2107 Third Ave., Seattle; 206-728-4220
Born in an era of expense and expanse, bedeviled by a market saturated with restaurants selling casual swank, Belltown's Brasa braves on. I like its bold Mediterranean flavors, its physical curves and the option of eating inexpensively in the bar. I like knowing that co-owner Bryan Hill is on hand to help navigate the clever wine list (even if all I ever order is rosé) and that chef Tamara Murphy's jet-black squid-ink risotto is still worth staining my teeth for.
2576 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle; 206-283-3313
Canlis is a Northwest culinary icon justly proud of its fine-dining tradition, its second-generation ownership, its daringly deep wine list and its perch high above Lake Union. It's a delightful throwback to refinement, a delicious ode to an era when it was swell to be a swell: something I'll never be. I grew up in a family where fine dining meant the occasional all-you-can-eat shrimp dinner at the Woodbine Inn, where my mother ripped off the red linen napkins while I drank cherry-Coke "cocktails." At Canlis, I get to see how the "other-half" lived, knowing I may live that way today, if only for a few extraordinary hours, rejoicing in sublime service and leaving the linen where it belongs.
1507 Pike Place, Seattle; 206-624-2774
Before claiming residency, I flew to Seattle for a visit and left with a gift that's kept on giving: a lunch sack filled with fried chicken. On it, written in my best friend's hand, were the cautionary words: "Don't touch that nasty airplane food!" I don't call her my best friend for nothing, and I've been a fan of Chicken Valley's take-out ever since. Others might opt for gizzards, livers or a buxom breast. I say: Sport me a drumstick and a pair of chubby thighs (soon to keep company with the ones I've got), fix me up with a stack of napkins, find me a patch of grass at Steinbrueck Park and call me good to go.
Conway Pub & Eatery
18611 Main St., Conway; 360-445-4733
When I dream about destination dining, I'm not dreaming about the Herbfarm, Salish Lodge or that vertical blight on Seattle's skyline (you know which one I mean). I'm dreaming about a quiet hike on Fir Island for a light picnic and a stop, afterward, for a bacon cheeseburger at this friendly pull-tab palace in downtown Conway. Ask any farmer or Harley enthusiast within 60 miles of I-5 exit 221 and they'll agree: You won't find a bar with a burger better than these lean, half-pound beauties.
2001 Fourth Ave., Seattle; 206-682-4142
The Dahlia hits all the highs on my personal food+service+atmo-meter and, on a purely professional level, is the hands-down winner of my Grand Prize. I'm often asked to define Northwest cuisine and regularly called upon to direct diners to the restaurant that says "Seattle" more than any other. Fortunately, the Northwest cuisine-conundrum dovetails nicely with the definitive-Seattle-restaurant query to formulate the perfect answer to both: the Dahlia Lounge.
9208 Holman Road N.W., Seattle (and other branches); 206-783-5233
Despite his parents' lack of interest in all things automotive, my son is nuts about cars. He's a fan of Matchbox cars, sports cars, NASCAR and Dick's Drive-In. I'm not sure what he likes more about Seattle's classic burger joint: the "cheeseburger with salad" (a.k.a., Dick's Deluxe) or the opportunity to eat in the otherwise-verboten front seat. Granted, if I had my way we'd be knocking back a burger and onion rings in a booth at Red Mill Burgers. My preference aside, Dick's looms large on my list because, as I always tell the kid: "If you're happy, I'm not unhappy!"
Eva Restaurant and Wine Bar
2227 N. 56th St., Seattle; 206-633-3538
Neighborhood mom 'n pop bistros may be a dime a dozen around here, but this one deserves its fervid following. I'm besotted with the oft-changing menu, a bold, brief card whose innovations offer season's greetings year-round. An artist in an apron, chef/owner Amy McCray knocks my taste buds into the next county with her internationally inspired creations colorfully composed with farm-fresh produce and seductive saucings. Her shy spouse, James Hondros, tends the wine bar and introduces diners to a world-ranging list of quaffable refreshment with smart samplings available by the glass and half-bottle.
516 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle; 206-624-3634
It wasn't until the umpteenth time I ordered my "usual" seafood noodle soup and a side of chilled and marinated bamboo shoots that I was busted. "Are you Nancy?" asked owner Wendy Lu, who takes orders and runs this fast-paced Chinese café in the manner of a kindly drill sergeant. She had obviously recognized me as the critic who'd sung the praises of the aforementioned "usual" in print. What's up with that? Surely I'm not the only loyal (lo) fan to pledge allegiance to this comforting combination of soul-satisfying goodies.
