When people complain that there aren’t any hidden food finds in Seattle, we send them to Icebox Grocery, the little grocery/café where extra care goes into everything, from the outstanding mushroom soup with sherry ($4.75–$5.75) to the chewy butterscotch chip cookies ($1.25 each). The careful kitchen crew dishes up fluffy, moist scrambles with sautéed vegetables or slab ham and sharp cheddar cheese ($10.50). Go ahead and tell your friends, but only your best ones. Queen Anne, 1903 10th Ave. W; 206.708.6742; iceboxgrocery.com A.A.S.
We’d argue that a dumpling is a beautiful thing any time of day, but the steam baskets of xiao long bao (juicy pork dumplings) at Din Tai Fung are like tiny bites of magic: tender, handmade purses that break open in the mouth to release hot pork broth, the tender pork filling following as you chew ($9.50/basket). And, if all goes as planned, a second location of the Taiwanese chain will have opened at University Village by the time you read this. Bellevue, 700 Bellevue Way NE, No. 280; 425.698.1095; dintaifungusa.com A.A.S.
[grits and polenta]
During wintertime at darling Agate Pass Café, nothing tops polenta and poached eggs for injecting warmth and good feeling into a regretful, hungover Bainbridge Islander. Shrimp and grits ($16) are dotted with lardons and flecks of shallot and thyme. To enjoy mushrooms and polenta ($14), first mix sunny-side-up eggs with the creamy mushroom ragoût and grana padano cheese, then add a leaf of arugula to cut through that beautiful richness with the rocket’s peppery bitter charm. Suquamish (Kitsap Peninsula), 7220 NE Parkway St.; 360.930.0911; agatepasscafe.com P.Z.
Sibling to Stumbletown’s (east Ballard) hipster sports bar The Dray, a recently expanded version of The Yard in Greenwood still plays to the Y chromosome with a big-screen television and copious pours of spot-on Stumptown coffee. If the Seahawks are playing, The Yard’s Mexican-inspired menu draws single guys and dads doing weekend duty (the only time when breakfast is served); heads are up when there’s a play, but down when the carnitas hash ($11) lands on the table. Studded with poblanos and served with two perfect poached eggs and árbol cream, it’s a man’s best friend—at least while his dog is still tied up outside. Greenwood, 8313 Greenwood Ave. N; 206.588.1746; theyardcafe.com J.T.
When you ask your server what she recommends and the response is “It’s all good, you can’t go wrong with anything,” it’s usually not true. Duos Lounge, a kid-friendly spot in West Seattle’s small Luna Park neighborhood that serves brunch on Sundays only, is the rare exception. Our server’s confidence was validated by a luscious, fork-tender slow-roasted pork shoulder smothered in a green chile sauce—more New Mexican than Mexican—with an over-easy Mad Hatcher egg on top ($12). The drink menu is also not to be missed: The red beer sorbet ($9) is a potent hair-of-the-dog combination of tomato sorbet with black salt and Bitburger beer. West Seattle, 2940 SW Avalon Way; 206.452.2452; duoslounge.com A.B.
It is not beside the point that Empire Espresso is one of the best places in the city to get coffee drinks. But don’t assume it serves the usual coffee-shop collection of tired pastries to go with your joe. No, this is a place to sit down and savor the house specialty: buttery cornmeal waffles, cooked to order on weekdays, and a waffle bar on weekends, with toppings such as gingerbread cookie butter, lime zest and powdered sugar, or the delightfully savory crème fraîche, ham and scallions ($7). Columbia City, 3829 S Edmunds St.; 206.659.0588; empireespressobar.blogspot.com S.D.
Where to Go for a Brunch Date
Table for two (sans kids, thanks), a stiff morning cocktail and inventive breakfast dishes that don’t necessarily involve syrup: Welcome to brunch, date style
The classiest buffet in Seattle, a lavish spread of serve-yourself seasonal salads, cold noodle dishes (sometimes) and platters of refreshing fresh fruit, is just the opening act in this two-part brunch experience. The biggest challenge isn’t finding room in your belly for all the bites from the vibrantly flavored first course. It’s deciding on the main attraction built around themes that change monthly. Recently, chicken-fried steak on a sesame waffle ($20), hash with smoked mackerel ($17) and red curry salmon toast, shrimp and grits with Chinese sausage ($17, prices include the buffet) made it tempting to order one of everything. Wallingford/Fremont, 3506 Stone Way N; 206.632.5685; joulerestaurant.com L.K.
Ma‘Ono Fried Chicken & Whisky
Get the party started at this rockin’ dining room with a round of bottomless mimosas for $12! Then prepare for some ono kine grindz—that’s Hawaiian for the best of anything. Mark Fuller’s kitchen cannot be topped when it comes to the sweet/savory French toast and fried chicken tenders ($13) or the over-the-top loco moco ($14). That hearty dish is built around a wood-grilled ground chuck patty sitting on rice smothered in gravy. It’s topped with a fried egg and ups the ultra-rich ante by including Portuguese sausage. Phew, loosen that belt. Quiche ($14) is très bon, and the succulent corned beef hash ($14) redefines the diner classic. Do not waddle out the door before binging on the apple malasadas ($7 for three); those fried-dough treats are what beignets wish they could be. West Seattle, 4437 California Ave. SW; 206.935.1075; maono.springhillnorthwest.com L.K.
At Capitol Hill’s cult brunch spot, chandeliers, elaborate ironwork and what’s likely the most inventive menu we’ve ever seen await. Where else can one choose fruit and walnut toast with chicken liver terrine and pickled veggies ($8); or tender falafel ($9) on arugula with labneh (thick yogurt cheese) and sumac; or an incredible breakfast burger ($15), a towering stack of seasoned beef, bacon and rémoulade (add an egg for $1) that will knock you flat? Capitol Hill, 1802 Bellevue Ave.; 206.329.4047; labeteseattle.com A.A.S. (Photo: Share the falafel on arugula with labneh and sumac at La Bête)