Royal Grinders

tl;dr: I love the Italian grinder (pictured below), but you really can’t go wrong here. There are two things you can do for free that will make your experience even better: adding whole basil leaves to your sandwich and getting a cup of yin sauce on the side.

A good sandwich is greater than the sum of its parts. A structural marvel, capable of stunning any who are fortunate enough to cross its path. Good sandwiches come from good people who understand that each ingredient is an integral part of the sandwich experience: the bread, the construction, each individual part of the filling.

When thinking about the good sandwiches around our fair city, people expect Paseo (and now, Un Bien) to be the one we talk about. Phenomenal sandwich experiences to be sure, but they have been written about quite enough. With 6,035 Yelp reviews between them at the time of this writing, they don’t need any more accolades thrown their way. Here at Calling All Fats, we’re about the underdogs. The little guys quietly making some of the best food you’ll find. The unsung heroes making our heroes.


Royal Grinders, situated right behind the giant Lenin statue right in the heart of Fremont, is the home of very well thought out sandwiches. From top to bottom, the care that goes into each one is evident. First, the bread. The amateur move is to either forget about the bread completely by using a soft, industrial bakery bun, or to focus on the bread too much, using a chewy structure killer like ciabatta. At Royal Grinders, we find neither. The top of the bread, crispy and crackly, still has enough give that the roof of your mouth isn’t ripped apart. But it’s texture isn’t it’s most defining characteristic. That honor belongs to the garlic bread-esque seasoning Royal Grinders puts on the outside. Herby and buttery without being greasy, they’ve turned the bread into a flavor component rather than just a structural necessity. They’ve found the bread sweet spot, easy to eat while still being flavorful.


The rest of the sandwich is, of course, incredible. As a whole, the amount of toppings is generous, yet each is applied with restraint. Royal Grinders knows their sandwich math. If you felt like leaving your sandwich fate completely in their hands, no one would blame you. Each one is crafted with the perfect amount of each topping, and in yet another sly addition of flavor, each includes a sort of pepperoncini and herb tapenade as an extra cherry on top. If you wanted to add ingredients to the already stellar options, the list of free extras is long and somehow includes whole basil leaves. I was, and still am, astounded that basil is a free addition to any sandwich, and will continue to add it until Royal Grinders comes to their senses and charges me for it.

If all of that weren’t enough, Royal Grinders somehow knows the quickest way to my heart: a housemade dipping sauce. I’ve explained in previous reviews that unique housemade sauces speak to the quality and effort of an establishment. It’s too easy to just buy a pretty good ranch and a pretty good marinara and call it a day. Royal Grinders goes a step further and mixes them together, in an invention they call yin sauce. Free on the side with any sandwich, forgetting to grab a cup of this won’t ruin your meal, but you’d miss out on switching back and forth between bites with yin sauce and bites without. I’m not sure which is my favorite.


One of my favorite ways to spend my money is to give it to good people who are good at feeding me. Even though I’d buy these sandwiches from grumps who don’t care if I’m there or not, walking into Royal Grinders means walking into a place where the guys behind the counter actually care about you and the meal you’re about to have. They’ll take their time, walking you through the menu, sharing their favorites, helping you build the creation you’ve always dreamed of. We’re lucky they take sandwiches seriously here.

Mountain Room Bar at Sea-Tac

When you’re sitting down at an airport bar, you’ve resigned yourself to accepting a few facts. One, you’re going to be in an airport for longer than most people would prefer. Two, you’re going to be paying a lot for the privilege of boarding an airplane with a stomach full of hot food and a buzz. And three, the bar you’re going to be sitting in will be crowded with people trying to drink away the lingering annoyance of dealing with the TSA. Luckily, if you’re in Sea-Tac airport, you only have to resign yourself to the length of time you’re spending between security and takeoff. Ladies and gentleman, I introduce to you, the Mountain Room Bar of Terminal A.


Two moving sidewalks and seven minutes of walking takes you all the way down to the end of Terminal A, a place I’d never been until a four hour delay turned Sea-Tac into my sister’s and my playground. Once we found out about the delay, we knew we had two choices. We could wallow in sorrow, hoping we would eventually find our way onto a plane before we ran out of reading material, or we could catch a buzz and hit the ground running in San Francisco. If the Sleepless in Seattle nightgown in my closet is any indication, the latter seemed like a sweeter way to start our vacation.

We started walking, knowing we’d eventually find a bar where we could spend a few hours. We passed the busiest bars closest to security with a quickness. We had time to spare, but we weren’t going to spend it waiting for beers. We needed something further in the depths of the airport. We walked towards Terminal B, and came across the overtly racist Africa Lounge, which offers such African favorites as a Caesar salad or a BBQ bacon cheeseburger. A bit like Goldilocks, we kept on trucking, knowing in our party hearts that we could do better. We would find the platonic ideal.


