Pacific Northwest Magazine / Cover Story
Enduring Quality: These are the restaurants we turn to, in good times and bad
They are our homes-away-from-home, the stage-set for our celebrations and seductions, the neutral ground on which we meet strangers and clients, and the places we so often turn to for sustenance and solace.
They are our kitchens when the refrigerator holds no promise, or when we haven't an ounce of energy left after a long day at work — or a hard day at play. Some of them are as cozy and comfortable as our living rooms; others offer elegance and grandeur for the price of an icy martini.
They are our favorite restaurants, there for us on occasions large and small, in good times and in bad. And when they close — as they inevitably do — we mourn them as we would a loved one, kicking ourselves for the times we stayed away too long, or forsook them for others.
In this most precarious of businesses, whose failure rate is one-in-five annually, a five-year run is commendable, 10 years is cause for celebration, and 20 years in business should be counted in the restaurant equivalent of "dog-years" — making 50-year-old Canlis an astounding 350.
Looking back on a stormy year, when so many restaurants have suffered, and continue to suffer, from fiscal fallout, we pay tribute to those that have stood the test of time. Using a 10-year minimum as a marker, I've come up with a roster of restaurants (pitifully incomplete, I admit) that have been gifting us with their presence for at least a decade, offering welcome, warmth, good food and company, and a sense of stability that we need now, more than ever.
The Georgian (1924)
Four Seasons Olympic Hotel, 411 University St., Seattle; 206-621-7889
The grande dame of dining rooms closed its ornate doors early last month for a futuristic facelift. In an attempt to alleviate some of its fabled formality, it even lost its surname — "Room." Recently unveiled, it's meant to appeal to us whether we're dressed in glamour or Gore-Tex. Nodding to chef Gavin Stephenson's new (less formal) Northwest-inspired menu and the staff's more expeditious but always-elegant service, we'll don our fussiest Patagonia underwear and come back, as ever, to celebrate in style.
2576 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle; 206-283-3313
Fifty years ago, restaurateur Peter Canlis moved from Hawaii to Seattle, built a striking, Roland Terry-designed restaurant overlooking Lake Union, and gave this city a gift: its premier dining room. Thanks to his son, Chris, and daughter-in-law, Alice — who took over as hosts in 1976 — Canlis remains the gift that keeps on giving. Today, chef Greg Atkinson puts his modern mark on a Northwest menu that has, like the recently renovated restaurant, seen a welcome revitalization. And steadfast employees such as Mieko Hanson, serving generations of Canlis customers since 1967, have no small roll in creating the much-vaunted "Canlis Experience."
Alki Homestead (1952)
2717 61st Ave. S.W., Seattle; 206-935-5678
Nostalgia-struck city folk in search of country-style comfort rely on this anachronistic slice of Americana. The rustic log house, once home to Alki settlers, is a glorification of Granny's dining room gussied up in Pastor's-Comin'-to-Dinner finery. Steak, seafood and prime rib bolster the short menu, but it's pan-fried chicken with homemade gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits that sound the call: "Come and get it!" And we have. For half a century.
Chace's Pancake Corral (1958)
1606 Bellevue Way S.E., Bellevue; 425-454-8888
When Bill Chace died this year at 91, he left a legacy steeped in maple syrup and small-town camaraderie. He also left a stack of pancake-batter recipes certain to keep the neighbors coming back to Olde Bellevue for the next 40 years in search of breakfast, lunch and every other warm and wonderful thing this old-fashioned, Chace-family-run eatery purveys.
Deluxe Bar & Grill (1962)
625 Broadway Ave. E., Seattle; 206-324-9697
When Joe Rogel and Bernie Minsk purchased the Deluxe Tavern 40 years ago, they bought a piece of history: the site of the first post-Prohibition tavern in Seattle. Today Rogel's son Barry owns and runs this Capitol Hill classic, recently expanded and remodeled but known for its bodacious burgers, over-stuffed baked potatoes, happy-hour specials and proximity to the Harvard Exit.
1520½ Pike Place Market; 206-622-6359
Its second-story Pike Place Market perch, complete with a coveted café balcony, has long been part of the charm at Seattle's only Bolivian restaurant. Founding father Ramon Palaez passed on years ago, passing his fragrant recipes onto his family, who continue to comfort Seattle with saltenas, huminta and spicy shrimp soup, just as they have for decades.
