I reckon two-thirds of the queries that float into my inbox can be boiled down to these two themes:
1. Where can I get a good, affordable dinner?
2. Where have you had an interesting meal — because restaurants seem to be doing the same old, same old?
I have the same answer for both questions: get that “Flintstones”-sized cut of meat. Or the whole fish. Wherever available, these feasts are usually listed at the bottom of the menu, and they’re frequently the most expensive item listed; but I wish more customers would read the fine print. These giant slabs usually come with a side or two and are often meant to feed two or three diners.
Here are eight family-style dishes at restaurants throughout the Greater Seattle area that stand out — either because they’re my favorites or because they’re good values. Each meal can feed two to three diners, but add a couple of appetizers or starches, and these could easily feed a party of three or four people.
Smoked pig head at Radiator Whiskey
Price: $70 for a half-head
Serves: 3-4 people
Must be ordered 48 hours in advance.
94 Pike St., #30, Seattle; 206-467-4268; radiatorwhiskey.com
The head delivered on a wood cutting board may gross some out. But think of the smorgasbord of flavors and textures. The jowl tastes like shredded bacon. The snout tastes hammy. The braised tongue resembles a gummy (but tastier) take on luncheon meat. The best part: the burnt ends near the neck posing as pastrami. At this carnivores’ lair in Pike Place, you get a free whiskey shot if you eat the eyeball. (It’s just a smoky, pork-salty bite.) There are also slivered coins of tenderloin splayed out and a dozen strips of deep-fried pig ear that have been dredged in buttermilk and coated with cornflakes. Eat with the accompanying bread and Mama Lil’s peppers. Dip into the stone-ground mustard and aioli. If you want to go hog wild, order the $500 “Beast Feast,” with a whole pig head, shoulder and porchetta roast along with four sides. That gluttony, enough to feed a basketball team, must be ordered a month in advance.
Slow-roasted lamb neck at Carrello
Serves: 2-3 people
622 Broadway E., Seattle; 206-257-5622; carrellorestaurant.com
This hunk of blackened meat looks unremarkable. But beneath that sticky skin is more than what first meets the eye — necklaced with pearls of marrow as rich as foie gras and fork-tender shards of meat that fall off the bone. Chef Nathan Lockwood swears he didn’t add any butter to this Anderson Ranches cut. Just a dry rub of herbs, garlic and chiles along with olive oil. The magic occurs during the 10 hours the neck is roasted over low heat, which allows the fat to render into the meat. It’s served with a chutney of dates, mint and habanero peppers, plus squares of fried eggplant that resemble silken-soft tofu. Like chicken thigh or pork belly, the lamb neck is damn near impossible to overcook. It holds up well the day after. (At home, I dropped a few ribbons of leftover meat atop a flatbread from the excellent Iranian-owned Aria Food & Bakery. It’s delicious.)
The rib-eye at Il Nido
Price: $49 for 16-ounce cut; $105 for a bone-in, double-cut rib-eye, when available
Serves: The 16-ounce cut serves 2; the double-cut rib-eye could feed 3-4 people.
2717 61st Ave. S.W., Seattle; 206-466-6265; ilnidoseattle.com
You need to book 30 days in advance to secure a table. (But insiders know to line up 30 minutes before the doors open at 5 p.m. to snag one of the few open tables and bar seats.) Mike Easton’s stellar pasta is what the crowds come to eat, but the best thing is his rib-eye, better than many of those served at expense-account steakhouses. It was easily one of the best things restaurant co-critic Bethany Jean Clement and I ate in 2019. That marbled slab gets cooked sous-vide with juniper berries and garlic before it gets the gas-and-wood grill treatment. It’s an unctuous bite once you crack into that charred crust. The steak, topped only with olive oil and flakes of salt, is fortified with bitter greens cut with lemon and more olive oil. Il Nido now also offers a bone-in, double-cut rib-eye that weighs nearly a kilogram. Note: Your steak comes out medium-rare unless you request otherwise. But please don’t request A.1. sauce, because that would crush my soul.
Deep-fried catfish at Sago Kitchen
Price: $14 per pound; fish size typically ranges from 3.5 pounds to 8 pounds
Serves: A 4-pounder feeds 3-4 people.