Finally, we reached the end of Terminal A and found our beacon. Next to Gate A18, the Mountain Room Bar. Neither outwardly racist nor even close to busy, we sat down at one of the many, many empty tables. On the beer menu, a sign of what was to come. With any beer, a shot was only $3. Vacation was beginning. Our Coronas and shots of tequila went down without much trouble, but soon we realized how necessary it would be to focus on longevity. This was a marathon, not a sprint. We needed food.

My sister and I are very different people, but there has always, always been one thing we’ve agreed on. The best bar foods are wings and nachos, no question. Our order was settled within seconds. The nachos, fully passable, were better than what I would expect from an airport, but the real star of that delay was the wings. Breaded and fried to a craggy, crunchy finish, they were easily the most intensely crispy wings I’ve ever bitten into. The breading held the rendered fat in the wing, making each bite juicy and crisp at the same time. Bigger wings always make me nervous, because the number of undercooked wings I’ve encountered in my life is far too high, but Mountain Room Bar seems to understand that there is really no way to overcook a chicken wing. In my two trips there, none of my wings were even close to undercooked.


It feels a little bit silly to sing the praises of an airport bar, but being delayed in one of the most uncomfortable places on earth means you search for the small things that make you feel a little bit better. Sometimes it’s the outlet that’s the perfect charger cord distance to your seat, but other times it’s a few shots and wings with your sister while you wait for the debauchery to really begin. I haven’t fully scouted the first one, but I can guarantee you the Mountain Room Bar has the second one covered.



tl;dr: the pulled pork tater tot hash is worth driving to Bellingham for. From wherever you’re starting. The biscuits and gravy is $7.50 and therefore a fine palate cleanser to order for the table.

The conversations we have surrounding food are based on the kinds of questions that are tough to answer. The kinds that are almost philosophical in nature. What’s your favorite food? Favorite restaurant? Favorite meal ever? If you could eat only one thing forever, what would it be? What’s your death row meal? Your desert island food? If you could eat a meal with five people, living or dead, who would you choose?

Most of the time, these questions are essentially impossible to answer. Even when you come up with an answer that feels right, you still don’t feel like you’re doing the question justice. There’s always that waffley thought in the back of your head, that wishy washy ehhhh but maybe I haven’t fully thought this through. Ever since eating at Homeskillet in Bellingham, I can confidently say that I know what my favorite meal ever is. The pulled pork tater tot hash cannot be beat.


I’ve eaten a $120 6 ounce steak, more than once. I’ve been graced with the presence of the Salty’s buffet, and even eaten there for free. I once had a meal with two friends, four courses, cooked just for us by a chef on her night off. I’ve had duck confit in Paris, Thai from Lotus in Vegas, and Di Fara pizza in Brooklyn. I’m not saying all of this just to brag (though, damn, looking back on my food life ain’t too shabby), I’m giving my resume, to show that I know the gravity of what I’m claiming here.

There is nothing like this dish. You think, when you hear the phrase “pulled pork tater tot hash” that you have an idea of what you’re in for. You think that you can probably figure out how these ingredients work together enough to venture a guess as to how it’s going to taste. You can’t.


The guy behind the grill at Homeskillet has invented something that every other pork dish, and every other tater tot dish, wishes it could be. The blackened pork, potato, and onion combines together to make something that is so much greater than the sum of its parts, it’s actually sort of unsettling. You take a bite, and then you sit back, wondering how the fuck you’re going to manage driving to Bellingham every weekend for brunch. You wonder, how the hell do you order anything else from this place? How is this not the most talked about dish on the face of the planet?

I don’t know. But I’m doing my part by telling all of you. Take a mini road trip. Drive up north. Go to Homeskillet, and get this breakfast. Then lament all the years you spent living without it.

Ain’t no party like a self control party cause a self control party don’t exist

I’ve never had good self control. Much like everyone else, it’s very hard for me to resist instant gratification. I do well when there is some sort of reward for doing things that aren’t fun or interesting but need to be done. I procrastinate on tasks, like never-finished laundry, that don’t have an immediate reward or sense of accomplishment attached to finishing them. I prioritize tasks that I deem fun or important, sometimes to my own detriment. There is nothing special about this way of thinking, it’s just a matter of how it’s applied.

For a long time, I thought that the instant gratification of eating food was enough to justify eating it. I thought everyone ate when they weren’t hungry. I thought everyone felt searing guilt after eating, no matter what they ate or how much. I thought everyone planned their day around eating, and I thought everyone thought about their next meal as soon as the current one was over. I thought that mountains of self control and willpower were necessary in order to eat healthy food and exercise. I thought that people only lost weight with sheer will, and I thought I would never have enough to do it myself.

