Korean Tofu House
True value: Not only do you get exceptionally generous portions, but every meal comes with side dishes. You will not leave hungry.
While most diehard kimchi-heads will claim that the only reliably good Korean restaurants are either to the north or south of Seattle, Korean Tofu House in the U District is a happy, and welcome, exception. Dinner options arrive with a fleet of expertly prepared banchan (side dishes)—chilled bean sprouts fragrant with the taste of sesame oil, neat wedges of savory chive and jalapeño pancake, marinated fish cake, kimchi and sweet, glazed potatoes—all free. For the main event, offerings such as spicy seafood soup with shrimp, oysters and clams, beef bone broth, house-made dumplings and more hover around the $8 range. All come bubbling hot, brought to your table by a server who’ll gladly crack an egg into the tofu soup.
What we ordered: Beef bone broth ($8.99) + soda ($1) + tax/tip = $13 per person
Queen Anne, Renton
True value: Raw fish isn’t an area where you want to skimp, but you won’t break the bank here.
Conveyor-belt sushi has its detractors, but Genki Sushi’s two best items—the tonkatsu (pork broth ramen) and the pressed mackerel sushi—have become the hush-hush secret indulgences of a few Japanese foodies in the city. Genki also serves a variety of incredibly inexpensive cooked dishes, such as Japanese fried chicken nuggets and rolls you won’t find in Japan, squiggled with various sauces, topped with fish, and stuffed with items like soft-shell crab. With each plate ranging from $1 to $5.50, Genki Sushi is by no means high brow, but it’s ideal on nights when you’re on a pizza budget yet feeling a little more adventurous.
What we ordered: Tonkatsu ($3) + four plates of nigiri or roll sushi ($2 each) + tax/tip = $14.30 per person
True value: This is seriously good food, and a seriously good bargain. Go with a group of friends—you’ll all feel energized from the relatively greaseless, highly flavorful fare.
A quality, sit-down meal for less than $20 is a find in any city. Seattle is lucky to have one at Green Leaf, a cozy, bamboo-adorned restaurant that emphasizes fresh ingredients (and minimal oil). Try the addictively sweet-sour-spicy-crunchy lotus root salad carpeted with crispy shallots, the lightly charred eggplant, the butter-hued banh xeo (crispy pancake) stuffed with shrimp and bean sprouts, and eaten with fresh lettuce, and the claypot catfish with a savory caramel sauce. Go with a group of friends—you’ll all sneak out for less than $20, and feel energized from the relatively greaseless, highly flavorful fare.
What we ordered: Shared banh xeo appetizer ($3 per person) + shared lotus root salad ($3 per person) + shared claypot catfish entrée ($7 per person) + soda ($2) + tax/tip = $19.80 per person
Din Tai Fung
True value: Sensational Chinese dumplings (and so much more!) in a pristine, energetic setting. Best of all: You can see your dumplings being made through the kitchen window.
This Taiwanese chain has the lofty reputation for producing the best soup dumplings in the world, so the November 2010 opening of its Bellevue restaurant—only the second in the U.S.—was met with devoted Chinese patrons willing to wait three hours for a taste. While this franchise has yet to attain the careful, meticulous excellence that, to be fair, seems to elude every franchise outside of the original few in Taiwan, you will find no finer Chinese meal in the Seattle area than an order of pork-filled soup dumplings, perhaps some spicy shrimp wontons, and the famous pork chop fried rice. A word to the wise: Throw Western ideas of politeness to the wind and eat the dumplings as soon as they hit the table. As the minutes pass, the dough will toughen as they’re exposed to the air, rendering them almost inedible.
What we ordered: Shared pork soup dumplings ($4.75 per person) + shared pork chop fried rice ($4.50 per person) + Manny’s draft beer ($5.75) + tax/tip = $20.80 per person
True value: You can pay more for French fare in fancier surroundings, but you probably won’t feel as hip—or fiscally responsible—as you will here.
If there is a better $25 meal than Café Presse’s robustly flavored, caper-heavy steak tartare, a heaping portion of the best fries in town and a glass of inexpensive vin rouge, we don’t know where you’ll find it. The steak frites, roasted chicken, soups and small plates—such as the chicken liver terrine with dried cherry compote—are similarly tasty. The atmosphere—almost pitch dark in the late evening (conducive to first dates or illicit meetings)—and the mildly brusque service feels as authentic as any you’d find in the City of Light, though we daresay Presse’s crisp, twice-cooked golden frites are better than any we’ve sampled in France.
