Slurp soba noodles in an out-of-the-way corner of Fremont. Twirl tagliatelle in Eastlake. Tuck rotisserie porchetta into fluffy flatbread in Ballard. And much more when you dive in to this year's best new restaurants.
SLURP SOBA NOODLES in an out-of-the-way corner of Fremont. Twirl tagliatelle in Eastlake. Tuck rotisserie porchetta into fluffy flatbread in Ballard. Divvy up jerk fried chicken and plantains in Belltown. Indulge in fancy steaks and sushi in Bellevue. Savor smoked meats in the Central District. Head to Capitol Hill for whiskey highballs and bento bites, or to explore the ma la magic of Yunnan and Sichuan cuisine.
These are the year’s best new restaurants. (Listed in the order they were reviewed, with excerpts from the original reviews.)
“ … a striking balance of textures, precisely tuned flavors and often-surprising juxtapositions.” (Jan. 19)
“One good thing after another” is a loose translation of the name, and that’s what you’ll find at Mutsuko Soma’s compact Japanese restaurant and bar. Her soba noodles, handmade daily from locally sourced buckwheat, have no equal in Seattle. Their buoyancy is apparent in bowls of savory broth packed with seafood, vegetables or the signature duck. Order them dry with a dipping sauce to truly appreciate the delicate, nutty flavor. Soma’s unconventional takes on tempura — yam with Gorgonzola, parsnip with truffle salt — are just as dazzling. Should you happen upon foie gras tofu or bone marrow sukiyaki — frequent specials — consider it another lucky break. Read the full review.
Where: Fremont; 206-632-0185; kamonegiseattle.com.
“If the mango yellow walls, turquoise benches and Technicolor art don’t warm you up, the cordial service and Caribbean-inspired fare definitely will.” (Feb. 23)
Trey Lamont’s Jerk Shack is a offshoot of his Papa Bois food truck. The jerk chicken is brined, dry-rubbed and deep-fried, producing profound flavor under a crisp, blackened skin. Twenty bucks buys a feast for two: half a bird with fried plantains, two sauces and pistachio rice. But you’ll want to come with a crowd, so you’ll have an excuse to order more. Start with a pile of deep-fried soft-shell crabs. Add sides like sweet-potato-studded cornbread or jerk-seasoned mac and cheese. Finish with brown-butter bread pudding smothered in coconut caramel sauce. Even with a round of rum punches or raspberry mojitos, the tab will be way cheaper than a ticket to Jamaica. Read the full review.
Where: Belltown; 206-441-7817; on Instagram @jerkshackseattle.
“A la minute pan sauces are rooted in braises and stocks that are sometimes days in the making.” (March 16)
When it comes to naming restaurants, chef Brian Clevenger has yet to run out of words that mean “harvest” in Italian. First there was Vendemmia, then Raccolto and now Le Messe. Pasta is essential to any meal here: Gemelli with pork shank and root vegetables, squid ink spaghetti with bottarga, cappelletti with brown butter and sage, and cavatelli Bolognese are a few you won’t want to miss. But don’t overlook the always-reliable seafood crudo and the extraordinary pan-roasted chicken. Sitting at the chef’s counter gives you access to limited daily specials. Sitting in the bar rewards you with a rear-window peak at the Space Needle. Read the full review.
Where: Eastlake; 206-402-6106; lemesseseattle.com.
“ … like anime come to life.” (Sept. 14)
Makoto Kimoto’s lively Japanese izakaya has a madcap menu to match its always-5-o’clock-somewhere mood. The food veers from a stately sashimi sampler to strips of wagyu seared on a hot stone. A bento box boasts nine cubbies containing eclectic little bites. If, after a few fizzy whiskey highballs or too many fruity mezcal cocktails, you want something more substantial, make it the pork dumplings or the maze-men noodle bowl, both heavy with house-made ra-yu (chile crisp). It’s seriously good food in a drinking den primed for serious fun. Read the full review.
Where: Capitol Hill; 206-979-8800; tamaribarseattle.com.
