WHAT A TOTAL JOY to be back inside restaurants with less fear this past year, and while pandemic takeout was nice and all, what an immense pleasure to return to writing real restaurant reviews. It’s once again been my aim to guide you to marvelous places both new and time-tested, at all kinds of price points, run by all kinds of people (and also advise you when a restaurant might prove to be simultaneously over- and underwhelming).

9 more restaurant recommendations from Seattle Times critic Bethany Jean Clement

Here’s a list of the dishes that stood out the most in 2022, including one from Seattle’s best new restaurant, one from the greatest bakery around and — fight me on this — our city’s most excellent salad. One entry requires crossing water, while another is east of the Cascades; both, I promise, are worth the trip. Everything here was, to me, marvelous in the true sense of the word: causing marvel at how good eating — how good life — can be.

The Dungeness crab gunkan maki at Ltd Edition Sushi on Capitol Hill

Ltd Edition Sushi is so great, it might make you depart your senses. This happened to me over and over on two visits for my review earlier this year: a glowing piece of Copper River salmon nigiri placed in front of me by chef Keiji Tsukasaki, or a luscious otoro handroll given from his fingers to mine, then every thought banished, eyes unfocused for a moment of pure, lit-up pleasure. The gorgeous simplicity belies the care taken — this is Edomae-style sushi, with seasonal fish painstakingly marinated or cured, stintingly adorned with intense intention. Here, too: highest-quality fish, single-origin rice, best-possible nori. Tsukasaki’s Dungeness crab gunkan is a miniature crown of our region’s pure, sweet, deep-scuttling treat, topped in a rare moment of experimentation with a glistening crab-fat gel, plus tiny bits of chive, a few grains of salt. If ever a taste can, this transports you out over glinting Pacific Northwest waves, catching the scent of our coastal air, hearing all sound drowned to the bottom and wanting to stay there. Before his time at Sushi Kappo Tamura, Shiro’s and Sushi Kashiba, Tsukasaki used to be a techno DJ, so he might have knowledge of synesthesia to share. I recently paid my own way — $140 — for a third omakase trip. Ltd Edition Sushi is, hands down, Seattle’s best new restaurant. (1641 Nagle Place, Seattle; no phone; ltdeditionsushi.com)

The pink pickled deviled eggs with bacon at Bitterroot in Ballard

Advertising

Restaurant critics know that when it comes to matters of barbecue, one should tread very carefully — with many regional differences and fiercely held opinions, recommendations can quickly get contentious. But when it comes to the greatness of deviled eggs, there’s little to debate (two kinds are on this list!). Family-run in Ballard for a decade now, Bitterroot uses Washington applewood and locally sourced meat, FWIW, but this is about their stellar version of pickled deviled eggs ($7). Pickling with beets gives the whites their neon Valentine color and an excellent texture best described as squidgy; their flavor is equally bright, making a brilliant contrast of taste, texture and appearance with the supremely creamy yolk-mixture. Bacon on top makes it all magically breakfasty, while also completing the look of a UFO come to help planet Earth a bit by landing in your mouth. Bitterroot’s sold more than 10,000 over the years, approximately the number that one wants to eat in one sitting. (5239 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-588-1577; bitterrootbbq.com)

All the things at Off Alley in Columbia City

Off Alley was having a bit of an off night on a warm evening this past July. Dishes ordered off the chalkboard menu — stanzas of ingredients in a changing poem to our season and region — were taking some time in making their way from the tiny kitchen at the end of the long, very narrow space. We ate joyously at whatever pace: Dungeness crab with green beans and chive in a glorious crab-fat aioli, like a summertime seaside garden; creamy-soft dumplings in lemony broth, strewn with English peas, pea vines and fava beans, given a hint of mint; a fat morel stuffed with delicate yet meaty sausage, freshly housemade from a local half-pig they’d just gotten (dishes $15-$28). The work of chef Evan Leichtling (Lark, Harvest Vine, La Bête, triple-Michelin-starred Akelarre) spoke of a kind of fine-dining heart that Seattle restaurants had more of when it was a less expensive place. Cocktails bedecked with borage flowers and lovely, low-intervention wines helped pass the time — under the care of partner Meghna Prakash, sitting in a hallway facing a brick wall felt like a magnificent secret dinner party, neighbors comparing notes and French pop music playing. Our server, also marvelous, eventually apologized — the oven was broken, hence the delays. We left feeling that an off night at Off Alley was way better than most other places’ very best efforts. I planned to come back soon and write all about it. Time happened, and now the secret’s very much out: Off Alley is on The New York Times’ 50 best restaurants of 2022 list. (4903½ Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-488-6170; offalleyseattle.com

