If you live in Southeast Alaska, there's a good chance you find yourself in Seattle a couple times a year. Not only is it a necessary stopover when flying just about anywhere from here, but Seattle is a great urban getaway and a culinary destination for Alaskans. With so many choices, knowing where to eat can be tricky. I lived in Seattle for 5 years, and have found that whenever I'm in town, I hit a circuit of about 5 restaurants that have excellent food and don't break the bank; after all, those plane tickets are spendy enough already.
This is a list you can clip for your travel file, that will enhance any trip to or through this flavorful city. Restaurants are listed in order of proximity to the SeaTac airport.
1. Pig Iron Barbecue
Seattle loves its barbecue and this is some of the city's best. Top quality meats are hardwood smoked, and ready to be doused with your choice of three house-made barbecue sauces. The smoked pulled pork sandwich with a side of smoky beans ($9.95) will hit all your spots. Wash it down with a jelly jar full of limeade or sweet tea. Favorite sides include sweet potato fries with "slather" or fried green tomatoes. Pig Iron is located in the SoDo district (South of downtown) of Seattle, at 5602 1st Ave S. Phone: 206-768-1009.
2. Green Leaf
I first heard about this Vietnamese restaurant from friend, food writer, and Seattle restaurant reviewer, Alicia Arter.
"The Pho at Green Leaf," she told me, "has about nine layers of flavor to its broth."
She was right. This Vietnamese noodle soup has a cult following at Green Leaf and for good reason. Pho Tai ($7.95), comes with paper thin slices of rare beef and onions that cook when added to piping hot broth, fragrant with star anise and basil. If you're in the mood for something cooler, try the #60: A bowl of rice vermicelli on top of salad and herbs, topped with little rolls of seasoned beef wrapped in lop leaf ($7.95). Don't forget the sweet Vietnamese coffee, hot or iced. Green Leaf is located in the International District at 418 8th Ave. S. (206-340-1388).
3. Jack's Fish Spot
The seafood bar at this Pike Place Market gem is a secret even to many Seattleites. Behind fish monger Jack Mathers' display of ultra-fresh fish, those in the know are tucked in to their barstools at this no-frills lunch counter. The draw is super fresh seafood; shucked, steamed, or fried and served right from the fish monger's hands. Light and crisp fried scallops, Dungeness crab cocktail topped with Jack's cocktail sauce, freshly shucked oysters, and cioppino are big favorites. If you're looking for seafood fresh enough to impress even an Alaskan, eat at Jack's. Located at 1514 Pike Place in Pike Place Market (206-467-0514).
The Midnight Cuban Press sandwich from Paseo ($8.95) is an edible masterpiece. Maybe it's the garlic aoli sauce that drips from tender pieces of slow-roasted pork, the melted Swiss cheese, the sweet banana peppers, the dark caramelized onions, or the crisp crackle of crust on the fresh Macrina Bakery bread. Whatever they do to those sandwiches, it works. This Caribbean restaurant, located in Fremont, is easy to find. Just look for the line down the block -it's worth it. Come with cash (it's the only payment they accept), get there early, and unless you call and order ahead, be prepared to stand in line. The original location is at 4225 Fremont Ave. N (206-545-7440), with a new location in Ballard, at 6226 Seaview Ave. NW (206-789-3100).
5. La Carta de Oaxaca
This hip Ballard destination serves the cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico. Their share-friendly plates (in the $10 range), freshly squeezed margaritas, and lively atmosphere make "Carta" a great place to meet friends. Don't miss the Entomatadas (thinly sliced, grilled beef) with tomatillo sauce, the Tamales de Mole' Negro wrapped in banana leaf, or Tacos al Pastor filled with tender bits of pork in a smoky chile sauce. Located at 5431 Ballard Ave. NW (206-782-8722).
Ginny Mahar is the former chef ;of Rainbow Food's Thursday night dinners and author of Juneau's Local Flavor column. She currently resides in Missoula, Mont. You can read more of her food writing at ginnymahar.blogspot.com.