Seattle Times writers Bethany Jean Clement and Tan Vinh share their favorite places from 2018.

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It’s been a banner year for inexpensive eating in and around Seattle, and Seattle Times writers Bethany Jean Clement and Tan Vinh have loved every minute of their research — especially when they got the chance to find out more about the people behind the marvelous food. They’re grateful for every single one of them, all here making our corner of the world a better place, bite by bite.

Breezy Town Pizza on Beacon Hill: Dave Lichterman of Chicago-style smash hit Windy City Pie is behind this spot, housed inside Clock-Out Lounge on Beacon Hill. He’s calling the mode here Midwestern pan pizza, and it is great. Whole pies are majestic: round and fat, with caramelized deliciousness all around the perimeter. Also: generous salads, special weekend brunch slices and all-ages until 8 p.m. (4864 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle; breezytownpizza.com) — Bethany Jean Clement READ THE REVIEW>>>

Carmelo’s Tacos on Capitol Hill: A Mexico City-inspired taco stall, this family-run taqueria is tucked inside a convenience store. The corn tortillas are made fresh every morning. The campechano taco — featuring a medley of chorizo and steak, bulked up with creamy cubes of potato — was a satisfyingly meaty bite, with tangy and spicy flavors from the fixings. Or try the asada, with slivers of beef that are charred and salty, the flavor of street food. Your go-to for lunch or for the late-night munchies. (110 Summit Ave. E., Seattle; 206-659-0159; no website) — Tan Vinh READ THE REVIEW>>>

Corte Fino in Rainier Valley: Washington state’s first halal Mexican restaurant is tucked away in the back of a building on M.L.K., and from the outside it can look closed. Inside, though, you’ll experience the warm and funny hospitality of Zahra Sheikh, who’s from Somalia and runs the restaurant along with her Cuban/Mexican husband, Martin Perez, plus more family. Ask for all the salsas — Sheikh will tell you they’re the King, the Queen, the Princess and the One Who Does the Housework (who packs a wallop!). And get extra sauce on your enchiladas or wet burrito — like everything here, it’s made on-site and tastes notably fresh. (6721 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., Seattle; 206-687-7491; facebook.com/cortefino206) — B.J.C. READ THE REVIEW>>>

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Da Lat Quan in White Center: Of all the phos, banh mis and other Vietnamese restaurants that flooded our lists of new restaurants in 2018, this White Center noodle house stood out, from its signature mi quang noodle soup, overflowing with pork ribs, pork hock and shrimp, to its southern rice-noodle dish hu tieu, with ground pork, pork belly, quail egg, squid and shrimp served in a pork broth heavily fragrant with scallions and fish sauce. Request the “dry” version of hu tieu, with the broth served on the side instead of as a soup. (9988 15th Ave. S.W., Seattle; 206-403-1620; quan-dalat.business.site) — T.V.

Department Bento in Bellevue: You know we’re in an oversaturated market when illustrious chef Tom Douglas debuts on the Eastside and no one seems to notice. Douglas’ underrated fast-casual spot is plopped inside Nordstrom in Bellevue on the second floor by the Hugo Boss suits in the men’s department. The space is modishly spare — white tables and a few artful stains that travel from the ceiling to the walls. Kitchen workers in pale aprons and black baseball caps take your order behind an assembly-line setup: It’s like Chipotle, but tastier. Bento boxes come with different rice options and all sorts of root veggies, greens and kimchi plus a miso deviled egg. Naysayers will bark at the price tag — $16.50 to $18 for the rice bowls and bento boxes — but you get what you pay for: Dishes feature salmon from Bristol Bay and wild-caught shrimp. (100 Bellevue Square, Bellevue; 425-646-5600; shop.nordstrom.com) — T.V.

A pile of tamales awaits steaming in the kitchen at Green Lake’s new Frelard Tamales. (Rebekah Welch / The Seattle Times)
A pile of tamales awaits steaming in the kitchen at Green Lake’s new Frelard Tamales. (Rebekah Welch / The Seattle Times)

Frelard Tamales in Green Lake: Husband-and-husband team Osbaldo Hernandez and Dennis Ramey run this to-go tamale window, which isn’t in the between-Fremont-and-Ballard Seattle neighborhood of its name — it’s in Green Lake. And — surprise! — Frelard Tamales’ lard-free tamales are their best, with even avowed pork fans loving the veggie bean-and-cheese and vegan fajita-veggie versions the most. You’ll also find T-shirts and postcards reading “MAKE TAMALES NOT WALLS” here, because, as Hernandez says, “That story of the immigrant journey in this country is really what defines my family and what we do.” (6412 Latona Ave. N.E., Seattle; 206-370-9296; frelardtamales.com) — B.J.C. READ THE REVIEW>>>