Hattie's Hat (early 1960s)
5231 Ballard Ave., Seattle; 206-784-0175
When a passel of hip young whippersnappers bought and heavily laundered this Ballard landmark, they kept its character intact: character that long made Hattie's the place to hang your hat while nursing (or working on) a hangover. Today a new generation rubs elbows with what's left of the old, while rib-sticking eats and stiff drinks keep everybody happy.
13 Coins (1967)
125 Boren Ave. N., Seattle; 206-682-2513
Retro rules at 13 Coins (and its Sea-Tac twin, open since 1976), where a complimentary antipasto tray still takes the edge off and the Sixties-era supper-club ambiance looms large day and night, 24/7. You can still buy cigarettes at the hostess stand, eat a Joe's Special at 3 in the morning or down a bloody Mary with a blood-rare steak at 3 in the afternoon. The open-kitchen concept made famous at the Coins is now the rage all over town, but remember: You saw it here first!
122 Cherry St., Seattle; 206-622-3375
Order a fresh-roasted turkey sandwich at this subterranean Pioneer Square cafeteria and you'll know why the fast-moving line often snakes out the door. Owner Jason Wang and his stalwart crew of soup-ladling sandwich-makers dish the goods up cheap — just as the Wang family has been doing for 30 years. Think short on frills but long on thrills: that's house-baked bread you're munching, and the carrot cake Jason's talked you into is even better than he swears it is.
India House (1970)
4737 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle; 206-632-5072
It's hard to imagine a time when the words "samosa," "tandoori" and "chai" were new to our ethnic-food vernacular. That time has come and gone, but India House — the first Indian restaurant in the state — remains. Though not unchanged, it holds a place near and dear to the hearts of U-Dub's Baby Boomers, who knew it as the quintessential exotic cheap date.
Ray's Boathouse (1973)
6049 Seaview Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-789-4130
Born as a waterfront fisherman's café in 1945, Ray's — whose classic neon sign has been beckoning at Shilshole Bay ever since — wrote the blueprint for Seattle seafood restaurants. Its view (of the bay and the Olympics beyond), dedication to fresh seafood (and the right wine to go with it) and a casual upstairs bar and café (just try to get a seat on the deck on a sunny summer's eve) clearly reflects Seattle spirit.
Filiberto's Cucina Italiana (1975)
14401 Des Moines Memorial Drive, Burien; 206-248-1944
Mina Genzale Perry wields the big wooden spoon and wears the marinara-splattered apron at this airport-neighborhood Italian-food favorite. Count among her longtime patrons those willing to drive from neighborhoods near and far for superior pizzas, homemade pastas and a multitude of meat and seafood dishes sure to keep us fat and happy.
Trattoria Mitchelli (1977)
84 Yesler Way, Seattle; 206-623-3883
Today, Papa Dany Mitchell's modest-priced, family-run, Italian-food empire extends to Angelina's (1988) and Stella's (1989), but it's the beloved "Trat" that we hold dear. Harboring the ghosts of late-night romancing in Pioneer Square, our memories are laden with pasta and pizza and tumblers of the good, cheap red wine that fortified us for the adventure that lay ahead. For that, we were (and remain) truly grateful.
Café Juanita (1979)
9702 N.E. 120th Place, Kirkland; 425-823-1505
It's been nearly two years since Peter Dow sold his beloved country-Italian dinner house to Holly Smith, a vivacious young Seattle chef with visions of Northern Italy dancing in her head. The change of ownership has proved a heavenly transition. With Smith's enthusiastic, hands-on approach (and after a classy cosmetic re-do), this Juanita Creek-side venue is once again the dining destination-of-choice for discerning Italian-food aficionados.
Emmett Watson's Oyster Bar (1979)
1916 Pike Place, #16, Seattle; 206-448-7721
Seattle's curmudgeonly columnist Emmett Watson died this year, leaving us with a 50-year legacy of newspaper work and this Pike Place Market shrine-on-a-halfshell, named in his honor. Who could complain when seated at the bar sipping a cold one and slurping some briny ones? Who wouldn't revel in the crunch as they munch fried oysters tucked into a baguette? Don't answer that, Emmett!
