2012 in Food: No Top Chef, But 26 Favorites for the Seattle Area

As the year comes to a close, seems like everyone is compiling their Top 10 restaurant lists for 2012. Meanwhile, throughout the year, people take to Twitter and Facebook to scream that “this” or “that” is the best—making your pick more like the worst.

I feel fortunate for any opportunity to eat out, and prefer to call restaurants my “favorites” rather than proclaim any as the best. Based on a year of eating, here are my favorites for 2012.

Since I especially love Asian food, I’m selecting some of my favorite noodles, sushi joints, and restaurants for particular Asian cuisines. For kicks, I’m also including my favorite sandwiches and burger in Seattle. More generally, check out my choices for favorite new restaurants—and a few favorite overall restaurants as well. Based on a number of “Passport to Pleasure” articles this year, I’ve got a couple of favorite eateries to try when you want to escape from Seattle. Finally, you’ll find a few food “events” that stood out this year.

Read on for my 26 favorite food experiences in the Seattle area for 2012.

Joining Paseo and Salumi in offering my favorite sandwich in Seattle is Katsu Burger. You can select beef, chicken, or tofu, but I prefer the classic pork. The nori fries are great, too. (More on the sandwich and Katsu Burger here.)

In the hotly contested best burger category, my current favorite is Li’l Woody’s. There’s good char on the meat, but the best part is the simple bun. Why do restaurants insist on using brioche as they make a more upscale burger? I prefer a simple, soft bun that doesn’t overwhelm the beef. (More on the “Crack” fries here.)

Favorite pho? That currently goes to Pho So 1. The broth is flavorful and fresh, with good depth of beef. (There are a number of good restaurants in that strip mall at 12th and Jackson.) More on the pho here.

Ramen in Seattle falls short of Japan standards. But if I have to pick one bowl, it might belong to Showa. I liked the original recipe more than the one pictured here, but this miso ramen has an interesting broth that is milky and cloudy, almost tonkotsu-like in both appearance and taste. (More on Seattle’s best ramen bowls here.)

Someone recently asked me what my very favorite Asian noodle bowl would be in Seattle. Strangely enough, I didn’t have a specific answer, but I do know that I enjoy wide noodles, and especially love hand-shaved noodles. Pictured are dan dan noodles, hand-shaven, at Seven Stars Pepper.

For favorite Chinese restaurant in the Seattle area, the spice lover in me will actually travel to Bellevue to eat at Bamboo Garden. It’s in a strip mall next to an adult toy store, it has an incredibly adventurous “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” menu, and it does a delicious version of my favorite Chinese dish: ma po tofu. (More on this and other Asian-style, Seattle-area tofu dishes here.)

Speaking of the Eastside, I’ll further travel to Issaquah to eat my favorite Thai food in the area. Noodle Boat isn’t shy about spice levels, which makes their varied menu even more interesting. Pictured is BKK, which is what they call their version of hor mok. (More on my latest meal at Noodle Boat here.)

I’m thankful that a friend introduced me to Huong Binh, which is now my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Seattle. The regular menu is solid, but I especially like the weekend specials, which includes this chao long, or pork offal congee. (More on this dish here.)

Pick my favorite sushi restaurant in Seattle? That’s tough. If I want to simply eat sushi and sashimi, I’d likely choose Kisaku. The chef knows that in addition to uni, I love hotate konbu jime, which is kelp-marinated scallop. (And don’t get me wrong…other dishes are great at Kisaku, like the agedashi tofu.) More on Kisaku here.

Then again, I also enjoy Sushi Kappo Tamura. Great sushi, and also a nice variety of ippin (small plate) dishes. This year, I enjoyed featuring Tamura in an article I wrote about kaiseki dining for IBUKI magazine. (More on Tamura here.)

Another great option for sushi is Mashiko. This restaurant is committed to sustainable seafood, which means dinner can be an educational experience, opening your mind to new types of seafood. (More on scallop dishes around Seattle here.) Check out my “Sexy Feast” article about Mashiko here.

Every year brings a number of new restaurants. For breakfast, my favorite new spot is Crumble & Flake Patisserie, where you can get great pastries to go. Pictured is the amazing smoked paprika and cheddar croissant. (More about Crumble & Flake here.)