What we ordered: Steak tartare and frites ($16) + glass of red house wine ($4) + tax/tip = $26.40 per person
True value: Sometimes it’s as much about the charm of the place as it is about the nibbles. And Dinette is an ideal spot to people-watch, catch up with friends and dine well without breaking the budget.
The secret’s out about Dinette’s toasts. Nearly every table in the snug storefront bar has parties sharing bites of decadent chicken liver on crisp toast with a tangle of pickle-y peppers, or stuffed dates with goat cheese, or sweet prosciutto in pretty rosettes atop soft rustic bread spread with a genius fig-anchovy spread. Perhaps you’ll order a butter lettuce salad, the soft leaves wearing a lemony crème fraîche dressing, and a glass of a French white Bordeaux, mineral and crisp. Not a bad way to fan the flames of new romance or catch up with a dear friend.
What we ordered: Shared chickpea toast ($3 per person) + shared chicken liver toast ($3.50 per person) + shared dates ($3 per person) + shared butter lettuce salad ($4.50 per person) + glass of wine ($7) + tax/tip = $27.72 per person
True value: Date-worthy dining with a truly inspired chef working his magic. It’s the kind of “special” restaurant every neighborhood wishes it could lay claim to.
Light, fresh, open and airy, June feels oh so right come springtime. You’ll want to tease out the evening by first sharing a “bite,” one of the nibble-sized plates of, say, Easter radishes with butter and fleur de sel, or tempura morels stuffed with bacon and egg. And then the real fun begins as you share a gorgeously seasonal salad of beets, fava beans and hazelnuts, or the tender geoduck with miso mustard. Chef Vuong Loc’s cooking is homey yet ingenious; even the dreamy braised lamb neck pasta seems like a no-brainer (you’ll wonder why lamb neck isn’t on every menu). June is a warm, date-night jewel with a menu that pushes the boundaries. but just enough. And at these prices? Every neighborhood should be so lucky.
What we ordered: Shared morels ($2.25 per person) + shared beet salad ($4.50 per person) + shared lamb neck pasta ($9.50 per person) + cocktail and glass of red wine ($18) + tax/tip = $45.22 per person
West Seattle, Issaquah,
True value: A steakhouse where we pay less than $50 bucks a person? That’s a no-brainer!
Going “steakhouse” generally makes for a hefty dinner tab, in part because of the à la carte format of most beefy menus. At Jak’s Grill, steaks—and most other entrées—include salad, potato, a side of choice (the potato cakes are a house favorite) and a vegetable. Some cuts are USDA Prime and carry a higher price tag, but a sure bet is the signature skewers, featuring grilled cubes of New York strip and filet mignon, served with Gorgonzola sauce and sun-dried tomatoes. An ideal spot to indulge that craving for a satisfying piece of beef without the upscale-steakhouse price tag.
What we ordered: Skewers (salad, potato, side and vegetable included, $25.95) + glass of wine ($9) + tax/tip = $45.45
True value: Think of dinner here as a substitute for a food-focused trip to New York. The cooking is world class, the prices down to earth.
The best way to eat at Joule is to start with an open mind and then go crazy on the little plates. That’s because on star chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s menu, now categorized into native (local/seasonal) and abroad (Spain, China, Morocco, but especially Korea-meets-France), it’s nearly impossible to find a clunker. We could go on and on about the irresistible mochi, chewy rice disks given a seared crust, tangled with pork belly lardons and then doused in a sweet chili sauce. Or the Hawaiian prawns that taste so much like, well, prawns! So sweet, so tender, topping off saffron-laced rice served with an egg on top in a blazing hot stone pot: divine. An order of the house-made kimchi (cucumber, kabocha, no matter—they’re all tasty) is a must; it’s so inexpensive it’d be a sin not to. The pinpoint accuracy of the spicing and seasoning here is marvelous, and service is warm and knowing. We always leave feeling as if maybe they gave us the wrong check.
What we ordered: Shared kabocha kimchi ($1.50 per person) + shared Korean mochi with pork belly ($5 per person) + shared broccoli with sardines and grilled lemons ($4 per person) + shared Hawaiian spot prawns with rice, egg in hot pot ($9 per person) + sparkling sake ($8) + glass of wine ($7) + tax/tip = $45.55 per person
True value: You want to feel as if you’re in a big-city restaurant that’s more than just a tourist attraction? Eat here. The bar scene is always vibrant; the food and the service spot-on.
