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Seattle's Most Underrrated Restaurants

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I thought a logical companion piece to Tom Armitage's thread on overrated places would be to focus on the opposite end of the spectrum. What are the most unheralded, forgotten, overlooked restaurants that deserve much more attention. In these difficult economic climes, a little dose of well-deserved notice might really make a difference.

I'll start, then, with a few:

El Quetzal: I've never been dissapointed in this D.F. style Mexican spot on Becaon Hill. The pambazos, the tlayudas, the tortas, everything bright with flavor and in ample portions. Plus nothing there is more than $12.

Brasa: Granted, this place has an older 4-star review from the Times' critic, but I feel like I'm the only person that ever mentions it on this board lately, even for "dinner for one?" and "downtown happy hour?" type of posts. I've found its food to be really well-done Iberian-inspired fare, and you can't quibble with the HH values at the bar: $8 paella; $6 curried mussels, etc.

Cafe Mawadda: toiling in obscurity south of Hillman City, the Iraqi cook-owner of this place turns out the best falafel AND the best chai in Seattle IMO, both recipes apparently closely held secrets. The grilled meat sandwiches and platters are also very good, and there is a formidable creamy garlic dressing on the side. He also bothers to use an actual gyro spit, instead of the shameful frozen strips that are slung at most of the well-known pan-middle east budget spots in town (and even at St. Demetrios, by Zeus!) For dessert he plies a selection of phyllo-based sweets including Iraqi varieties that I've never seen elsewhere. Give him a shot!

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Cafe Mawadda
4433 S Graham St, Seattle, WA 98118

El Quetsal
3209 Beacon Ave S # 2, Seattle, WA 98144

Brasa
2107 3rd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121

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  1. Agree on Brasa - I had an excellent Cider society dinner there where each course was paired with a different cider. Wonderful. I've also been very happy with HH dinner at the bar (steak frites!). It's unfortunate that it's not mentioned more often.

    3 Replies
    1. re: akq

      Agree with El Quetzal- really a great place.
      Tillikum Place- Its newer but they are putting out great simple food and a pretty resonable price.

      Afrikando Afrinkando- Senegalese food. Roast chicken, halibut and lamb are tasty and the portions are huge. Nothing else like it in seattle.

      Sweet and Savory- Little bakery in Mount Baker that puts out good pastries.

      1. re: dagrassroots

        You say Afrikando Afrikando is good? I drive by it all the time and think about stopping in, but never have... I'll have to give it a shot soon!

        1. re: Booklegger451

          You should give is a shot. Very nice people run the restaurant.

    2. Good idea, Equinoise.

      Bambino Pizza
      A really good NY artisan style pizza (in the style of a Lombardi's, not as good, but hey it's Seattle) and solid salads at a good price. I am amazed at how empty this place always is (and how full neighboring, significantly more mediocre Zeek's always is...).

      Last Chance Chili Shack
      A good burger, fresh cut fries and a great chili verde (especially served over their mac & cheese). Kinda rough around the edges, but in a good way.

      Gabriel's Fire
      I've only been once, but I had very good brisket there (the other stuff wasn't as good). Need to go back and investigate further, but seeing as I've never seen it brought up, I'll consider it an "underrated"

      2 Replies
      1. re: GreenYoshi

        I agree on Bambino's. I've tried a couple of their pizzas and they were really good with a nice charred crust.

        1. re: GreenYoshi

          I second Gabriel's Fire. I find that when I ask him which meat is the best that day, I get an honest answer and a very good product. Often on Saturdays, he has a special sandwich of smoked prime rib that is excellent (not quite Paseo, but the comparison did immediately come to mind both times I got it). Also, his chicken gumbo is quite tasty (caveat, I'm from New York) and under $7 with rice last I checked. That having been said, the sides are nothing special, and the service is slow.

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          Gabriels Fire
          2408 NW 80th St, Seattle, WA 98117

        2. Hing Loon in the International District. The place looks like your 5th grade lunch room but serves some amazing food. Their Shrimp Won Ton Soup followed by Salt & Pepper ribs make a perfect Chowhound lunch. Also, Fort St. George deserves mentioning just because.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Leper

            Nice thread! Agree w/ Brasa, Bambino and esp Hing Loon. I am not an expert on regional chinese, but love their food...always wonder why they don' t get more hits here.

            I would like to add Flying Fish. They used to be a favorite, but with the flurry of new and fabulous get over looked. I think they are still great.

          2. Art of the Table – I don’t live in Seattle, but I very rarely hear this place talked about – it’s always busy – but they don’t seem to get mentioned in any recommendations.

            Piroshki on Madison – Great Russian bakery

            Tacos El Asadero – The taco bus is the best.

            Tagla Café – Great Ethiopian food.

