Lil Jon

tl;dr: Lil Jon does the standard diner classics very well. Eggs Benedict, the best indicator of a restaurant’s abilities, is consistently solid here.

Sometimes you want to sit down, order something you’ve eaten a million times before, and sit back in the booth knowing you’re going to get exactly what you expect. Sometimes you don’t mind that the hollandaise came from a packet. Sometimes, you just want a full coffee cup and an efficient waitress.

The eggs Benedict is the perfect example of why Lil Jon is the pinnacle of the standard diner experience. Most people think that a Benedict should be judged by their hollandaise. However, scratch hollandaise only shows up every once in a great while.* Though it is always a welcome and appreciated gesture, powdered hollandaise is the standard for every hangover crushing diner in the city, so this is not where the front runners separate from the pack.. The greats stand out by consistently plating up runny-yolked poached eggs.


Lil Jon is the only place I’ve ever been that can consistently poach an egg during busy weekend brunch hours. I don’t know how they do it. Do they have one guy that just poaches eggs? Do they employ the one person in the greater Seattle area that can focus on poaching eggs while doing other things? Do they use the “poach them before service, then merely heat them up right before plating” trick (a solid trick if you ever decide to torture yourself and cook eggs Benedict at home)? Do they toss out the overcooked poached eggs instead of plating them because they aren’t fucking monsters? I don’t know. All I know, is the six times I’ve been at a table where a benny was ordered, the yolks were runny. The rest of the plate is something to be admired as well, but in a “this is exactly what I expected” sort of way. The hashbrowns are hashbrowns, the English muffin is toasted, the ham is thick and griddled, and the hollandaise is good.

Other than the solid, unassuming food at Lil Jon, the service is something to be appreciated. There’s a teamwork at play that isn’t entirely obvious unless you’re paying attention. It’s seamless and admirable, and makes for a calm environment in a super busy restaurant. No one seems rushed, but everyone seems to move with purpose. When a job needs to be done, someone picks it up and does it expeditiously, without visible attitude. It is just being done because it’s the right thing to do.

Lil Jon understands that there has to be a place where you can drag yourself to the table when the light of day is still too harsh. You have to be able to grunt your regular order and slump over your mug. You have to be able to rely on the humble work ethic of those who went to bed at a reasonable hour, and you have to be able to cut into an egg yolk, see the golden trickle down the side of your English muffin, and know you’re gonna come out the other side just fine.

*For those on the hunt for hollandaise nirvana, Glo’s is the tops. A full writeup will come eventually. Lola also makes their hollandaise from scratch, but there’s dill in it, which felt like a little bit of a hipster overreach to me. For the record, both Lola and Glo’s have served overcooked yolks when a Benedict was ordered at my table.

Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt

tl;dr: they only sell yogurt, so you really can’t go wrong. I highly recommend the lemon curd, muesli, or rhubarb. If you’re saving your yogurt for later, flavors that have crumble (lemon cheesecake, marionberry pie) get less texturally enticing overnight, but are still great.

Greek yogurt was a fad I never got excited about. Too thick, oddly grainy yogurt, simply eaten for the protein content? The full-fat versions were slightly better, but a 400 calorie snack ain’t doin’ me any favors. Actually, I never was a fan of yogurt in general. If I’m gonna eat a cup of sugar goo, it’s gonna be pudding or a milkshake, not some cornstarch/stabilizer dairy mess.

Then, Ellenos came along. Ellenos makes you realize that every single stupid cup, Tillamook, Yoplait, Greek Gods, Fage, they’re all doing it wrong. Calling Ellenos yogurt feels like a disservice because your only experiences with yogurt thus far have been sad diet food or boring breakfast. But it is not Ellenos fault that you’ve only eaten shit yogurt. It’s up to you to remedy your definition. It is up to you to experience actual, delicious yogurt.

When you step up to Ellenos, you might be overwhelmed. You might look at the case and think, damn, there is no way I’m going to choose a flavor without sampling every single one. You’re wrong. Choose any flavor. They’re all good. Even the natural unsweetened is fantastic if you’re into that whole sugar avoidance thing like me. The only recommendation I have is to eat any flavor with crumbles in it immediately. After a few hours, the crumble distracts from the texture of the yogurt, rather than complimenting it.