Tom Douglas gives us a metropolitan atmosphere at his downtown restaurant, which turns 15 years old this month. It’s where the crowds fill seats from happy hour until last call at 1 a.m. for the best late-night dining in the city, complete with “breakfast.” The vibe is heady, and the strong cocktails even headier. Kick off the evening with an order of the crispy pigs’ ears—an excellent value at $7—or the plin (Piedmontese ravioli filled with pork and chard), chicken wings with coriander cream, and wood-fired clams and fries. The main courses run the gamut from staid but tasty fare, such as the famous Palace burger, to whole, head-on grilled trout. Either way, if you’re searching for the one-two punch of happenin’ hustle and bustle and a quintessentially Northwest meal, you’ll do no better than here.
What we ordered: Shared wood-roasted meatballs ($5 per person) + whole grilled Idaho trout ($23) + Rosemary’s Baby cocktail ($8) + tax/tip = $47 per person
True value: Simply excellent food, carefully prepared and served professionally with no pretension. It’s what so many restaurants shoot for, and so few actually achieve.
Betty evokes an American take on bistro fare, with unpretentious food—pan-roasted chicken, a juicy burger, killer steak frites, knee-weakening fruit pie—that’s completely satisfying and worth every penny. Even some of its specialty cocktails, such as the suave Jeune Fille (Bombay Sapphire, Lillet Blanc, orange twist), come in at a reasonable $8 when cocktail prices creep to $12 or more so often these days. Happy hour happens seven days a week, with $4 appetizers and $6 Manhattans and martinis. The easygoing, welcoming place buzzes with the conversations of diners relaxed in the comfort of a delicious, no-fuss meal.
What we ordered: Jeune Fille cocktail ($8) + mixed organic greens ($8) + the Betty burger ($14) + shared gingerbread pudding dessert ($4) + tax/tip = $44.20
True value: This is that rare neighborhood gem that’s affordable any night of the week, but also feels right for a sweet date, too.
You’re sure to leave La Medusa feeling as if you were generously fed by a Sicilian grandmother, thanks in particular to the copious pastas and creative pizzas this small kitchen turns out. You will be handed a paper menu, but most diners focus their attention on the sizable chalkboard listing the daily specials. Don’t miss the $30, three-course farmers’ market menu on Wednesdays, May through October.
What we ordered: Glass of wine ($8) + shared salt cod fritters ($4 per person) + orechiette with taleggio fonduta and heirloom broccoli ($17) + tax/tip = $37.70 per person
True value: Refined service, all the luxe trappings and a serious locavore focus.
Chef Brian Scheehser tends 10 acres of herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers that make their way to the Trellis kitchen. This focus on ingredients that were in the ground just hours before speaks to Scheehser’s commitment to value without sacrificing elegance. Start off sharing the flatbread, with toppings that vary in tune with the season. Delicious simplicity reigns among entrées such as brook trout with zucchini, tomatoes and basil, or grilled flatiron steak with Caesar salad. Save room for the outstanding cookie plate or seasonal cobbler made with the fruits of the chef’s labor.
What we ordered: Shared vegetable carpaccio ($5 per person) + grilled flatiron steak with Trellis Caesar salad ($21) + shared peanut butter thumbprint and chocolate crinkle cookies ($3.50 per person) + glass of wine ($9) + tax/tip = $51.60 per person
Pike Place Market
True value: A genuine air of Paris (minus the cigarette smoke) tucked into our city’s most iconic marketplace; you’ll get swept up in the moment without going broke.
It’s one of the most iconic bistros in Seattle, a dim, warmly lit nook in Post Alley, downstairs from white-linen Campagne, its fussier sibling restaurant (now closed for renovation). The subtle romance of the place works its magic. You’re the star in your own moody French film, so why wouldn’t you order the escargot lolling in garlicky butter begging for a baguette? Duck confit, beef tartare, a roast chicken half, trout amandine—they’re all there, and they’re all delicious. You’ll be swept up in the moment, so why not order the sensational pommes frites, too (with house-made aioli)? And after you’ve licked the last of the crème brûlée from your spoon, you’ll stroll along rain-slicked brick streets, arm in arm, in the warm red glow of the Pike Place Market sign. For romance renewed, we’d pay twice as much.