203 S. Second St., Renton; 425-277-6909; On Facebook
This new Vietnamese restaurant, with its funky, Pollock-splattered floor, prints a menu almost as thick as a book. Why bother, when many don’t even crack it? Regulars go straight for the prized catfish that’s been burnished and bronzed by its final swim in the deep fryer. The prehistoric-looking creature gets split down the middle, tail still upright, its skin briny and crackling. It’s chicharrón from the sea. Many diners love the flaky fillet in the midsection, but the fatty flesh closer to the tail tastes better. It comes with vermicelli noodles, a stack of rice paper and a garden of herbs and lettuce. This is three times better than those giant tilapia dishes in the Chinatown International District.
The beef rib at Jack’s BBQ
Price: $50 for a 2-pound rib; the footlong beef rib generally weighs between 1.5 and 3 pounds and costs $26 per pound
Serves: The 2-pounder feeds 2 people.
The beef-rib special starts at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays at Jack’s BBQ’s flagship Sodo location, and on Saturdays at its South Lake Union location.
Sodo: 3924 Airport Way S., Seattle; 206-467-4038; jacksbbq.com
South Lake Union: 228 Ninth Ave. N., Seattle; 206-708-7642
Pitmaster Jack Timmons equates this succulent prime-grade cut to “the richness of a Kobe steak.” Smoked for 12 hours in mesquite and cherry wood, the hulking meat with fat rendered along the long bone is so tender, you won’t need the accompanying steak knife. It comes with complimentary white bread and fixings (jalapeño, pickles and peppers) but you should request some flour tortillas (also free). Drop some burnt ends and surface meat on the tortilla to get that mesquite aroma and salt-and-pepper rub; add ribbons of juicy meat and rendered fat for richness, follow with strands of membrane and connective tissue for texture (they’re chewy but tender) and finally, top with jalapeño and onions to cut into all that salty richness. Chase the smoke and fat with a pint of Shiner Bock. Repeat.
The lobster sticky rice at Peony Kitchen
Serves: 2-3 people
Call to make sure the restaurant has lobsters in the tank. Dish comes with a lobster that’s less than 2 pounds, but you can request a bigger crustacean if you’re willing to shell out more money.
10317 Main St., Suite 100; Bellevue; 425-502-7652; peonykitchen.com
The best version I’ve eaten came from Ho Yuen Kee in East Vancouver, B.C., where the fried lobster sits atop a pile of sticky rice covered in a smoky gravy with corn bits and caramelized onions. I considered that meal more a curse than a blessing because I can’t find a local version that’s as good — and I’ve been chasing it for 13 years. Short of driving to Vancouver, the one at Peony Kitchen in Old Bellevue is your consolation prize.
This steamed lobster sits atop a generous heaping of sticky rice in a bamboo steamer. The secret ingredient: the bed of chicken skin and bones that, in another recipe, would fall into a stockpot. Here, those poultry scraps soak up the sticky rice to amp up the umami flavor. Some gnaw on those bony bits. I just sweep them aside and devour the plump, sweet tail meat with a sticky rice that’s studded with garlic and onions.
Roast chicken special at The Hart and the Hunter
Serves: 2-3 people
Only on Thursdays from 4-9 p.m. Call to confirm.
111 Pine St., Seattle; 206-596-0700; thehartandthehunter.com
Sure, you can find plenty of roast chicken a notch better than the Thursday special here (Le Pichet’s, for instance). But unless you make it at home, the volume of food in this deal can’t be beat for the price. The lavishly seasoned roast chicken comes with two sides (chosen at the whim of the kitchen) and four biscuits. The latter are the jewels in this deal — buttery pucks so moist they melt in your mouth. Goes well with the leaner breast meat.
Beijing duck at Imperial Garden
Serves: 2-4 people
Only 32 ducks are made daily.
18230 E. Valley Highway, Suite 116, Kent; 425-656-0999; mywali.co/business/imperialgardenkent
Dining around strip malls in the South End, I kept hearing raves about the crispy duck served at this revamped banquet restaurant in the Great Wall Shopping Mall. “The best roasted duck in the Sound,”one regular said. “The best dish in Kent,” another fan raved. Neither amounted to an exaggeration. This duck made our list of the best things we ate in 2019. My tip: order ahead, because the duck takes 70 minutes to crisp up. The server debones and plates the duck in the shape of a turtle shell, leaving the mahogany skin glistening under a patina of fat. Some like to smear blueberry jam on the rice-flour pancake, wrap the meat with matchsticks of melon and dip it in sugar. The young bucks drop black-bean sauce or sriracha on and fold it like a taco.
But this is how you should play it: Grab a sliver of duck skin and dip it in the sugar bowl, then put it in your mouth. Within seconds, the sugar grinds the crispy skin into specks that melt on your tongue, like a poor man’s molecular gastronomy.