So when I am asked how I have such good self control around food and exercise, it’s hard for me to explain that I don’t. The way I eat now was earned through years of learning, forgiving my own setbacks, and having honest conversations with myself, and it’s hard to shrink that method down into a quick zinger. The explanation of the way I learned to approach eating sounds just as discouraging as telling someone to dig deep and find their self control. Everyone wants a fast track for weight loss, and since so many diet companies rely on that message to make money, it’s hard to offer a solution that takes practice, forgiveness, and compassion and doesn’t even offer guaranteed weight loss.

However, no diet program promises the peace of mind that comes from learning how to listen to yourself, and in the position I am now, I think that’s more important. By pretty much every standard, I’m still fat, but most of the time, I’m very happy with the way I live my life. I could be much thinner if I liked grueling workouts and eating skinless chicken, but I don’t enjoy either of those things. People who eat skinless chicken and grind it out in the gym everyday enjoy those things immensely, not because they have self control. They get some type of pleasure out of those things, otherwise they wouldn’t do them. I enjoy exercising, but I do it for the meditative aspect, rather than to get super cut. I eat skinless chicken if the recipe calls for it, but chicken skin isn’t something I think I need to avoid, so I will happily eat chicken wings or thighs the way they come naturally.

So how did I get here? Well, the thing that got me started was the book Health at Every Size. It was the first book I ever read that explained that my body always knew what it needed, and I had the natural ability to listen to those needs. I just had to relearn how to trust my own abilities. Armed with the faith that Linda Bacon had in me and with the information she bestowed upon me, I started treating each interaction with food as a learning experience.

I spent a lot of time and energy simply trying to figure out ways to parse out what my body was telling me. I had to relearn what hunger felt like and how to avoid eating when I wasn’t hungry. I had to learn how to pay attention to what my body and mind were actually telling me, rather than overriding those cues with impulsive decisions. The most effective action I took in those first couple months was keeping a pen and paper food diary for a few days. Food diaries rarely worked for me in the past, but this time, I wrote down what I was going to eat as well as how I felt before, during, and after eating.Taking the time to honestly write down the emotions that eating provoked in me led to an epiphany.

I found that without fail, before I ate, I always, always, always knew how I’d feel afterwards. Sometimes I had to really sit there and be honest with myself, but I knew when I would feel guilt, when I would feel pride, and after a couple days, it was essentially pointless for me to wait until I was done eating to write down how I felt during and after. I noticed that the times when guilt was imminent were the times when I wasn’t actually hungry before eating, or the times when I chose something that my body didn’t need. In fact, I found that before eating, I would beat myself up if either of those were the case. I knew I’d feel guilt afterward because I felt guilt before. Eating food I didn’t want or need was almost like a torture device I’d use on myself by saying the food tasted good, or that I wanted the food, or that I deserved it, when I knew none of those things were true. I knew that in actuality I wanted to be healthy, I wanted to be confident, and I wanted to be at peace. Treating myself this way achieved none of those things, but instead harmed my progress toward all three goals.

This exercise made me realize that if I already knew how food would make me feel after I ate it, all I had to do was pay attention to those feelings and react accordingly. If I knew that I would feel guilty after eating something, I wouldn’t eat it. If I knew I would feel happy or proud after eating something, I would eat it. For the first couple months, this became enough of a reward system that I ate more healthfully than I had in my whole life. I enjoyed the food I was eating because I enjoyed not feeling guilty. I congratulated myself every time I made a decision that agreed with my inner thoughts, and I congratulated myself every time I turned down something I knew would only make me upset. By using this inner barometer, for the first time, I was able to make choices that helped me lose weight without relying on self control.

This is not to say that this road is always easy. Sometimes, it actually hurts. I’ve cried a few times over the last few years, realizing that I either had to sit through this intense, ridiculous longing for a stupid fucking cheeseburger, or feel incredibly guilty after eating it. Those are the moments when I have to use self control or forgiveness, but luckily, those moments don’t happen that often. And no matter which path I choose, I feel like I’ve made progress in how I handle those situations. If I successfully avoid eating the cheeseburger, I feel like a superhero the next day. If I end up caving and eating the cheeseburger, I treat myself compassionately instead of beating myself up. I don’t use the situation as an excuse to also eat a tray of pizza rolls washed down with a soda. If I have a hard time with forgiving myself for my mistake, I try to earn the calories the next day with a harder workout or by eating more vegetables. I do this for my own peace of mind, rather than to punish myself, and that’s where I feel progress.

It should also be noted that this way of eating allows for unbelievable amounts of bliss when you can finally enjoy food without guilt. I think I will always remember the first time this happened to me a couple summers ago. I was on a break from work in downtown Seattle, and was pretty hungry. I didn’t want the my usual choices of a Larabar or an apple. No, this afternoon, I wanted a chocolate chip cookie. I was absolutely sure I wanted it. I wanted one of the monstrous 460 calorie ones from Specialty’s, and an iced mocha to boot. I ordered, and I stepped outside into the sunshine, mocha in one hand, cookie in the other. I sat in the sun and found that the cookie was in that beautiful stage between warm and cooled down where the dough is cool to the touch but the chocolate chips are still melty. I took a bite, closed my eyes, and enjoyed the moment. For a short moment, I expected guilt to step in and take it’s normal place in my mind, but because I trusted myself enough to know that this was exactly what I wanted, it never showed up. The cookie, the mocha, and I were alone, and I loved every second of it. I picked up my food and walked around in the sunshine, beaming, feeling like I’d finally figured it all out.

