So long, 2018.
We had a great year together.
You brought us better brisket, exquisite cocktails and many tacos. So many tacos.
Looking back on 2018, the year brought interesting firsts to the area. The first ramen restaurant in Tacoma. The first Mexican steakhouse. The first restaurant serving Central Texas barbecue.
I covered 60 locally-owned restaurant openings this year, a decrease from the 75 I penned in 2017, but still an achievement considering that number represents more than an opening a week. If you judge a community by the strength of its restaurant debuts, this year rated solid.
Will the volume of locally-owned restaurant openings continue into 2019? Fewer filings for permits at the close of 2018 suggest not, but I wondered the same in 2017. You know I’ll be keeping a close watch on permit applications, and here’s where I remind you loyal readers how much I appreciate your new restaurant tips.
What I do know is that important restaurants are coming in 2019. The long-vacant waterside Lobster Shop space at Dash Point will get a new tenant in early 2019 when chef-owner Gino Rivera opens his upscale restaurant, Gino’s at the Point. Seattle restaurateur David Orozco, of Asadero Prime — and also the nephew of the owners of Tacoma’s first Mexican steakhouse, Ta Carbon — will open an upscale Mexican steakhouse in the St. Helens neighborhood in 2019. You’re going to want to put both on your list of where to dine in the coming year.
At the close of every year, I pause to recognize significant openings that fill a need in our local offerings.
I award special recognition to new restaurants that nail their specialty, are all-around excellent places to eat or fill a niche needed in the Tacoma area.
Here are my recognitions — in chronological order by opening date — for the best restaurant openings of 2018, which should double as your “where I should eat in 2019 list.”
706 Court C, Tacoma, instagram.com/devils_reef
The nautical-themed cocktail den opened in January in the St. Helens neighborhood with a menu of elixirs Tacomans won’t find elsewhere. A second cocktail spot from co-owners Robyn and Jason Alexander, who also flipped their first cocktail lounge, Tacoma Cabana, into The Fern Room in 2018. At Devil’s Reef, the rum-based drinks are tiki-inspired, but darker, deeper and more complicated with brushes of molasses and swirls of cinnamon ($10 to $13). Enter through the unmarked Opera Alley entrance to a lair adorned with a salvaged ship’s wheel, tiki masks, glass fishing floats and ultra low lighting interrupted by swirls of blue and green lights undulating across the ceiling.
Pasteles Finos del Angel
5102 S. Washington St., Tacoma, 253-448-2649, bit.ly/2ByGIur
The Mexican-European bakery opened in February in South Tacoma with a pastry selection well beyond pan dulce. Sure, diners will find made-to-order churros and conchas, but elaborately decorated cakes, glossy fruit tarts and other European-style pastries share the bakery case. A selection of excellent vegan pastries prove to be an unusual find for anywhere in Tacoma. Owner Miguel Hernandez’s career as a cake decorator and pastry king predates his Tacoma bakery by decades.
4814 Point Fosdick Drive NW, Gig Harbor, 253-313-5656, facebook.com/BBQ2U
The Gig Harbor barbecue restaurant opened in March with a menu of Central Texas barbecue favorites and southern fixtures, such as fried okra. Meats arrive sauce free and simply seasoned, as they are in Central Texas. Nitpickers will appreciate Austin transplant Gary Parker’s attention to Central Texas barbecue traditions.The brisket, ribs, chicken and turkey are smoked over post oak. Shiner Bock is served along with snappy smoked sausages from Southside Market and Barbeque in Elgin, Texas. Bargain seekers will want to dig into the family platter, a meat fiesta for $30 that allows diners to eat half the menu in one sitting.
My 4 Sons BBQ
9823 Portland Ave. E., Tacoma, 253-777-4677, facebook.com/My4SonsBBQ
The Midland neighborhood barbecue restaurant opened in March, by Matt and Brenda Henning, with a smokehouse menu that plucks techniques and recipes from several popular styles of barbecue. The brisket tastes of Texas, the ribs of Missouri and pulled pork is straight-up Carolina style. It’s all smoked over hickory. I covet the ribs and burnt ends and brisket as good as what’s produced at the new BBQ2U across the Narrows. Instagrammers should check out the restaurant’s epic Food Network inspired dish called “the barbecue sundae.”
