 am-3 pm; Dinner Tues-Sun, 5-10 pm; Brunch Sat & Sun, 9 am-3 pm. $$
Lower Queen Anne's Credenzia Oven is remarkable on several fronts. The Georgian and Mediterranean creations of local chef Laura Dewell can leave the diner feeling like one very fortunate farm boy, while the restaurant's self-consciously simple design encourages dreamy fantasies. Although Credenzia's massive oven suggests architectural parody, the bread baked within its womb is undeniably excellent. The giant circular loaves are a Romanian bread, and the chewy, pale interior perfectly acquiesced to its inevitable crusty shell. Seattle is swimming in good bread, and Credenzia's leads the way. The Mezze Plate ($12.95) is simply unstoppable. This three-way sampler bathes one's gustational components with fattoush (an attractive pile of cucumbers, greens, peppers, sumac, and mint), dolmas (vine leaves stuffed with figs, lentils, and bulgur), and havuc koftesi (carrot/herb fritters with apricots, pine nuts, and a yogurt-garlic sauce). Chef Dewell has made a rock-solid commitment to simple plan, adept execution, and fresh ingredients. JIM ANDERSON (6/17)

Cyndy's House of Pancakes
10507 Aurora Ave N (North Seattle), 522-5100. Daily 6 am-4 pm. $
Paneled in fake woodgrain and upholstered with red vinyl, the dining room at Cyndy's invites you to mellow out while awaiting your $20 psychic energy reading appointment at the joint across Aurora. It may be best to sit at the bar, bolstered by swivel chairs, and view the high-talent kitchen, where they flip the best pancakes north of the C.D. The banana pancakes ($5 for a stack of 6; $4 for 3) float on your tongue like a tropical dream, and the Bacon & Eggs ($5.50) ain't half bad, either. Crepes—more commonly called "Roll-Ups"—are a feathery deal for about $4-$6. A whole continent of hash browns comes with egg orders, and you can choose from country gravy or turkey gravy on anything. TRACI VOGEL

Doong Kong Lau
9710 Aurora Ave N (Greenwood), 526-8828. Mon-Fri 10:30 am-11 pm, Sat-Sun 9:30 am-11 pm. $$
Doong Kong Lau's cuisine is a compromise between the spicy northern cuisine of Szechwan, Hunan, and the tamer Cantonese. The massive menu (180 items) even includes Hakka (Chinese "gypsies") dishes. The food gets its intense flavor from strong stocks and special seasonings, but without MSG and peppers. We started with vegetable pot stickers, which were homemade, aromatic, and tender. The boneless, stuffed, mochi rice duck arrived all brown and crispy, produced by a complicated Hakka technique of marinating, frying, hanging, and marinating and frying again. Another semi-legendary dish is the eggplant with garlic sauce. MICHAEL HOOD

The Eating Factory
10630 NE Eighth St (Bellevue), 425-688-8202. Lunch daily 11:30 am-2:30 pm; dinner 5:30-9 pm (Thurs-Sat until 9:30). $
The Eating Factory and its Japanese-style, all-you-can-eat format offer many things most buffets don't. There's the space itself, smartly designed and artfully adorned, with comfortable booths and chairs and a light, spacious feel. Get in line, grab a plate… and it's goodbye, hunger! The Eating Factory does tempura splendidly. A thin, crispy coating of batter hugs broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes, creating a firm and crunchy vegetable ingestion system. Juicy pieces of squid are mild and substantial without being tough. Succulent steamed clams sit smartly (if briefly) on our tongues, washed back by Sapporo beer (a steal at $4.95 for a large bottle). I had fretted about the freshness and quality of sushi in a buffet setting, but all worries were cast aside as we dug in. JIM ANDERSON