As you can see, it’s pretty hard to explain all this in passing. Every time my self control is pointed out, I wish I could explain where this all came from. I wish I had a way to present this as a viable option without having to say, okay, so you just read this book, and you confront yourself and your own feelings, and you kind of admit that you’re lying to yourself and then you try trusting yourself for a couple years and then you feel great almost all the time. I wish I could hand out a flyer that absolved people of their guilt, but I can’t. All I can do is tell you that this work is worth it. A couple years worth of energy spent on learning how to trust yourself might sound tough, but when it’s compared to decades of feeling guilty about pizza, boy let me tell you, those couple years are a walk in the park. And the pizza over here is so fucking good.

Mel’s Market

I learned today that my favorite lunch place, Mel’s Market, is taking burgers and fries off of their menu. They’re expanding their salad counter, which makes sense, given that the line for salads is always ten people deep, while the lone burger guy yells to nobody in particular, “Burgers and fries! We got burgers and fries over here!” His charm is wasted on a lunch choice that fell out of favor after everyone learned that yes, you need to eat vegetables and no, you won’t live forever if you eat a burger everyday. After losing 85 pounds (and keeping 55 off for eight years), I’m almost always in the salad line too. I can’t fault them for their smart business decision, but damn, I’m going to miss those burgers. For more than just how they taste.


A countdown, for those of us in mourning

In weight loss terminology, non-scale victories, or NSVs, are the most gratifying way to find out that you’re making progress. NSVs can be anything that is related to losing weight but isn’t the number on the scale going down. Looser jeans, a workout that finally feels easier, picking the healthier option for lunch, seeing a picture of yourself and thinking you look good. After the first few pounds come off, NSVs are what keep a person motivated to keep working. Seeing a number go down on a scale over and over loses its luster after a while, but NSVs are evidence that your life is changing right in front of your eyes, due to your own hard work. NSVs are what stick with you after the weight has come off, and NSVs are what help you maintain weight loss.


My usual lunch from Mel’s: grilled chicken, blue cheese, dried cranberries, strawberries, and extra spiced pecans

The victory that sticks in my mind the most is when I realized that I was able to trust myself around food. Losing weight wasn’t terribly hard for me, but the first couple years of maintaining weight loss was very tough. The habits that helped me gain weight were well-suited to the obsessive lifestyle that calorie counting requires, but terrible for the maintenance that comes afterwards. It wasn’t until I read the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD (I could not recommend this book more enthusiastically) that I realized I had to completely relearn how to eat. If I wanted to remain the weight I was, I had learn how to eat when I was hungry, stop when I was full, and choose foods that made me feel good after I was done eating them. I had to learn how to make choices based on my intuition, rather than an impulse. Learning these skills took years, and I experienced setback after setback. Each NSV felt hard-won, like getting to the top of a hill in the middle of a marathon. Filled with relief, but realizing there is still some distance to cover.

The exact moment I realized I could trust myself around food felt like finally crossing the finish line. I was starving, so I picked up a breakfast sandwich on my way to work. Upon unwrapping it, I found that it was too big to eat in one sitting, so I re-wrapped half of it for the next day. I didn’t have to barter with myself in order to do this, I didn’t think about the other half for hours until I just gave up and ate it, I just put it in the fridge without a second thought. I didn’t even realize what I’d accomplished until a couple hours later. Honestly, I went into the bathroom and did a little fist pump for myself. I finally felt reassured that I was actually going to maintain my weight loss. This victory meant that I’d actually learned how to trust myself around food without even thinking about it. I had autonomy over my choices. I could trust myself to choose the salad counter instead of the burger counter.


The bacon cheeseburger and fries that will be leaving us soon

So when I found out that Mel’s was getting rid of their burgers, at first I was sad because their burgers are fantastic. Housemade sauces, ample vegetable application, melted cheese, and solid bacon, there’s a lot to love. This sadness gave way to the realization that their burger section is often pretty slow, so it was likely a good decision for the owners to make. But that realization was tempered with selfishness. I’m going to miss the tiny bit of triumph I feel every time I choose a salad. I’m going to miss the opportunity to exercise self-control each time I walk through those doors, because now that it’s easy, it’s a little bit fun. I’m going to miss being reminded that I’m actually pretty good at this eating thing now. And oddly, I’m going to miss all of those things more than the burgers themselves, which might just be the greatest NSV of all.

