Phad Lao at Taurus Ox

I would order Thai takeout five days a week if all the phad Thais across the city were this good. The rice noodles here are springy, almost like al dente pasta, with each strand caramelized in fish sauce and palm sugar for an umami bite. The noodles are fortified with eggs, cabbage and peanuts, though you can also add tofu, chicken or shrimp for a few bucks more. But you don’t need to soup up this “phad Lao.” All the flavors are in perfect harmony as is — slightly spicy, sweet and salty, cut with the tang of fermented veggies. The dish is bright with chopped herbs. Many phad Thais around Seattle come off more corn-syrupy or ketchup-y sweet with the noodles gummy. Taurus Ox’s take is a flavor bomb for such a simple dish.

Taurus Ox: 1523 E. Madison St., #101, (Capitol Hill area) Seattle; 206-972-0075, facebook.com/TaurusOxSeattle; parking can be tough; phad Lao $10

Some of the best tamales in the Seattle area are sold everyday in the back of Mexican butcher shop Carniceria El Paisano in White Center. (Tan Vinh / The Seattle Times)
Some of the best tamales in the Seattle area are sold everyday in the back of Mexican butcher shop Carniceria El Paisano in White Center. (Tan Vinh / The Seattle Times)

Tamales at Carniceria El Paisano

I’m guilty for not focusing enough on the immigrants and refugees who helped build up White Center before the hipsters staked their flags here. So here’s a shout-out to this hidden gem, a Mexican butcher shop that sells steam-rising hot tamales (choice of cheese, chicken or pork) in the back. Get the spicy pork tamale (also comes in a mild version), where the filling is fatty instead of dry and stringy, and nicely singed with serrano chili. Note to vegetarians: Even if you order the pepper-jack-cheese-and-jalapeño tamale, that masa is made savory with lard. Call a couple days ahead if you want a vegetarian version.

Carniceria El Paisano: 9629 15th Ave. S.W., (White Center) Seattle; 206-767-5526, on Facebook; tamales $1.50 (or $16 for a dozen)

At Wood Shop BBQ, mac and cheese gets topped with Central Texas barbecue brisket and pickled onions. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)
At Wood Shop BBQ, mac and cheese gets topped with Central Texas barbecue brisket and pickled onions. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

Brisket with mac and cheese at Wood Shop BBQ

This dish is called “The Tex,” and it is evil, just pure evil. The smoked jalapeño cheese sauce tastes like an Austin queso, a béchamel texture of six different cheeses that takes up residency inside every elbow pasta. The mac and cheese gets topped with fatty cuts of Central Texas barbecue brisket. Those purple pickled arcs of onions on top of this gluttonous dish are not just to make it Instagram pretty. You’re gonna need every arc of acidity to cut into the rich cream. Wash this down with a cheap lager.

Wood Shop BBQ: 2513 S. Jackson St., (Central District) Seattle; 206-557-8090, thewoodshopbbq.com; brisket with mac and cheese $14

El Parche Colombiano dishes some of the best empanadas in Seattle. (Tan Vinh / The Seattle Times)
El Parche Colombiano dishes some of the best empanadas in Seattle. (Tan Vinh / The Seattle Times)

Empanadas at El Parche Colombiano

I never leave this Colombian restaurant without an order — or two. Your choice of beef, chicken or cheese empanadas. Many opt to get one of each. But beef is the best bet. The secret to the filling is the lumpy mashed potato that binds the shredded beef and green onions together to give you a cohesive, creamy bite to contrast with the crunchy, corn casing. Just dunk that deep-fried turnover into the garlic-cilantro salsa-like sauce. Dip again and again.

El Parche Colombiano: 11740 15th Ave. N.E., (Northgate area) Seattle; 206- 407-6821, elparchecolombiano.com; three empanadas $6.99