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Sunday, November 21, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle International -- 50 Ways To Love Your Multicultural Dining Options

THE SEATTLE AREA'S international dining scene is growing, diversifying, specializing. There is simply No Way to consider all the possibilities.

These days, transcendent cuisines turn up in Seattle's International District, of course, but also in far-flung neighborhoods and in more than one otherwise-undistinguished strip mall. We can't cover them all. We've never heard of them all.

For starters, though, here are 50 picks from restaurant critic Nancy Leson, with micro-reviews, of places where you can make a mood and taste getaway from a couple of our own native specialties, gray skies and gridlock.

Afghani Kabul, 2301 N. 45th St., Seattle, 206-545-9000.

Afghanistan comes to Wallingford at this modest-yet-stylish corner storefront where the air is heavily scented with cumin and cardamom. Carnivores show up for grilled marinated meats over basmati rice, while neighborhood vegetarians hanker for eggplant borani and delicate, ravioli-like ashak.

African/Ethiopian Afrikando, 2904 First Ave., Seattle, 206-374-9714.

Owner/chef Jacques Sarr settles his customers into this splendid little eatery for a Senegalese stuff-fest. Chicken and fish, onions and root vegetables play big on the small menu. Couscous for dessert? Just say "yes" to his yogurt- and sour-cream-thickened thiakry.

Cafe Soleil, 1400 34th Ave., Seattle, 206-325-1126.

Come evening, Madrona's morning coffee-klatcherie and Mediterranean-accented lunch-spot morphs into a darling Ethiopian

dinner venue. Elegant owner Kuri Teshome impresses in her minuscule kitchen, serving up alit'cha w'et and ke'yi w'et - seductive stews eaten with fingers full of spongy injera.

Bolivian Copacabana, 1520 Pike Place Market, Seattle, 206-325-1126.

Tourists flock here for the Market scenery and leave shaking their hips and humming Barry Manilow. Locals know this long-favored second-story spot with the bustling balcony as the only place in town for Bolivian food, including the house specialties, spicy shrimp soup and savory meat-and-vegetable pies.

Caribbean Paseo, 4225 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, 206-545-7440.

Owner Lorenzo Lorenzo's Cuban treats, including pork sandwiches and garlicky marinated chicken, arouse local appetites at this big-as-a-minute Fremont hidey-hole. Paseo caters handily to the takeout trade, but whether you choose to eat in or take out, you may soak up the sunny Caribbean flavors and load up on homemade salsa and other kicky condiments.

Chinese Canton Wonton House, 608 S. Weller St., Seattle, 206-682-5080.

Hong Kong-style noodles get top billing at this utilitarian soup house. Choose among a few dozen versions of your basic Chinese chicken soup - floating noodles and baby bok choy brought to steaming perfection with wontons, beef brisket, squid balls or barbecue pork (among other options). Chinese doughnuts are great for dunking.

Hing Loon Seafood Restaurant, 628 S. Weller St., Seattle, 206-682-2828.

Decor-wise, this I.D. favorite has all the charm of a grade-school cafeteria. Who cares! It's food that you're after and the menu - with nearly 200 items at more-than-reasonable prices - remains as impressive as that of any of the fancier, more popular Chinese seafood restaurants in town.

Jumbo Chinese Restaurant, 4208 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle, 206-760-9200.

Dim sum is offered daily at this capacious Rainier Valley restaurant that can comfortably accommodate the weekend hordes who come to seek out the city's best rolling carts. The standard menu is a long one and includes jellyfish and pork hocks as well as kung pao chicken and Mongolian beef (translation: something for everyone).

King's Barbeque House, 518 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle, 206-622-2828, and 2710 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle, 206-720-4715.

The barbecue's fit for royalty, but the prices invite happy peasants as well at these twin takeout-only joints. Stand in line and order glistening crisp-skinned duck and salty soy-basted chicken. Get ready to give a gnaw to sweet, glazed spareribs and chunks of pork tenderloin. Various organs and parts rest in the cleanest of greasy-storefront window displays. Box lunches are bargain-city.