Fu Man Dumpling House

tl;dr: my favorites are the hot and sour soup, special chow mein, bbq pork fried rice, and potstickers, but give the other menu items a try and let me know what else is good.

I’ve spent hours trying to think of the best way to extol the virtues of Fu Man. This restaurant deserves to be admired for their offerings, but hyperbolic pontification isn’t the way to do it. In the past, I have only expressed exaltations of restaurants, processing my disbelief at the experience I was having. To act this way about Fu Man feels disrespectful and disingenuous. Their food is excellent, but in an expected way. Fu Man, and other humble restaurants like them, aren’t exciting. Fu Man is just a place, trying to serve you some food at a fair price, and doing a consistently good job at it. A review of a place like this can’t be hyperbolic. Nothing about this place is hyperbolic. A review acting as though it is heightens expectations in a way that isn’t fair to the restaurant or the customer, and it completely misses the best parts of what they’re putting out there.


Walking into Fu Man, you can expect a good meal at a low price, served by people who are proud of it. In essence, this is everything I love about a restaurant. There are no airs to put on in this humble strip mall. The waiting area consists of four square feet and a gumball machine. The chairs are from Office Depot, and the lighting fluorescent. The placemats will tell you all about your place on the Chinese zodiac, and the menu is made of bright orange paper stuffed into old menu jackets. Then, the pickled vegetables and garlic sauce appear. Your meal is about to begin. They’re here to take care of you.

At Fu Man, a small, free plate of pickles starts you off. Most of the time, there is daikon, carrot, cucumber, and bean sprouts. They taste the way true pickles do, mostly funky, a little salty, kind of sweet. These pickles aren’t changing the pickle game, but they hint at something bigger than a fermented vegetable, something more important than a free appetizer. The pickles placed on each table represent a quiet integrity that leads to consistently good food. Fu Man isn’t showy about this appetizer. It is plunked down without any fanfare, no self-praising “free, for you!”, no description of what you’ve just been offered. It is set on the table as if it’s supposed to be there, as if it is there simply because it is the right thing to do. Before we feed you, we feed you. No pretense, no excitement, just a bit of vegetables to get everything started. This isn’t something that a restaurant owner can be taught. This is a way of living transferred onto a plate. This is integrity and a willingness to serve others.


These ideals also translate into Fu Man’s most popular item: garlic sauce. When you sit down, the garlic sauce is placed on your table, along with the aforementioned pickles and some sambal oelek (vinegary chili paste, also quite good). They place a fresh jar on the table with each meal because a lot of their patrons empty the jar all over their food. This is humility, plain and simple. To present plate after plate of well-seasoned food knowing that your care and hard work will be drowned out by extra sauce could make for a begrudging chef, but instead, Fu Man works with what their customers want. A long time ago, they started giving their customers more sauce, their own personal jar of sauce. They started bottling their sauce so you can dump it on all your other food at home too. When your to go boxes are packed, they ask how many containers of sauce you want with your leftovers. They know that even though you’re ordering a few different items off the menu, everything on the table is subject to a garlic sauce blanket.


To ignore this restaurant and it’s place in the restaurant scene because I can’t make grand exclamations about their food is ignoring all of these ideals that make an everyday restaurant worth visiting. Sure, Fu Man is just straight up Chinese food, but they take it seriously. Their service wouldn’t win them awards for decorum and grace, but they’re well-humored and pleasant. Their chow mein, rice, and potstickers aren’t reinventions of old favorites, they’re just the old favorites. Old favorites done well by people who want you to enjoy them. Can’t ask for more than that.

Hot Cakes

tl;dr: skip the molten chocolate cakes and go for the grilled chocolate sandwich if you want a hefty dessert. For a light dessert, try any of the cookies or the chocolate almond rocher. The ultimate dessert experience would be alternating bites of the rocher and the grilled chocolate sandwich.

You would think that a restaurant’s namesake would be its best item, but at Hot Cakes, getting one of the molten chocolate cakes they are famous for is just about the only thing you can do wrong. That’s not to say they aren’t delicious. They are, for the most part, but after its inclusion on every single dessert menu from Chili’s to El Gaucho, it is unreasonably hard to impress me with a molten chocolate cake.

seasonal coconut pecan hot cake

seasonal coconut pecan hot cake

Much like fried chicken and cold sandwiches, the best version of a molten chocolate cake is very hard to distinguish from the worst version. There is not a lot you can do to make a molten chocolate cake impressive, though Hot Cakes does try. Their cakes are all served with housemade caramel sauce, which is good, but not good enough to save the cake from itself. Though the cakes are the reason the store was opened, they are not the reason to stop by. The reasons are everything else on the menu.