El Greco
219 Broadway (Capitol Hill), 328-4604. Tues-Fri 11 am-9:30 pm (Fri until 10 pm), Sat 9 am-10 pm, Sun brunch 9 am-2:30 pm. $$
El Greco serves some of the best-prepared food in one of the least comfortable rooms on Capitol Hill. The room is narrow; an L-shaped corridor with a hard tile floor. That said, I have loafed there many nights and loved it. The food and wine are that good. The wine is excellent and affordable. The menu is largely Mediterranean: pastas, panini, hummus, tzatziki, and baba ghanoush share space with lamb, pork, chicken, and fresh fish. Basil, oregano, garlic, and tarragon are favored. Pork and lamb are invariably tender and moist, threaded with spicy marinades. El Greco also has some terrific vegetarian fare, especially their Crispy Penne ($10), tossed with eggplant, tomato, kalamata olives, and capers, then grilled; it's every bit as complex as the richly marinated pork loin ($13). MATTHEW STADLER

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

Gourmando Cafe & Catering Co.
1518 Western Ave (Downtown), 587-0190. Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2:30 pm. $
Gourmando is truly the most elegant restaurant downtown. The fact that very few people seem to know about this tiny catering company/lunch-on-the-side spot is most likely due to the unerring lack of pretension on the part of its owners, Lisa Hall and Betsy Bergevin. Because they are comfortable and extremely good at what they do, their regulars, mostly downtown business people, feel right at home eating at one of the five small tables or ordering take-out. The food is French/Italian, with a modest but excellent seasonal menu, the favorites being the panini sandwiches—especially the Prosciutto, Fresh Mozzarella, and Basil; and the Roast Chicken (both $4.95). Gourmando is cheap and friendly (no one must show up in a tie!), and a constant delight to those in the know. MEGAN HAAS

Hall's Mr. Bar-B-Que
7302 1/2 15th Ave NW (Ballard), 706-9429. Tues-Sat, 11 am-8 pm. $
When you walk into Hall's Mr. Bar-B-Que you're hit by the aroma of greens, corn bread, and sauce. With Phillip "Dino" Hall standing behind the counter, you'll feel like you just got home. The ribs ($6 for 1/2 pound)—prone and dark from their time well spent in Dino's smoker/roaster—shimmer in the bright Ballard sun. The chicken (a steal at $4.95 for a semi-bird), cut attractively to offer a tempting white meat cross-section, looks as though it's been laid out by a food magazine designer. Also worthy of mention is the appropriately peppery potato salad, long on flavor and short on mustard—the natural enemy of any potato salad. JIM ANDERSON

Hattie's Hat
5231 Ballard Ave NW (Ballard), 784-0175. Sun-Thurs 6 am-12 midnight, Fri-Sat 6 am-1 am. $
Hattie's has always been long on character, and the latest owners have continued the tradition by basically leaving the place alone, letting their sincere and friendly waitstaff and bartenders work their time-tested magic. The Black Bean Burger is a house-made mixture, exceedingly preferable to the ubiquitous and corporate Garden Burger. The Mars Oyster Stew ($9.95) towers over all other oyster stews, and a recent Marionberry slice was downright naughty with its seductive blend of sweetness, tartness, and flakiness, with a price ($2.50) that'll be sure to please veterans of those upscale bullshit places that charge five and up for a goddam piece of pie. JA

Hing Loon Seafood
628 S Weller St (International District), 682-2828 Sun-Thurs 10 am-1 am; Fri-Sat 10 am-2 am $
At Hing Loon Seafood, the lights are bright, the floor's scuffed, and the Formica tabletops are dewy with the residue of the just-swiped waiter's rag. Handwritten signs on the wall advertise fresh fish and their sauces, while the menu tops eight pages. Chow fun—pale rice noodles wide as a newborn's wrist, boiled and stir-fried, peppered with meats or vegetables and served in a variety of sauces—averages $7 for a generous platter. Seafoods are excellent—fresh and expertly handled—while the land meats are unremarkable. Other highlights include a medley of small, hat-like dumplings (shu-mai) steamed in bamboo; a black cod smothered in salt and then charred over flames; and long, light brown mushrooms steamed and dressed lightly in soy and sesame oil. (MATTHEW STADLER)