Madison Park Café (1979)
1807 42nd Ave. E., Seattle; 206-324-2626
For years, Karen Binder's notable noshery was Madison Park's sunny little answer to the where-to-have-breakfast question. Today, under Binder's devoted attentions, it's morphed into a darling dinner house whose French-bistro fare is prepared by tenured Seattle chef Marianne Zdobysz. Neighbors in the know still show up for weekend brunch, drawn by the scent of fresh pastry and rich coffee.
Daniel's Broiler (1980)
200 Lake Washington Blvd. (Leschi Marina), Seattle; 206-329-4191
Restaurateurs Bill and John Schwartz have long made their imprint on the Seattle-area restaurant scene with such Schwartz Brothers creations as Chandler's Crabhouse, Spazzo Mediterranean Grill and Cucina! Cucina! But it's their classy, straightforward steakhouse — whose USDA Prime cuts of meat can also be found at siblings in Bellevue (opened in 1989) and on South Lake Union (1999) — that garner carnivores' devotion.
Hi-Spot Café (1980)
1410 34th Ave., Seattle; 206-325-7905
House-baked cinnamon rolls and green eggs 'n ham are part of what makes this homey old Victorian the longest-running restaurant show on this restaurant-happy Madrona strip. At once cozy and casual, it's the perfect lazy-day breakfast and lunch joint. Weekend hordes wait with forgiving patience to take in the good vibes and soothe their Sunday psyches with a latte or mimosa.
Sea Garden (1980)
509 Seventh Ave. S., Seattle; 206-623-2100
A solid standby in a sea of Chinese restaurants, this one's beloved for its Cantonese comfort foods and a lengthy menu starring finger-lickin' crab plucked fresh from the tank. Fast service and late-night hours brought us here in the first place and keep us coming back. A Bellevue spawn (open in 1994) placates fans on the other side of the lake.
1401 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-322-9411
In New York, there's a pizza joint like this on every corner. In Seattle, unless you live near the corner of 14th and Madison, you ain't so lucky. Piecora's is the place ex-pat New York pizza-lovers love to love. Here's why: Pizza dough flies through the air with the greatest of ease, wears just the right amount of sauce and oozes mozzarella and a sheen of oil. Thin-crusted pies have just the right amount of New York attitude, as does the help. That's what keeps us coming back for more.
The Pink Door (1981)
1919 Post Alley, Seattle; 206-443-3241
Be still our beating pink hearts! And thank you, Jackie Roberts, for romancing us with the kitschy cool of cabaret and cocktails, a rustic roof-top terrace and a merry dining room as inviting as the homey, uncomplicated Italian fare purveyed behind that beloved pink door.
El Puerco Lloron (1982)
1501 Western Ave., Seattle; 206-624-0541
Part cafeteria, part trip to Tijuana, this colorful cantina tucked along the Market Hillclimb is a fast-food fiesta of inexpensive but impressive Mexican eats. We love it in summer when outdoor tables fill up (too) quickly. Throughout the year we're greeted by the sight of fresh tortillas sizzling on the grill as we beg for a side of guacamole before deciding between carne asada or chiles rellenos, helping ourselves to salsa while the cashier grabs our cerveza and rings up the bill.
Place Pigalle (1982)
81 Pike St., Seattle; 206-624-1756
Among the many seductive qualities of Bill Frank's bistro are its sexy little bar (an imbiber's paradise), a deep wine list (intriguing and affordable) and a front-of-the-house staff whose longevity and levity are greatly appreciated. The menu — and Pigalle loyalists — rely on the tiny kitchen's devotion to French classics and seasonal Northwest ingredients.
Two Bells Tavern (1982)
2313 Fourth Ave., Seattle; 206-441-3050
Color — local and otherwise — suffuses this classic tavern, bought and brought to prominence by the late Patricia Ryan. Her soul's still here, sharing room at the wide, welcoming bar where artists and office-wonks, tattooed young hipsters and tattooed old sailors gather to hoist a beer and lovingly lay waste to the day's soup and what is arguably the best burger in town.