From a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream to a grilled chocolate sandwich, everything else at Hot Cakes is the best version of itself. The chocolate chip cookie is huge and warm, allowing for variety in texture from the crunchy edges to the chewy middle. The sprinkles of salt on top might feel like a stupid hipster addition, but I am a firm believer that salt on baked goods is a trend that should stick around. The salt is just plentiful enough to be interesting, but not distracting. The vanilla ice cream on top of the cookie does a great job melting into the chewy bits and creating a sort of raw cookie dough taste. It’s a shame that this item is the least interesting sounding thing on the menu, because it should get ordered way more often than I’m sure it does.


for here or to go? – locations in ballard and capitol hill

The grilled chocolate sandwich is a great example of what happens when quality ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves. Excellent dark chocolate is melted between grilled sourdough, making for bites that play with texture and flavor. The crunchy, sour bread brings out notes in the chocolate that wouldn’t be obvious in any other application. The sandwich is entirely too big and entirely too rich for one person to eat on their own, which is a great reason to bring a friend and share it. If you’re feeling brave and want to tackle it on your own, a side of vanilla ice cream would work well as a palate cleanser.

The rocher is easily the best value on the menu. At $3.50, you get what is essentially a giant meringue with chunks of dark chocolate and candied sliced almonds folded in. The rocher is so large that the outside is crispy and light, but the inside is fluffy, almost marshmallowy. A bite of the super rich, melty grilled chocolate sandwich followed by a bite of fluffy, crispy, light rocher would be the ultimate experience of every single way a dessert can be good.

The lesson to take away from Hot Cakes is that often, the most popular dish at a restaurant is not the best thing on offer. Exploring the menu at a popular place, trying to find the best deals and underdog favorites, is more fun and more rewarding than just blindly ordering what everyone else recommends. Not only do you get to outhipster a hipster joint, (I ordered the rocher before everyone else found out about it) but you also get to treat every restaurant visit like a mission to hunt down the delicious underdogs. Ordering something just because it sounds interesting or is insanely cheap is the best way to tour a menu, especially in a place like Hot Cakes where you know that the worst item on the menu is still dessert.

Cherry Street

tl;dr: get the tomato, basil, egg, and cheese on an Asiago bagel. I’ve also heard from reputable sources that the bacon, egg, and cheese on a pita is divine but have not tried it myself. I can’t get away from that tomato basil.

For a few months about a year ago, I worked tons of overtime. My coworker and I started early, we stayed late, and we held it together while new people were trained for the positions we were covering. We worked long, hard days, but every once in a while, we’d stop, turn to each other and say the magic word: bagel.

Our only solace during those months was Cherry Street and their bagel sandwiches. Most coffeehouses serve food as an afterthought, something to merely accompany their drinks. Cherry Street makes an effort to serve actual, delicious food. Food worth paying for. In the mornings, they have an employee whose only job is to make people breakfast. This isn’t just some bagel sawed in half with a cold cup of cream cheese and a plastic knife. This bagel is a masterclass in coffee shop edibles.img_3058

The bagels are proudly sourced from Seattle Bagel Bakery, who make fantastic bagels in a ridiculous amount of flavors. I’m pretty sure the Cherry Street near my work has eight or nine types, but the only one you need to worry about is the Asiago. Pleasantly cheesy but not overly so, with enough crust to feel substantial, unlike those stupid bread circles the grocery store bread aisle tries to call bagels. The crust isn’t so tough that it’s hard to bite through, just enough to crackle. The inner bits of the bagel are soft, dense, and good at soaking up whatever filling you’ve chosen.

When I first started visiting Cherry Street, I always got the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, which I thought was the gold standard. That is, until I tried the tomato, basil, egg, and cheese. With the bacon, the Asiago feels unnecessary and over the top. Getting a plain bagel when an Asiago bagel is available feels silly, so on my coworker’s advice, I eventually tried the tomato basil.


At first, the idea of tomato and basil with eggs seemed odd to me, like a caprese gone wrong. After one bite, I realized how wrong I was. The tomato and basil justify the Asiago in a way breakfast meat can’t. They act the same way tomato and lettuce do on a burger, adding a needed counter to the hot, savory saltiness of the rest of the sandwich. They round out the flavors, adding a sweet freshness to the egg. Impressively, Cherry Street has mastered the microwave scrambled egg. I’ve never had an overcooked egg here, and the cheese is always melty.

I always love when a restaurant puts effort into what they’re doing. Walking in and knowing that a place is going to take care of you, especially when you’re working crazy overtime, is comforting. Making a consistently delicious breakfast first thing in the morning for downtown cogs isn’t an honorable job, but when you do it that well, it should be.

An imperceptible passion

The other day, a prominent member of the food community, whose work I respect immensely, asked his Twitter followers if they would rather eat bad nachos or a bad hot dog. This sort of question is one of my favorite parts of talking about food. Who chooses the hot dog? Who chooses nachos? What is the reasoning behind their choice? And the root question I love to ponder: why is there such a wide range of choices and reasons? I love talking about food preferences, especially junk food preferences. I knew exactly what my answer was. I think about this stuff a lot.