The asparagus tamales — and the pork ones, too — at Los Hernández in Union Gap

If you’re heading out toward the Yakima Valley, you need to know about Los Hernández. Even though this family-owned place has been in business since 1990 and won a James Beard America’s Classics award in 2018, I keep encountering people who’re woefully unaware of the fantastic tamales found there. Banish any thought of crumbly dryness — they mill their own masa, quality control that contributes to an extraordinary creaminess inside each corn-husk jacket. Available in springtime when the local crop comes in, the asparagus version ($2.63) makes an eloquent argument for eating vegetarian, juxtaposing that gentle vegetable with the slight spice of melty pepper jack cheese. The pork tamales ($2.12), made with lard instead of shortening, sing their own song in praise of the pig. Those who think they don’t like tamales get their minds dramatically changed here, while tamale fans are just absurdly happy. The original, stalwart cinder-block building off the highway in Union Gap awaits, with a newer West Valley location now open, too. (3706 Main St., Union Gap, Yakima County, 509-457-6003; also 6411 W. Nob Hill Blvd., Yakima, 509-367-6480; loshernandeztamales.com)

The Alaskan spot prawn extravaganza at Canlis on Queen Anne

As a kid, Aisha Ibrahim loved inspirational posters. Her favorite read: “Success always looks easy to those who weren’t around when it was earned.” Working 90-hour weeks at her career’s outset, she eventually earned the Michelin-starred international résumé that then earned her the role of head chef at Seattle’s storied Canlis. What she brings to the table, plate after plate, is a representation of her command of technique, wide-ranging imagination and tremendous respect for ingredients; the $165-per-person prix fixe menu is, in fine-dining context, a very good deal. One of Ibrahim’s wintertime gems that refracted a particularly brilliant light was a course of Alaskan spot prawn, cured in shio koji for added sweetness, charcoal-grilled with prawn shell-infused butter, and served with a crimson-edged topping of oca, all sauced and seasoned and scented and in communication via extrasensory perception with too many other ingredients to mention here (the dish did not actually have ESP, though it seemed to). The sum of the parts ended up just exhilarating to eat. Congratulations, Canlis. (2576 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle; 206-283-3313; canlis.com)

The ham and cheese croissant at Saboteur Bakery in Bremerton

Seattle’s best bakery, my friends, is actually in Bremerton — it’s called Saboteur. Leaving life as a pastry chef at Michelin-starred Bay Area restaurants including Coi and The Restaurant at Meadowood behind, Matt Tinder opened his little shop in the Navy town an hour’s ferry ride away in 2016. Somewhat surprisingly, he’s still applying his restless genius and superabundant expertise to filling the case there with pastries made with beautiful French butter and all the best ingredients. My strategy over the years has been to try to be there relatively early in the day, then get one of every kind of pastry that’s left and eat all of them ASAP. I still remember my first bite of a Saboteur croissant shattering golden-brown bits down into my lap on the return ferry ride six-plus years ago. I looked at the croissant’s interior whorl with its gossamer, buttery-light layers and thought, weirdly even for me, “This is like God’s fingerprint.” This past May, I finally got a Saboteur ham and cheese croissant ($6.50). Turns out, if God’s fingerprint can be improved upon, it’s with the addition of Fra’ Mani ham and Emmentaler cheese. (Saboteur Bakery: 2110 E. 11th St., Bremerton; 360-627-7869; saboteurbakery.com)

Advertising

The deviled eggs at Communion in the Central District

In the beginning, we weren’t able to commune at Kristi Brown’s house of “Seattle Soul” — her description for the ethos of her restaurant Communion. It opened at the end of 2020, during pandemic shutdown days. The takeout, however, provided not just glorious sustenance, but hope — picking it up, the faith that the pretty bar, the communal table, the open kitchen, the whole room would be filled with laughter and life hung in the already-hospitable air. Fast forward and, thanks be, Communion’s earned all kinds of accolades while hosting an ongoing, jam-packed community party, open to close, with joyously overflowing weekend brunches. Chef Brown has exercised her prerogative in updating the menu, but her deviled eggs ($12) abide as a starting point that reflects some of the many splendid directions her cuisine takes. All praise to the picnic-perfect, still-soft egg whites and the thick, creamy yolk-mix blessed with Brown’s proprietary spice blend; then the toppings tour the Pacific Rim, from bright, salty hits of tobiko to smoked local oysters, or upgrade to fried oysters ($14) for a Northwest/New Orleans oeuf-and-surf combination extraordinaire. (2350 E. Union St., Seattle; 206-391-8140; communionseattle.com)