2701 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-320-9771
Please don't go. Don't join the ranks of us willing to wait an hour in the rain for one of a dozen seats at the tapas bar. Don't watch in awe as that marvelously mustachioed Basque, Joseph Jimenez de Jimenez, blows our minds. Don't even think about joining us unless you're willing to share strange-looking foods with good-looking strangers many of whom will swear they've never eaten as well in Spain as they trade bites of salt-cured tuna and wild boar bacon, fried Galician peppers and grilled blood sausage. Don't be aggrieved when you're finally seated and half the menu's multitude of little dishes has been 86'd. And don't even think about departing without sampling some sweets, courtesy of patrona and pastry chef Carolin Messier de Jimenez.
23830 Highway 99, Edmonds; 425-775-8196
In order to assuage a frequent craving for Korean food notably the heat- and garlic-laden soups, stews and other house specialties served at Hosoonyi I'm forced to go it alone. Outside the culture and inside my orbit, Korean cuisine has few converts. To that I say: More for me! More raw egg and crunchy laver floating (for me and only me!) in the soft tofu soup. More spicy octopus and sizzling platters of kalbi! More complimentary kimchee, fish cake and unidentifiable vegetables to dress my rice bowl! Who needs company when the food's this good?
Imperial Garden Seafood Restaurant
Great Wall Shopping Mall, 18230 E. Valley Highway, Kent; 425-656-0999
Proximity to Ikea holds a certain allure, as does the panoply of pan-Asian shops here at the Great Wall Mall, but it's the frequent price breaks on Maine lobster and Peking duck and the distinctive daily dim sum that put this semi-swanky South-Ender on this discerning North-Ender's hit list.
19 W. Harrison St., Seattle; 206-298-0123
I come here because Kaspar and Nancy Donier are the nicest people in the restaurant business, because Kaspar's kick-in-the-pants brother Markus runs the restaurant's cozy wine bar and because Kaspar's Northwest menu offers beautiful, well-prepared food without ripping me off. I show up when I want formal-but-not-fussy, when I want to impress guests who hate hipster haunts and, by the way, did I mention that the Doniers were the nicest people in the restaurant business?
2101 N. 55th St., Seattle; 206-545-9050
On my maiden visit, Ryuichi Nakano was selling uni but shook his head when I asked for it. Based on what I'd ordered, and given the season, he knew I'd be unimpressed with his sea urchin roe. That's the moment I became a regular. Nakano, owner and head sushi chef at this welcome addition to Seattle's sushi scene, was a familiar face from a decade spent at I Love Sushi. I'm drawn here by his staff's incredibly warm welcome and the room's stylish interior, and I return, often, to bask in Nakano's glow, watching him converse with ease in English or his native tongue, finally, happily, master of his own domain.
2510 First Ave., Seattle; 206-441-7801
Though named for owner Marco Rulff, this sexy little "supperclub" has my name written all over it. Since its inception, Marco's has provided me with years of consistently good food, a famously funkified atmosphere and a soundtrack culled from my Greatest Hits playlist. Where better to unwind with the eminently noshable signature appetizer, fried sage leaves, while listening to Joao Gilberto sing Jobim? Where else could I linger over jazz and cocktails and decide between steak frites and Jamaican jerk chicken while a dozen covers of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life" play back to back, allowing me for a few hours, at least to live a lush life in some small dive.
19505 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood; 425-771-3368
Hiroyuki Matsushima is a swift, silent seafood purveyor whose smooth hands are all I see when I stop in for lunch to sit at his sushi bar and peek at and through his cold case. Hidden behind an array of lacquer boxes and viewed through the glass, I watch as he works side-by-side with his wife, whom I've dubbed "the tempura queen," leaving service in the capable hands of their smiling and efficient daughters. Impressed with the offerings and the moderate pricing, I sip my tea, eat Matsu's sushi and wonder what it would be like to work so closely as a family unit, knowing this is as close as I'll ever get to finding out.
Matt's in the Market
94 Pike St. (Suite 32 in the Corner Market Building), Seattle; 206-467-7909
Short, funky and fun is a description that extends to owner Matt Janke as well as to his second-story Market aerie. With its brief seafood-heavy menu, two-burner stove, a handful of tables and just-enough elbow room at the lengthy counter, this is the Market "find" I share with friends from out of town. It's the perfect place to sneak away for lunch or (attempt to) sneak into at dinner: and it's exactly the kind of restaurant I'd own if I were brave enough to own one.
615 19th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-325-2111
In a city where utilitarian Vietnamese cafes are plentiful, Monsoon is both an anomaly in and my epitome of Vietnamese dining. Owned and operated by a trio of savvy siblings, this bustling little bistro balances innovation and authenticity. Chefs Sophie and Eric Banh rely heavily on organic ingredients to illustrate the clean, fresh flavors of their native cuisine and never fail to astound me with their contemporary, seasonal, Northwest take on Vietnamese food, backed by Eric's deep, fare-complementary wine list.
