Seattle Times restaurant critic Providence Cicero winnows the restaurants she’s reviewed in the past 12 months and comes up with a baker’s dozen of her favorites. Here, in alphabetical order, they are:
323 Occidental Ave. S.; Seattle
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Newly inspired by a wood-fired oven, rotisserie and grill, Matt Dillon turns out contemporary American food that tastes both reassuringly familiar and astonishingly new — like halibut sauced with pesto made from chrysanthemum greens. The vintage space in historic Pioneer Square smartly blends country warmth with urban cool.
350 Terry Ave. N., Seattle
Amid the stolid Amazonian jungle of South Lake Union, Cactus is a fiesta of color, light and energy. Its exuberant take on Southwest and Mexican cuisine includes smoky, chili-stoked brisket tacos, and a butternut squash-and-spinach enchilada sauced with red mole that hints of chocolate and apricots.
2576 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle
A benchmark of luxury for more than 60 years, Canlis has no equal in Seattle for the dining-room’s timeless appeal, the servers’ seamless choreography and the cellar’s depth and breadth. With the kitchen under the spirited direction of Chef Jason Franey, dinner is never dull.
86 Pine St., Seattle
The cuisine of his Korean homeland inspires chef Heong Soon Park, but he’s not handcuffed to tradition. At his sexy little Pike Place Market hideaway, he composes vibrant, consistently well-wrought dishes, among them bulgogi sliders, kimchi pork belly with poached tofu, chili-glazed fried-chicken wings, and a delicate seafood pancake studded with tiny shrimp and tender squid.
3506 Stone Way N., Seattle
Rachel Yang’s Korean roots were always influential at the original Joule, the first restaurant she opened with her husband and co-chef, Seif Chirchi. At the jazzier, snazzier new Joule (relocated to the Fremont Collective a year ago) the distinctive salty, bitter, sour and hot flavors of Korean cuisine gained prominence. The menu highlights steak, but don’t overlook the considerable charms of briny seaweed risotto, smoked tofu salad with a confit of honshimeji mushrooms, and a whole mackerel beautifully blistered on the grill.
1508 Melrose Ave., Seattle
Wassef and Racha Haroun’s gracious Capitol Hill cafe, restaurant and lounge sets a new high mark for Middle Eastern restaurants in Seattle. The décor weaves ancient motifs into an elegant contemporary framework. The food tastes fresh, bright and nuanced. Exceptional sandwiches and wraps (mana’eesh and kulage) made with house-baked flatbread anchor the lunch menu. At dinner, vibrant spreads lead the way to deftly grilled meats or Persian lamb stew fragrant with saffron.
515 Bellevue Square, Bellevue
Lakshmi Thanu’s enchanting, light-filled Indian restaurant opened in Bellevue Square just in time for last year’s holiday shopping season. The vibrant curries, stews, stir fries and tandoori specialties provide sustenance for shoppers and office workers. The glamorous bar and lounge is fun for sipping cilantro margaritas and nibbling pakoras and pappadum.
2305 N.W. Market St., Seattle
Nanta, Pricha and Sutha Jawpliphon’s Ballard restaurant explores the often fiery Isan cuisine of Northeast Thailand. That, plus high-quality ingredients like wild salmon and local farm-raised meats, sets this cozy cafe and bar apart from other neighborhood Thai places. Dishes to try: deep-fried pork ribs, Massaman lamb curry and, from the grill, house-made sausages, game hen and wild boar collar.
94 Pike Street (Suite 30), Seattle
Radiator Whiskey is a saloon with an inventive kitchen attached. If you like brown booze and aged whiskeys, if you smack your lips when you see beef lips on a menu — or pork cheeks, or the pig’s entire head — this rowdy, second-floor lair at Pike Place Market is for you. The less carnivorous might be better off across the hall at sibling Matt’s in the Market.
4300 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle
Chef Eric Donnelly’s ardor for anything that swims results in a thrilling roster of seafood dishes that taste as good as they sound. His passion for Montana is evident everywhere at his new Fremont restaurant, from the beetle-bark pine tables to the blown-up photographic murals of his favorite fishing hole, Rock Creek.
500 Terry Ave. N., Seattle
Few new restaurants these days can be called soothing, but this South Lake Union Indian restaurant comes close with comfortable seating, generously spaced tables and courteous servers who welcome guests with cups of hot chai and pakoras, compliments of the house. It’s the food that sizzles with excitement, especially the coconut and ginger curry saucing wild salmon, goat braised with tomato and fennel, and the spice-crusted lamb chops made famous at Shanik’s Vancouver, B.C., sibling, Vij’s.
2121 6th Ave., Seattle
There’s dim sum — and then some — at the newest Tom Douglas restaurant, part of his Assembly Hall complex in downtown’s posh Via 6. TanakaSan is named for corporate executive chef Eric Tanaka, whose eclectic appetite as a kid in L.A. inspired the food. Like the man, the menu is a high-spirited, witty, Asian-American mix that includes things like Dungeness crab foo young, Pastrami kalbi short ribs and Chinese buns stuffed with smoked duck sausage.
THE WHALE WINS
3506 Stone Way N., Seattle
Chef Renee Erickson is a Northwest native with a French woman’s soul. The same might be said of her newest restaurant, The Whale Wins, where top-drawer service complements food that is as elegantly rustic as the space in the Fremont Collective, next door to Joule. From a marble-trimmed, wood-fired hearth emerge mussels and clams, filet mignon, marrow bones, a whole trout and possibly the best roast chicken in town, plus many, many vegetables — turnips, cauliflower, fennel, fava beans — whatever is at its peak. Seasonings and spices come from far and wide, but the meat, fish and produce are as local as possible.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.