The new wave of takeout containers is not your ally. Once the server pops the plastic lid onto its black tray, the receptacle turns into a steam chamber. Your food continues to cook.

My seafood orders have turned into mush on many occasions, simmering 30 minutes in those containers.

Many restaurants have pivoted to entrees that work better as takeout. Others have gone old-school, reverting to those flimsy paper cartons often associated with Chinese takeout. Some literally cut corners or poke holes into those paper and Styrofoam containers so your food can breathe. Cooking kits are the way to go if you want meals that will taste as good or close to dine-in quality.

Below are the four best takeout meals I’ve had recently, with alternative dishes that will hold up well if you’ve got a long drive home.

Azuki

2711 E. Madison St., Seattle; 206-328-4910, azukimadison.com

Its “Signature Beef” ($22) remains the best noodle soup I’ve had this fall, with an umami-rich broth composed of anchovies, dashi, mushroom and veggies; a benthic-and-forest-y funk layered with shards of beef; a sharp, herbaceous ping of raw onions, pickled mustard greens and burdock roots; fortified with handmade udon noodles. All the components are in perfect harmony, though if you let it sit for more than 25 minutes in those takeout containers, the flavors fall flat.

If your takeout needs to travel for more than 30 minutes, get: the “fresh udon set” ($36), which includes a pound of fresh noodles that you boil for six minutes. This isn’t a replica of Azuki’s signature dish, but it will still be the best damn beef noodle you can get to-go. This kit comes with a generous heaping of beef, fish cakes, mushroom and herbs, but don’t crowd the bowl or else that broth will not stay hot. Slurp and eat fast or that udon will turn gummy in its caldron. Feeds two or a light dinner for three.

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Cornelly

601 Summit Ave. E., Seattle; ordercornelly.com

Take home the gooey goodness of a pizza from Cornelly on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy of Cornelly)

Even if you knew nothing about the owners’ backgrounds, you would surmise these guys know their way around Italian food. The fresh pastas provide just the right amount of pushback — a firm, lingering bite. Pizzas are in ideal proportion of cheese to red sauce, the crust a chewy sourdough.

One of the owners cut his teeth in the kitchen of Ethan Stowell’s popular Tavolata chain, and some of Stowell’s concepts are borrowed here. This is the best pasta deal ($12-$14) on Capitol Hill; you get substantial portions from the spiral-shaped gemelli with spicy pork ragu to al dente bucatini with sardines.

If your takeout needs to travel for more than 30 minutes, order: pizza.
Cornelly plays more to the vegetarian crowd than other pizza parlors, with seasonal options from squash to foraged mushroom toppings. But the classic pepperoni ($19) still rules; the ‘roni cups get lacy in the inferno oven, holding in the tangy pork drippings to give you a liquid of greasy goodness atop the gooey mozzarella. This is not posted online, but every Sunday, Cornelly sells Detroit-style pizza ($6 per slice), with the cheese caramelized right into the crust for a salty, nutty zing. That crust is the best pairing I’ve ever had with a glass of Lambrusco. Also, pasta kits will be added to the takeout menu before the end of December.
Not always on the menu, but it should be: the potato salad ($12) with just a smidge of creamy mayo to bind the smashed fingerlings and to go with a sharp, anise note of fennel and celery — a taste of a crisp, autumn morning.

Chengdu Taste

504 Fifth Ave. S., Ste. 106, Seattle; 206-333-0457 (look up Chengdu Taste Seattle under fetail.com/storev2/shop?store_id=31 or any of the third-party delivery apps for the full menu)

Our food critic Tan Vinh calls this dish from Chengdu Taste the undisputed best mapo tofu in the Chinatown International District. The Los Angeles-based Sichuan restaurant was one of the most anticipated Seattle openings before the pandemic. (Courtesy of Chengdu Taste)

This is the undisputed best mapo tofu ($13.99) in the Chinatown International District, with a dose of Sichuan peppercorns to tingle your lips and let you know you’re alive. It’s creamy from the silky tofu and salty from a medley of different fermented beans.

Man, the chili oil here; its wonton appetizer ($9.99) is the best showcase for its signature sauce. It’s like no other in the city — nutty and salty with enough heat to numb your tongue. But this oil will still go down easy with all the floral sweetness and MSG.

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This Los Angeles-based chain guards its chili oil recipe like a national security secret. Only the chef knows all the ingredients in it.

If your takeout needs to travel for more than 30 minutes, order: the wonton “rare” to boil them at home and slick them in the chili oil to finish. Mapo tofu and other Chinese takeout staples like fried rice also hold up well as takeout.

La Medusa

4857 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-723-2192; lamedusaseattle.com

La Medusa serves up Dungeness crab spaghetti in saffron cream sauce as part of its three-course takeout special. Our food critic Tan Vinh says this is the best pasta dish he’s had during the pandemic. (Tan Vinh / The Seattle Times)

The spaghetti with Dungeness crab was the best pasta I’ve had during this pandemic. Strands of crab meat cling to the noodles with more crustacean chunks on top; the dish is moist with crab stock and a decadent saffron cream sauce, with specks of herbs and pickled peppers to cut into the richness. The dish quickly sold out last month, but La Medusa will bring it back before Christmas.

The pasta is part of La Medusa’s three-course meal with bread (dinner for two costs $76; dinner for four is $154; add about $16-$18 to your bill if wine is included).
The three-course dinner changes weekly, though you will always get at least one vegetarian, seafood and meat option.

If your takeout needs to travel for more than 30 minutes, order: the pasta kit. La Medusa offers three cooking kits, usually a squid ink spaghetti puttanesca ($26), the perciatelli con le sarde ($28) and the spaghetti with marinara and six meatballs ($28). The meatball dinner usually sells out, so hop online at 3 p.m. on Thursdays to order your Friday or Saturday dinner. This Italian bistro in Columbia City provides the clearest and most detailed instructions of any cooking kit I’ve come across, advising you to cook the pork-and-beef meatballs to “medium, which is how we serve them at La Medusa.”