The yogurt is silky in a way that feels engineered. Like, a real food product probably shouldn’t be this creamy. A small spoonful coats your entire mouth in a way that is deeply satisfying. The flavors are intense swirls of rich color, and they all stand up to the yogurt’s richness without detracting from it. This yogurt stops you in your tracks and makes you wonder what the hell you were eating up until this point.

Does the word yogurt look weird to anyone else now?



Buca di Beppo

tl;dr: the only thing I’m writing about and advocating for is the cheesecake. Everything else is your average, run of the mill Italian. A notch above Olive Garden. But that cheesecake, man. Order it with raspberry sauce and hazelnuts on the side and add them later if you feel it’s necessary (you won’t).

Steven and I aren’t really fussy people when it comes to occasions. It’s my birthday? Have some friends over for dinner. His birthday? Pretty much the same. Presents? Not really our jam. But on our last anniversary, I wanted dessert. Specifically, I became obsessed with the idea of Buca di Beppo cheesecake. And there’s not much else I can do to explain to you how good this cheesecake is without just telling you the story.

All I wanted for our anniversary was to split a dessert with my dude. I didn’t really care what it was, but Steven wasn’t having the same obsessive thoughts about our sugar adventure, so I was on my own in deciding. We currently live in Mountlake Terrace, otherwise known as no-restaurant’s-land, but getting down to Seattle really didn’t jive with the comfy pants I was wearing. I was racking my brain, trying to figure out the best way to have the lazy anniversary we both wanted, but still chowing down on the best dessert possible.

Hot Cakes in Ballard (which deserves its own post, lemme tell you what) sounded fantastic, but was just a smiiiidge too much of a production. Ice cream at the grocery store was just a little too everyday normal. Pie isn’t really Steven’s thing, so A La Mode is out the window. And then, BING! Buca di Beppo cheesecake. I remembered from my childhood splitting a piece four ways with the rest of my family and going absolutely bonkers about it. We talked about that cheesecake for years. I remember it being impossibly creamy, simultaneously light and rich, and that it was paired with an intense, not-too-sweet raspberry sauce.

It was the perfect solution to our anniversary dessert hunt. Steven had never tried it (along with most people, I would assume), there’s a location in Lynnwood, and I remembered it to be some of the best cheesecake I’ve ever experienced. I called the restaurant to order a slice to go, only to hear, “Sorry, we’re actually out of cheesecake right now.” To which I exclaimed a little too heartily “NOOOOO REALLY?!” The host shared in my dismay, and I was heartbroken. I hung up and flopped over on the couch. Woe was me.

At this point, an anniversary with any other dessert seemed lacking. My sights were set, and there was no other way around it. Steven mentioned grocery store cheesecake in that way you do when you know your idea is going to be shot down. There was no other cheesecake for me at this point. There was only one way. We were going downtown.

To those who may not know me and my husband as well, the fact that I was willing to sacrifice an hour of laziness to track down this piece of cheesecake doesn’t seem all that impressive (well, except for the fact that I’m weird enough to drive downtown just for cheesecake). But to those who understand our shared love of couches and comfy pants, this is quite an honor. Steven and I don’t just set aside laziness for nothing. It took some cajoling on my part to actually convince Steven that this was worth doing. I was taking this man, that I apparently love, away from the one thing he wanted to do for cheesecake I remembered from ten years ago. This was a true test of my recommendation skills.

You obviously know the end to this story. The tl;dr and the fact that I’m posting about it ruin the ending, but obviously that slice confirmed my suspicions of cheesecake greatness. It was exactly how I remembered. A contradiction of adjectives, this cheesecake is an example of a dessert menu done well. According to the host at the downtown Seattle location, all of their desserts are exceptional. It’s really too bad that this is the only one I’ll ever be capable of ordering.

Aladdin Gyro-cery

tl;dr: This gyro is the dopest gyro in Seattle. Hands down, no contest. I love it.