            Sasi’s Café – Great sandwiches / lunch stop

            12 Replies
            1. re: RetiredChef

              I also vote for Brasa....I've never been disappointed and am always more than satisfied with my dining experiences there. I've brought countless friends there who also marvel at the quality of their food and creativity of the menu...it never bores! And the decor/ambiance/service is also quite consistently enjoyable. The Art of the Table is underrated, for sure....in my experiences there I've enjoyed the food and artistry of the chef...but I don't recommend how noisy and crammed in like 'sardines' the seating arrangements are.....not worth it IMO.

              1. re: RetiredChef

                I'm a fan of Piroshki as well...the son handles the one on Madison, and the mother their new location on 3rd Ave downtown. When you have a busy day ahead, you can pop in there in the morning to get a lunch piroshki to heat up in the microwave later. The son was the one who instructed me "one minute in the microwave. "

                1. re: RetiredChef

                  My husband and I are planning a trip to Seattle after a hiatus of decades. Since we became fans of piroshkis in Seattle, we hope to be able to get them again during our upcoming visit. We fondly remember a piroshki place across the street from Pike Place Market. Our memory tells us that the place was called Pirogi, Pirogi. Is there any relationship between the Piroshki bakery on Madison mentioned above and a, possibly, defunct bakery across from the Pike Place Market?

                  We haven't begun to think about hotel reservations so I can't supply that as a reference point. However, if you think about the location of the typical tourist haunts, please us those as geographical references to recommend places to go for piroshkis. Thanks!

                  1. re: Indy 67

                    Piroshky, Piroshky is at 1908 Pike Place, so not across the street from the Market but in it. I can't speak to the history, or the possible relation to a place on Madison, but probably one of the Pike Place experts on here can. Yelp reports that a Piroshky, Piroshky outpost on Broadway has closed, replaced by the 3rd Avenue place mentioned above. http://www.yelp.com/biz/piroshki-on-b...

                    I prefer Cafe Yarmaka at 1530 Post Aly # 3A for piroshky.

                    1. re: equinoise

                      It's across the street from the main market building. It's still open. It still makes really good pirogi. I'm partial to the marzipan, myself.

                      1. re: Booklegger451

                        Thanks!

                        I've been reading other threads and noting that Dahlia Lounge and Wild Ginger, two other memorable places from our previous, decades-old visit have declined. My husband, particularly, likes to revisit the scene of earlier great meals, but the board's collective wisdom is giving me the info to deflect his suggestions. Nice to know he'll be able to get his blast from the past at Piroshky, Piroshky.

                        I've see Sotto Voce vinegar still exists as a web presence. Does it still maintain a booth in the Pike's Place Market?

                        1. re: Indy 67

                          So who can help me reconcile conflicting points of view? As you can see above, I'd eliminated Dahlia Lounge from consideration, yet according to at least two posters on the "Help Me Refine My Seattle Picks" thread, Dahlia Lounge is still and oldie but a goodie.

                          Help! Please!

                          -----
                          Dahlia Lounge
                          2030 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

                          1. re: Indy 67

                            When it comes to opinions about food, you’ll almost never get a unanimous opinion either pro or con. My two cents worth is that you can occasionally get a tasty dish or two at Wild Ginger, but in general the quality has declined significantly from the “golden era” of WG on Western Ave. Dahlia Lounge, on the other hand, hasn’t changed all that much. It may not be the crème de la crème of Seattle cuisine, but it is what it is – classic Tom Douglas – and if you liked it before, I don’t think you will be disappointed on your return there.

                            1. re: Indy 67

                              Dahlia has some solid food, but stay away from the "seabar" stuff (really overpriced and the quality is not great). If I had to choose between Dahlia and WG, it'd be Dahlia by a landslide. If you do go to WG anyway, try the fragrant duck and the street hawker beef satay (my favs). When they can actually get them to the table warm (good luck) with rice that's cooked all the way through but not gummy (it's been a while), they are tasty but not outstanding. Last time I ate dinner at Dahlia I ordered a five spiced Peking style duck dish that was much better than the WG fragrant duck. The only downsides to Dahlia are a short menu and it feels slightly overpriced to me. You won't get cutting edge food at either Dahlia or WG.

                              1. re: akq

                                Thanks for looking out for my interests. Actually, Wild Ginger was never in the running. I live in a suburb of Washington, DC; Vietnamese and Ethiopian food are two international cuisines where our local restaurants excel. There's a massive Vietnamese population in Northern VA with Falls Church as the epicenter. There, you'll find Eden Center, a shopping center filled with Vietnamese groceries, take-out food counters, restaurants, and miscellaneous retail stores. Based on the overheard conversations and the prevalence of Vietnamese signage, a person might as well be in Saigon. Any time my husband and I have eaten Vietnamese in any but our home town, we've been disappointed. (If you saw the Anthony Bourdain NO RESERVATIONS episode on Washington you saw Eden Center.)