The Whale Wins is another of my favorite new restaurants. Sharing space with the newly relocated Joule, The Whale Wins gets well-deserved raves for its roasted meats and vegetables, like this roasted trout and lemon dish. (More about The Whale Wins here.)

Continuing with my list of favorite new restaurants, I give a nod to Blind Pig Bistro. This little restaurant has an intriguing menu, interesting ingredient combinations, and flavors that pop. Pictured is hamachi crudo with avocado, chilies, and apple. (More on Blind Pig Bistro here.)

I’m thrilled that my neighborhood, Queen Anne, has a hot new restaurant. LloydMartin is another of my new favorites, again with fascinating dishes on an ever-changing menu. In addition to the composition on the plate, I liked the varying textures and flavors of this porcini and pickled asparagus with fried egg, pistachio, and foie gras. (More on LloydMartin here.)

Tanglewood Supreme could be at the top of the list of new hidden gem restaurants. I recommend making the trip to Magnolia to try this local seafood bistro with inventive preparations, like these Alaskan Weathervane scallops with macadamia nuts, Thai and Indian eggplant, green curry, and naan puffs. (More on scallop dishes around Seattle here.)

Rounding out my list of favorite new restaurants is Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery. This cute dessert shop has childhood (and adult) treats, like this s’more molten chocolate cake: a smoked chocolate cake on a pool of dark caramel, topped with a roasted marshmallow and served with graham crackers. It’s ooey, gooey, and smokily satisfying. (More on Hot Cakes here.)

Moving on to overall favorite restaurants in Seattle, I turn first to Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang. I’ve long adored Joule, but I’m at least equally enamored with Revel these days. Dumplings, pancakes, noodle bowls, and more in a casual setting seems so right. (A little more about Revel here.)

Another pair of my favorite restaurants is Le Pichet and Cafe Presse, where I recently enjoyed this tartine montagnarde aux poires (“winter pears, Comte cheese and grain mustard-caramelized onions baked on country bread, topped with watercress”). At either of these places you’ll find chocolat chaud, which is my favorite chocolate treat in Seattle.

It’s off to the Eastside for my final pair of overall favorite restaurants. Cafe Juanita serves spectacular northern Italian food, often featuring a few offal dishes. And occasionally there’s experimental fun, like this Alaskan red king crab with green apple sorbetto and crab butter powder. (More about Cafe Juanita here.)

Also in Kirkland is Trellis, another favorite restaurant of mine, offering true farm-to-table fare. My favorite dessert there: lemon sage flan with sage-infused syrup, lemon sage tuile, and candied lemon. (Other favorites that I don’t hesitate to recommend to others: Crush, Sitka & Spruce, Spinasse, Art of the Table, and Canlis.) A little more about Trellis here.

Beyond Seattle, I’ve been discovering great food in Victoria the past few years. At Fol Epi, you’ll find one of my favorite sandwiches in the world: smoked albacore tuna. (More on this sandwich and my latest trip to Victoria here.)

It’s well worth a visit to The Bluff at Friday Harbor House on San Juan Island. I was very impressed with my entire tasting menu (plus the next morning’s breakfast), with one highlight this flash-fried kelp & calamari with smoky tomato sauce and hazelnut & citrus dusts. (More on The Bluff and Friday Harbor in general here.)

Andrew Zimmern’s visit to Seattle aired earlier this year, and among the “Bizarre Foods” that he (and I) tried was this shiokara (fermented squid guts) at Maneki. (More on Zimmern’s stop at Maneki here.)

Many Seattleites are watching the current season of “Top Chef” to spot local food luminaries. (The season’s been a bit of a disappointment so far.) The new year will bring a couple of “Kitchen Nightmares” episodes of local interest, including one that saw the transformation of Everett’s Prohibition Grille to Prohibition Gastropub. I recently described some of what I witnessed firsthand.

Perhaps the most exciting food event I experienced this year wasn’t in Seattle, but in nearby Portland. Feast Portland was a fabulous food frenzy, and if we can’t have such an event in Seattle, we’re lucky to have one of this quality so close to home. As reported, I was lucky to attend, and hope to return in 2013.

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One Response to “2012 in Food: No Top Chef, But 26 Favorites for the Seattle Area”

  1. January 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Great list! And wonderful photos. So many places to try on my next trip to Seattle.

    Seth Resler
    Founder, Mystery Meet

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