Hopscotch
332 15th Ave E (Capitol Hill), 322-4191. Tues-Thurs 3-10 pm, Fri 3-11 pm, Sat 2-11 pm (bar open later); closed Sun-Mon. $$
With 150 different brands of single malts, you could keep plenty busy just tippling at Hopscotch. But you'd be missing out on some great food—steaks, chicken, seafood, pasta, burgers, and more. And there's no better way to soak up all that booze than with a dish like the Zillah Meatloaf ($9.95). Firm, juicy, and spiced just right, this meatloaf could easily stand alone—but it really shines with the addition of petite peas, mashed potatoes, and the coup de grâce—golden wisps of sweet, crispy fried onions. The desserts here are also scrumptious, with the focus on whiskey-soaked favorites like bananas foster and bread pudding. Of course, you don't want to forget about drinking that scotch, but with a staff as courteous and knowledgeable as Hopscotch's, there's not much chance of that. MELODY MOSS

The Kingfish Cafe
602 19th Ave E (Capitol Hill), 320-8757. Sun-Mon, Wed-Sat; lunch 11 am-2 pm; dinner 6-9 pm; Sunday brunch 11 am-2 pm; closed Tues. $$
"Suhhthun"—said with a lazy drawl—is the operative word for all things at the Kingfish. The typically Southern Po' Boy here is an astonishing sandwich, served on a long roll with green tomato tartar, marinated tomatoes, and shredded lettuce arranged bright as confetti. Other items seemed equally promising: Johnny Rebel's Pork Sandwich, Down-Home Mac and Cheese, Daddy Delacroix's Mo Betta Club. Dinner was prolonged by a generous appetizer of Black River Peel-and-Eat Shrimp, marinated in lime, allspice, and ginger, and Kingfish House Crab and Catfish Cakes. My companion could not resist the My Way or the Highway Buttermilk Fried Chicken, which is as good a fried chicken as you're likely to get outside of your Auntie Vidalia's chicken… iffen you lucky enough to have one. (RIZ ROLLINS)

Longshoreman's Daughter
3510 Fremont Place N (Fremont), 633-5169. Sun-Thurs 7:30 am-10 pm; Fri-Sat 7:30 am-10:30 pm. $$
As Fremont's certified Hangover Helper, Longshoreman's Daughter has a number of ways to soothe "the morning after." First, there's the bed-headed help, who look both friendly and sketchy, much like your dealer last night. Then there's the fat, warm stack of buckwheat pancakes ($5.75) to kill the throbbing, and the real maple syrup to speed up the chemical detox. If that doesn't work, though, you can follow the yellow brick road back to sobriety with fresh-squeezed mimosas ($3.75). But this trendy Fremont spot is not at all your typical diner. Like a fat line of Friday night coke, the Longshoreman's Daughter manages to be all-natural and still have that brash, in-crowd appeal. NATHAN THORNBURGH

L.A. Seafood Restaurant & Lounge
424 Seventh Ave S, 622-8181. Open Mon-Thurs, 11 am-2:30 am; Fri-Sun, 11 am-3:30 am. $$
The four-months-new L.A. Seafood is in the building previously occupied by Lin Yeun, near the Theater Off Jackson. Restaurants in this corridor of the International District host many late-night dinners-of-thespians.
Chef Lee presents over 15 vegetarian entrees (all under $8.50), but the focus of his extensive menu are dishes native to his home region in Canton. We ordered half a duck (wonderfully prepared, served with white steamed buns, sweet sauce, and a heap of julienned scallions). We did not venture to try the Light Soy Pig Ears or Braised Goose Webs with Sea Cucumber, but our Chicken-Mushroom Soup with Bamboo Pith ($8.95) was delicious and savory. The lunch menu sports a "noodle bar," where you can pick the type of soup noodles you want and match them with meats, vegetables, wontons, or fish balls. (All soups are $4.50 and under.) STACEY LEVINE (6/10)

