By Sue Kidd and Craig SailorStaff writers
Stand at the corner of North 26th and North Proctor streets in Tacoma’s North End and you’ll find yourself at the center of the city’s largest concentration of eating options: Asian, Italian, coffee, delis, Mexican, cupcakes, prepared meals, diners, upscale, pizza, wine bar. Even a bowling alley cafe. Your News Tribune reviewers just couldn’t get to all of them – unless we renamed this feature 20-in-One. Here, in our fifth installment of 10-in-One, are 10 quick reviews of the most intriguing Proctor eateries.
East & West ProctorWhere: 2514 N. Proctor St., Tacoma, WAPhone: 253-756-5092Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; noon-8:30 p.m. Sundays
The flavors of East & West Proctor may include nods to Korea, Indonesia, China and Malaysia, but it’s Thai and Vietnamese food the pretty restaurant with a tranquil vibe does best.Owner Tam Vuong listed dishes with Thai or Southeast Asian overtones as the restaurant’s most popular – phad Thai and the grilled chicken mango salad among them.Most of the dishes have resided on the menu since the restaurant opened nine years ago by Vien Floyd (who owns the recently reopened East & West Tacoma Mall Boulevard), with a few tweaks here and there after Tan Vuong and his wife, a niece of Floyd, took over the restaurant three years ago.The atmosphere at East & West is relaxed, the room colorful. A golden wall, adorned with oversize paintings, displays brilliantly during the day from a wash of daylight. At night, the lights dim moody, the feel more adult. The soundtrack stays tranquil no matter the time of day.Hands down, the larb gai ($9 lunch/$10 dinner) is the starter of my choice at East & West. The warm chicken salad was puckery with lime, herby with chopped cilantro and mint and savory with a splash of fish sauce and roasted rice powder. Green lettuce leaves made for crunchy wrappers for the salad. Tom kha gai ($8/$9) soup was a creamsicle-colored soup doused with sour lime and lusciously thick with coconut milk, scented with ginger, and full of button mushrooms and chicken.Entrees don’t get better than green curry with chicken ($9.75/$11.25). A tangle of Thai basil provided an herbal aroma in a broth scented heavily by pan-fried lemongrass, galanga and garlic, lime adding a vibrant taste. Crunchy vegetables, including carrots, zucchini, Japanese eggplant and red peppers, colored the dish.On the specials menu, fresh grilled halibut ($18) started with the fish marinated in coconut milk and lemon juice, and coated in turmeric. The grilled fish is accompanied by yellow rice flavored with nutty sesame and snappy vegetables: crispy asparagus, slivers of sweet red peppers, onions, zucchini and broccoli spears.Pad thai with pork ($9.25/$11.25) hit all the hallmarks of the quintessential Thai noodle dish: sour tamarind flavored noodles threaded with crunchy bean sprouts and topped with chopped cilantro.Over- and undercooking was an issue on one of two visits, with the mushrooms in the tom kha gai too crunchy; the pork in the pad Thai overgrilled and leathery. But vegetables stayed consistently crunchy, and ingredients like lemongrass, galanga and Thai basil – hallmarks of a good restaurant – played generous and flavorful.-Sue Kidd
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Rosewood CaféWhere: 3323 N. 26th St., TacomaInfo: 253-752-7999, rosewoodcafe.comHours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
It’s strange to start a review about a sandwich and salad café with a detour into the dessert menu first, but here goes.If you’re a chocolate fanatic and you haven’t tried the pot du creme ($4.50) at the Rosewood Café, you must.The ingredients, like so much about the Rosewood Café, are straightforward and simple, but wonderfully executed: Dark chocolate, heavy cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla transformed into a luscious cup of chocolate custard. It’s slow cooked in a water bath, turning it into a pot of ethereal cream, with a smooth texture and chocolate flavor so richly appealing.Owner and chef Barry Watson, who opened the elegant, funky and airy