                                I seem to be returning to Plan A which was to find a substitute for Dahlia Lounge. My food knowledge and standards have evolved since our long-ago visit, but, apparently, Dahlia has stayed in place. So where would folks on this Board recommend I eat for...
                                ...great Northwest regional food?
                                ...seafood?
                                ... a stellar experience regardless of cuisine?

                                I'd like to keep each meal under $140 for two including a glass of wine per person, tax, and tip.

                                Thanks!

                                -----
                                Dahlia Lounge
                                2030 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

                                1. re: Indy 67

                                  My recommendations for great NW regional food, seafood and a stellar experience are: Matt's in the Market, Union, Boat Street, Canlis.

                                  -----
                                  Canlis Restaurant
                                  2576 Aurora Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109

                                  Boat Street Cafe
                                  909 NE Boat St, Seattle, WA

                                  1. re: Lauren

                                    I'll second boat street. I just started working next door to them, and have been consistently impressed.

                  2. grand idea for a most useful thread - could i suggest for this and nearly any other response that some indication of location be included - minimally the neighborhood but address would be quite nice...

                    1. I have been a Dinette partisan since soon after it opened a few years ago and remain one to this day. I don't know if it's underrated, exactly, but it doesn't get the propers it deserves in my book.

                      1. Absolutely agree on Brasa - try one of their Manhattan's during HH but stick to one if you are driving home. Dinner there also memorable- I'm recalling an unbelievable roast suckling pig I had there a few years ago.
                        Tonight I had prime rib at the distinctly untrendy Wedgwood Broiler on 35th Ave NE in North Seattle. We ate in the bar and each had salad and perfect medium rare beef with horseradish, baked potato, carrots. The meat was as good as it gets. Including 3 stiff gin and tonics, the bill was $52 without tip. That's about 50% less any other non-chain steakhouse in town by my account.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: bourbongal

                          Love the Broiler for stiff drinks and excellent steaks in the bar--the perfect way to unwind on a Friday nite, and while the menu is old-school, the food is always great. Love the cheese nips on the salad! And love the final bill even more--way reasonable.

                          I also agree with Brasa--their HH menu is fantastic--the Moroccan Steak sandwich is one of my favorite DT "dinners"!

                        2. Oh, I love Cafe Mawadda. It's right on my way home from work, and I eat there all the time! They have, bar none, the best baklava I have ever had, and their falafel is terrific.

                          1. how has Joule been lately? they used to have some very inventive and tasty dishes...

                            1. I think there may be some confusion – at least there is in my mind – between “underrated” and “overlooked.” “Underrated,” to me, means that a restaurant is in the spotlight, but its ratings have been lower than deserved. Brasa, mentioned by several posters, would fall into this category. This is different from a restaurant that is “overlooked,” in the sense that it seems to be off the radar of most mainstream food commentary. I was going to nominate Olivar and Pair, but, although they don’t get as much attention as, say, Brasa, Steelhead Diner, Union, etc., the “ratings” they have received have actually been quite good, reflecting my own good experiences at these restaurants.

                              Olivar (Yelp, 4 out of 5; Citysearch, 5 out of 5; Zagat, no rating; Gayot, 14 out of 20; Seattle Times, 3 out of 4; Seattle PI, 3 out of 4)

                              Pair (Yelp, 4 out of 5; Citysearch, 4.5 out of 5; Zagat, 25 out of 30 for food; Gayot, 13 out of 20; Seattle Times, 3 out of 4; Seattle PI, 2.5 out of 4);

                              I tried a different approach and looked at the Seattle restaurants that received a rating of between 15 and 20 for food on Zagat, to see if I could find any that, in my opinion, deserved a higher rating. Two places that popped up for me using this method were B&O Espresso and Taste (in the Seattle Art Museum). Taste can be inconsistent, but I’ve had some very good food there. Compared to other places receiving much higher Zagat ratings, it was definitely underrated in my opinion. And there’s the “plus factor” of having a great bartender at Taste, Duncan Chase.

                              -----
                              Steelhead Diner
                              95 Pine Street, Suite 17, Seattle, WA 98101

                              Olivar
                              806 E Roy St, Seattle, WA 98102

                              Brasa
                              2107 3rd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Tom Armitage

                                Olivar is my favorite restaurant in Seattle. Consistantly great food and a definite great value.

                              2. Great post, Equinoise. I definitely want to try Cafe Mawadda.

                                In the spirit of giving back, Taste of Lousiana in the Skyway area (Seattle meet Renton) does some of the tastiest fried chicken, heck fried anything. Great Southern home cooking, yams, greens, etc. are wonderful.

                                Also, the number of people who love barbecue but don't know about R&L Barbecue is astounding. On 18th & Yesler, run by the same family for over 50 yrs. Their brisket is especially good. Sides could be improved a little, but I still like this place for what it does well.

                                -----
                                Cafe Mawadda
                                4433 S Graham St, Seattle, WA 98118