Nachos are my jam. One of my favorite foods, probably. I like all versions of nachos, from decked out fancy ones to clear plastic ballpark trays full of semi-stale tortilla rounds and a compartment for nacho cheese. Hot dogs, I’m pretty lukewarm on. If I find a hot dog cart when I’m drunk, I’m down to eat one, but I’m never going to search one out. I’ve never craved a hot dog, but I’ve certainly craved nachos. I answered the poll, and I also tweeted, “though I will say I would also rather eat bad nachos than a good hot dog”.

He replied with “you haven’t had a good hot dog.”

This interaction left me feeling a little surprised and disappointed. It felt unnecessarily assumptive, like I was being weeded out of the very exclusive group of People Who Know What Tastes Good. There is no conceivable way to enjoy bad nachos more than a good hot dog. The hot dog was the correct answer and I was wrong.

The problem with that is that food preferences are never wrong. This interaction really cemented this idea for me. Preferences are not like knife skills or picking good produce. You learn preferences, but there is no correct set of preferences. There is no one way to appreciate food. Some people are more adventurous than others, some people believe they have a more refined palate than most. Regardless, the tastebuds of people with less refined palates and a love of simple foods are no less important. Loving shitty nachos doesn’t disqualify you from some Elite Food Smarty status. People know what tastes good to them, and respecting that is an important and exciting part of learning about food.


There are probably a couple people reading this essay right now thinking, “But what about the strips, Erika? You’ve talked shit about people choosing chicken strips over fried chicken. I can find the posts, there are a lot of them.” To this I say, yeah, I was wrong. And I’ll assuredly be wrong again. Such is the curse of words existing forever on the internet. When I received that tweet, I realized how people who aren’t very interested in food must feel when they’re told their preferences are wrong, silly, immature, or fussy by someone who knows more about the subject. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, and it made me want to discontinue the conversation altogether. I realized this was the exact opposite of how I wanted my readers and commenters to feel. I want conversations about food to be accessible to everyone. As a veritable spokesperson for food, especially food on the simpler end of the spectrum, I shouldn’t have told someone their preference was incorrect, no matter how delicious chicken skin is.

Though I now disagree with the way I approached it, I learned a lot about what people value in food from talking about strips versus skin. Someone who values chicken strips for their convenience and ease of eating will have different opinions about restaurants and meals than someone who loves messy, inconvenient, bone-in chicken because they get to have some chicken skin. Neither opinion is invalid or wrong, but each one gives insight into different overarching themes people look for in a food experience. Though I wax poetic about my specific food preferences, they are not gospel. When I say I have found one of the best cheeseburgers in Seattle, this does not apply to everyone. I have found one of my favorite cheeseburgers in Seattle, and at the very least, I think you will enjoy it too.


A while back, I posted an essay about that cheeseburger. In that essay, I described the litany of reasons why I prefer shredded iceberg lettuce on my burgers. A friend commented on my Facebook politely disagreeing with me, which led to one of my favorite food conversations ever. We went back and forth for a bit about her reasoning before she said “…I think I just don’t like shredded lettuce. I am having more feelings than I anticipated.” She didn’t even anticipate her feelings about shredded lettuce, but they were at least as numerous and passionate as mine. Her own thoughts and feelings toward a pile of unremarkable roughage surprised her, and that is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

This is what makes the world of food so interesting to me. People have latent food thoughts and feelings that guide their decisions everyday. Our brains are quietly, almost involuntarily passionate about the subject, and I think there is nothing more fascinating. We’re all born with the same set up. We all have a tongue, covered in tastebuds. We all have to eat to live, but the spectrum of choices we’re able to make in a day is staggering. It is incredible to me that one person enjoys their coffee black while another loves five Splendas and a quarter cup of soy in theirs. I find it interesting that there’s one guy in my office who eats burgers for lunch, while another guy makes himself a fruit platter. I am intrigued by the idea that so many pizza toppings exist and everyone’s favorite is different. I love that every single person making every single food choice has a reason behind that choice, every single time.


Even the staunchest anti-food person has well-thought out reasoning behind their preferences. A lack of preference is still a preference. Their thoughts about food, like everyone else’s, are informed by a lifetime of emotions, tastes, and memories. Some people look at their relationship with food as a journey, others have never needed to tend to their feelings about eating. Some people can’t afford more than three bowls of Top Ramen per day, others eat Wagyu steak for lunch. Some (like me!) care more about food than any other part of their day, others wish they didn’t have to bother with it at all. No matter your feelings toward food, they’re easily the most compelling part of what you’re eating. There is no subject more vastly relatable, no category further reaching. Everyone has a history, a set of beliefs, some dealbreakers, even if they’ve never given it a second thought. Isn’t that fucking cool?