café in 2003 with wife Renee, has created a niche menu of flavorful soups and well-composed sandwiches. Foodies throughout town wax poetic about the soups at the Rosewood. The eatery offers two selections a day from a revolving list of 80 varieties. “We don’t always have the same soups on the same days, but we often offer a vegan soup on Wednesdays and usually make something chowder-ish on Fridays,” he said.On a Friday visit, the “chowder-ish” was a fiery corn affair ($3 cup/$4.50 bowl), a creamy chowder the color of butter, with a deceivingly spicy sting to it, dotted with chunks of creamy potatoes, bursts of red peppers and crunchy bits of sweet corn. A mushroom barley had an unappealing oily sheen to it, but was deeply flavored with meaty mushrooms, chewy barley and veg-heavy with carrots, celery and onions. A creamy tomato soup was as promised, both creamy and tomato-y.Rosewood soups make good companions for crunchy, crusty sandwiches like the Rosewood deluxe ($8), a melty, gooey flavor bomb with smoky bacon, roasted turkey, melted havarti, a smear of mayo and dressed up with green leaf lettuce, red onions and thinly sliced tomatoes on a panini-grilled peasant bread. The Ciabatta Club ($7.50) was a sturdy two-hand sandwich stuffed with black forest ham, roasted turkey, havarti and sharp cheddar on a chewy ciabatti roll, and dressed with mayo, lettuce, tomato and red onion. Sandwiches are served with a side of vinaigrette-dressed slaw, or add a soup or salad for $2.50.Entrees were uneven. A savory chicken pot pie ($9.50) conjures images of veggies and meat suspended in a thick gravy. At Rosewood, the interpretation is fresh – too fresh. Crunchy carrots, celery and potatoes swam in a watery broth. It tasted like an undercooked chicken soup with a pastry crust baked on top. A salmon filet ($11) also had a problem with the texture – it was chalky and overdone.For dessert, if you don’t try the chocolate pot du creme, then steer to the cheesecake. A chocolate chip ($5.50) version had an amazingly velvet mouthfeel. If you’re a fan of wine, be sure to check out the impressive bottle collection.-Sue Kidd
Knapp’sWhere: 2707 N Proctor St., TacomaPhone: 253-759-9009Hours: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 6 a.m-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
Numbers. There are lots of them on the menu at Knapp’s. They’re calorie and other nutritional counts.I appreciate the effort, but at a neighborhood joint like Knapp’s? I already know it’s going to be a caloric investment. Knapp’s does confirm that, indeed, chicken fried steak really is terribly fattening (shocker!). But I still ordered it on one visit. How else can one determine if a diner is worth its weight in grease?Caloric jokes aside, diners go to Knapp’s because it’s a neighborhood institution and watering hole that’s been serving economically priced classic diner eats for close to 80 years. Knapp’s is owned by Tim Tweten, president of South Sound Restaurant Group which also owns the who’s who list of diners - the Harvester, Hob Nob, Burr’s and Poodle Dog.Time has stood still at the gritty diner with the requisite dark lounge. A neon “Knapp’s” sign is a backdrop at the coffee counter. A healthy dose of sass comes from servers: You might get called “hun” or chided for taking too long to order.The menu at Knapp’s is diner-rific, heavy on old style meat, gravy and carbs. On the sandwich list, a grilled reuben ($8.99) is a three-inch stacked behemoth on grilled rye layered with thick-cut corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and tangy Thousand island. Steak fries on the side were of the freezer variety and woefully unseasoned. Go for the side salad instead (but order dressing on the side, unless you like your lettuce swimming). The Monte Cristo ($8.99) was a triple decker with a layer of squishy, eggy bread in between layers of ham, turkey and Swiss, with a less-than-crisp jacket of more eggy bread (more crisp, please). Like the reuben, I appreciated that the sandwich meat was thick-cut slices of real meat; not processed lunch product inferior diners serve.On the breakfast menu, the chicken fried steak ($9.99) was tender, chopped beef covered in a golden brown crispy coating. The flour-based country style gravy had just the right peppery flavor, but a touch on the gluey side. Eggs and crispy, golden hashbrown were served on the side.I dug into the down-home diner taste of the sausage bennies ($8.29), which came in layers of carby-gravy goodness: biscuits, sausage patties, scrambled eggs, hamburger country gravy and topped with cheese. Warning: it tasted every bit of its 1630 calories.-Sue Kidd
