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.

mecca-cafe.com

Taqueria El Sabor

tl;dr: The carnitas are the only way to fly if you’re serious about pork, but the whole menu (minus the chef salad, probably) is on the perfect end of the great spectrum.

The best way to describe the carnitas at Taqueria El Sabor is that they’re meat hashbrowns. Sheets of crunchy pork cover the exterior of either side of the pile on your plate, the inside a jumble of silky, salty strands of pork shoulder and onion. This is one of those foods you add to the list of “things I can’t go vegan because of” (which also includes chicken wings and mac and cheese). It shot to the very top of my “foods I would add to my last meal” list (which also include chicken wings and mac and cheese) the moment I first tried it. I can’t force myself to say anything other than “carnitas” when I order, but before I found the porky promised land, I had great experiences with the adobada and asada.

To truly experience the pure porkiness of the carnitas, order the combo carnitas, which gives you a pile of unadulterated pork along with rice, beans, and one of those guilty pleasure iceberg salads with cheddar cheese and shitty ranch. Eating the carnitas in any other way is really gilding the lily, but they’re fantastic in every other application they offer.

I’ve ordered everything from the nachos to the sopitos to the chilaquiles to the quesadilla, and I’ve never even come close to disappointment. The service at El Sabor is always pleasant without being overbearing, the salsa bar is always loaded with the classics you’d expect from any self-respecting taqueria, and the horchata is cold and cinnamon-y with free refills (!!). El Sabor is another favorite album of restaurants. Consistent, always nice to come back to, and you never get tired of it.

http://taqueriaelsabor.net/

Uneeda Burger

tl;dr: THE ONION RINGS for crying out loud. Buffalo chicken sandwich is the tops if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, the burgers are fantastic, but the special sauce has horseradish, so have them leave it off if you’re not a fan of that.

Sometimes, a thing is perfect. It doesn’t happen often, especially in the world of restaurants, but sometimes, you get to experience the pinnacle of greatness.

The onion rings at Uneeda Burger are the kind of food that happens to you. They’re beer battered, and not in the way that is promised to you on the menu and then they show up and they’re actually covered in panko. I’m not trying to hate on panko in this necessary sidebar, but when beer-battered is the phrase you choose to describe your fried product, there shouldn’t be even a whisper of panko involved.

These onion rings don’t disappoint. They come piled in one of those square, white bowls that rich people probably eat Cheerios out of. They’re golden brown in a way that all fried things should be. They’re simultaneously pillowy and crispy in a way that physics shouldn’t allow. They’re beautiful.

So how about the burgers? Well, the burgers are great, really great. But they come with horseradish sauce, which I’m not big on. So instead, my order is almost always a buffalo chicken sandwich. When I order a buffalo chicken sandwich I expect a mediocre piece of chicken that is more breading than meat, a vinegary hot sauce, a sesame seed bun, and some lettuce. The version at Uneeda Burger is something that can really only be dreamed up by someone who really thinks about food. Someone who has a notepad on their nightstand and writes down food ideas when they wake up in the middle of the night.

The buffalo chicken sandwich has boneless chicken thighs that are fried for so long they’re on the dark brown side of burnt, and then covered in buffalo sauce. The chicken is so deeply fried that it actually stands up to the buffalo sauce, flavor-wise. The toppings are just perfect. Pickled red onions, blue cheese sauce, and celery leaves. CELERY LEAVES. Of COURSE there are celery leaves on a buffalo chicken sandwich. Why the hell doesn’t everywhere do this? Genius.

http://www.uneedaburger.com/

The Metropolitan Grill

tl;dr: You can’t go wrong ordering anything on the lunch menu at The Met. Order a side of fries if your dish doesn’t come with them, or steal some from your lunch date.

Some restaurants seem obvious in what they’re trying to achieve. The Metropolitan Grill is very clearly a high-end steakhouse. Important people dine here, and the classics are done well. No one needs to be told this, because it’s made obvious by the heated valet stand, the case of raw steaks in the entryway, the high-backed booths and the wood paneling everywhere you turn. When you walk in, you know you’re about to get treated to old-timey service by a guy in a white jacket. What most people don’t know is that The Met serves lunch, and that’s where the value is.

The Met’s lunch menu is a study in opulence. For less than $20, you can experience all the perks of dinner service while digging into a sandwich that seems hilariously out of place. The lunch options offered by The Met are all of the heavy, rich variety, and they’re all wonderfully sloppy.