Ocean City Restaurant Noodle Shop, 609 S. Weller St., Seattle, 206-623-2333.

This gritty, diner-like adjunct of Ocean City Restaurant conjures images of smoky, foreign train stations and film noir. Dive into a bowl of noodle soup, or down barbecued meat over rice while the guy next to you reads his Chinese newspaper. Then watch as ducks and ribs are whacked to pieces while no-nonsense waitresses pour hot, grease-cutting tea.

Shanghai Garden/Shanghai Cafe, 524 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle, 206-625-1689; 80 Front St. N., Issaquah, 425-313-3188, and Factoria Square Mall, 12708 S.E. 38th St., Bellevue, 425-603-1689.

Chef Hua Te Su's menu, with its varied regional dishes, appeals to diners from every Chinese province. His special regard for "healthful" Chinese cuisine, including cold Northern Chinese appetizers and hand-shaven green-barley noodles, helped make his restaurant in the I.D. (and its Eastside siblings) a Chinese-food fan's mecca for fare as different as it is delicious.

Continental Cassis, 2359 10th Ave. E., Seattle, 206-329-0580.

From its copper-topped bar to its intimate, candlelit tables, Capitol Hill's darling entry into the French bistro sweepstakes has won the hearts of local Francophiles. On the short, classically French menu are moules mariniere, duck confit, steak frites and such daily-changing specials as coq au vin and cassoulet. Start with a kir, finish with pastis.

Le Gourmand, 425 N.W. Market St., Seattle, 206-784-3463.

Chef Bruce Naftaly brings French cooking traditions to this unlikely corner of Ballard. His seasonally changing prix-fixe dinners are a steal considering the quality and consistency of his carefully purveyed products and ingredients, and his tiny tea-room-like dining room is a quiet, relaxing breath of fresh air in a city where restaurant interior design has gone mad with mod.

Roy St. Bistro, 174 Roy St., Seattle, 206-284-9093.

Londoner Patrick Conlan's quaint, low-key dining room and bar, tucked into the near-subterranean quarters of an old house close to Seattle Center, is the perfect fall-winter restaurant, with soul-warming, Northern Europe-inspired food to match. A lovely, unsung spot worthy of a stop before or after any event.

Filipino Inay's Kitchen, 3201 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle, 206-322-9433.

Lumpia, adobo and pancit are among the home-style Philippine foods offered daily at this small, nothing-fancy, Beacon Hill cafe that has the local Filipino community singing its praises.

Greek Georgia's Greek Deli, 323 N.W. 85th St., Seattle, 206-783-1228.

Part deli, part cafe, Georgia Kazakos' paean to all things Greek is a godsend for the hungry at breakfast, lunch or dinner. From Greek omelets to horiatiki salads, moussaka to kalamarakia to gyros, they've got it and you'll love it.

Panos Kleftiko, 815 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle, 206-301-0393.

With few tables and many fans, this cozy little hideaway in Lower Queen Anne draws those seeking the closest thing to a Greek taverna. Fill up on Panos Marinos' mezedes - "little dishes" of seafoods, meats, spreads, cheeses and such - or go for broke (it'll be tough at these modest prices) and choose from an abbreviated list of entrees.

Indian Neelam's, 4735 University Way N.E., Seattle, 206-523-5275.

Curries, samosas and kheer, oh my! Bargain-hunting U-Dubbers have a world of options when it comes to the foods of the subcontinent, but many of them continue to beat a hurried path to Neelam's, which offers a good, cheap buffet lunch and combination dinners comprising all the requisite East Indian delights.

Italian Buca di Beppo, 701 Ninth Ave. N., Seattle, 206-244-2288, and 4301 200th St. S.W., Lynnwood, 425-744-7272.

Taking its cue from New York's Little Italy, this noisy three-ring circus is a chain-concept known for family-style portions and tomato sauce-stained fun for all. What's with the hordes at the door? Oh, they're just waiting for chicken cacciatore, spaghetti with softball-sized meatballs and an audience with the pope. Don't ask.