The Original Pancake House
130 Park Place Center, Kirkland; 425-827-7575
My idea of Sunday breakfast is cold leftover Chinese food eaten after the paper's been read and a mug of coffee's been consumed. At least it was my idea until I hooked up with a card-carrying pancake fanatic who thinks nothing of nudging his sleeping wife in the ribs, tossing the kid in the car and hightailing to Kirkland by spare me! 8 a.m. When I'm old and prone to reminiscence, I'll recall those golden mornings spent sharing a gooey, mile-high apple pancake, stealing the fried egg off junior's "Junior Plate" and longing for the days I slept till noon.
2030 Fifth Ave., Seattle; 206-448-2001
My left arm rests along the vast, horseshoe-shaped bar. My right hand embraces a flute of sparkling wine as my eyes devour the action at the tables, the dramatic sweep of the room and Tom Douglas' broad commissary kitchen. Though I'd come to the Palace if only to take in the scenery, it's the menu not the palpable pulchritude that quickens my pulse. From my premiere post I consider the possibilities: crisp, prosciutto-wrapped quail or goat-cheese fondue? Handmade ravioli or Oregon rib steak? Should I dip another slice of rustic bread into balsamico and olive oil or save room for coconut-cream pie? Tough choice, that.
Piecora's New York Pizza
1401 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-322-9411
It's an unbeatable pizza combo: stellar pies and New York attitude. At Piecora's a joint if ever there was one I prefer my pizza straight (plain cheese) with a chaser (from the tap). That my prize needs no embellishment says much about the marriage of thin crust, balanced tomato sauce and oily mozzarella. That I'm willing to drive out of my way to get it speaks to the quality and consistency of the product, the accommodating, no-nonsense service and my "old hunger" for the Holy Grail of East Coast-style comfort food.
81 Pike St., Seattle; 206-624-1756
No hype. Great food. No scene. Real scenery. Winsome wine list. Stellar service. Inventive cocktails. Savvy bartender. For all this and more Place Pigalle wins my adoration. Stylish yet serene, classy and classic, Bill Frank's hideaway, a French kiss with Northwest flavor, is the bistro that's been around "forever" and one that deserves to stay around for always.
2137 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-256-2060
As a wearer of Merrill rip-offs, I could give a rip about Manolo Blahniks, but if I were in the market for being in the market, I'd have my ugly shoes under Zoë's bar on a regular basis. Energy ignites this young comer, whose couture-cocktail-culture makes this the perfect location-set for the Seattle version of "Sex and the City." Some of the best drinks in town are composed right here. Oh, keep your Cosmos, girls, and order me a sage margarita or one of those sultry little mocktails, then satisfy me with something from the short, pan-Mediterranean menu. Owner/chef Scott Staples pays homage to bold flavors and colorful constructions, and I pay attention to his artful execution of ricotta raviolo, veal cheeks "osso buco" and pan-seared scallops enhanced with bacon and a delicate corn flan.
309 Third Ave. S., Seattle; 206-621-8772
Armandino Batali's thin-sliced salumeria is way too small, has too few seats, too many fans and is hardly ever open. So shoot him. Bet you a buck he'll come back to life to pour another glass of vino before turning his own carcass into a house-cured haunch of something delicious. Well, get me a glass and a fork and save me a seat because if Armandino's around, it's where I want to be. He woos me with sage-scented gnocchi, wows me with grilled lamb sandwiches and finesses finnochiona his fennel salami sold, as is much of his custom cure, by the pound.
524 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle (and Eastside outposts); 206-625-1688
Hey, Lynda Gilman! I owe you, my friend and former landlady, a debt of gratitude for introducing me to Shanghai Garden. Since then, I always know exactly where to send readers who call and write in search of "Seattle's best Chinese restaurant." Hey, Hua Te Su! I owe you, Shanghai Garden's talented chef/owner, a debt of gratitude for helping make the corner of Sixth and Weller my idea of heaven on Earth, for cloning Shanghai Garden in Issaquah and for sharing your recipes at Shanghai Café in Factoria. (God forbid I'm feeling the need for some hand-shaven noodles after an exhausting trip to Loehmann's.)
7714 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle (and branches); 206-527-5973
There's no better fast food and certainly none as cheap and filling as pho, Vietnam's comforting contribution to our cheap-eats firmament. This Aurora Avenue storefront serves as my perfect pit stop: if my pit's empty, I stop. Practically before my tush meets the seat I'm treated to a cream-puff appetizer (life's short, eat dessert first) and pho tai a broad, soul-satisfying bowl of fragrant beef broth, noodles and paper-thin slices of round-eye. I hurriedly dress my soup with bean sprouts and basil, a hit of lime and a shot of fish sauce, lest the meat cook too fast. Fifteen minutes and five bucks later, I'm sated and out the door.