Café de Paris (1983)
109 Main St., Edmonds; 425-771-2350
Who needs five-spice-dusted duck breast served rare when you can have duck à l'orange just like Julia Child made it back in 1969? Trendy French bistros may be all the rage, but don't tell that to the folks who return year after year to chef Firmin Berclaz's waterside café in Edmonds. Straightforward French standards appeal to everyone from the local blue-hairs to their 20-something grandkids.
Chez Shea (1983)
94 Pike St., Suite 34 (in the Corner Market Building), Seattle; 206-467-9990
Romance is the secret ingredient at Sandy Shea's Pike Place Market hideaway, a candle-lit, linen-draped, second-story perch where seasonal Market fare stars on a four-course, prix fixe menu. The mood's ever right for seduction, here or in the adjoining, more casual Shea's Lounge (open since 1994). At either, cooing couples linger over champagne and cocktails, taking in the view through elegant arched windows.
Il Terrazzo Carmine (1984)
411 First Ave S. (in Merrill Place), Seattle; 206-467-7797
Seattle's movers and shakers, power lunchers and Italian food romanticists delight in the Old World ministrations of Carmine Smeraldo. The gracious, all-seeing host works this elegant and festive dual-tiered room, glad-handing and celebrating with guests who pay their continued respects in return for a consistently superior dining experience.
3426 N.E. 55th St., Seattle; 206-527-8600
Gao Le and Tony Eren got their start at Salute as dishwashers. Today they own the place. Le learned to cook Italian from (original co-owner/chef) Raffaele Calise, back when Salute drew crowds from all over the city. Eren, who swears he's worked here since he was in diapers, rose in rank from busboy to waiter, then manager. Today he's a whirling dervish, answering phones, greeting customers by name, plating antipasto and making sure everybody's happy. That's amore!
86 Pine St., Seattle; 206-728-2800
Casual elegance, gracious service, the finest French-influenced fare and a thoughtfully crafted wine list have long defined Peter Lewis' intimate Pike Place Market restaurant and bar. Born on Capitol Hill and moved — in 1987 — to its present romantic post, Campagne is poised (as is its adjoining bistro-sibling, Café Campagne, opened in 1994) to offer a world-class dining experience.
Le Gourmand (1985)
425 N.W. Market St., Seattle; 206-784-3463
Inside this Ballard cottage, the mood is pleasant and serene, chef/owner Bruce Naftaly's laugh is warm and infectious and his seasonal three-course dinners honor the Northwest and curtsy to France. What more can we ask for? A great wine list? (Got it.) Superb service? (Done.) Modest prices? (These are a bargain.) Small wonder, then, that Naftaly is considered a local treasure. The pleasure is ours.
Salty's at Alki (1986)
1936 Harbor Ave. S.W., Seattle; 206-937-1600
With its astonishing Emerald City view, bounteous, seafood-saturated Sunday brunch, wraparound waterfront deck and dress-up or dress-down atmosphere, Salty's floats Seattle's boat. On weekend evenings, loyal fans cadge a hug and say hello to "proprietor emeritus" Joyce Entus, the happy hostess who sold her Beach Broiler to the man who brought us Salty's. Obviously, we're not the only ones who can't get enough of it.
Siam on Broadway (1986)
616 Broadway Ave. E., Seattle; 206-324-0892
Despite the plethora of Thai restaurants on Capitol Hill and elsewhere (including Siam-sibs on Lake Union (1993) and Queen Anne (2001), our reverence for Siam on Broadway hasn't flagged. The action takes place at the kitchen counter, where the cooks' divine dance produces enticing aromas. In the cramped vestibule, patrons wait for a table, order take-out or stare with undisguised lust as those with counter seats dive into steaming bowls of the city's best tom ka gai.
Still Life in Fremont (1986)
709 N. 35th St., Seattle; 206-547-9850
Soon to have the distinction of being the last funky space left in formerly funky Fremont, this classic coffeehouse remains true to its original spirit. With the (long ago) demise of the Surrogate Hostess and the recent shuttering of Wallingford's Honeybear Bakery, the Still Life's scarred wooden floors, "well-loved" tables and chairs and commitment to good, healthy food and soothing drink have become even more sacred to the community.
