I live near Lake City, certainly not the culinary hot spot of Seattle. However, there are three places that don’t get a lot of attention on this board that I can recommend if you happen to find yourself on Lake City Way. I’m excluding Chiang’s Gourmet which gets lots of attention and is already on the radar of most Chowhounds.
Zaina is located in the little mini-mall (where a burger hut used to be, and where the now-closed Diva Coffee, Subway, and a few other stores and eateries are located) at the triangle intersection of NE 80th St. and Lake City Way NE, not far from the Lake City Way off-ramp from I-5 North. Lucky for me, it moved from its previous location on Cherry Street in Pioneer Square to its current location on Lake City Way last July, and is on one of my regular routes to and from my house. Zaina isn’t unknown to Chowhound’s Greater Seattle Board, with both its former Cherry St. location and its still-current location on First Avenue & Pine St. getting some mixed reviews. Zaina serves falafel, gyros, shawarma, and other Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare. It’s a small space, with a counter and a handful of stools inside, and picnic tables outside, which needless to say aren’t very useful when it’s raining. They do a lot of take-out, but the pita sandwiches are a pretty messy affair, definitely not eat-in-the-car friendly. The Zaina restaurants are owned and operated by a Palestinian family from Jerusalem. The staff, which includes lots of family members, is very accommodating, helpful, and exceedingly warm and friendly. And I like that it is open until midnight for those times when I’m driving home hungry after a late-night arriving flight. Although in previous posts, Chowhounds have disagreed about the quality of Zaina’s falafel, which is made with a combination of chickpeas and fava beans, I like it and often order a falafel sandwich for lunch. I used to go to Curbside Kebab, a trailer on the northwest corner of 145th and Aurora, for my falafel fix. Curbside Kebab was associated with Goodies Market on Lake City Way. The falafel at Curbside was aggressively spiced, but I liked it. Alas, Curbside Kebab is no more. I understand the trailer was sold and moved to Portland. So how good (or not good) is the falafel at Zaina? Well, I’m not sure I have enough of a sample to compare it to other falafel around town, so I’ve decided to go on a falafel taste off, with Mawadda, Halava, 2 Chefs, Mr. Gyros, Hummus, Gyro-cery, and Shawarma King on my current list. Any other suggestions? On a previous thread, Terrier addressed the fact that many places cook a large quantity of falafel and then leave it sitting in a hotel pan for as long as it takes to sell out, which I agree is a big problem. Falafel is best eaten right out of the fryer, with a crispy crust and warm, fluffy, soft interior. So, with respect to my taste-off, side-by-side comparisons are going to be difficult, if not impossible. Not that this is going to deter me. Finally, as a somewhat interesting footnote, I recently read that, unlike Arabic falafel that is made with fava beans or a combination of fava beans and chickpeas, Israeli falafel is typically made with only chickpeas because many Jews have a medical deficiency called G6PD, which is a hereditary enzymatic deficiency that can be triggered by fava beans. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this statement, but thought it was intriguing.
My second recommendation is Phở Ân, located at 12526 Lake City Way NE, on the east side of the street just north of 125th St. Street parking can be a problem in this area, but there’s a parking lot in the rear of the restaurant, accessible from 125th St., and there’s a rear entrance. Perhaps I missed it, but I couldn’t find any mention of Phở Ân on Chowhound’s Greater Seattle Board. I certainly don’t hold myself out as an expert on Vietnamese phở or other Vietnamese cuisine, so I’d be very interested to learn what more knowledgeable and sophisticated Chowhounds think of the food here. My experience has been very positive. The broth is very flavorsome in a light, clean, delicate way. The flavor appears to come from long simmering of the bones, rather than substituting salt or MSG to boost the flavor of more hastily prepared broth. Phở Ân is spacious and meticulously clean, and the staff is extremely friendly and helpful. I haven’t yet had anything I didn’t like here, but I’ll specifically mention the phở Ðuói Bò, because it includes the unctuousness of ox tail along with eye-round steak. Although I’m interested in what those who have more sophisticated palates than mine for Vietnamese food have to say, for me, Phở Ân is a very welcome addition to the Lake City eating scene.
My last recommendation is Goodies Mediterranean Market, located at 13721 Lake City Way NE. I’ve been shopping regularly at Goodies for many years, and it’s my go-to place for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern groceries, with many items that aren’t available elsewhere in Seattle (at least to my knowledge). At Goodies you can get freshly made hummus and baba ghanoush, addictive Morrocan oil-cured olives, hard-to-find fruits and veggies (e.g., green almonds), Űlker labneh, Ohanyan’s soujouk and bastirma, Bylbos yogurt, and all sorts of other wonderful stuff. But Goodies has now installed a Mediterranean flatbread kitchen in the rear of the store named Man’oushe Express. It’s only been open a month or two. My first try was the half-za’atar, half-jibneh mana’eesh, and I liked the contrast between the intense herbalness of the za’ater and the mild salty tang of the jibneh. Other mana’eesh include lahm b’ajeen with ground lamb and tomato (which sounds similar to Turkish lahmajoon), and soujouk with garlic and sliced tomatoes. Prices are very reasonable, ranging from $2.95 (for the classic za’atar mana’eesh) to $4.95 (for the soujouk mana’eesh). By comparison, the mana’eesh at Mamnon range from $6 to $9, roughly double the price. Maybe the quality at Mamnoon is worth the extra cost; I’m not yet in a position to assess that. For me, the convenience of Man’oushe Express is a real blessing. Man’oushe Express has a couple of sweets for $3.95 and hot tea with fresh mint for a buck. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 8 pm, and on Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm.
There are certainly other restaurants on Lake City Way that have merit, such as the value-priced mainstream sushi at Toyota Sushi. But because of their relative newness and the fact that I personally like to eat at these places, I wanted to focus on Zaina, Phở Ân, and Man’oushe Express (Goodies Market).