The three new light-rail stations opening this weekend in Northgate, Roosevelt and the University District will change the way many people living in North Seattle will move around the city. And let’s be honest, though we’d love to have the time for weeknight excursions to our favorite restaurants around Seattle, most of the time, we just stick to what’s convenient: the spots near where we live or on our commutes.

With many of us in North Seattle likely passing through these stations on our new routes through the city, we will need to find new places to eat nearby. I live in the University District and already wrote about some of my favorite places to eat in my neighborhood in July. So I spent the past couple of weeks eating my way through the areas around the Northgate and Roosevelt light-rail stations to find the best quick bites the neighborhoods have to offer, from early-morning doughnuts to late-night wings.

Northgate

The Northgate area is known more for its shopping centers than for its restaurants, but there are some gems tucked among the malls and apartment complexes. An obvious choice is the Northgate location of Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya, which serves rich chicken-broth ramen and bar snacks like Japanese fried chicken from its restaurant behind the movie theater. But there are other fantastic options close to the light-rail station, too, if you know where to look.


Tian Fu

11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. daily; 300 N.E. Northgate Way, Seattle; tianfuchunqiu.com

Tian Fu is a Sichuan Chinese restaurant that’s a great spot for a dinner with friends: The portions are generous, and there are some large tables with lazy Susans that make sharing as easy as a gentle push on a rotating tray. Many Sichuan dishes don’t make a balanced meal on their own (some are largely just one meat or vegetable) so it’s best to go with a group.

The menu is loaded with Sichuan classics like fish and meat drowned in the fermented chili-bean paste doubanjiang. The general manager, Stacy Jamieson, says all of the cooks at the restaurant grew up in the province, and the menu doesn’t have any American Chinese dishes, so she says to go elsewhere for your General Tso’s chicken. Tian Fu opened in July 2019, and a Bellevue location opened four months ago.

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On a recent Sunday evening, Tian Fu’s spacious dining room was filled with groups of friends in loud conversation. Using an online ordering system with a QR code etched in a block of bamboo at my table, I ordered some of my favorite dishes from my time spent working at a Sichuan restaurant in college: mapo tofu, dry-fried string beans and twice-cooked pork belly.

More coverage of Sound Transit’s light rail extension to North Seattle

The pork belly ($13.99) was salty and sweet from a bean paste, accompanied by still-crunchy pieces of bell pepper and tender leek. The mixture is best eaten atop a bowl of white rice, which dilutes the strong flavors and gives the pork fat a chance to seep into the grains. 

The Sichuan string beans ($13.99), made with long beans, were tender but wonderfully snappy, coated in a generous layer of ya cai (Sichuan pickled mustard greens), which gives the dish the sharp saltiness that makes it so craveable. A dusting of Sichuan peppercorn lent a hint of citrus and slightly numbed the tongue.

And the Chengdu mapo tofu ($12.99) was one of the most powerful I’ve ever had: Violently spicy, the pieces of silken tofu burned my mouth as it slipped across my tongue, and the ginger brought warmth deep in my chest. A visible layer of Sichuan peppercorn gave off powerful wafts of citrus and made my taste buds buzz. But all of the spice and electricity were rounded out by the doubanjiang base with added depth from funky fermented black soy beans — an addition that you don’t always see at Sichuan restaurants. This dish is not for those who can’t handle a lot of flavor, but it’s one I’ll be going back for.

The Watershed Pub & Kitchen

11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 10104 Third Ave. N.E., Seattle; watershedpub.com

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The Watershed Pub & Kitchen is a popular hangout spot in Thornton Place with a full bar and more than 20 beers on tap. There’s an outdoor seating area with a pavilion, hanging lights and propane heaters, and an indoor space for those with proof of vaccination that’s decorated with tap handles, beer glasses and kegs on the walls, with dark-wood dividers between tables. At lunch time on a recent Tuesday, oldies and country music played softly on the speakers.

The food’s also good, with some killer deals. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, you can get a $12 “hoppy meal,” which comes with half a sandwich, a cup of soup and 12-ounce can of beer or bottle of root beer or ginger ale.  

I ordered the grilled cheese, packed with a balanced blend of sharp Beecher’s flagship cheddar and mellower Gouda, sweetened by some caramelized onion along with creamy, tangy tomato soup. A classic combination, done right.

Along with pizza, pasta, mac and cheese and bar snacks, The Watershed also serves a creation it calls “pie folds,” which are sandwiches made with a pizza dough folded in half. It sounded kind of gimmicky to me before I tried it (I mean, pizza dough is just bread, right?) but my BLT pie fold ($14) was something to celebrate. The BLT is a sandwich I love for the crunchiness and smokiness of the bacon, and the crispy pizza dough, slightly charred, enhanced both qualities.

Family Donut

5 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; 2100 N. Northgate Way, Seattle; facebook.com/familydonutnorthgate

Family Donut opens at 5 a.m. and offers a great selection of ring doughnuts, bar doughnuts and twists. (Jade Yamazaki Stewart / The Seattle Times)

Family Donut is one of  my colleague Jackie Varriano’s favorite neighborhood doughnut shops, and with good reason. It offers a great selection of ring doughnuts, bar doughnuts and twists.