Luau
2253 N 56th St (Wallingford), 633-5828. Sun-Thurs 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm; bar open until 2 am Fri-Sat. $$
Luau's take on Polynesian is both original and delicious. The cozy space is small enough that the bar and dining area are, for all practical purposes, in the same room; and while there's plenty of Polynesian kitsch, it's not overdone. We started off with the Hawaiian Flat Bread, served with a sweet onion relish, which comes gratis for diners. We ordered Lemongrass Mahi Mahi ($14), and damn if it wasn't fantastic. Served with big chunks of grilled vegetables, the serving of fish was hefty and appropriately seared, with an almost crunchy outside, sealing in the juicy freshness of the white and tender Mahi Mahi. Two giant soba cakes tagged along, and the pie-slice-shaped wedges were as clever as they were satisfying. JIM ANDERSON

Malay Satay Hut
212 12th Ave S (International District), 324-4091. Open daily 11 am-11 pm. $$
Nestled in a small strip mall, sitting between a dry cleaners and a seafood market, a restaurant sits beneath a sign that reads simply, "Malay Satay House." Perhaps anticipating the wariness of the less adventurous, the menu includes color pictures of the dishes. Everything looks beautiful and hearty, but I don't make it past page 7, because a dish called Buddhist Yam Pot captures my imagination and stretches it. Yam Pot turns out to be impossibly rich and too much to finish, particularly when accompanied by the Belachan String Beans, stir-fried in shrimp paste and glittering with scarlet crushed red pepper. The lychee ice drink comes in a large pint glass, full of respite and encouragement to travel to this world again… and again. RIZ ROLLINS

Maple Leaf Grill
8929 Roosevelt Way (Maple Leaf), 523-8449. Mon-Fri 11:30 am-10 pm; Sat 4-10 pm; Sun 4-9 pm. $$
The Maple Leaf Grill is in an actual house, and the menu offers Cajun, Italian, and Southwestern dishes. Dining there is like being on the set of Cheers—the friendly waitstaff makes anyone feel like a neighborhood regular. On my last visit, I started off with Roasted Poblano Quesadillas ($5.95) that came with a tasty, garden-fresh salsa. For my main dish, I had a unique "Why Burger" ($6.50), made from sweet potato and quinoa, served with corn relish and chipotle mayonnaise (definitely one of the best veggie burgers in town). My boyfriend dared to try the Artichoke-Heart Sandwich ($7.50) with Roasted Pine Nuts, Melted Cheese, and Mustard Spread—risky, I know, but the combo mixes surprisingly well. And the Warm Berry Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream ($3.50) was as good as one of my aunt's homemade pies. JEN CHAROWHAS

Market Street Wine & Cheese
5424 Ballard Ave NW (Ballard), 297-1460. Tues-Sat 10 am-10 pm; Sun 12-5 pm. $
Can't afford that trip to Paris? Spend your cash in Ballard instead, at Market Street Wine & Cheese, where owner Dianna Wyatt has created an elegant yet unpretentious atmosphere with deep sofas, wood floors, and hanging shelves of unusual wines. Wyatt doesn't want wine and cheese to scare people, and fear is the furthest thing on the brain when encountering her selections. Focusing mainly on small, slightly exclusive producers rather than the big guns, you'll find her personal tastes reflected everywhere. Wyatt sells mostly imported raw-milk cheeses, and there is a small but delicious menu for you to enjoy while you sip. Already famous are the unique organic salads, like the Roasted Butternut Squash ($6.50), with caramelized onions, candied walnuts, and bleu cheese. The baguettes are plentiful and soft; the desserts are made with the freshest butter, cream, and chocolate. Ooh-la-la. MEGAN HAAS

Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant
705 23rd Ave (Central District), 860-0403 Open daily 11 am-11 pm. $
Mesob is one of the best bargains in the city. The vegetarian platter feeds two for under 10 dollars and is exquisite: lentils, greens, and potatoes in a variety of colorful sauces. The beef and lamb dishes are savory and well-spiced. All of the meals are served on a large round communal plate over hot injera, a spongy and sour pancake-like bread that is the perfect consistency for gripping fingerfuls of tibs or cabbage or whatever happens to be in front of you at the moment. The Mesob staff is cheerful and relaxed in temperament—this is not a suitable place to go for a rushed power lunch. Better to take your time and eat slowly (injera tends to expand inside your belly, so don't overdo it). Accompaniments include honey wine and Sambuca. (BEN JACKLET)

Monsoon
615 19th Ave E (Capitol Hill), 325-2111. Tues-Fri lunch 11:30 am-2 pm; Sat-Sun brunch 10 am-2 pm, dinner 5:30-10 pm; closed Mondays. $$
Monsoon serves haute cuisine from Vietnam—a country too often associated with the profligate, salty, $3-a-bowl bargain. Everything about Monsoon is gorgeously restrained. Mom's Tomato Tofu is a perfectly humble dish, with the delicate flavor of fried tofu befriended by a warm tomato sauce. More complex is the wok-fried lemongrass chicken, which comes swimming in a sea of pungent spice. But for a great meal, the meal which will slap your face and tell you to shape up, pick any one of Monsoon's "Signature" dishes: Green Tea-Baked Salmon in Banana Leaf, or Seared Chilean Sea Bass with fresh herbs and chili pepper. Both dishes were so confidently conceived and so honestly good, I lost myself in their flavor. JAMIE HOOK

Nappy Griddle
3224 Rainier Ave S (Rainier Valley), 723-5459 Mon-Sat 8 am-10 pm. Closed Sundays. $
The Nappy offers a choice of two side items with each meal—including fried okra, greens, yams, red beans and rice, mac and cheese, and cornbread. One could get the frog legs with a side of yams and broccoli. Or the seafood combo, where you select any combo of oysters, shrimp, cod, clams or catfish with fries. The cornbread is heaven: dense and moist as cake, crumbling just a bit, salty with butter. The mac 'n' cheese is the real thing: a coating of baked cheese guards the softer macaroni noodles, which have cheese sauce worked into all of their holes. The Nappy Griddle doesn't have much ambience—it is, after all, in a strip mall (the Rainier Golden Center)—but the owners treat you right. (NOVELLA CARPENTER)

Ray's Boathouse Cafe
6049 Seaview NW (Ballard) 789-3770, Sun-Thurs 11:30 am-9:30 pm; Fri-Sat 11:30 am-10 pm. $$
Ray is blessed with a big fancy boathouse, and his upstairs "cafe" has a glistening bar, deck seating, and a Shilshole location that's the envy of Seattle's seafood restaurateurs (except for Anthony, whose place is next door). The key is the view—an uninterrupted swatch of Puget Sound from Discovery Park to the Olympic range. Eating on the deck around sunset time, I barely noticed my food, I was so enthralled with the scenery. When I paid attention, though, the food quality was decent. The clam chowder ($3.99) was perfunctory, but the crab cakes with Dungeness crab and rock shrimp ($12.99) showed much more inventiveness. As for entrées, the top sirloin steak ($13.99) was not that great, but my date's grilled Alaskan King Salmon with Wild Mushrooms, Hazelnut, and Blackberry Purée ($14.99) was excellent. NATHAN THORNBURGH

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

Seattle Catch Seafood Bistro
460 N 36th St (Fremont), 632-6110 Lunch, Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30; Dinner every night at 5:30; Sunday brunch from 10-2; Bar open until 2 am every night. $$
The Seattle Catch Seafood Bistro brings forth a concept unto Fremont based on serving fresh seafood, pasta, and vegetables at an affordable price in an unpretentious environment. Owner Jill Levine decided on a "seafood restaurant" platform, adding to it her personal fondness for Sicilian-style cooking (SCSB serves no pork, chicken, or beef). The Parmesan Cod ($10.95) is dusted in an earthy coating of pine nuts, lemon, and parmesan cheese, and its broiling gives it a velvety texture akin to a light tempura. One of cod's attractive qualities is its distinctive yet mild flavor. The Grape Leaves and Snapper ($12), like the cod, was cooked perfectly: skillfully grilled to a hot doneness without being overcooked. (JIM ANDERSON)