Good company

Food is always made greater by good company. There isn’t a single dish that benefits from being eaten alone. Since starting this blog, regular meals have become occasions, and I’ve experienced the great fortune of having friends get excited about this little thing I’m doing here. When you share what you’re excited about, people become excited to experience that thing with you. People want in on whatever intoxicating bit of life you’ve found. When that bit of life is food, you get the chance to experience some great meals with some excellent people.

A friend I’d lost touch with reached out with a couple restaurant recommendations after reading my posts, and we decided to use one of her ideas as an reason to get together. At Some Random Bar in Belltown, glasses of limoncello cider and plates of nachos (both crab and brisket) were enjoyed on one of those perfect Seattle summer nights. The nachos were expertly crafted, piled high after being baked in a single layer for maximum chip coverage. The tortilla chips were either made in house or sourced from somewhere that does them well. Thick, but not too crunchy, able to hold a mound of crab and cheese without incident. The crab was the star of these nachos, but the supporting players all did their part to help it shine even brighter. A drizzle of cilantro pesto, a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, and a giant pile of guacamole would all have been great without the crab, but with it, the nachos became greater than the sum of their parts.

After an 85 degree day, the evening had cooled just enough, leaving a pleasantly warm breeze even after dark. The deck outside Some Random Bar sits on the street, and cars occasionally whip by fast enough to halt conversation for a second. We lingered over our meal, covering everything we’d missed over the last year and a half of losing touch.  We sat back with our glasses of (showstopping, not too sweet, slightly tart) limoncello cider. We made jokes with the next table while they had a bit of trouble taming their adorably mischievous puppy. We made a promise to keep in touch this time, to actually schedule that next meal, to use this blog to give us reasons to keep catching up. To cash in on this great city and enjoy the ridiculous meals it has to offer way more often.At Sisters and Brothers in Georgetown, my sister and I recovered from a (not really) near death experience at good old Wild Waves. Sitting in the sun at a picnic table, we chased away the roller coaster anxiety with a Rainier buzz, followed by Nashville hot chicken and waffles. A couple cold cans settled my nerves, and the meal revived them.

Normally, I require my chicken to have skin, but Sisters and Brothers doesn’t fry real chicken until dinner, so strips it was. A damn good rendition, especially considering my disdain for skinless fried chicken. It was everything a strip should be: crispy, juicy, and easy to eat. The decision to only serve strips at brunch made more sense once I realize how convenient the execution was. Each bite had a perfect combo of crust, meat, waffle, butter, and syrup. The ease of eating this dish was only beaten by the easy flow of conversation.
When you’ve been not only siblings, but also best friends for 26 years, sentences are rarely finished. The meaning behind each phrase is completely understood before all of the words can exit your mouth, and the next topic is already broached. The conversations I have with my sister are wildly efficient, and frankly, slightly annoying to anyone listening, but to me they feel easy and refreshing. To enjoy a meal alongside one of these conversations is one of my favorite things in life.A couple weeks later, I met a friend at Sisters and Brothers to buy some boots from her and shoot the shit. Like a pro, she offered to order something different than me and to split whatever we ordered so I could learn more about the menu. She ordered the braised pork sandwich with a side of fried green tomatoes, and finally I got skin-on fried chicken with a side of mac and cheese. The Genesee cream ale we ordered showed up in hilariously big 24 ounce cans and totally hit the spot. Armed with a buzz, we dissected the food in a methodical manner, taking bites and discussing what was in front of us.

The braised pork was the underdog winner, with a surprising amount of mustard seeds strewn throughout, giving each bite a crunchy pop. The meat was tender and well-seasoned, pairing well with the zucchini sauerkraut on the sandwich. Fried green tomatoes were addictive. Sour, crunchy, and the only thing we thought about ordering more of. The chicken and mac and cheese were exactly what they should be, the former having an intensely crunchy crust, the latter having a fantastically creamy sauce. The meal was well done, a good way to spend a Tuesday night, but the conversation was what made that trip to Georgetown worth it.

My friend took it upon herself to meet me at my level. She was excited about the experience of having a meal for the sake of the blog, which fed my already heightened excitement about food. Our conversation twisted and turned around food, starting with what we ordered that evening and quickly turning into a recap of our respective food histories. I learned about what it was like to grow up in the South and what food meant to her family specifically. I learned about manners and traditions in the South, and about Beach Road fried chicken. This meal gave us the opportunity to share where we came from and why we are who we are, which is one of my favorite things about sharing a meal with a friend.

I talk about the taste and experience of actually eating food more than anything else, and for good reason. Eating food is one of the great experiences we are afforded in this life. But man, there is nothing better than sitting down to a meal and having a great time with the person across from you. The greatest thing about food is that it brings us together. It gives us a reason to meet, a reason to sit down for an hour or two and just enjoy life. It punctuates our day with tiny vacations, glimpses into the good things that make the slog worthwhile. I get excited about food for the act of eating it, but these meals have reminded me about getting excited for the experience surrounding it.