What we ordered: Shared escargot appetizer ($5 per person) + duck confit ($18) + shared frites ($2.50 per person) + shared lemon creme brulee ($3.50 per person) + shared bottle of Côtes du Rhône wine ($18 per person) + tax/tip = $62 per person
True value: This one is a real charmer: Spectacular pastas from a gifted chef, ancient-vine Italian wines, thoughtful service in a lace-curtained, wood-beamed trattoria. It would seem a great deal at twice the price.
You’ll forgive the clattering din of diners punch-drunk over the best Italian food in town as soon as your plate of caramelle di anatra in brodo hits the table. That’s when you, too, will fall a little in love with the magic issuing from Spinasse’s kitchen. Tiny parcels of tender duck are twist-tied in squares of gossamer pasta that rest in a savory pork broth for a dish you’ll recall fondly at least a year after you’ve experienced it. Don’t miss the elegantly monochromatic sformatino di porri (roasted leek flan with a lovely cheese sauce) or the polpette di coniglio (rabbit meatballs wrapped in caul fat, perched atop a creamy mound of polenta and salt-roasted pear). Chef Jason Stratton’s well-deserved call-out as one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2010 is cemented for the masses fortunate enough to dine on his stracotto di maiale en latte—succulent nuggets of pork shoulder braised in milk, then fortified with hearty kale. You’ll leave on a giddy high, considering a meal of this quality usually is had for at least twice the price.
What we ordered: Shared roasted leek flan appetizer ($5.50 per person) + shared tagliatelle with hedgehog mushrooms ($6.50 per person) + rabbit meatballs on polenta entrée ($20) + glass of wine ($11) + tax/tip = $58.74 per person
True value: For a taste of where Seattle’s dining scene is heading; fabulous food, and ambiance for days.
Once upon a time, two former protégés of Ethan Stowell and Johnathan Sundstrom bonded over their mutual love of all things meat, and they opened La Bête, a jewel hidden away on a quiet residential strip in Capitol Hill. The food retains a certain rustic edge—it’s hearty fare, to be sure, though much of it comes out on delicate, gilt-edged china. In a short few months, word spread of its top-shelf dishes—recent hits included braised chunks of pork belly, artfully arranged roasted lamb leg with preserved lemon and harissa, and a well-seasoned wild mushroom bread pudding—and reservations became difficult to come by, even on weeknights. La Bête’s secret lies in a level of refinement that makes the evening memorable, with food that’s delicious and approachable for even the most difficult-to-please diner. But the room, with its perfect lighting and handsome wrought-iron fixtures, works its magic on us, too.
What we ordered: Shared tuna arancine plate ($3 per person) + shared mushroom bread pudding ($7 per person) + shared beef cheek goulash ($9 per person) + shared Manila clams ($8 per person) + shared chicken and dumplings ($9 per person) + glass of wine ($9) + tax/tip = $59 per person
True value: The best sustainably raised fish for your buck, in every way. And a sushi chef showman, too.
The real value at this always-bustling, quirky neighborhood spot is the Mashiko bento box—a large, lacquered tray chock-full of treats both common—tempura, katsu pork, sushi roll—and less familiar—seaweed salad, salmon collar, fried fish bones. Whatever the day’s combo offers, it’s sure to cover the gamut of flavors and textures: crisp and tender, rich and brisk, subtle and bold. (The vegetable version, nearly as filling, comes in at just $10.) And any piscatorial treats you indulge in here come with a side of peace of mind: Owner Hajime Sato serves only sustainable seafoods. Which is why many regulars find it hard to stray from the sushi list out of sheer habit.
What we ordered: Mashiko bento ($15) + masu of sake ($8) + tax/tip = $30.50
Eva Restaurant & Wine Bar
True value: A hidden gem, where double dates are treated to quietly sensational food, and, oh, what a wine list.
This mom-and-pop spot—with Amy McCray in the kitchen and husband James Hondros watching over the dining room and the dynamite wine list—does neighborhood bistro with delicious panache. It’s hard to pass up the signature appetizer of Cabrales flan with pear relish, and you really shouldn’t, though the seasonal soups and salads are ever reliable options as well. Entrées (many for less than $20) lean toward the rustic and satisfying, such as braised lamb shanks with lentils and chard, grilled steak with almond “saltsa” and roasted potatoes or root vegetable crumble with hazelnuts and goat cheese. The appealing wine list—assembled with the thought that wine is an integral part of the meal—includes not only affordable glasses, but distinctive half-bottle selections ideal for sharing.
What we ordered: Roasted garlic and parsnip soup ($7) + roasted quail
with chorizo bread pudding stuffing ($18) + glass of wine ($8) + tax/tip = $42.90 per person