Our food writers’ top 12 Seattle-area takeout picks from one long pandemic year

Seattle Times food writers Bethany Jean Clement, Jackie Varriano and Tan Vinh have eaten a lot — a lot — of takeout over the course of this past long year. It hasn’t all been great, but they’ve been accentuating the positive — from all different neighborhoods and price points — hoping to assist struggling local restaurants and bored local mouths alike. In honor of the year-old mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re sharing their favorites so far to help you keep getting through. (Please, please let it end relatively soon!)

Xiao Chi Jie

278 106th Ave. N.E., Bellevue; 425-598-2184; thexcj.com

Xiao Chi Jie frozen xiao long bao orders include dipping sauces, from top: chili oil, vinegar and umami, plus instructions (with more detailed ones available on the XCJ blog, to really get your steaming technique where it ought to be). (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
Xiao Chi Jie frozen xiao long bao orders include dipping sauces, from top: chili oil, vinegar and umami, plus instructions (with more detailed ones available on the XCJ blog, to really get your steaming technique where it ought to be). (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Do dumplings need directions? The two super-tasty kinds found at Bellevue’s XCJ come with colorful instruction cards — also good for fridge decoration — that novices would do well to heed. Go midafternoon for lightning-fast, contactless service, then eat your sheng jian bao ($5 for two/$12 for five) ASAP: You want the golden-brown-crisped wrapper all chewy, the fat-imbued gravy liquid-hot, the juicy pork meatball yieldingly soft. The more commonly known xiao long bao come frozen ($34.95/$37.95 for 50), which is perfect for pandemic-times because they travel exceptionally poorly. Steam them at home until the thin wrappers get that perfect elastic droop, their tender pork-and-shrimp filling bathed in burning-hot soup. Get your steamer setup right — find extra guidance on the XCJ blog — and your dependence on Din Tai Fung is forever done. Oh, and XCJ’s umami sauce, full of mellowed green onions and magical goodness: Get. The. Big. Bottle. — Bethany Jean Clement

Carrello

622 Broadway E., Seattle; 206-257-5622; carrellorestaurant.com

Tagliatelle from Carrello, where they get handmade fresh pasta just right. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
Tagliatelle from Carrello, where they get handmade fresh pasta just right. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Painstakingly handcrafting your own fresh pasta is doubtlessly an excellent pandemic project, but maybe you chose raising your pizza game to pro level or perfecting movie theater popcorn for an endless Netflix binge … or maybe you just want someone to make pasta for you. Which is 100% OK! You deserve this! Carrello on Capitol Hill has got you covered — chef Nathan Lockwood of vaunted Altura across Broadway runs this place, too, making four pastas ($17-$21) that differ daily but always excel in tenderness, bite and saucing. If any of the impossibly cloudlike gnocchi is on offer, get it. Or, especially if you’ve got a drive, find the gnocchi frozen in the Carrello Market section of the to-go menu, along with cook-at-home pappardelle and a beautifully classic lamb-and-beef ragu (you deserve for someone else to make that, too). — Bethany Jean Clement

Secret Congee

4405 Wallingford Ave. N., Seattle; secretcongee.com

The tom yum shrimp congee from Secret Congee looks and smells so beautiful, you should open it up and eat it without delay. (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)
The tom yum shrimp congee from Secret Congee looks and smells so beautiful, you should open it up and eat it without delay. (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)

Is it weird that a few of my favorite moments from the last Godforsaken year involve sitting in a parked car in the rain eating congee? A true love of savory rice porridge is not a gift you’d expect a pandemic to give, but then came Secret Congee in Wallingford. Identity-withholding staffers laid off from Agrodolce and Pestle Rock due to COVID-19 started the window-service spot — with high-quality ingredients, they create next-level greatness ranging from the least-basic chicken congee ever (creamy, brothy, huglike in its soothing power, $10/24-ounce bowl) to a gorgeously red-orange-oiled tom yum version (huge shrimp, just-right spicy, $14). Blue crab with garlic ($16) and slow-cooked brisket with kimchi ($14) are also excellent, while vegetarian joy may be found in miso-roasted kabocha squash or sauteed kale with tofu ($12 each). Any happy place these days is so good — why wait to eat? — Bethany Jean Clement

Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor

2616 N.E. 55th St., Seattle; 206-525-0220; franksoysterhouse.com

Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor in Ravenna makes some of Seattle’s best buttermilk-brined fried chicken, served with Robuchon-inspired potato puree, gravy, buttermilk biscuits and honey butter.  (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)
Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor in Ravenna makes some of Seattle’s best buttermilk-brined fried chicken, served with Robuchon-inspired potato puree, gravy, buttermilk biscuits and honey butter. (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)