Queen City Grill (1987)
2201 1st Ave., Seattle; 206-443-0975
Before Belltown's reputation was built on hip hangouts like Queen City Grill, there was Queen City Grill. Then, as now, Peter Lamb's convivial corner boîte, known as much for its seafood as its "see-food," is the hangout-of-choice for the city's chic social set, who appreciate the service and the wine list.
2808 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-325-7442
Thierry Rautureau is a master of the menu dégustation, a fun Frenchman in a fedora whose Northwest-accented, classically French-influenced multicourse dinners spellbind even the most sophisticated foodies from out of town. The rest of us seek out this elegant Madison Valley cottage to celebrate our very special occasions, pleased to be in the sure hands of Thierry's longtime right-hand man, sommelier and dining-room manager, Cyril Frechier.
Santa Fe Café (1987)
5910 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle; 206-783-9755
Twenty years ago, behind a Ravenna storefront, Steve, Greg and Pam Gibbons introduced sun-starved Seattleites to the flavors of the Land of Enchantment. Six years later they introduced us to its sunny Phinney Ridge sibling, now the sole survivor, whose garlic custard, green-chile-stoked entrees, fresh blue-corn tortillas and hand-shaken margaritas still enchant us.
Bai Tong (1988)
15859 Pacific Hwy. S., SeaTac; 206-431-0893
When Bai Tong opened as part of a motel catering to Thai Airlines flight crews, the main ingredient behind what would soon become Sea-Tac's worst-kept secret was Chanpen Lapangkura. Two years later the diminutive dynamo moved her talent and her Thai food up the road to a cheery renovated drive-in, where Bai Tong caters to anyone in search of high-quality Thai cuisine and warm, efficient Thai service.
Chinook's at Salmon Bay (1988)
1900 W. Nickerson St. (at Fisherman's Terminal), Seattle; 206-283-4665
Seafood-centrism goes beyond the vast, priced-right menu, extending to the commercial fishing marina just outside the window here in Ballard's backyard. Gnarly fisherfolk and working vessels large and small provide the busy backdrop to this bustling classic-Seattle dining experience, courtesy of its parent company, Anthony's Restaurants.
Mae's Phinney Ridge Café (1988)
6412 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle; 206-706-1023
Got milk? At Jeanne Mae Barwick's cow palace, you'll need a big dose of moo juice to knock back those cinnamon rolls, and a bigger dose of patience if you're hoping for a seat in the venerable "Moo Room" come Sunday morning. That's because this Phinney fave is the neighborhood's a.m. hangout, the place for eggs in vast array, served all day, every day.
Union Bay Café (1988)
3515 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; 206-527-8364
In 1996, owner/chef Mark Manley moved his operation a few doors north, installing Laurelhurst's favorite finer-dining room in a comfortably elegant new space. Once here, he further endeared himself to loyalists with a smart wine list and a short, daily-changing menu featuring eclectic riffs on fresh seafood, pasta, poultry and game. So, who needs to drive downtown?
Dahlia Lounge (1989)
2001 Fourth Ave., Seattle; 206-682-4142
Cutting-edge comfort food is not an oxymoron but a reflection of owner Tom Douglas' take on "approachable" eats. The first of Douglas' three downtown restaurants (Etta's Seafood and Palace Kitchen opened in '95 and '96, respectively), it recently relocated to the corner of Fourth and Lenora. Bigger and better than ever, the Dahlia defines Seattle culinary style.
Duke's Chowder House (1989)
901 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle; 206-382-9963
Duke Moscrip has opened a lot of restaurants in his day. Fourteen, to be exact. Some were big hits (the original Duke's Bar and Grill, born in 1972). Others (remember the Bambu Grill? La Palina?) short-lived misses. But the Dukester's name lives on — as well it should — at his casual waterfront Chowder Houses, whose first saltwater sibling opened this year at Alki Beach.
19 W. Harrison St., Seattle; 206-298-0123
In 1994, chef Kaspar Donier, his wife, Nancy, and sommelier Markus Donier (Kaspar's brother) moved Kaspar's from the top of a Belltown office building to its present base on lower Queen Anne. Their strong sense of family, an honest fondness for the restaurant business and Kaspar's imaginative, Northwest-inspired twist on the classics brought further acclaim, while quality, consistency and concerned professionalism keep them at the top of their trade.
