I must have stared at the menu at Lil Red Takeout and Catering in Rainier Valley for a good five minutes, brows furrowed. Everything looked good — a sentiment the man behind the counter affirmed when I asked him to recommend something. “Everything is good.” he assured me. I pressed further, asking if he had a favorite. “I like everything,” he responded with a smile.
He had full confidence in the Jamaican barbecue they serve and rightly so. In fact, between a pound of brisket from Lil Red Takeout and a vegan Philly cheesesteak, there wasn’t anything in Rainier Valley I had this past week that I wouldn’t go back for! As Washington’s economy cautiously restarts, remember that not all restaurants are able to reopen their dining rooms just yet, but most continue to serve up piping-hot takeout! And between all that’s going on with the coronavirus pandemic and the daily Black Lives Matter protests, grabbing some takeout is still a great way to show support for local businesses.
Lil Red Takeout and Catering
11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; 4225 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-760-2931, lilredtakeout.com
The beef brisket here is fall-apart tender; a telltale pink smoke line rings the exterior. I slathered half with the house jerk barbecue sauce — a thick, bright sauce with punches of smoke flavor and a spice level that creeps up on you. The next day, I chopped up the leftover brisket and sprinkled it over bean and cheese tostadas for an equally satisfying lunch, and dreamed about getting another pound to eat with soft flour tortillas and about a pint of that jerk sauce. The smoky pork rib tips are also a sure bet, as are the caramelized plantains. Keep an eye on the specials board for things like oxtails, curry goat and whole fish.
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon-9 p.m. Sunday; 7820 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-722-2434
Former Philly newspaper entertainment columnist Chuck Darrow (who joked with me that a recent blood test of his came back 23% Cheez Whiz) tells me that the most important part of a true Philly cheesesteak is the roll. He also says one of the world’s truly great aromas is the scent of hot meat and grilling onions outside a cheesesteak shop in Philly on a hot, humid summer night. I caught a whiff of it while waiting outside King Philly the other day — but it was raining. So, I’ll just maintain hope of one day being able to catch a plane to Philly and convince Darrow to take me to Steve’s Prince of Steaks.
The rolls at King Philly are indeed sourced from famed Philadelphia bakery Amoroso. They’ve got a crackly exterior and a wonderfully squashy interior that hugs all that tender chopped steak and grilled onion without getting soggy or falling apart. There isn’t any Cheez Whiz, but there’s a hefty slather of white American cheese sauce. It might be blasphemous to admit this, but they also have a darn good vegan Philly, complete with grilled onions and green peppers. And yes, it’s got a stripe of neon-yellow vegan cheese sauce streaking down the center, though, if you’re not vegan, I recommend swapping it for the real, dairy-filled thing.
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 4556 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., #2151, Seattle; 206-420-4839
This unassuming little cafe is tucked into the corner of the Tamarack Apartments, just steps from the Columbia City light rail station. The Mediterranean menu includes gyros, burgers and salads. The must-have is the falafel plate featuring incredibly crisp falafel, grape leaves, French fries, hummus, cucumber salad and pita bread. The falafel stayed crunchy even after my long drive home; the hummus was silky smooth; and the grape leaves were tightly packed with perfectly cooked rice and herbs. Portion sizes are generous. The falafel plate and a gyro fed two adults with leftovers.
11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; 8136 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-453-2558, kaffafoods.com
Grab a bag of freshly roasted coffee or a bottle of honey wine along with a Kaffa combo at this cozy coffee shop serving up hefty portions of Ethiopian fare. The large combo comes with three meat and five vegetable dishes. The doro wot — a tender bone-in chicken drumstick — is simmered in a brick-red berbere sauce. There were also two spicy stir fries, called tibs, made with beef and chicken. The vegetable dishes included alicha misir, a mild green lentil stew; misir wot, a mashed lentil berbere stew; tikil gomen with cabbage, potatoes and carrots; fasolia with green beans and carrots in a tomato sauce; and slow-cooked collard greens called gomen. A dollop of fresh ricotta cheese helped cool off the spice and there was plenty of wonderfully sour injera to scoop up every last little lentil.