Neighborhood restaurants mean more now than ever, and downtown condo-dwellers are most certainly mourning the recent loss of longtime Lecosho. But, bright spot: Owner Sarah Penn of decade-plus-old Frank’s in Ravenna got Lecosho’s Cody Westerfield to come right over, just as her former head chef departed for Vermont. All the favorites that make Frank’s worth driving across town for remain, including absurdly good deviled eggs made with chevre and topped with crisped shallot ($6.50); some of Seattle’s best buttermilk-brined fried chicken, served with Robuchon-inspired potato puree ($27); a green-goddess-dressed wedge salad with bacon and radishes ($12.50). But Westerfield’s sneaking in different flavors, too: gochujang, vadouvan, katsuobushi, barbecue spice. And when spring comes (please, soon, help), he’ll be adding in vegetables he grows himself in Woodinville. — Bethany Jean Clement

Pollos a la Brasa San Fernando

20815 67th Ave. W., Lynnwood; 425-275-9597; pollos-sanfernando.com

If you like hot sauce, be sure to ask for extra with your roast chicken and fries at Lynnwood Peruvian restaurant Pollos a la Brasa San Fernando. (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)
If you like hot sauce, be sure to ask for extra with your roast chicken and fries at Lynnwood Peruvian restaurant Pollos a la Brasa San Fernando. (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)

The next time you’re hankering for a rotisserie chicken and you happen to be near Lynnwood, I implore you to leave the Costco chicken alone and head to Pollos a la Brasa San Fernando (there’s also a location at 900 Rainier Ave. S. for anyone on that end of Seattle). I’ve eaten a lot of chicken over the past year, and I keep coming back to this one. The burnished, juicy chicken is brushed with spices before roasting and sold as a quarter ($9), half ($14) or whole ($26). It comes with fries, a salad and a wonderfully vibrant creamy green sauce that is about medium-level spicy, served on the side. — Jackie Varriano

Lil Red Takeout and Catering

4225 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-760-2931; lilredtakeout.com 

Don’t miss the jerk barbecue sauce and brisket from Lil Red Takeout and Catering, shown here with rice and beans, pork rib tips and wonderful caramelized plantains. (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)
Don’t miss the jerk barbecue sauce and brisket from Lil Red Takeout and Catering, shown here with rice and beans, pork rib tips and wonderful caramelized plantains. (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)

There’s a full menu of barbecue and Jamaican specialties at Erasto Jackson’s petite counter-serve spot on Rainier Avenue, but don’t go without trying the brisket ($17.99/pound), which is fall-apart tender. Make sure to also grab a few cups of the house jerk barbecue sauce. You’ll want it to make brisket tacos in the event there are leftovers. On second thought, better just order extra. Also wonderful is the jerk chicken ($5.99/small, $7.99/large) and the caramelized plantains ($3.99). Check Facebook for daily specials, like curry goat or smoked roast beef, as well as notice of the occasional breakfast service. — Jackie Varriano

Juba Restaurant & Café

14223 Tukwila International Blvd., Tukwila; 206-242-2011; juba-restaurant-cafe.business.site

The beef kadaafi with rice and the chicken kati kati at Juba Restaurant & Cafe are flavorful, comforting Somali dishes perfect for blustery winter nights.  (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)
The beef kadaafi with rice and the chicken kati kati at Juba Restaurant & Cafe are flavorful, comforting Somali dishes perfect for blustery winter nights. (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)

I think about the kati kati with chicken suqaar ($13) from Tukwila’s Juba Restaurant & Café on a regular basis. The turmeric-laced dish with thick slices of Somali flatbread, chicken, onion and green pepper was hearty and comforting, saved from being too heavy by a squeeze of lemon and the spicy sauce that accompanied it. Portion sizes are ample, enough to feed two adults or have leftovers. Juba also offers a handful of Ethiopian dishes among its Somali fare, plus savory breakfast items like goat liver suqaar and Somali injera served with sweet tea. — Jackie Varriano

Yummy Meats & Deli

509 S. Third St., Unit B, Renton; 425-271-1418; yummyspicy888.com

The small chicken sandwich at Yummy Meats & Deli features an almost comically large chicken tender, dredged in mouth-tingling Sichuan peppercorns. (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)
The small chicken sandwich at Yummy Meats & Deli features an almost comically large chicken tender, dredged in mouth-tingling Sichuan peppercorns. (Jackie Varriano / The Seattle Times)

Shan Li’s little Yummy Meats & Deli is home to what might be Seattle’s spiciest chicken. Her take on Nashville hot chicken blends Carolina Reaper pepper with Sichuan peppercorns for a numbing heat that packs a massive punch. While the X-hot is a little (OK, a lot) too intense for me, I love the crispy, crunchy mild chicken, which delivers a baby kick in comparison to the X-hot. The sandwiches feature an almost comically large chicken tender surrounded by a squishy white bun, a smear of spicy/sweet comeback sauce and a scoop of crunchy slaw. Forget all those fast-food fried chicken sandwiches making headlines the past year, this is the one you want. — Jackie Varriano