Whenever I go to The Met for lunch, the menu taunts me. I have a favorite that I always order, and I always regret not choosing from the spectacular specials menu. That is, until my sandwich comes. The New York steak sandwich is an entire New York steak grilled and absolutely smothered with mushrooms, onions, and a pan sauce that can only be described as luscious. The whole thing is served open-faced on a giant roll, covered in provolone. Knife and fork is the only possible way to tackle this sandwich.

And the fries. It sounds silly to wax and wane over a pile of potatoes when a steak is sitting right next to them, but The Met’s fries are hands down the best in the city. They are seasoned better than any fry I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. They’re crispy and thin, but also have that wonderful squishy potato middle that so many fries miss. They are so on point that it wouldn’t surprise me if they had one person manning the fry station, testing a fry from each batch before sending them out.

Though the New York steak sandwich is most definitely my recommendation, the specials menu is always astounding. While doing research for this post, I peeked at the most recent lunch special menu (go look, it’s ridiculous) and it was all I could do to not schedule a lunch with any friend willing to plunk down the cash. Meatloaf, chicken fried steak, beef stroganoff, a Philly cheesesteak, and a burger dip don’t really sound worthy of a freak out, but when will you ever get to try any of these dishes made with the best beef money can buy? That is the idea behind The Met’s lunch. They aren’t blowing your mind with new, exciting flavor combinations. They won’t be putting anything on your plate that your mom couldn’t make for dinner. What they will do is take those classics and make them better than you ever could, which is exactly what I love to pay for. If you can render me speechless with a pile of fries, that’s talent.

http://www.themetropolitangrill.com/

Bamboo Garden

tl;dr: Yeah, yeah, I get it. Vegan food isn’t good. This place is. Get the tofu vegetable rolls, sweet and sour chicken, almond fried chicken, and chicken chow mein. Don’t get the fish.

It’s hard to get people to join me for vegan food, no matter what I say. I can explain and explain and explain, I can offer to pay, I can beg and plead, but I can never make any headway. I think what my friends don’t understand is that I’m not digging on raw tofu or kale smoothies. I will never stand for food that doesn’t taste good, even if it is good for me.

Though I’m very interested in nutrition and how food affects the body, I am always more interested in how food affects my mouth. Taste is of utmost importance to me, because I am a fat through and through. So when I’m saying, hey, this vegan place is spectacular, I mean it. This vegan place is a haven of greasy Chinese food for people who normally care about their health.

You might wonder, what’s the point of eating vegan greasy Chinese food when Seattle is chock full of great meat-filled greasy Chinese? The point is that Bamboo Garden has some magical stand-in for meat that somehow tastes better than meat. It doesn’t taste like meat, it tastes better than it. The texture has just the right amount of give, and whether it’s covered in fried batter or stirfried in strips with chow mein, it tastes like a chicken nugget had a beautiful vegan baby.

So, a disclaimer before we go forward. Don’t even go anywhere near the fish. Vegan fish is a bad idea, even when you have somehow concocted a meat substitute that is better than meat. There is no fish substitute and I am not advocating for one. Now that that’s out of the way, there are four things you should order. They are the four things I order every time I go to Bamboo Garden, and they are unreal.

The four things are the tofu vegetable rolls, sweet and sour chicken, almond fried chicken, and chicken chow mein. If you are unable to order all four, do it anyway. I can’t pick the best one.

The tofu vegetable rolls are a bunch of sauteed vegetables wrapped in a sheet of crispy tofu. This tofu is as thin as paper, eliminating the squishy factor that most people find unappetizing. The vegetables inside are crisp, but the raw edge has been taken off by a couple minutes of heat.

The sweet and sour chicken and almond fried chicken are exact replicas of the dishes you’ve had at every other greasy Chinese place, except they’re made with vegan chicken nugget perfection.

The chow mein, oh sweet vegan mother of god, this is actually my favorite. I lied earlier. This is my favorite. Everything, the noodles, the vegetables, the awesome vegan chicken, is salty and dry fried. The noodles are thin, but still chewy. The vegetables are the same level of crispiness as the tofu vegetable rolls, and the vegan chicken is there in all of it’s nuggety glory.