Pour at Four - A Wine BarWhere: 3814 N. 26th St., TacomaInfo: 253-761-8015, www.pouratfour.comHours: 2-10 p.m. Monday; 2-11 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
From its name to the gigantic wine glasses painted on its wall Pour at Four – A Wine Bar pulls no punches in communicating its raison d’etre to patrons.And while this 26th Street establishment is dedicated to wine, it doesn’t skimp in the food department.The night we stopped by a wine tasting event was going on with a Patagonian winery. Tastings of the winery’s red and white selections were freely offered to all.But whether you go there for the wine, the nibbles or both – options abound. Pour’s food menu is wide ranging and the results, like a trip to the wine department at Trader Joe’s, can be hit and miss.A truffle ham flat bread pizza ($7) was a subtle and spot-on presentation of rosemary, brie, caramelized onions and meat. A roasted beet dish ($7) was a wonderful counterbalance of salty pesto, fresh beets and goat cheese on crostini.Tender venison medallions ($13) promised the unusual accompaniment of Douglas Fir infused wild rice. But we couldn’t taste it. No matter, the rosemary accented brown sauce was satisfying in itself.There were some missteps. A roasted duck dish ($8) was uninspired by its cherry-port compote. An order of Dungeness crab cakes ($12) featured the most tasteless crustacean that crawled from the sea.The dessert selections restored our good faith. A bread pudding was spicy and hot. Cheesecake didn’t suffer from that all-too- common mistake of denseness.Salads and cheese selections round out the varied menu, which features everything from truffle mac and cheese to Dijon chicken.Wine is the lifeblood of Pour. More than 100 vintages are offered by the glass (averaging in the $8 price range) giving the customer a chance to try more offerings without investing in a whole bottle.From Walla Walla cabernet to Spanish cava, the range is wide and should have something for everyone.Service was prompt at the heavily staffed imbibery.-Craig Sailor
Pomodoro Italian Restaurant and BarWhere: 3819 N. 26th St., TacomaInfo: 253-752-1111, www.pomodoroproctor.comHours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday–Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; Noon-8 p.m. Sunday
Proctor diners are blessed with the option of two Italian restaurants. Always popular Pomodoro has been serving in its spacious space with an open kitchen on 26th Street for years. In the summer, tables move on to the sidewalk for alfresco dining.The antipasta plate ($11.95) was an eclectic mix of mushrooms, one huge meatball, sausage, tapanade, an excellent smoky ham and other items. But, inexplicably, it had a pedestrian selection of cheeses.Ravioli di portobello ($9.95) comes in a meat or cheese option. We chose the meat with a marinara sauce. The light red sauce was full of both meat and meaty mushrooms.Prawns Milano ($12.95) was equal parts cheesy, creamy, salty and sweet. Bacon, mushrooms, artichokes, garlic and other ingredients in a creamy Marsala wine sauce and gorgonzola over linguine and prawns made for a decadant meal with a satisfying bite.Pomodoro serves a tasteless, white fluff that stands in for bread, but we did appreciate the balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dipping and lunch came with a soup or salad option.-Craig Sailor
Babblin Babs BistroWhere: 2724 N. Proctor St., TacomaInfo: 253-761-9099, www.babblinbabs.comHours: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-SundayNote: Babblin Babs is closed today, April 23, but will reopen April 24.