The butter mochi from The Chicken Supply on Phinney Ridge

One ought not to eat dessert first when the food comes from The Chicken Supply. While the spectacularly crispy-crunchy (and, hey, gluten-free) crust and juicy meat of its superlative chicken on a stick does have staying power, it’s still best enjoyed as soon as it’s not quite burning hot. But getting dessert is imperative. There’s only one available: sous chef Stephen Mark Toshio Toyofuku’s butter mochi ($5), a snack cake emblematic of the culture of his upbringing in Hawaii, made with rice flour (and also gluten-free). Calling this buttery loveliness a snack cake, however, doesn’t do it justice: Toyofuku dialed in an ideal level of sweetness; achieved a texture that borders gloriously on gummy; and, in a fortunate happenstance, used fenugreek because he was out of vanilla, adding a fascinating maple-adjacent flavor. The butter mochi at The Chicken Supply is served with fluffy coconut whip and a shower of toasty coconut flakes, but if one makes it at home — Toyofuku was kind enough to share the easy, forgiving recipe — one might find oneself eating it right out of the pan. (7410 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle; 206-257-4460; thechickensupply.com)

The salade verte at Le Pichet in Pike Place Market

Seattle’s beloved Cafe Presse closed this past February, leaving an outsized, all-day-community-hangout-with-lovely-affordable-French-food-and-wine-shaped hole in Capitol Hill’s heart. The saving grace: Older sibling Le Pichet carries on down on First Avenue, serving many of the same favorites, including, crucially, the salade verte ($10). This is, per its name, a simple, classic green salad: just Bibb lettuce, hazelnuts, vinaigrette. But the Pichet/Presse version has always been more than the sum of its parts: that lettuce always spring-green-crisp and also tender; the DuChilly nuts, always toasted, from splendid trees up near the Canadian border; the dressing containing the secret of reduced orange juice. I could go on and on about this, the city’s best salad (and I did when Cafe Presse opened 15 years ago, writing a love letter to it so heartfelt, friends asked me to read an excerpt at their wedding). Let us leave it at this: So many thanks, Cafe Presse; long live Le Pichet. (1933 First Ave., Seattle; 206-256-1499; lepichetseattle.com)

The kotlet mielony at Sebi’s Bistro on Eastlake

To get to write about Sebi’s Bistro — in that turreted Tudor revival building just south of the University Bridge for nearly a decade — felt like such a gift to me. To hear chef/owner Kamila Kanczugowski’s story — how she fled Poland under Communist rule in the 1980s, cooked in Italy, came to the U.S. to achieve her dream of a culinary degree from Edmonds College, found the waiting embrace of Seattle’s Polish Home Association, ran a deli in Seattle Center, then finally opened her own restaurant, proudly named after her eldest son — was an honor. To experience her place’s hospitality — kindest servers, frosty-cold Polish beers, cozy low ceilings, funny signs on the walls — was a delight. And to partake of her exemplary homestyle Polish cuisine was a warming, comforting, deeply tasty joy. Kanczugowski cooks with a love that truly shines through on the plates in front of you, such that to choose one dish over the others seems impossible. But what makes me want to actually run there immediately is Kanczugowski’s kotlet mielony ($18) — a fresh-tasting, soft, buttery pork cutlet for which she rough-grinds fatty pork-loin schnitzel trim, makes wild-mushroom cream sauce, and assembles a majestic plate with sauerkraut and potatoes. Just look at the photograph! (3242 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle; 206-420-2199; sebisbistro.com)

The menchi katsu at Kobuta & Ookami on Capitol Hill

I swear, I don’t have a penchant for pork patties, or at least I didn’t until now. Kobuta & Ookami, new last year from a group of local restaurant-industry pros, specializes in the Japanese breaded-and-fried meat-treat known as katsu. Seattle was sadly lacking in that department, so it’s even more meaningful that Kobuta & Ookami makes their specialty truly special. Chef/co-owner Don Tandavanitj takes quality exceptionally seriously, sourcing nama panko imported from Tokyo — made fresh, not the typical dried, with its larger crumb providing a lighter, more delicate texture for exceptional deep-golden-brown-fried crispiness for every kind of katsu on the menu. Also deployed for the frying: “special types of oil,” which Tandavanitj chose not to disclose. Fancier options here include Jidori chicken, handsomely large shrimp, and both kurobuta and Iberico pork. But the least expensive menchi ($17 with a full complement of sides) might be the most delicious — it’s a tender, rich, coarse-ground pork patty, sweetened with roasted onion, spiced with ginger and augmented with “secret sauces.” When encased in its crust of rich, hot gold, it’s a culinary treasure. (121 15th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-708-7856; kobutaandookami.com)