Anything on the menu that has that chicken in it is worth ordering. Order your favorites, order some weird stuff, order anything but the fish, and you’ll be golden.

http://www.bamboo-garden.co/

Ma’ono

tl;dr: ORDER THE GODDAMN ROLLS. I don’t care what else you order. Everything is good.

When people talk about Ma’Ono, they always talk about the fried chicken. Well, I’m a natural born hater, through and through, and I’ve gotta say the fried chicken was one of the worst things on our table.

THAT BEING SAID, we ordered SEVENTEEN things, and all of them were spectacular. Do you get what I’m saying here? Fried chicken was the worst of the best. Everything else was better, and fried chicken certainly wasn’t bad.

The best of the best was easily a tie between the rolls and the saimin. The rolls were the best combination of food adjectives; light, dense, huge, not filling. How were they both light and dense? I DON’T KNOW. I truly can’t wrap my brain around the idea that these rolls are real. That’s how good they are. They are simultaneously light and dense in a world that doesn’t allow that to happen. How are they both huge and not filling? I DON’T KNOW. These rolls are fantastically huge. Absolutely gigantic, and yet, I could eat piles and piles of them. They must have paid off the same people Lay’s did, because they are like potato chips in that you can eat them forever without feeling the slightest bit full.

After that how could I possibly recommend the saimin? Well really, nothing can top those rolls. I think I’m actually doing myself a disservice here by having this be the third article, because honestly, after those rolls, nothing matches up. Grass just isn’t as green anymore, the sky isn’t as blue, and babies aren’t as cute. They’re so good, they’re depressing.

If you must follow up the rolls with something other than another plate of rolls though, the saimin is your best bet. The broth in that bowl is as close to gravy as broth gets. Fatty, rich, opaque, it’s a beautiful masterpiece of liquid, but the real star of the show is the soft-cooked egg. It’s marinated in soy and sesame, which doesn’t sound especially spectacular, but when you bite into it, it just feels right. It feels like all eggs should be marinated in soy and sesame. These eggs are living their true egg destiny.

If you really want to fat (and you should), go for the banana cream pie. I geek out over dessert menus and Ma’ono was no exception. Even though I was absolutely pushing the limit by ordering a seventeenth plate of food for the table, I had no choice. Banana cream pie is a fantastic indicator of how good a restaurant is, and Ma’ono hit it out of the park. Not only is there no fake banana flavor to be found, but there were cacao nibs in the graham cracker crust which were addictively crunchy, and the whipped cream that topped the entire slice was freshly piped on, which was just about enough to send me into convulsions right there in the booth.

The only regret I have about Ma’ono was that I didn’t get to try more than seventeen things. Ma’ono is the kind of restaurant that is like your favorite album. You can play it all the way through without skipping a song, but there are definitely some songs you play more than once.

http://maono.springhillnorthwest.com/

The Pine Box

tl;dr: I don’t know jack about beer, but this place has a lot of them. My favorite item on the menu is the pretzel bread pudding, but the soft pretzels themselves are pretty fantastic if you don’t want dessert with your beer.

So, this is going to be the first of many posts wherein I tell you to go somewhere based simply on one single item, which most of the time won’t even be their specialty. I love going to restaurants and finding hidden gems, starting off by ordering what they’re known for and moving on to what I like. This is the case of what happened at The Pine Box. The Pine Box is known for their beer, and rightfully so, they’re owned by the same people that own Brouwer’s in Fremont. Problem is, I’m not so much of a beer drinker. I stumbled upon this place after trying to find a sweet happy hour to hang out at before seeing a show at the Paramount. Our first visit of the evening was good enough to warrant a return after the show. And though the first visit was good, the second visit is what I want to tell you about. Because the second visit is where I encountered pretzel bread pudding.

Let me make it clear what’s happening here. This is bread pudding, which is already one of the best desserts on earth. Made out of soft pretzels, which are already one of the best items on the menu at The Pine Box. The bread pudding is made different each time, but when I ordered it, it was german chocolate.

German chocolate pretzel bread pudding.

The bread pudding itself was chocolate strewn throughout the pretzel pieces, and the whole thing was topped with this ridiculous coconut-caramel sauce that could very possibly be made of only two ingredients: dreams and wishes. There are things in life that you stumble upon and you never knew that you needed them. That is how I feel about this dessert. Of COURSE soft pretzels should be used in bread pudding. This type of genius is what gets me really stoked on a restaurant or bar, and this sort of thing is what makes me think that there’s another hidden gem on the menu.

http://www.pineboxbar.com/

Il Corvo

tl;dr: Get there at 10:45 am with at least one friend, maybe two. Order all three pastas and the focaccia. If there’s more than two of you and you’re hungry, order one of the starters too. Never, ever skip the focaccia.