“Think of the menu at Sawyer as a mini ‘Wheel of Fortune’ where you come up a winner most of the time.” (Sept. 25)
With finely crafted food that mixes tradition with contemporary American tongue-in-cheekiness, chef Mitch Mayers is causing a different sort of buzz at this one-time sawmill, now a spacious, relaxed, wood-paneled dining room and bar. Slammed from the get-go, Sawyer keeps people coming back for cheesy bread with ’nduja and pimento cheese and a butter-slicked pretzel pain d’epi, for wood-grilled artichokes and rotisserie meats, and for pho broth with bone marrow matzo balls like your bubbe never made. For dessert, I dare anyone to resist the “S’more Choco Tacos” or the “Dilly Bar” filled with a semi-freddo of chocolate-chip cookie dough, but the hot, buttermilk biscuit cobbler and the cool, creamy “Quatro Leches” cake are winners, too. Read the full review.
Where: Ballard; 206-420-7225; sawyerseattle.com.
“ … precision, imagination and a good bit of swagger to boot.” (Oct. 5)
At this sky-scraping aerie with a Vegas vibe, the showmanship starts in the bar. “The Washingtonian,” a cocktail encased in smoke, is a twist on a Manhattan made with Woodinville bourbon. In the gold-tiled grill room, flames leap and thrash, fueled by five different woods that add extra flavor to the lustily seasoned prime beef, imported wagyu and fish. Sushi chefs work against a dramatic granite backdrop, gleefully pushing traditional boundaries. Their flights of fancy are as whimsical and flashy as desserts like “The Skyfall,” in which goat cheese panna cotta and blueberry macarons emerge from a billowing dry-ice fog. From the gorgeous uni lobster bisque to the elegant riff on ramen to luxurious shiro dashi bordelaise sauce with truffles, the kitchen goes for broke, even though it could coast on the view alone from the 31st floor of Lincoln Square South. Read the full review.
Where: Bellevue; 425-625-2080; ascendprime.com.
“Despite the name, dinner here is no bumpy ride.” (Oct. 19)
Travels through South Central China and a stint at Yunnan Kitchen in New York City inspired chef Travis Post and his wife, Lisa Zack, to create this snug, rustic bar and restaurant where Sichuan (called the land of plenty) meets Yunnan (which means below the clouds). Post’s compact menu doesn’t strive for authenticity. He’s less an ambassador than a translator, and he doesn’t hesitate to improvise. His full-bodied rendition of the Sichuan classic mapo tofu contains ground pork plus crisp bits of fried pork belly, along with a good dose of doubanjiang (fermented bean paste). For a typically Yunnanese stir-fry of rice cakes, cured ham and tomatoes, he subs high-quality Benton’s Smoky Mountain country ham for the Chinese ham he can’t get here. The couple collaborated on the beverage list, focusing on wine, beer, spirits and teas that not only complement the food but also come from smaller producers they admire. As host, Zack keeps a close eye on service. All of which means there is plenty to admire about Plenty of Clouds. Read the full review.
Where: Capitol Hill; 206-279-5900; plentyofclouds.com.
“ … prodigious prowess with smoke and fire.” (Oct. 26)
Saigon Siblings’ Eric and Sophie Banh found their meant-for-each-other match in “Big Mike” Whisenhunt, the chef who helped the Banhs transform the short-lived Vietnamese steakhouse Seven Beef into Central Smoke, a paean to Texas-style barbecue. The only smoked brisket I’ve had better than this came from Austin’s revered Aaron Franklin. It’s prime beef, seasoned only with salt, pepper and the scent of post oak and mesquite. Cooking at the original Joule and later Brimmer & Heeltap schooled Whisenhunt in the nuanced use of pungent Asian ingredients that play so well with smoke. Here he incorporates tea-smoked chicken in a green papaya salad, and pairs smoked rockfish with grilled eggplant in black vinegar sauce. The casual mood suits the casual food: party lights hang low above the dark-stained wood tables, and the expansive open kitchen has a chef’s counter at one end. In the dim, seductive bar and lounge, smoke won’t get in your eyes, but it does permeate the big ice cube slowly melting in your Old Fashioned cocktail. Read the full review.
Where: Central District; 206-328-7090; centralsmokeseattle.com.