Cafe Lago, 2305 24th Ave. E., Seattle, 206-329-8005.

If anyone can make us swoon over Italian food it's Jordi Viladas, whose handmade pastas - including ethereal lasagna and a tears-inducing gnocchi, remain Seattle standouts. Not that the city's finest antipasto plate, stellar, thin-crusted pizzas and whatever's on the grill aren't every bit as swoony.

La Medusa, 4857 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle, 206-723-2192.

Sherri Serino and Lisa Becklund have made Columbia City the place to go for Sicilian soul food. Stinky fish are raised to an art form at this twinkly storefront trattoria, where sardines join with fennel, capers, pine nuts and raisins in spaghetti con le sarde, and where onions, olives and garlic meld with anchovies on wonderful hand-thrown pizzas.

Pontevecchio, 710 N. 34th St., Seattle, 206-633-3989.

Opera singers, tango dancers and owner/chef Michele Zacco are only some of the characters found here in the heart of Fremont. A half-dozen marble-topped cafe tables equal a crowd, and the food, fine though it may be, is secondary to the scenery.

Swingside Cafe, 4212 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle, 206-633-4057.

Chef Brad Inserra's labor of love is no spaghetti house, nor is it strictly Italian, as anyone who has ever tucked into his aromatherapeutic Moroccan stew or killer seafood gumbo will tell you. The kitchen is minuscule, the dining area's not much bigger, and the joint is always filled with regulars drinking vino, twirling aglio e olio, listening to live music and attempting to ignore the crush of folks begging for their tables.

Japanese Kaizuka, 1306 S. King St., Seattle, 206-860-1556.

Make new friends while seated around Jeff Kaizuka's teppan table, bring your own friends and hide away in a very private tatami room, or yuck it up with Lisa Kaizuka and crew around one of the city's friendliest, lesser-known, sushi bars. Expect to be treated like family.

Musashi's, 1400 N. 45th St., Seattle, 206-633-0212.

They don't take credit cards, but you won't need to resort to plastic in order to fill up on sushi. Nor will you leave less than satisfied after a teriyaki plate or bento box at this minuscule Wallingford favorite.

Nishino, 3130 E. Madison St., Seattle, 206-322-5800.

Even when the place is packed (as it so often is with Microsofties and Madison Park neighbors) a sense of serenity prevails. Drink sake from frozen bamboo, feast your eyes on the sterling seafood displayed at the sushi bar, then put your meal in the hands of chef Tatsu Nishino, whose innovative, seasonally inspired Japanese fare is always as good as it looks.

Shiro's Sushi, 2401 Second Ave., Seattle, 206-433-9844.

Locals know Shiro Kashiba as the undisputed king of his craft: He's been turning raw seafood into edible jewels in this town for decades. These days aficionados flock to his simple Belltown storefront to sample the best of the best from the best.

Toyoda Sushi, 12543 Lake City Way N.E., Seattle, 206-367-7972.

Devotees (including some of the city's highest profile food folk) come from all over to pay homage to Natsuyoshi Toyoda, waiting patiently at the entranceway of this great little neighborhood gem while watching Toyoda-san do his thing out here in the heart of Lake City.

Korean Hosoonyi, 23830 Highway 99, Edmonds, 425-775-8196.

The uninitiated may find the fiery, garlicky foods of Korea too "adventuresome" for their palates, but those willing to brave on will be rewarded with exciting flavors, textures and ingredients at this near-hidden strip-mall locale where soon doo boo (soft tofu soup) is the house specialty.

Malaysian Malay Satay Hut, 212 12th Ave. S., Seattle, 206-324-4091.

The foods of China, India and Thailand inform those of Malaysia, served here by Sam and Jessy Yoo, whose "hut" is home to cheap eats of the highest order. Go for the roti, stay for the sambal squid, and come back to make your way through fabulous house specialties.

Mediterranean Meze, 935 Sixth Ave. S. (Houghton Plaza), Kirkland, 425-828-3923.