Iconiq

1421 31st Ave. S., Seattle; order online at iconiqseattle.net

Pot roast of the gods: the beef cheeks at Iconiq. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)
Pot roast of the gods: the beef cheeks at Iconiq. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)

Chef Toshiyuki Kawai, formerly of Harvest Vine and the late Book Bindery, runs a well-curated menu of Japanese/French-inspired dishes, elevating street fare with unusual flavor combinations. A briny, uni mac and cheese made with lobster bisque is just about the best damn version of that comfort food. The humble combo of ground meat and rice turns supernova with Iberico ground pork bathed in a soy-Madeira sauce. In another iteration, the sticky Iberico baby back ribs get a slathering of a syrupy miso glaze. It’s finger-licking good. Iconiq, an underrated fine-dining haunt in Mount Baker, runs three-course dinner takeouts for $30. — Tan Vinh

Mama Dough

18230 E. Valley Highway, Suite 156, Kent; 253-236-2165; mamasdoughkent.com

You can now get frozen xiao long bao from Mama Dough restaurant in Kent, pictured above and shot July 31, 2019. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)
You can now get frozen xiao long bao from Mama Dough restaurant in Kent, pictured above and shot July 31, 2019. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Your one-stop shop for Chinese takeout. All your usual noodles and stir-fry staples are here. You want soup dumplings? These dames make ’em better than Dough Zone or Din Tai Fung. You can order frozen dumplings to-go to steam at home. Psst, you should request the spicy pork xiao long bao with fiery fermented peppers. Also by request only: deep-fried battered pork intestine that’s then wok-fried with onions and peppers for a smoky wok hei. A favorite with regulars. Or request the cumin lamb sauteed in onions and jalapeno peppers. Just don’t call this the secret menu. The staff won’t know what the hell you’re talking about. That’s not how Mama Dough rolls. — Tan Vinh

Asadero

Two locations: 5405 Leary Ave. N.W., Seattle, 206-659-4499; 310 Washington Ave. N., Kent, 253- 854-0971; asaderoprime.com

Food critic Tan Vinh calls the beef taco kit at Asadero in Ballard a carnivorous dream: 2 pounds of wagyu ribeye, New York and flap steak with 24 corn tortillas. It also comes with 3 pints of different salsas and all the fixings for $48.99. (Tan Vinh / The Seattle Times)
Food critic Tan Vinh calls the beef taco kit at Asadero in Ballard a carnivorous dream: 2 pounds of wagyu ribeye, New York and flap steak with 24 corn tortillas. It also comes with 3 pints of different salsas and all the fixings for $48.99. (Tan Vinh / The Seattle Times)

Taco kits have become a hit during this pandemic. And no taqueria offers more family takeout options than Asadero. Its taco kits cost as low as $27.99. But its $50 “wagyu taquiza” package is the object of every parent’s affection. This meal deal comes with 24 handmade tortillas, 2 pounds of wagyu-grade beef and 3 pints of different salsas, along with other fixings (diced onions, radishes, herbs, lime wedges). The mesquite-grilled meats are laid out on a tray, sectioned into three different cuts — rib-eye, New York and flap steak — a smorgasbord of salty, charred meat that tastes like a memory of a fun summer backyard barbecue. These gourmet tacos will taste better if you go easy on the condiments. You’re gonna have a lot of leftover salsa. Buy a bag of Juanita’s tortilla chips and dip away. — Tan Vinh

Windy City Pie

5918 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle; 206-486-4743 (text); windycitypie.com

Windy City Pie does Chicago-style deep-dish pizza that Seattle Times food critic Tan Vinh says would rival many pies you might find in Chicago. (Courtesy of Windy City Pie)
Windy City Pie does Chicago-style deep-dish pizza that Seattle Times food critic Tan Vinh says would rival many pies you might find in Chicago. (Courtesy of Windy City Pie)

This may be the only pizza parlor in the universe where people love the crust more than the pie. That melty mozzarella adheres and caramelizes right onto the edge for a nutty, salty umami zing. It’s like noshing on a fried cheese rind. The rest of the pizza isn’t shabby either. If you’re tired of all the Neapolitan pizzas and New York slices during the pandemic, try this Phinney Ridge restaurant. One 12-inch deep-dish can feed a family of four — chunks of housemade sausage and other toppings perched on top and also swaddled in the globs of cheese and red sauce. I dare say it’s even better than many pies in Chicago. — Tan Vinh