Chef Wang

2230 First Ave (Belltown), 448-5407. Mon-Thurs 11 am-11 pm, Fri-Sat 11 am-2 am, Sun 4:30-11 pm. $$

Chinese food. What can be said, really? Let's face it, the majority of the cuisine native to our overpopulated commie cousins is, at best, mediocre -- most commonly, remarkably mediocre. A stir-fry is a stir-fry no matter how you wok it. But of the billions of Chinese restaurants I have visited in my long career of gluttony, two have stood out as transcending the trend of same-old, same-old Chinese cuisine. The first, Chen's Dynasty in Portland, is now a parking lot. The second, Chef Wang in Belltown, continues to dish up a mean Kung Pao ($9.95). Owner and head chef Bobby Wang has been hashing humbao for 35 years, and has mastered some remarkably tasty Chinese fare. His exotic treats include his famous Peking duck ($14.95) and Dungeness Prawns ($16.95) -- which are butterflied and served on a bed of steamed broccoli in an intense crab meat sauce. For the super-adventurous, there's the calamari-like appetizer of Frog Legs ($6.95), which is garlic-infused, salt-and-peppered, and then fried into dangly, crisp tidbits. Hey, with a name like "Wang," it has to be tasty! -- ADRIAN RYAN

The Buffalo Deli

2123 First Ave (Belltown), 728-8759. Mon-Fri 10 am-6:30 pm. $$

Kathleen Haggerty, proprietress and head chef of the Buffalo Deli, throws herself into her work with a passion and verve worthy of a nobler cause. Cold cuts, hard rolls, and chicken matzo ball soup -- all traditionally the fare of fast, unmemorable, on-the-go lunches -- are all composed with the pedantic precision of an artiste. In the short year since she opened her doors, she has gathered a loyal herd of followers from the business folk and residents surrounding the deli, and the same faithful faces can be seen every day. The menu seems dauntingly expensive at first glance, and a simple soup-and-sandwich combo for two can run close to $20. But the portion size (enormous) and the quality (exceptional) fully justify the expense. The roast beef on Kimmelweck ($6.25) and the New York Penicillin (chicken matzo ball) soup ($2.95 cup/$4.50 bowl) are quickly becoming Belltown legends. ADRIAN RYAN

Sammie Sue's Diner

1200 E Pike (Capitol Hill), 322-5177. Dinner Wed-Sat 5:30-10 pm; brunch Sat-Sun 9 am-3 pm; closed Mon-Tues. $$

Sammie Sue's constantly changing hours and notoriously slow kitchen have driven away some frustrated customers (including many nearby Stranger employees), but their Southern-themed food is so damn good it's impossible to stay away. Sammie Sue's current focus is on dinners, with brunch served only on weekends. No corners have been cut on their enormous dinners -- everything is fresh, homemade, and packs enough caloric punch to send you into a serious food coma. The side dishes alone could make up a meal, with abundant salads, fresh-baked cornbread and potato rolls, real mashed potatoes, and perfectly done veggies all competing for room in your stomach. Sammie Sue's regular dinners, like Cider-Marinated Chicken with Apple Salsa, Sweet Potato Cakes, Vegetable, and Salad ($11.50), and their specials, like Grilled Pork Chops with Cornbread Dressing and Peach Chutney, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, and Honey-Tarragon Carrots ($11.95) are just the thing for a hedonistic, lazy winter evening. MELODY MOSS

Coastal Kitchen

429 15th Ave E (Capitol Hill), 322-1145. Mon-Fri breakfast 8:30 am-3 pm, lunch 11:30 am-5 pm, dinner 5 pm-midnight. Sat-Sun brunch 8:30 am-3 pm, dinner 5-10 pm. $$

Coastal Kitchen's shtick is a revolving 12-week menu based on the cuisine of different seafaring regions of the world. Unlike many restaurants, however, Coastal Kitchen puts a lot of care and research into each new menu. For example, mock language instruction tapes to match regions are piped into the restrooms. When I went, the theme was the Aegean region, and the language tapes explained how to say things like "My sister is a good kisser" in Greek. And yes, the food was very Aegean as well, from the Fried "Kalamari" with Olive Aioli ($7.25) to the excellent Salmon Wrapped in Grape Leaves, topped with pine nuts and a walnut-pepper sauce ($17.50). Since going Greek, Coastal Kitchen has now moved on to Patagonia -- and I hear their take on South American seafood is equally inviting. No matter what the menu, if you're tired of the same old salmon steaks, you'll drool over the Coastal Kitchen's culinary bells and whistles. NATHAN THORNBURGH

Pagliacci Pizza Delivery

206-726-1717 or 425-453-1717. Mon-Thurs 5-11 pm; Fri 5 pm-midnight; Sat 4 pm-midnight; Sun 4-11 pm. $$

Pagliacci Pizza is an old workhorse: dependable yet easily overlooked. With a quick and predictable delivery service, ordering Pagliacci at home is a special treat, an easy cooking alternative, and a fun lifestyle-booster. The Original Cheese ($10.99 for a 13"/$12.99 for a 17") never disappoints, while the Seasonal Primos ($16.99 for a 13"/$18.99 for a 17") offer exciting variety. The Mushroom Primo sent our home into a tizzy as we blurted (our voices muffled by the steaming pie), "This is fuckin' good!". The blend of nutty chanterelles, bosky shiitakes, meaty [portobellas], and everyday whites create appealing, delicious, and delightfully meat-free magic. A promising autumn Pear Primo ($16.99 for a 13"/$18.99 for a 17") started on November 1, with the Christmas-colored Spinach debuting December 1. JIM ANDERSON

Burk's Cafe

5411 Ballard Ave NW (Ballard), 782-0091. Tues-Sat 11 am-10 pm. $$

Kay and Burk have always loved cooking for company, and they've succeeded in keeping that "living room feeling" alive in their restaurant. This quaint cafe has thrived on a little side street in Ballard for 17 years, and I'm certain it has something to do with the Fried Oyster Sandwich ($9). If you're the kind of person who eats oysters, you might also be the kind of person who eats catfish, fried in cornmeal and buttermilk ($8 lunch/$13 dinner). The daily specials are popular, and the usual Cajun standbys like Gumbo ($14.50) and Jambalaya ($15.50) share the menu with Penn Cove Mussels ($8) and Smoked Pork Tenderloin ($14.50). If you ask nicely, Kay might take you 'round back to view the new barbecue pit they bake the ribs on. At Burk's, they don't make claim to Cajun roots; just down-home food served in a comfy, pleasant manner. MEGAN HAAS

"Where to Eat" Price Scale (per entrée)

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

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