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I’m more likely to be going to sleep at 5 a.m. than to be starting my day, but for you morning people, Family Donut is the place to start your day with some decadence. As the words say on the doughnut boxes: “You deserve a donut.” 

I ordered one of almost every type of doughnut left in the case when I went at around 1 p.m. on a recent Monday: raspberry, orange and plain regular doughnuts; chocolate, maple and plain old-fashioned doughnuts, a buttermilk doughnut, a chocolate bar and a vanilla twist for $15.54. Since it was above a half dozen ($8.99) and less than a full dozen ($16.50), I was gifted a handful of glazed doughnut holes for free.

Like Jackie, my favorite was the plain cake doughnut. It had a crisp exterior and chewy interior with a healthy amount of salt, making it almost savory, something you can happily eat even on its own without being overwhelmed by sweetness. My second-favorite was the chocolate bar doughnut. Sweeter and pillowy, its form compressed with each bite. 

For those who like even more crunch, the old-fashioned doughnuts are a good bet. Their segmented rings expose more surface area for the oil to crisp the dough.

Roosevelt

The Roosevelt neighborhood around the new light-rail station is mainly filled with casual takeout restaurants, coffee shops and bars catering to the college students living there. But some of these serve praiseworthy food from their humble digs.


The Westy Roosevelt

4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-midnight Saturday-Sunday; 1215 N.E. 65th St., Seattle; thewestyseattle.com

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The Westy Roosevelt is a popular sports bar with screens covering every wall and two dozen beers on tap. It’s a good, casual hangout spot. A room in the back of the pub has a foosball table, a Skee-Ball machine and some old-fashioned arcade games.  

When I went on a recent Tuesday night, the bar was mostly full of groups of friends wearing sports jerseys downing pitchers of ale. But for an institution that seems so focused on sports and beer, the food was fantastic.

The ⅓-pound beef patty in the house burger ($12) was super juicy and rich with buttery beef flavor. I added bacon for $2.50 and it was perfect — crispy with just the right amount of give.

And the jumbo wings ($17 for a dozen) were loaded with a generous amount of meat. The Westy offers Buffalo sauce, Sriracha-Thai basil sauce, hot honey glaze and a few super-spicy sauce choices along with lemon pepper and jerk dry rubs. On my server’s recommendation, I got the jerk dry rub with sides of other hot sauces (the classic Buffalo was my favorite). The jerk rub added complexity to the straight-up spicy and tangy Buffalo sauce with fragrant cinnamon and other warming spices.

An Nam Pho 

11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 6510 Roosevelt Way N.E., Seattle; 206-466-2179

An Nam Pho is a Vietnamese food joint with all of the typical noodle soups, rice plates and vermicelli noodle, which it executes well.

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My server recommended the beef short ribs with rice ($15.95). It was sweet and comforting, with melting pieces of fat rich with beef flavor and little bits of chewy tendon next to the bones. Load it up with a little bit of chili paste and fish sauce to add funk, spice and depth to the dish. 

The small steak and brisket pho ($9.95) wasn’t really small at all, and a good deal for a filling lunch. The broth had a cleaner flavor than those at some other pho shops. All I tasted was beef, salt and a little bit of anise and coriander. It was topped with a generous amount of green onion, which brought brightness to the rich flavors of beef.

Wayward Vegan Cafe 

9 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Tuesday; 801 N.E. 65th St., Seattle; waywardvegancafe.com

I normally don’t like vegan restaurants where every dish has some kind of plant-based substitute: things like “chicken” sandwiches and nachos with “cheese.” I was vegetarian for most of my life, and my family’s philosophy was to eat the many wonderful dishes that were always constructed to be vegetarian, like those that come out of Asian Buddhist cuisines, and not try to mimic meat with plant-based products. 

So I was pretty skeptical ordering my Santa Fe hash with “chorizo,” “eggy” tofu and “creamy cheddar cheese” ($13.75) and the TKO “chicken” sandwich ($13.25) from Wayward Vegan Cafe, currently a takeout-only cafe. 

Prepared for disappointment, I was pleasantly surprised when I shoveled the tofu, vegan chorizo, black beans and home fries into my mouth and discovered a satisfying mix of tender tofu curds and chewy chorizo. I dashed some Valentina hot sauce onto the mix, put it on a piece of toast and had an enjoyable breakfast. The portion was also huge, so although the scramble likely lacked the amount of fat in real chorizo and egg, I couldn’t finish the whole plate.

And though the plant-based chicken lacked the flavor of the real bird, the breading was crunchy with a spicy-sweet sauce. If you, like me, enjoy fried chicken doused with spicy vinegar hot sauce, the sandwich is taken to the next level with some Crystal or Tabasco.

If I ever go vegan, I could see myself coming back here when I’m craving scrambles and fried chicken sandwiches.