This darling cafe and catering kitchen seems sun-drenched even on the grayest days. Owner Ibrahim Pekin provides a warm presence as he dishes out Med spreads and salads, pours wine, brews Turkish coffee, grills panini and introduces Kirkland to the joys of mucver (zucchini pancakes) and sutlac (Turkish rice pudding).

Mexican Cactus, 4220 E. Madison St., Seattle, 206-324-4140.

Drawing from Mexico, Spain and the American Southwest, this festive cantina is always swamped with wannabe diners who don't mind waiting an hour for a table. The food's that good. A recent expansion hasn't helped much in the foot-tapping department, but now you can stay at Cactus and sip a margarita instead of heading up or down this bar- and restaurant-heavy Madison Park block in search of liquid refreshment.

Galeria's, 210 Broadway E., Seattle, 206-322-5757.

Ramiro Rubio relies on his mother's recipes to bring Mexican flavor to this Broadway aerie. The dining room is dark and seductive - as are many of the sauces and regional Mexican dishes that find favor with those who know there's more to Mexican than tacos and chimichangas.

Ooba's Mex Grill, 15802 N.E. 83rd St., Redmond.

A bit off the beaten path, but well worth the search, this upscale taqueria is spacious, stylish and downright delicious. Handmade tacos come filled with chipotle-rubbed pork, beer-battered rockfish or grilled shrimp, char-grilled skirt steak fills a bodacious burrito, and flavors at the salsa bar run from smoky to smokin'.

Tacos Guaymas, 6808 E. Green Lake Way N., Seattle, 206-729-6563.

This muy contemporary quick-stop is easily accessible to Green Lake's strollers and rollers and keeps things authentic with ingredients such as tripas (tripe) and sesos (brains) stuffed into soft tacos and oversized burritos. Keeping customers satisfied is young Cesar Sahagun, whose dad and uncle founded the venerable local mini-chain, Taqueria Guaymas.

Taqueria Del Rio, 10230 16th Ave. S.W., Seattle, 206-767-9102.

Walk past the bulk grains and spices, piles of tortillas, Mexican videos, CDs and snow-white baptismal dresses at Tienda Del Rio and over to the taqueria side. Here families and friends converse in Spanish while seated at gaily upholstered booths. Your first stop is the big kitchen window to order tripa, lengua, barbacoa or buche (you'll have to ask for translation). Consider the camarones or a bowl of spicy menudo. Done eating? Grab a pi centsnata and pay for it all in the tienda.

Mideastern Zaina, 108 Cherry St., Seattle, 206-624-5687, and 2615 N.E. 65th St., Seattle, 206-525-7747.

Everybody's selling gyros, hummus and falafel these days, but few get it quite as right as Zaina. This sit-down or takeout cafe's Pioneer Square location is an oasis for downtown office wonks while the (original) Roosevelt-area deli and cafe provides the same great eats in a neighborhood setting.

Pan-Asian Chinoise Cafe, 12 Boston St., Seattle, 206-284-6671.

The handsome Japanese interior design at this sushi bar-centered cafe belies the decidedly non-Nippon name, and neither hints at the fact that you can order kimchee with your sukiyaki, ebi with your kalbi, and Vietnamese salad roll with your Chinoise Fun Bowl. A second Chinoise Cafe opens soon on East Madison Street in Madison Valley.

Shallot's Asian Bistro, 2525 Fourth Ave., Seattle, 206-728-1888.

Owner/chef Kenny Lee made his mark at the far-less-hip pan-Asian eatery, Provinces, in Edmonds, before branching out at this casual yet sophisticated, edge-of-Belltown spot. Thai curries and Chinese hot pots, satay samplers and Japanese udon cross paths in an aromatic, intimate setting where your chopsticks will long to stray to the next table.

WILD GINGER TO COME

Persian Kolbeh, 1956 First Ave. S., Seattle, 206-224-9999.

Tired of the same old Middle Eastern food? Broaden your horizons with the most under-appreciated of the world's ancient cuisines at this sultry, saffron-scented eatery where kabobs are king, mint-laced yogurt is the drink of choice and stews take on a new dimension when slow-cooked with herbs you won't find in a jar marked "Western Family."