As a general rule, I don’t really dig when restaurants riff on classics. If I’m asking for a caesar salad, I don’t want tomatoes on it. When I order eggs benny, I’m expecting a lemony hollandaise (I’m looking at you, Lola, with your stupid dill flavored mess). When a cheeseburger is set down in front of me, I’m a cheddar or American cheese girl. I’m of the opinion that classics are classics because they’re as good as they can possibly be. They no longer need tinkering, just topnotch execution.

Aladdin Gyro-cery’s lamb and beef gyro is the asterisk on that rule. They’ve found the one tweak that elevates the classic gyro to a level that is unfathomable before you experience it. Aladdin’s gyro is the standard by which I judge all other gyros, and not a single other has come close.

In most gyros, the meat is sliced thinly, but Aladdin cuts theirs off the spit in thick slabs. These slabs allow for an adjective that doesn’t normally describe gyro meat: juicy. And because that isn’t enough to solidify their status as gyro king, they then take the meat and fry it with onions in some sort of mystical curry-flavored grease. Whatever mix of oil and spices they use is seriously magical. It seeps into the pita, blends with the tahini, dresses the lettuce, and gives every bite this spectacular completeness that is the true indicator of a classic dish.

Aladdin also just covers the essentials so well. Their lettuce and tomatoes are cold, their pitas are expertly grilled, tahini is an inspired sauce choice to mix with the gyro grease, and they sprinkle a bit of sumac on top of the whole thing. And for what it’s worth, they’re one of the only restaurants that has never forgotten to leave the raw onions off of my order. Even if they hadn’t tapped into a well of beautiful gyro grease, they would still be putting out one of the best gyros in Seattle because of their attention to detail, which is exactly the type of place I love to give my money to.

Hattie’s Hat

tl;dr: good for vegetarians, and also savage beasts. Get the spinach casserole, nachos, spinach salad, and HOLY CRAP THE CHICKEN WINGS.

I love when a place lets everyone be themselves, without pandering to any specific crowd. At Hattie’s Hat, you can tear through a pile of wings like the savage beast you are while your friend wrecks a stack of spinach casserole. No one has to pretend to like alfalfa sprouts just because they’re a vegetarian, or act like boneless chicken wings (side note: this phrase drives me absolutely bonkers) will satisfy their need for skin and sinew.

Though I’m always at Hattie’s Hat for the chicken wings, I appreciate a restaurant or bar that has vegetarian options that aren’t on either extreme of the veggie spectrum. Most places will do one of two things. They either act like all vegetarians are health monsters who will only choke down the whole-grainiest of foods, or they completely forget vegetarians are a giant part of their customer base and offer fries and salad as their only options.

Hattie’s Hat is smack dab in the middle. Their bar food is a split between veggie and meaty, with chicken wings on one side and black bean nachos on the other. If I had to pick a favorite veggie offering from the Hat, it’d be a tough match up, split between the nachos, the spinach casserole, and the spinach salad. Though the nachos seem like an easy third place because of their status as a standard addition to bar menus, the Hat does them well. Tortilla chips fried in-house, layered wide and flat on a platter instead of mounded, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an empty chip on their watch. The toppings are beyond plentiful, outlasting the chips every time I’ve had the pleasure of eating them, and the local hot sauces on the table are always worth pouring on top. The spinach salad is one of those salads you try to recreate at home because it seems so easy, but you quickly learn it’s best left to the professionals. Dried cherries, goat cheese, red onion, and pomegranate vinaigrette come together as way more than the shredded iceberg afterthought you’d expect to find in a bar. But really, if I had to give my heart to a dish other than the chicken wings, it’d have to be the spinach casserole. The name does not do the dish justice. A cheesy creamed spinach worthy of a steakhouse, this stuff takes the cake for indulgent vegetarian bar food. I’d heap this stuff into my mouth after a night of drinking and wouldn’t want for anything else.

Well, except for my favorite food in Seattle. I know what you’re thinking. Erika, you’re really gonna hand out that prize? There’s no way you have ONE favorite food. There’s no way a dish from a bar menu is the dish that fills the giant food hole in your heart. My friend, if you’re thinking that, then you’ve never had the chicken wings at Hattie’s Hat. These chicken wings are my gold standard. If I could never have them again, I might actually cry.