Honey Coffee + Kitchen at Alma Mater
1322 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma, 253-302-3405, almamatertacoma.com
Honey’s March opening in downtown Tacoma brought a notable addition to the city’s lineup of restaurants offering daily breakfast. There’s no need to wait until the weekend for fancy brunch because Honey serves that every day. The real specialty is its egg dishes. Honey was one of two restaurants a trio of business partners opened in the building that houses their arts organization, Alma Mater. They also opened a cocktail lounge called Matriarch Lounge that deserves a nod for its complicated elixirs. Fancy food does not mean fancy environment at Honey. This is come-as-you-are Tacoma casual.
Moshi Moshi Bar + Ramen
110 N. Tacoma Ave, Suite B, Tacoma, 253-301-4688, moshitacoma.com
April brought Tacoma’s first ramen restaurant. Yes, it’s surprising how that trend eclipsed Tacoma for so many years. The Stadium neighborhood restaurant doesn’t aspire to be a straightforward ramen restaurant. Like its sister restaurant next door, Indo Asian Street Eatery from longtime Tacoma restaurateurs Buoy Ngov and Yu Nanakornphanom, Moshi Moshi pays homage to traditional techniques but borrows flavors and merges ingredients plucked from different cultures.That’s jointly the work of chef/partner Aaron Grissom, who obsessively creates what other restaurants would outsource. He turns local beers into vinegars, cures egg yolks in house and pulls ramen noodles by hand in the front kitchen as diners slurp away.
Hanilkwan Bulgogi Korean BBQ
3615 Steilacoom Blvd SW, Lakewood, 253-292-0629
Lakewood’s Korean dining district grew by one barbecue restaurant in April. Hanilkwan specializes in a different style of tabletop barbecue, although there are soups and other Korean dishes, too, from chef-owner Jerry Her, who has 25 years experience as a chef. Diners can select from bulgogi, kalbi, soondae and other meats shuttled raw to the table with chewy noodles, broth and vegetables. Diners drizzle the meat with broth in a shallow pan with a moat ringing the bottom to catch those delicious drippings. The end product is something similar to japchae. As is true of all Korean dining, the experience is meant to be communal. Bring friends.
4301 S. Meridian Ave., Puyallup, 253-256-7423, facebook.com/boilingcrawfishpuyallup
In June, Boiling Crawfish in Kent duplicated its Louisiana-style seafood-boil restaurant in South Hill. It’s an unusual find for the region but especially a suburban neighborhood like South Hill. Diners select from a long list of seafood on a market-priced menu that usually lists three kinds of crab, lobster, mussels, clams, head-on shrimp and, of course, crawfish. The mess of seafood is cooked in a flavor-spiked broth with corn-on-the-cob and potatoes and shuttled to tables in oversized bowls and meant to be eaten by hand. Garlic and chile fuel the broth, and there’s a subspecialty in noodles, po’ boy sandwiches and excellent cocktails.
5015 Tacoma Mall Blvd, Suite E-101, Tacoma, 253-507-7239, facebook.com/buildaburgertacoma
The family behind Cham Korean Garden took a left turn in July, a few months after they sold their popular Lakewood Korean barbecue restaurant (it still operates). Timothy and Danny Pak, sons of Cham founders James and Yoon Hee Pak, founded a casual burger restaurant with a build-your-own burger protocol. Diners can customize burgers from a long list of housemade sauces and typical burger accessories. The restaurant should become famous for its Korean pickled cucumbers, which are a stellar addition to the Korean-influenced bulgogi burgers and katsu sandwiches. The loaded bulgogi fries are a must order.