Polynesian Luau Polynesian Lounge, 2253 N. 56th St., Seattle, 206-633-5828.

This Polynesian lounge act is a kitschy sendup on the Trader Vic's theme. Owner and barman Thomas Price does his thing behind his bustling little tiki bar, while folks from the neighborhood whoop it up tableside, snacking on pupus and diving into entrees inspired by places where palms sway and tropical breezes blow.

Russian Kaleenka, 1933 First Ave., Seattle, 206-728-1278.

Pilmeny (garlicky beef dumplings), galuptzi (stuffed cabbage) and traditional Ukrainian borscht (served with sour cream and rye bread) are every bit as spirit-warming as the pretty, colorful Russian folk art found at this tiny tea room near Pike Place Market.

Piroshki on Broadway, 124 Broadway E., Seattle, 206-322-2820.

Little more than a bake-shop (and little is the operative word), this slice of Russian life is a quick stop for pirogi both sweet (with apples, cherries, poppy seeds) and savory (forget the pepperoni version; you want Italian, go up the street to Pagliacci and order a slice of pizza). A bowl of borscht or a platterful of handmade pirogi with sour cream is sure to cure whatever ails you.

Spanish Harvest Vine, 2701 E. Madison St., Seattle, 206-320-9771.

One look, one sniff, one taste of Harvest Vine, and you'll know for certain that every other restaurant in town is taking the word tapas in vain. A seat at chef Joseph Jimenez de Jimenez's copper-topped tapas bar (or at one of only a handful of tables) is one of the hottest, most tongue-tantalizing tickets in town.

Thai Krittika, 6411 Latona Ave. N.E., Seattle, 206-985-1182.

Twinkly paper lanterns suspend gracefully from the ceiling while wooden tabletops act as canvas for multicolored Fiestaware. Best of all, you'll find such Thai tantalizers as spring rolls and delicately steamed mussels, dipping sauces with ooomph, noodles soaking up exotic gravies, vegetables that maintain their snap, and seafood and meats stir-fried with a practiced hand.

Siam on Broadway, 616 Broadway E., Seattle, 206-324-0892.

On a strip chock-a-block with ethnic restaurants, Siam continues its tradition of providing Capitol Hill with consistently good Thai food. No, those women dipping into salty, sugary and fishy potions and doing the stir-fry ballet behind the counter near the door don't make anything that you won't find at every other Thai joint in town; they just make it better.

Vietnamese Huong Binh, 1207 S. Jackson St., Seattle, 206-720-4907.

You'll find speedy service and simple Vietnamese street-cart fare in comfortable sit-down surroundings. And though the menu may seem daunting to first-timers, think of it this way: You've got grilled stuff over noodles, grilled stuff over rice, good-for-you stuff in soup and achingly sweet stuff piled high near the register. Pork and shrimp loom large on the menu and are best enjoyed in a combo plate (just say, "I'll have No. 10") served on a tray with rice noodles and a bouquet of fresh herbs.

Monsoon, 615 19th Ave. E., Seattle, 206-325-2111.

Vietnamese fare went upscale, did a Northwest-accented star turn, and stormed its way into the hearts of those who've been there at this Capitol Hill newcomer. Run by a trio of savvy siblings, tiny Monsoon offers compelling aromas, an intriguing menu and simplicity in design that puts the focus where it belongs: on the food.

Pho Bac, 1314 S. Jackson St., Seattle, 206-323-4387.

As legendary for its beef noodle soup as for its Pepto-Bismol-hued paint job, this popular soup shack at a busy intersection entices diners from every walk of life and every ethnic origin, making it one of Seattle's more notable pho stops.

Than Brothers, 7714 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle, 206-527-5973.

Lightning-fast service, exceptionally cheap prices, bird-bath-sized soup bowls and complimentary "appetizers" of homemade cream puffs are reason enough to make you go out of your way to try the pho here. Smitten by those custard-filled pastries? Buy some to go.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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