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

Stars Bar and Dining
600 Pine St, 4th floor (Downtown), 264-1112. Daily 11:30 am-12 midnight. $$$
Stars is expensive. A proper lunch for two (propriety being the operative concept—here it means two solid hours of cocktails, appetizer, wine, main course, dessert) hits at $75. But the food is good. Close to excellent, even. Fresh and well prepared. Imaginative but not gaudy, in a well-researched sort of way. Although there is no appetizer menu, the first course includes an ample fresh prawn cocktail and the fancier black bean cake with duck confit. I venture for Stars' unusual riff on the classic steak tartare: At least a third of a pound of fresh ground steak is dished up raw, with ancho-chili mayonnaise, fire-roasted chilies, and capers. Stars' clientele is oddly reminiscent of All My Children's Pine Valley. So if you've got the money and the time, the remaining requirement is attitude. RR

Thirteen Coins
125 Boren Ave N (Downtown), 682-2513 Open 24 hours, 7 days. $$
Nestled in the mysterious Denny Way trough, this bottom-feeder has been serving its mixed clientele 24/7 for 32 years. You can get breakfast, lunch, or dinner any hour, the first two running between $8 and $15; the latter about $10-$18 à la carte. My early dining experience at the 13 Coins with my parents had brought me back to see if it still exuded the mystery, the shimmer, and the drama of Adult Life. I was not disappointed. Adults swam everywhere around us, accompanied by the subtle ice-cube clink of cocktails, shared possibly on clandestine dates. We enjoyed an abundant antipasto plate, which comes automatically (and which was refreshed as we lingered). Remember this place when, famished from an arduous night of drinking, you long for substance before you retire. (JAN WALLACE)

Toyoda Sushi
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

Willie's Taste of Soul Bar-B-Que and Custom Smoke House
6305 Beacon Ave S, 722-3229. Open Mon-Thurs 11 am-8 pm (Fri-Sat 11 am-9 pm). Closed Sundays.$
This clean and smartly appointed little establishment features state-of-the-art Bar-B-Que, with people-pleasing portions and personal attention from Willie himself. Nestled on the corner of Beacon and Graham, Willie's is just a stone's throw from I-5. With the authentic food and surrounding lush Beacon Hill greenery, you may think you've just pulled off the freeway in Louisiana. When Willie asks if you'd like hot or mild, you'd best beware: the hot BBQ sauce is the real deal. I ordered the chicken dinner, and when Willie brought me my large platter of shining chicken breast meat, I knew I was about to have my butt kicked by quality. From the first forkful to the last, the succulence factor remained above reproach. JA (5/20)

Wing Dome
7818 Greenwood Ave N (Greenwood), 706-4036. Mon-Thurs 11:30 am-10 pm, Fri-Sat 11:30 am-11 pm; Sundays 12 noon-10 pm. $
The apex of the cuisine in Buffalo, NY is hot chicken wings, traditionally served with celery sticks and blue cheese dip, but they couldn't be any tastier than at this Greenwood hangout. Everything has snappy menu names like Kamikaze Wings (teriyaki), Blazin' Bayou (Cajun honey mustard), or Rasta Wings (Jamaican jerk sauce). These unassuming parts are fried crispy and then soaked in sauce, which transforms the skin into something akin to Peking duck. Have a Mac & Jack African Amber and an order of Hot Shots (jalapeños stuffed with cheddar cheese), Dipsticks (beer-battered fried mozzarella with marinara), or the Rings of Fire (homemade onion rings). Get there early on Mondays (29¢ wings) and weekends. MICHAEL HOOD

"Where to Eat" Price Scale (per entrée) $ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up

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