When they set them down in front of you, you might not notice much of a difference between these wings and any other bar. The only difference you might see is that they’re huge. Giant. Normally, I hate giant wings. When the wings are that big, at least one of them in always undercooked, and undercooked chicken is my biggest food bummer. I’ve never had an undercooked chicken wing here, which is also probably why they’re so crispy. Even after sitting in the sauce (oh god, the sauce) for fifteen minutes, the skin is still standing at attention, waiting for its moment to dazzle the fuck out of you. The Hat knows that flabby should never be a word that describes something you’re going to put in your mouth.

The incredible size and crispiness of the wings might be enough for most people. Throw some Frank’s on there, and you’ve got yourself a serviceable wing. But this is where the Hat shines. This is where they show off. I have no clue how they make their buffalo sauce or their blue cheese dressing, but they’re both in my top 5 liquids of all time. The buffalo sauce is nuanced. NUANCED BUFFALO SAUCE. This doesn’t happen. Ever. Buffalo sauce has three notes. Sour, spicy, and sometimes buttery. The Hat’s buffalo sauce could be described the same way a wine could. It has top notes, end notes, you could definitely drink it out of a glass. It’s perfect. And the blue cheese? As if the buffalo sauce needed a pal to help it out, the blue cheese comes in better than you ever knew it could be. There’s no chunks. This is normally a problem for me. Chunkless blue cheese dressing is a sign of crappy thin tangy mayonnaise. Not here. The blue cheese is blended into the mayonnaise. The dressing is tinged slightly blue-green because of the sheer volume of blue cheese blended into the dressing, which is perfect because who wants to try to balance a chunk of cheese on a wing for the best bite possible? I’ll do it, but it’s good to know I don’t have to. The Hat solves a problem I never knew I had, which is something I never knew I expected from a bar.

We live the PIE! LIFE! BAY-BEH!

tl;dr: I recommend two of the three pie places for different things.
A La Mode: big slices, interesting flavors, milk, comfy shirts
High 5 (CLOSED): crust, normal fillings, savory pies, pie shakes, cute shirts

In Seattle, we have the incredible fortune of living in a pie city. A city so stuffed to the brim with pie shops that making your own is deemed an unnecessary hassle.

One of my best friends lives in Arizona, which is decidedly not Seattle. This has always meant that when we get to spend time together, we pack years of friendship into a week. Because we are both fats through and through, this always means more food than either of us can handle. During one of our most recent visits, we decided that one day would be deemed Pie Day (in August, not March 14th), and we would only eat forms of pie during those 24 hours. Pie Day was a resounding success, complete with a theme song, comfy theme shirts (from A La Mode and High 5), and more pie than I ever thought I’d consume in a week, let alone a day. Some pies were transcendent, others disappointing, but all were enlightening.

A LA MODE PIES: Best straight-forward pie experience

Our first stop of the day was A La Mode Pies, which has a space that is exactly what you’d expect a Seattle pie shop to look like. Every last detail was carefully considered, but the feeling still makes you wish you’d end up there on a thunderstorm-y day, nursing a slice. Included in the details considered by A La Mode, they were the only pie shop we visited that offered milk on their menu. Milk is such a necessary menu item for any pie place that we didn’t even consider that it might not be available. It was surprising to find that the other two pie shops we visited did not offer milk, and were confused when we inquired about it.

The flavors at A La Mode were also the most interesting and well-executed that we encountered all day. Instead of just the normal apple and cherry (both of which they still have, and do very, very well), the flavors available at A La Mode display a clever curiosity about flavor combinations, which end up being some fantastic pieces of pie. The best flavor we sampled that day was the bourbon butterscotch, simply because of A La Mode’s ability to make butterscotch that doesn’t taste like straight sugar. The nuances in the butterscotch let you know that whoever is stirring it put some time and love into developing this recipe. The other flavors we were lucky enough to sample that day included Mexican chocolate mousse, which was crowned with whipped cream taller than the pie itself (the exact right amount, as far as I’m concerned), and Blue Hawaiian, a blueberry-coconut-pineapple flavor combination that tasted like it should have been discovered decades ago. All three were truly fantastic pieces of pie that I would definitely order again if they were available in the display case. If I had to choose a single type to recommend, I couldn’t. Your pie preferences should guide you when choosing a pie at A La Mode, because they’re all very obviously crafted with care. Also, it would also be silly to go without mentioning that of the three pie shops, A La Mode had the biggest slices for the money spent, which is something I appreciate no matter what kind of pie I’m digging into.