To make this fast-casual concept work during the lunch rush at G.H. Pasta Co., chef Brian Clevenger expects each bowl to be made in seven minutes. Pictured: spaghetti with Bolognese and mascarpone. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)
To make this fast-casual concept work during the lunch rush at G.H. Pasta Co., chef Brian Clevenger expects each bowl to be made in seven minutes. Pictured: spaghetti with Bolognese and mascarpone. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

G.H. Pasta Co. in Denny Triangle: Brian Clevenger wants to feed you, and well, for under $10. The chef of upscale Vendemmia and more opened this spot by the Spheres where the staff hand-make seven different pastas every morning and again at 1:30 p.m.— 120 pounds’ worth daily. And every bowl is put together to order — think handmade bucatini or rigatoni precisely cooked until perfectly al dente, and served with guanciale, lamb Bolognese or seasonal ingredients. It’s 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. only, but a definite step up from almost every other quick lunch around. (2305 Sixth Ave., Seattle; 206-402-6210; ghpastaseattle.com) — T.V. READ THE REVIEW>>>

Koku Café + Market on Upper Queen Anne: One of the best rice bowls in the city sits along this hidden stretch in Upper Queen Anne, a tangy, sweet umami bomb. The pork-shoulder meat is marinated in Lapsang souchong tea for a profoundly piney, smoky bite and served with fermented veggies and garlicky kraut. (1417 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle; 206-285-1352; kokucafemarket.com) — T.V. READ THE REVIEW>>>


More? More! Find Bethany and Tan’s recommendations for 17 more excellent Seattle-area cheap eats!


Kukree in Bellevue and Seattle: Chef Aarthi Sampath — who made her name by winning Food Network’s cooking competition “Chopped” in 2016 and later beating one of the network’s biggest stars in a biryani battle on “Beat Bobby Flay” — has taken her act to Seattle, where she started a food truck focusing on grain bowls. Hers are a mishmash of chutneys and flavors of her Mumbai upbringing, melding with Mediterranean and other Asian tastes, served with steak or chicken. The rotating menu also does takes on biryani and grits. Look for a brick-and-mortar version of Kukree soon. (Weekly schedule at facebook.com/kukreekukree.com) — T.V. READ THE REVIEW>>>

Little Kitchen in the University District: Friendly owners Hui Yu and Tian Liu make all the food themselves at this tiny spot on the Ave, and their pork wontons in chili sauce are way better than Din Tai Fung’s. The Shan Dong boiled dumplings — typical of the Lius’ original home in northern China — are also marvels. Ask for your pot stickers pan-fried; when you bite into one end, juiciness leaks out the other. The Lius have a way with chicken, both Shan Dong roasted and Mandarin fried, and the cold noodles with peanut-butter sauce give new meaning to comfort food. Eat your way through the whole menu — why not? (4508 University Way N.E., Seattle; no phone or website) — B.J.C. READ THE REVIEW>>>

Little Neon Taco on First Hill: Chef/owner Monica Dimas’ restaurant is absolutely lovely, serving tacos made with handmade corn tortillas stuffed plump with especially delicious meat; fat tortas with picadillo, chorizo or veggie magic; superlative guacamole and more. During the day, it’s order at the counter, but evenings bring table service and plates that include perfectly grilled shrimp a la diabla. And yes, you can still get tacos. (1011 Boren Ave., Seattle; littleneontaco.com) — B.J.C. READ THE REVIEW>>>

The MAR·KET in Edmonds: From the same folks behind Bar Dojo, one of Edmonds’ best restaurants, this fish-fry spot by the iconic fountain on Main Street boasts some of the best fish-and-chips in the North End. Also stellar: the fried soft-shell crabs and seafood burrito (think poke bowl in a roll). (508 Main St., Edmonds; 425-967-5329; marketfreshfish.com) — T.V. READ THE REVIEW>>>

Reckless Noodle House in the Central District: Inspired by the owners’ excellent adventure around North Vietnam, Reckless has become a surprise hit, filling up regularly on a usually quiet drag. Despite the place’s origins, the best dishes involve a mishmash of Cambodian, Thai and Chinese cuisines from chef Kenny Lee, formerly of the stellar Lionhead on Capitol Hill. Standouts include the braised beef-cheek vermicelli and Sichuan noodle dish. (2519 S. Jackson St., Seattle; 206-329-5499; recklessnoodles.com) — T.V.