Toyoda Sushi (1989)
12543 Lake City Way N.E., Seattle; 206-367-7972
It's a veritable hole-in-the-wall along Lake City's commercial strip, but faithful fans from near and far turn out in droves to snag a spot at Natsuyoshi Toyoda's sushi bar or a seat in the small dining room. Helen Toyoda and crew hustle as they hail friends and neighbors at this casual, kid-friendly, Japanese-food joint where big business comes with small-town flavor.
Wild Ginger (1989)
1401 Third Ave., Seattle; 206-623-4450
Pan Asian food proved more than a flash in the pan for Seattle when Rick and Ann Yoder teamed with chef Jeem Han Lock to introduce us to the Wild Ginger. Appropriately enough, we went wild. Relocated a decade later to a regally renovated space across from Benaroya Hall, the Ginger is now a sleek, multifaceted venue, chief among our list of must-see, must-go restaurants.
4220 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-324-4140
When the rest of Madison Park rolls up the sidewalks, rest assured Bret Chatalas' festive south-of-the-border joint's still jumping. It's fiesta-time all the time as customers vie for a spot at the tapas bar, clamor for hand-shaken margaritas and deliberate over a menu whose Spanish-speaking noshes, Mexican standards and Southwest sensations continue to make this a happening hangout.
Café Lago (1990)
2305 24th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-329-8005
No one makes pasta like Jordi Viladas, whose lighter-than-light lasagna is only one reason Café Lago remains among Seattle's best-loved neighborhood restaurants. Since opening this tiny trattoria more than a decade ago, Viladas and his baker/wife, Carla Leonardi, installed a wood-fired grill (extending their brief menu to include grilled meats and seafood) and later annexed the space next door (greatly expanding seating capacity and adding a small bar). Bravo!
Maple Leaf Grill (1990)
8929 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle; 206-523-8449
When David Albert, a barman with a vision, turned a fusty Maple Leaf tavern into this fun, funky neighborhood eat-and-drinkery, Seattle sat up, saluted and banged down the door. Ten years later, this neighborhood favorite moved a few doors north, giving renewed life to a quiet space long occupied by Seattle's only Indonesian restaurant. It's quiet no longer, and we'll drink — and eat — to that.
Swingside Café (1990)
4212 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle; 206-633-4057
After several forgettable incarnations, the Swingside Café became the labor of love for a new owner, Brad Inserra, a mouthy, manic, marvelous one-man-show whose admirers are legion. We don't have to labor to love these funkadelic digs, his alio e olio — or anything else this Italian food-lover's creating in his tiny, two-tush kitchen. With this musically minded maestro running things, live jazz and blues often pump up the volume.
Café Flora (1991)
2901 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-325-9100.
It was an idea whose time had come. They built it. We came. And the city's first "upscale" vegetarian restaurant proved — with an unprecedented degree of culinary artistry — that it could not only succeed and flourish, but appeal to hard-core meat-eaters, too. Ten years (and many thousands of Oaxaca tacos and portobello Wellingtons) later, Café Flora is "just another great neighborhood restaurant" where vegetarians, vegans and carnivores alike can raise a glass — and a fork — in communal agreement.
2043 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle; 206-323-0807
Susan Kaufman's ivy-covered trattoria writes the book on satisfying the soul of the neighborhood with its sexy bar scene, sultry lighting, steamy windows and live jazz. Terrifically talented chef John Neumark's love for regional Italian fare gives us new reason to wrap our arms around his menu — and his wine list.
Shanghai Garden (1991)
524 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle; 206-625-1689
Chef Hua-Te Su opened his first Shanghai Garden in the International District, crossing China's provincial borders with a menu famously featuring hand-shaven noodles. Success forced a move to larger quarters, and today this Chinese-food mecca stands proud as it straddles Sixth and Weller. Renowned for its "healthful cuisine," Su's menu may now be sampled at Shanghai's Issaquah branch (opened in '97), and its Factoria café cousin (1998), where chef Ping Fu Su ably translates his brother's vision.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times' restaurant critic. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.