I have a thing for restaurants with seemingly crappy business models. I love a place that takes the customer’s wants and just shoves them in the garbage because they know you’re coming in regardless of whether or not you’re comfortable.

Il Corvo is one of those places, and I love it.

First of all, they’re open Monday through Friday, 11-3. The owner, Mike Easton, wanted a job that would allow him to be with his kids as much as possible, so he apparently decided bitchin’ pasta was it. Second, they have their etiquette listed on the door, which is just about my favorite thing in the world. As a customer, the only thing has ever been a consistent meal-ruiner for me is other customers and their crap manners. A restaurant that takes your experience seriously while showing you that other people will easily take your spot is just what I’m looking for. They care about you enjoying the food, and that’s it. That’s all I want from my restaurants, so Il Corvo and I get along swimmingly.

Now the reason why I’m telling you to go to the place: the pasta. Pasta is my jam. There’s something about chewing through a noodle with the perfect amount of give, teeth bouncing back slightly as they push through the flour and water. Most of the time, it isn’t even about the sauce for me, and that’s what Il Corvo understands.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The sauces are the tops. When I went with my dad, we split the three daily specials and an order of focaccia (more on that later). Each of the sauces was perfectly balanced, the bolognese being especially fantastic. It was like a deeply flavorful meat paste, which sounds horrible, but is actually exactly what you want from a bolognese. Imagine a pot roast made by a grandma slathered all over super wide pappardelle, and that’s what Il Corvo is putting out everyday, along with two other pastas.

The other two pastas that day were a percatelli with basil, parsley, and mint pesto, and a pasta misti with proscuitto, romano beans, and a tomato-duck broth. Both were absolutely unnngh-worthy, but it’s doubtful they will appear on the menu again at the same time because Il Corvo does another thing I love, and that’s using seasonal ingredients! It’s not even about the hipster local food movement for me, but rather that making food out of raw materials that already taste awesome is key to a superior meal.

The underdog of our lunch was the housemade focaccia. My dad is almost as bonkers as I am about eating, so we were waiting at the door around 10:45, first in line when the door opened. This meant that our focaccia was steamy hot, and I honestly have no clue what it’s like near the end of the day. I probably never will, because I will always be first in line when I’m at Il Corvo. Okay, so the focaccia. It was one of those breads that isn’t just pillowy, but also dense. It had some serious heft to it, and was just utterly fantastic to sink into. It was topped with parmesan that was cooked just long enough to get to the edge between cheesy and burny, i.e. perfect. I can’t be positive that the focaccia is always topped with parmesan, but it wasn’t even the best part. THE BURNY CHEESE WASN’T EVEN THE BEST PART, GUYS.

http://ilcorvopasta.com/

Putting Out the Fat Call

To me, there are few things in life more satisfying than sharing a great meal with loved ones. In the same vein, there are few things I find more dissatisfying than plunking down cash on a bad meal. Because of this, I spend a lot of time poring over restaurant reviews, openings and closures, and eating a whole lot of food in restaurants all over Seattle and the North end.

I love eating good food, and I know a lot of you do too. But I also know that most people don’t put in the kind of research I do, which is where Calling All Fats comes in.

To be a fat means to deeply care about food, in a variety of ways. To understand food and why something is good in a way that is almost impossible to explain to a non-fat. To enjoy meals to their fullest, appreciating a plate of beautifully cooked food in a way that feels almost obscene. To read a menu like a vulture, scrutinizing each syllable until a choice has been made, feeling a pang of regret that the whole menu couldn’t be ordered. To talk about food in sounds, rather than words, using gratuitous hand gestures to try to evoke the feeling of a fantastic meal to a person unfortunate enough to not enjoy it with you.

Being a fat means that I want to talk about food with all of you, explaining exactly what I love about the restaurants I visit in Seattle in (sometimes excruciating) detail. It also means that I really want to try everything the city has to offer. Please hit me up with suggestions for future Calling All Fats posts, I’d love to hear what I should try next or what I haven’t thought to talk about yet.

Calling All Fats is something I should have done long ago, and I’m excited to share it with you.