If you judge a year based on restaurant openings, then 2015 was a year worth recognizing.
We were lucky to see restaurant openings that brought new flavors to the region — from crawfish to Russian dumplings, from panettone to pupusas.
Here’s a look at my 10 favorite restaurant openings of 2015. Put these on your list of must-try dining experiences.
10. Montamara Kitchen
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2208 N. 30th St., Tacoma; 253-314-5892; facebook.com/montamarakitchen.
P.J. Rutledge and Amie Budelmann opened their airy Old Town cafe in April, instantly adding something much-needed in that part of Tacoma: A weekend brunch destination, as well as a lunch and dinner spot serving Northwest bistro fare. Go for brunch. Fluffy drop biscuits with creamy country gravy were memorable, as were perfectly poached eggs Benedict.
9. Lele East West
5015 Tacoma Mall Blvd., Tacoma; 253-302-3998; lelerestaurant.com (also in the Hilltop and Gig Harbor).
In October, Dza-Thao H. Le — who everybody calls Lele — opened her third Vietnamese–Thai restaurant. She assembled a dream team of Tacoma’s Vietnamese chefs who previously cooked at two of the most revered (and now closed) Vietnamese–Thai restaurants: East and West Cafe and Wendy’s II. Lele East West is more attractive inside than its strip-mall exterior telegraphs, and has a 100-item menu offering Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Indonesian cuisine. Get the green papaya salad with bulgogi, a fresh mix that will make you forget the rain outside.
8. Las Delicias
806 72nd St. E., Tacoma; 253-267-9844.
We’re a region short on Salvadoran food, so it was with great delight that I noted the August opening of Las Delicias, a Salvadoran–Mexican hybrid with a specialty in quick-style eats. The pupusas are a staple at Las Delicias, but there are also pastelitos (similar to empanadas), panes rellenos, fried yuca and stews. Get the pupusas, made with either rice or corn dough, stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables or herbs. They’re like a cousin of a sopes and tacos, and spill a gooey river of cheese with the nudge of a fork.
7. Vostok Dumpling House
1126 Commerce St., Tacoma; 253-301-1085; vostokdh.com.
November brought something I didn’t even know we needed: Russian dumplings. Tucked into a small space off Commerce Street, Vostok Dumpling House is an outpost of the Seattle restaurant founded by brother-sister team Andrey Tokar and Anna Motso. Find pork or chicken pelmeni or potato-cheddar vareniki, with mix-and-match sauces and other add-ins (such as candied bacon). And it’s all pretty affordable, with half-orders starting around $5.
6. Sushi Ari
206 39th Ave. SW, Puyallup; 253-446-2900; facebook.com/sushiaripuyallup.
Sushi Ari’s September opening was the second restaurant opening of 2015 for Jeannie Han, who also owns TheKoi (former TwoKoi), which reopened in June after several months’ hiatus due to street construction. Sushi Ari offers something South Hill is short on — non-chain restaurants and a menu with sushi as a specialty. Order the lava roll, topped with cubed tuna sashimi in a spicy-sweet sauce, over a veggie-filled roll.
5. Dolce Si Sicilian Bakery and Cafe
5005 Main St., Ruston; 253-678-1229; dolcesi.com.
When Steve and Elisabetta O’Shea opened Dolce Si bakery at the Point Ruston development, pastry fans descended — and rightfully so, because we were in need of an Italian bakery. This one offers up terrific Italian pastries in a Sicilian cafe setting. The choices are dizzying: three kinds of cannoli, iced cookies, cream-filled brioche and a dozen styles of gelato. Everything is made on site by Elisabetta, who was born and raised in Sicily. Recommendations to start you off: Get the gelato or the cannoli.
4. Dragon’s Crawfish
750 S. 38th St., Tacoma; 253-301-0020; dragonscrawfish.cf.
Business and life partners Minh Phan and Sina Kong opened Dragon’s Crawfish in the Lincoln neighborhood across the street from Phan’s mother’s restaurant, Pho Dragon. In September, they launched a Cajun seafood boil menu, adding a new taste for diners in search of Louisiana-style boil. The menu lists crawfish, three kinds of crab, and shrimp or clams, served with several broth options and heat levels (and a few Vietnamese nods on the menu). Order the crawfish with garlic-butter sauce, and a side of crusty bread for sopping.
3. De La Terre
1606 Lafayette, Steilacoom; 253-370-3194; restaurantdelaterre.com.
Chef–owner Blake Lord-Wittig is trying something few have accomplished here: Building a brand new menu just about every day at his De La Terre, which opened in downtown Steilacoom in June. Relying on local farms (such as Wild Hare) for produce and Northwest farmers for meat, his menu is as fresh as I’ve seen in the region. He runs the restaurant with fiancee Rajona Champatiray, who he met while working at a Seattle restaurant. If the fresh housemade pasta is on the menu, claim it.
2. The Table
2715 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1862; thetabletacoma.com.
Chef–owner Derek Bray’s new fine-dining addition to the Sixth Avenue neighborhood, The Table, also offers something few have attempted here: A big communal table seating about 20 in the middle of the dining room (plus more seating for parties of two to six). He opened his restaurant in July with a fine Northwest bistro menu covering regional American and Mediterranean cuisine, along with the occasional Asian flavor. If it’s on the menu, be sure to order the housemade sausage, the housemade pasta, or the “dork” burger made with ground pork and duck.
1. Indo Asian Street Eatery
110 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma; 253-503-3527; indostreeteatery.com.
Vathunyu “Yu” Nanakornphanom and Buoy Ngov call their style of cooking “Asian comfort food.” Their Indo Asian Street Eatery opened in July in the Stadium neighborhood and offers an unusual menu of street fare that skips across Asia. There are noodle soups, herb-laden salads and grilled meats threaded onto skewers. The food is uncomplicated but always beautifully presented, and the dining room is riveting, with exposed brick and blocky wood walls climbing to vintage wood beams in the towering space. Order the pork belly yakitori, the dumplings or the khao soi chicken noodles.