Prime rib sandwiches. Handmade pasta. Toro and unagi. Vegan enchiladas. Braised short ribs. Seafood etouffee. Tonkotsu ramen.
I consider 2014 a highly successful year for restaurant openings in and around Tacoma. Here’s a fun recap of my favorite openings and the dishes I enjoyed most.
BOURBON STREET BAR AND GRILL
401 S. Meridian, Puyallup; 253-604-4404
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Downtown Puyallup’s Bourbon Street Bar and Grill added a missing category of cuisine in Pierce County: Cajun food. Mike de Alwis — who operates his New Orleans-themed restaurant with his son Jehan — opened Bourbon Street at the end of 2013, but it was January 2014 when I stumbled onto a seafood masterpiece, a New Orleans-style seafood boil that was a tangle of bivalves, snappy shrimp and crawfish, served in a bowl brimming with spicy broth. It’s an occasional special at the restaurant, which also serves outstanding seafood etouffee.
2919 S. 38th St., Tacoma; 253-474-1650, miyabisushi.com
In January, the sushi restaurant Miyabi took up residence in the former home of one of the region’s older sushi haunts, Kabuki. Seattle-based Miyabi (with outposts in Wallingford and Tukwila) reminded me of Kabuki’s straightforward sushi, but with a more refined take. The extensive 21-item nigiri menu (raw fish draped over rice ovals) yielded happy finds: toro (fatty tuna) and mirugai (geoduck) — both tasted positively oceanic.
SMOKE + CEDAR
2013 S. Cedar St., Tacoma; 253-343-6090; smokeandcedar.com
The prime rib sandwich grabbed — and held — my attention. It was the delicious product of Smoke + Cedar’s onsite smoker-oven that churns out the city’s finest prime rib, along with smoked olives for martinis and a house-made smoked tomato condiment fondly known as “ketchup crack.” Pacific Grill co-owner Gordon Naccarato’s latest restaurant at the Elks Club at the Allenmore Golf Course (both restaurant and course are open to the public) brought a welcome whiff of smoke to the dining landscape when it opened in March.
AVIATEUR FRENCH DINER
1498 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-573-9000 or aviateur.us
The April opening of Aviateur filled a void in Tacoma’s downtown dining arsenal: a French bistro. Bertrand Young, owner of Steilacoom’s La Creme Brulee, took over the former Zara space. I liked his croque madame sandwich so much, I wrote about it in May and December. The sandwich was a tower of jambon and melted Gruyere on a buttery croissant with a custardy swipe of mornay, topped with puffy baked eggs.
2811 Bridgeport Way W., University Place; 253-565-0633 or grassis-ristorante.com
Longtime florists and cafe owners Ken and Kim Grassi opened their delightful Italian eatery in University Place in April, and the restaurant was an instant win for residents of a town short on fine dining. I relished Chef Derek Bray’s long-simmered three-meat brisket bolognese, but my to-die-for moment was three forkfuls into a plate of bone-in short ribs perched atop rigatoni pasta intertwined with house-smoked mushrooms. Consider it a must-eat dish.
DA TIKI HUT
4427 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-625-7690
Loco moco? Spam musubi? Plate lunch? Those were words rarely heard in the South Sound restaurant scene before Da Tiki Hut opened in July. The Sixth Avenue eatery is now one of just a few Hawaiian eateries here. Owners Steve and Tamara Lerma intended to start as a food truck, but wound up with a casual cafe instead. Their plate of tasty smoke-tinged kalua pork was slowly cooked inside a banana leaf and came with the requisite rice and macaroni salad.
2701 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-383-7000, primogrilltacoma.com
A two-block move was a monumental event for Primo Grill, the Northwest-brushed Mediterranean restaurant that opened in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood in 1999. In August, co-owners Charlie McManus and Jacqueline Plattner opened the made-over Primo Grill with a slightly different take, turning Primo into a Northwest modern destination. It’s now one of the most handsome eateries in town, outfitted with reclaimed wood, rustic iron framing and windows that roll up garage-door style (although certainly not at this time of year). The smoked pork chop with peach relish was a summer standout.
2602 N. Proctor St., Tacoma; 253-503-6498 or viva4life.com
At Proctor’s Viva Tacoma, which opened in September, plates of vegan, raw cuisine appealed to the palate as much as the eye. Vibrant plates popped with reds, greens and yellows, with a focus on two styles of trendy eating: vegan and raw cuisine. Chef and co-owner Francisco “Paco” Hernandez won big with textural risks. Dehydrated cashew tortillas broke pleasingly to a loose walnut stuffing spiced to mimic taco meat; broadly cut raw zucchini performed as an excellent stand-in for pasta tubes in manicotti.
109 W. Pioneer Ave., Puyallup; 253-604-4288 or facebook.com/aristarestaurant
If Arista Pasta in downtown Puyallup reminds one of Marzano in Parkland, it could be because that’s where chef and co-owner Ben Herreid started his training. The Puyallup pasta restaurant is one of a kind in this region, with a focus on hand-filled raviolis. With gusto I dug into mushroom ravioli with a thyme-flavored cream sauce and a tangle of garlicky roasted tomatoes. Don’t miss the gnocchi, either.
MY LIL’ CUBE
402 N. Meridian Ave., Puyallup; 253-840-2158
Pierce County has been crying for its own ramen restaurant, but I didn’t expect that the first would open in downtown Puyallup. Co-owners Xuan Fang and Wei Wei He focus on three styles of ramen, with all the expected ingredients. A first visit should start with tonkotsu, the bone-based broth that’s a classic flavor of Japanese ramen.