PIE: Best filling, worst crust

Our next stop was Pie in Fremont, which exists only to make key lime filling. The crust and other fillings at Pie were unremarkable, which is terribly disappointing because their key lime pie filling is likely the best you’ll find outside the Key West. If you’re willing to buy a pie to completely ignore the crust and simply scoop the filling out, their key lime is the benchmark by which all others should be judged. It is tart enough to make you pucker, with enough condensed milk and egg yolks to make you take another bite. It is a damn shame they don’t use the universally recognized standard graham cracker crust on their key lime, because it would absolutely be the best pie in Seattle.

HIGH 5 PIES (CLOSED): Best non-pie ingenuity, crust

The last stop on Pie Day was High 5 Pie on Capitol Hill which has the most impressive crust. Though their fillings are on the boring apple-cherry-mixed berry end of the spectrum, their all-butter crust is the kind you expect to come out of a grandmother’s kitchen. Buttery, flaky, light, not the least bit burnt on the edges. Truly a feat of butter and flour, it made me a little sad that I’ve always been bad at making pie crust. In addition to their crust, High 5 is also the king of “things that should exist everywhere”. Our lunch on Pie Day consisted of a mac and cheese pie and a housemade pizza hot pocket, both of which were greasy in the way that great junk food is. Satisfying, but not overwhelming. They both hit the spot and let us move on to another round of desserts. Neither of us knew how lucky we were that we were able to experience what came next, but those savory pies paved the road to the single best dessert experience of my life.

A pie shake from High 5 made with a slice of their apple pie is, no question, the best dessert I’ve ever experienced. We also got a pie shake made with the mixed berry pie, and it paled in comparison. Something about the heavy spicing of the apples makes the whole thing work in a way that is hard to explain with words instead of guttural sounds. The chunks of pie crust cut the sweetness of the vanilla ice cream, and the apples are tart enough to round the flavor of the shake out, all of parts working together to make each bite a little different than the last. If there is one thing I could recommend about Pie Day, it would be an apple pie shake. You’d think it’s just apple pie a la mode blended together, but the sum is just so much better than its parts.

The pie experiences around Seattle are plentiful, and we didn’t have the chance to even come close to trying them all, but with the three we tried, all of our pie needs were satiated. We went into Pie Day thinking there would be a clear winner, and instead we got a pie place for each of our different pie wants.

Mecca Cafe

tl;dr: Get anything that comes with your choice of side, and go for mashed potatoes. Three types of gravy, and all of them are great. Breakfast is good, but why would you get anything that doesn’t come with mashed potatoes?

I’ve always thought that mashed potatoes were one of my least favorite sides. I’ve never really understood people who say that mashed potatoes are their favorite part of Thanksgiving, because HELLO stuffing. To me, mashed potatoes are simply a side dish. My parents made them relatively often, and though my dad makes fantastic gravy and they sometimes spiced them up with feta stirred in (so good, try it!), they always seemed to be the most boring of the starches.

I have no idea where I got this idea, but it was smashed to pieces when I realized how happy I was that Mecca Cafe offers mashed potatoes as a side dish. Mashed potatoes! With a reuben! What luxury! Not only are there mashed potatoes available along with potato salad, coleslaw, or fries, but the soda comes in tiny pitchers, the kitchen is open 24 hours a day, and the place feels like you’ve been transported back to old grungey, pre-Amazon Seattle for a little while.

And in case you thought I was only going to talk about side dishes again, fear not. The reuben is one of the best specimens in Seattle, messy, with the perfect ratio of ingredients on crunchy grilled rye. It’s exactly what you hope for every time the word “reuben” comes out of your mouth onto the server’s writing pad.

Though you could get breakfast any hour of the day, I don’t know why you would pass up the chance to experience mashed potatoes alongside the diner sandwich of your choice. It’s something you never knew you really needed until it was possible.