714 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-503-0762, woodencitytacoma.com
This handsome, downtown Tacoma bar opened in July with a menu that looks like typical Tacoma pub fare, at least on the surface. There are burgers, chicken wings and pizza, but dig deeper to see real-deal chef’s touches, such as house-cured gravlax, Wagyu steak and cocktails sporting housemade elixirs. Wooden City is the project of longtime restaurant industry workers Abe Fox and Jon Green. They ditched Seattle restaurant jobs to become Tacoma bar owners. Fox is from the South Sound region while Green hails from Ohio. Green also comes with a pedigree and a background cooking in Michelin-rated restaurants.
24 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma, 253-444-2646, salamonespizzeria.com
The area’s first New York-style pizza-by-the-slice restaurant opened in the Stadium neighborhood in August and became an instant hit with deal seekers for its inexpensive offerings in a neighborhood that’s getting pricier by the day. Steven Salamone is a Brooklyn transplant who has recreated the pizza of his childhood with simple ingredients. An uncomplicated slice costs just a few bucks to enjoy.
The Church Cantina
5240 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253-292-0544, facebook.com/thechurchcantina
August brought the opening of a South Tacoma Way bar from longtime local chef, Nicole de la Paz, known for her excellent sandwiches at 3uilt and Top of Tacoma. The menu is straight-up bar food brushed with a mix of Latin and Cuban flavors, courtesy of de la Paz’s Cuban side of the family. Truly one of the best values in the city for bargain-priced gooey sandwiches, flavor-walloped tacos and brunch served for dinner. Don’t miss the Cuban sandwich. The goth-emo soundtrack beckons Gen Xers to stick around awhile and play a little skeeball in the family-friendly dining room (until 8 p.m.).
Ta Carbon Mexican Asadero
5013 S. 56th St., Tacoma, 253-267-0677, facebook.com/TacarbonTacoma
Tacoma’s first upscale-leaning Mexican steakhouse opened in September with a menu that goes well beyond the usual Tex-Mex. Grilled cactus and various cuts of steaks are served alongside tlayudas and chapulines, the Oaxacan specialties. The meat tower is a must order, offering broad tastes of the menu from co-owners Rosy Trujillo and Moises Villasenor, who opened the first Ta Carbon in Everett. The warm, inviting Tacoma location is in a downright unexpected storefront tucked into a strip mall at South 56th and Orchard.
ALSO WORTH A TRY
So many noteworthy restaurants and drinking holes debuted in 2018. Here are a few more for your list.
Don’t miss the Texas tacos and smoked char siu at fun-and-funky newly opened Brimstone PNW Smokehouse, which debuted in Gig Harbor a few weeks ago (7707 Pioneer Way, Gig Harbor). It takes the place of Brix 25, the restaurant from the same owners that moved to a beautiful new waterfront perch this year (3315 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor).
Straight From Philly in downtown Tacoma serves up a whopping 25 kinds of cheesesteak sandwiches and 11 loaded fries with a true taste of Philly coming from imported Amoroso rolls (1126 Commerce St., Tacoma).
Waffle Stop in Proctor deserves a nod for its homage to all things waffles in the Proctor neighborhood (2710 N Proctor St., Tacoma).
CaskCades brought a family-friendly vibe to downtown Puyallup along with a menu of gourmet dogs that go well with the long tap list of local beers (106-A N Meridian, Puyallup).
Table 47 in downtown Gig Harbor deserves a nod for its devotion to sourcing local ingredients and partnerships with local food businesses (5268 Point Fosdick Dr. NW, Gig Harbor).
Gyro Bites brought excellent gyro sandwiches, an exceptional variety of vegetarian eats and tasty baklava to the Narrows end of the Sixth Avenue neighborhood (6409 Sixth Ave., Tacoma).
Sirius Wood Fired Pizza nails wood-fired pizza and does it miraculously in a tiny trailer roving around Pierce County (siriuswoodfiredpizza.com). Street Eats Mobile Eatery is another restaurant on wheels that deserves a visit for its exquisite sandwiches (streeteatsmobileeatery.com).
Bliss Small Batch Creamery in University Place carved out a specialty in a wide selection of ice creams with 32 daily choices, but it also micro-focuses in coconut-based vegan ice creams (3556 Market Place W., University Place).