William Mueller has built a local reputation for innovative and creative food at his Babblin‘ Babs Bistro. Serving breakfast and lunch in his small Proctor Street eatery, Mueller combines ingredients in unexpected but successful combinations.It’s not the cheapest Proctor area eatery but each of Mueller’s creations are unlike anything you’ll get in Tacoma.The lunch menu consists mostly of sandwiches which come with an organic green salad.Bab’s ultimate steak sandwich ($14.95) hit pay dirt even before I bit into the meat.Who needs steak when mushrooms are this satisfying? Richly seasoned, the portobellos were so meaty they almost mooed.The sandwich is a bit messy but I didn’t mind as its sherry gorgonzola bacon sauce dripped down my fingers from the French baguette.Coral’s Chicken Raspberry Chipotle Crepes ($14.95) flirted on the edge of being too sweet. But the French style crepe and notes of garlic and pepper kept it in check. And let’s not forget the Brie and chardonnay sauce. An accompanying sweet potato hash was both hammy and yammy. Sorry. It had to be said.Jenny’s Toaste ($9.95) is a vegetarian option that features fontina cheese, fennel and thinly sliced granny smith apples on multigrain bread, grilled.A New Orleans crab burger ($14.95) arrived on a buttery and flaky brioche bun with a sauce that didn’t overpower the flavor filled crab.On one visit we tried carrot Indonesian soup ($5.50 cup). The subtle carrot supported the flavors of sweet coconut, curry and cilantro.One of Mueller’s interests are unusual sodas and he offers a changing list of about eight varieties ($3 each) from Lolli’s Slimming Pop to Oogave’s watermelon cream.-Craig Sailor
The Old House CaféWhere: 2717 N. Proctor St., TacomaInfo: 253-759-7336, www.theoldhousecafe.comHours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m,-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Brunch: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
Make your reservations now. The Old House Café is the place you want to take your mom for Mothers Day Brunch. But it’s also where two businessmen can have lunch without feeling emasculated despite the Fiestaware tumbling out of the gift shop and the oh-so-precious décor.The large yellow house features an upstairs dining area with commanding views of the Proctor area (mostly buildings and streets), stained glass windows and classic light fixtures.While the restaurant mainly serves ladies who lunch, we spied a few men enjoying Old House’s well-made selections of sandwiches, salads, soups and hearty entrees of pasta and seafood.A Baked chevre salad ($14.95) came with two breaded rounds of warm chevre. They were little pillows of cheese bliss. A light sweet dressing over spinach with filberts, apples and grapes provided a nest for the cheese.Sandwiches can be ordered half or whole and with soup or salad. We tried a surf and surf combo of half a shrimp sandwich and a cup of clam chowder ($10.95). The sandwich was stacked high with cucumbers, sprouts and shrimp. A light dressing with occasional hints of cheese didn’t overpower the shrimp. The clam chowder was potatoey with a hint of bacon and generous amounts of clam.We tried a house-made desert: lemon mousse in a chocolate tulip cup. This is one sweet not afraid of tartness and that’s what made it a lemon-lover’s delight. The swirling chocolate tulip cup is ... well ... your mother will just love it.-Craig Sailor
Europa BistroWhere: 2515 N. Proctor, TacomaInfo: 253-761-5660, www.europabistro.netHours: Lunch served 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; Dinner served 4 p.m.- 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 4 p.m-10:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
The food at Europa Bistro, which opened in 2000, is flavor-drenched Italian fare, with an emphasis on flavor. Sometimes the flavor delivery is too much rooted in salt, though.During three visits, oversalting was a consistent problem – in two bruschettas, a spaghetti with meatballs and a bowl of clams and mussels, salt turned the dishes unappealing.For starters, clams and mussels, cozze e vongole ($9.95, lunch appetizer), was a heaping bowl of steamed Manilla clams and mussels in a briny, lemony wine bath. Bruschetta al Pomodoro ($8.95, lunch appetizer) was one of the salty offenders, but the copious serving of fresh chopped tomatoes blasted with garlic and basil was generous. A happy hour version of bruschetta with prosciutto similarly was oversalted, but not because of the delicious, salty prosciutto; but because the tomatoes tasted dosed with salt, too.For lunch entrees, salmon risotto ($12.95) was dreamily creamy, threaded with endless chunks of salmon. Lasagna and salad ($7.95, lunch special) would have been divine if the lasagna had been fully cooked. The cheese was barely melted and lacked the bubbled, crusty cheese around the edges that makes lasagna, well, lasagna.Spaghetti and meatballs ($7.95 lunch special) was near perfect, save for the saltiness of the sauce. Meatballs were big and meaty, but with a tender bite.Both lunch specials came with perfectly crisp greens and barely touched with a delicious balsamic vinaigrette. Crisp greens also formed the foundation for chicken apple salad ($9.95), one of the most delicious salads I’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Loaded with succulent chicken breast, the flavor of the salad was creamy rich from Gorgonzola crumbles, tart and sweet from sliced apples and cranberries, and nutty from walnut pieces. An earthy sweet honey Dijon vinaigrette lightly dressed the crisp greens.Pizza was thin, chewy, crispy. A pizza Greca ($11.95) was blistered around the edges, and deliciously chewy with delicate layers of eggplant, kalamata olives, olive oil and feta. A prosciutto pizza on another visit was similarly meaty and chewy, although unevenly baked.Europa advertises daily dining deals, including a half-price happy hour, but we were perplexed to be handed a discounted fixed price, not half price, happy hour menu on one visit. On a visit a few weeks ago, the lunch special price was listed at $6.95, but our server told us the price had increased to $7.95. Lesson: Ask for clarification on prices before ordering.-Sue Kidd
Nick-n-Willy’sWhere: 2602 N. Proctor St, TacomaInfo: 253-444-3060, http://nicknwillys.comHours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
I can never resist a little fire with dinner.The centerpiece of the quick-service pizza restaurant Nick-n-Willy’s is a Wood Stone oven, a gas-fired stone oven on full display from the small dining room at the dine-in or take-out pizza parlor.Sit at the counter and diners can watch the cooks push the pizzas, the dough for which is made fresh daily, into the fiery oven using a long paddle. It’s the lick of heat that gives the pizzas a blistery, golden crust.Nick-n-Willy’s is a small chain restaurant that started in Boulder, Colo., as a take-and-bake restaurant that morphed into a sit-down/take-out pizza restaurant franchised throughout the country.The Proctor location is a hybrid, offering take-and-bake or cooked pizza in take-out, delivery, or dine-in eating. It’s owned by Hugh and Wendy Hirata, who took over the restaurant in 2008 from friends who opened it in 2007.The crust is chewy and buttery from a liberal dose of olive oil. I liked that the crust had little flop and was cooked crispy around the edges. The Magellan ($18 for a 14-inch large) was a colorful pizza with a sturdy golden brown crust topped with a garlic-spiked white sauce, mozzarella and fontina cheeses, spicy sausage and healthy layers of fresh spinach, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms and fresh basil.Any of the pizzas can be turned into a calzone, and that’s what we did with the garlic chicken with smoked bacon ($8.25). The enormous calzone, a bargain item that easily can feed two people, was encased in a crispy, golden brown crust and filled with ingredients that were chewy and gooey – melted cheese, smoked, sliced chicken breast, smoked applewood bacon, chopped garlic, diced tomatoes, red onion and oregano.Editor’s note: Owner Hugh Hirata formerly was employed by The News Tribune.-Sue Kidd
La Fondita II ProctorWhere: 2620 N. Proctor St., TacomaPhone: 253-752-2878Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
The smell of sizzling meats wafts from La Fondita II, a small Mexican restaurant with an adjacent cantina in the heart of Proctor.Grilled meats seem to be the restaurant’s specialty, judging from the menu and the dishes recommended by our servers. On one visit, grilled steak, carne asada ($9.95 lunch), was punchy with flavor, the marinade spiked with spice. Tender skirt steak yielded with barely a scrape of the knife, this dish was perfectly executed. Grilled chicken, the Polla a la parilla ($9.95 lunch), also was tender. A grilled chicken breast arrived succulent and juicy, scented with a citrus marinade. Grilled pork sirloin, carnitas de cerda ($13.95 at dinner), was dry and leathery and had no discernible flavor. I question the value for such a small plate of food.Flavor was a problem for beans and rice, which accompanied the grilled meat dinners. On one visit, rice was flat and flavorless; mildly improved on a second visit. Refried beans on two visits were soupy and under-seasoned. Black beans were toothsome, but also under-seasoned. Corn tortillas arrived soggy on one visit.-Sue Kidd