South Town Pie in South Park: Call the crust New York-ish style — thin and flexible and usually foldable. The tomato sauce tastes just-right fresh and bright, the mozzarella blend is clearly high-quality and toppings are delicious across the board. If you see a slice with the house-made sausage, get it. Other favorites: the pastrami pie and wild-boar ragu pizza, which comes with — yes — Funyuns. (8611 14th Ave. S., Seattle; 206-535-7166; southtownpie.com) — B.J.C. READ THE REVIEW>>>

Stone Korean Restaurant in South Lake Union/Westlake, also Redmond: The lights may be inordinately bright here, but that’s all the better to revel in all the food crowded onto your tabletop, at an unbelievably good price. The bibimbap, kalbi beef short ribs and seafood pancake all taste incredibly good, as does pretty much everything you’ll try, and many dishes come with banchan — lots of little salads and snacks that can cost extra elsewhere. A favorite in Redmond since 2011, Stone’s in Seattle now, too. Get a plastic tower of Hite draft and call it a party! (900 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle; 206-717-2864; stonekorean.com; also 16857 Redmond Way, Redmond; 425-497-0515) — B.J.C. READ THE REVIEW>>>

An everything bagel with plain schmear at Westman’s Bagel and Coffee on Capitol Hill. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)
An everything bagel with plain schmear at Westman’s Bagel and Coffee on Capitol Hill. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Westman’s Bagel and Coffee on Capitol Hill: The Seattle Times Great Seattle-Area Bagel Taste Test was pretty discouraging overall — yes, you are vindicated, East Coasters. However, new-in-2018 Westman’s, run by chef Monica Dimas, is definitely an asset to the city. At their best, the fat bagels here are ideally chewy, with a good, tight honeycomb of very small air bubbles inside and a very pretty dark-gold exterior. Schmears get applied generously, and even avowed dill-dislikers will probably enjoy the dill and black-pepper version, which tastes fresh and almost floral. As for whether Westman’s will meet your standards, bagel-feelings run strong, so you might just have to try it. (1509 E. Madison St., Seattle; westmansbagel.com) — B.J.C. READ THE REVIEW>>>

Xiao Chi Jie in Bellevue: The line here, in the recesses of a utilitarian food court, sometimes doubles back on itself. Getting dumplings can involve an hour-plus wait — and then they run out. What the fuss is about: the dumpling-cousins of xiao long bao (popularized in the U.S.A. by Din Tai Fung) called sheng jian bao. Also soup-filled and hailing from Shanghai, they’re bigger, more thickly wrappered, and not just steamed but also pan-fried. The plump specimens at XCJ — 2-plus inches in diameter — possess springy, nicely spongy dough with a lovely bottom sear encasing a soft, pliant meatball and a salty-savory broth with the barest touch of sweetness. Is the juicy mess (and burned lips, if you don’t follow the directions helpfully provided on a postcard) worth it? Better get there early to find out. If you brave the line, be sure to also try the jian bing, an eggy crepe-type wrap. (278 106th Ave. N.E., Bellevue; 206-372-4633; thexcj.com) — B.J.C.

This is Zhen Kee’s “Chef Special Lamb in the Stick”: smoky, chewy, terrific. (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)
This is Zhen Kee’s “Chef Special Lamb in the Stick”: smoky, chewy, terrific. (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)

Zhen Kee in Renton: This restaurant feels like a strange, dim dream, with an atmosphere that’s sort of 1980s time-warp banquet room by way of Twin Peaks. One menu looks to be from the same era as the building, with glossy photos of Americanized favorites like orange chicken — nothing wrong with that, but the other menu is where you’ll find all the house specialties. Try the spicy cucumber salad, with tons of oily, herby, garlicky sauce; Chef Special Lamb in the Stick, a huge pile of bits of quality meat impaled on individual toothpicks, tasting smoky, chewy, terrific; and Boiling Fish in Hot Chili Oil, a salty, spicy, nuanced wonder. The fortune cookies should all say “You just got lucky.” (151 Sunset Blvd. N., Renton; 425-277-1886 or zhenkee.com) — B.J.C. READ THE REVIEW>>>