TNT Diner

Good eats and drinks around Tacoma, Pierce County and South Puget Sound

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Archives: Dec. 2010


Imbibing in Oly: Sizizis and Cryptatropa

Sizizis is a 24-hour coffee and tea house in Olympia. (Steve Bloom/Staff Photographer)

Sizizis is a 24-hour coffee and tea joint, a dark-hued hipster hangout and a palindrome. The small unmarked dark spot on Fourth Avenue is the only place in Olympia you can get chai at 3 a.m.

Walking into Sizizis is like stepping into the captain’s quarters of a 17th century Spanish galleon. It’s dominated by massive wooden pillars and arches salvaged from an old bar. Eight tables sporting an eclectic range of lamps fill the living room-sized space. There’s no theme to the room unless you count incongruity.

Red and purple velvet curtains almost reach the creaky wide planked floor painted alternately in red and green. Salvaged beadboard in a variety of colors line the walls. Even the bathroom has vintage matching green porcelain fixtures you haven’t seen since that semester in London.
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2010 in 20 bites: All the good stuff I got to eat and write about this year. What’s on your list of good eats for this year?

The curry ramen at Pacific Grill was one of the tastiest things I got to eat this year. What’s on your list?

If one can judge a year by what one ate, then 2010 was a banner year for my gullet. Hot dogs and pot du creme, tortas, soon doo boo and meatloaf sandwiches. And burgers. So many delicious burgers. Here are the 20 tastiest things I ate this year. Want to share your list? Just comment below. Read more »


House-made goodness: Leila’s Deli in Tacoma serves scratch-made eats and gluten-free treats

The New York panini at Leila's Deli in Tacoma is a playful flavor spin on buffalo wings and blue cheese dip.

I like walking into a restaurant and asking this question, “Is that house made?”

I like it even more when the answer is, “Yes, it is.”

Leila’s Deli, a small, new cafe located steps away from the Tacoma Dome in the downstairs space below Crystal Voyage, is one of those restaurants that employs someone in the kitchen who cares about food. Or, more accurately, about the quality of food. The meats on the sandwich are Boar’s Head. They offer gluten free baked goods made by Granny Lala’s.

A place like Leila’s that bothers to make its own coleslaw, potato salad, soups and dressings is the sort of place where I want to spend my dwindling dining dollars. Read more »


Deliciously pressed: Tacoma’s Rain City Cafe serves gooey, grilled panini sandwiches

A healthy swipe of basil mayo and a decent ratio of bread to meat and cheese make the East Coast panini a great lunch find at Rain City Cafe.

Good bread defines a good grilled sandwich. Too thick of bread, and the sandwich can become unwieldy, overpowering the filling. Too thin and the bread can annoyingly self destruct just when you get three bites deep. You know a good grilled sandwich when you bite into it: Crunchy bread with a touch of softness; layers of meat glued together with cheese; a smear of a flavorful condiment.

Two new Tacoma sandwich shops have opened in the last several months that get the bread, the fillings, and grilling right. One is Rain City Café, which opened two months ago across from the Tacoma Municipal Building. The other is Leila’s Deli, which opened in July just steps away from the Tacoma Dome in the same building as Crystal Voyage (check back tomorrow for a report on Leila’s).

Rain City Café is the Tacoma outpost of Seattle’s Mike’s East Coast Panini sandwiches, a wholesaler that supplies hospitals and coffee shops in Seattle with ready-to-grill sandwiches. Read more »


Pucker up: House pickled veggies at Tacoma restaurants pack flavorful punch

At Tempest Lounge in Tacoma’s hilltop neighborhood: a bowl of pickled carrots and cauliflower that are flavored with marjoram and Old Bay seasoning. Photo by Peter Haley/Staff photographer

Pacific Grill owner/chef Gordon Naccarato recalls discovering soy-brined jalapeños while working as a chef in Los Angeles.

“I first found those jalapeños in Koreatown in Los Angeles in a run-down strip mall place that called them ‘kimchi pickles,’ and they would sell you a canning jar full of them with additional cucumbers in the jalapeño mix for only $6,” Naccarato wrote in an e-mail when I asked him about house-pickled vegetables at his downtown Tacoma restaurant.

The jalapeños were salty, sweet and satisfying, and something Naccarato enjoyed eating over a bowl of rice. “They were so amazingly good just over steamed rice and became a favorite late-night snack after working the line ’til late at night.”

Naccarato now makes his own brined jalapeños, which he serves as a garnish on the ramen served at Pacific Grill’s Noodle Bar. He brines his jalapeños in soy with healthy portions each of brown sugar and lemon zest.

Naccarato and his kitchen crew also use house-pickled veggies on the banh mi sandwich, served on the lunch menu. “We do a quick-pickle of carrot, daikon radish and cucumber and the soy-brined jalapeño. We make a Vietnamese-style vinaigrette/nuoc cham that we marinate the vegetables in. Lime juice, garlic, chilies, palm sugar (buy at Asian market) and fish sauce, plum vinegar and citrus zest. Then we add julienned carrot, daikon and cucumber and let marinate for at least an hour before using,” wrote Naccarato by e-mail. The result is a puckery sweet layer of flavor with crunch.

Lately, I’ve spotted several restaurants serving pickled or brined veggies that carried the puckery smack of house-made flavor. Besides Pacific Grill’s house-pickled or brined veggies on the ramen, banh mi and Cuban sandwiches, I’ve found pickles on the plates at Crown Bar, Tempest Lounge and Asado.

Click “more” to read about four dishes to try featuring house-pickled or brined vegetables. Read more »


Soup’s on: Tasty bowls at Doyle’s, The Swiss and the new Leila’s Deli in Tacoma

A recent daily soup special at The Swiss Tavern near the University of Washington Tacoma campus.

In the last month, I’ve dipped my ladle into the Korean soup soon doo boo, the Vietnamese soup pho, and the Japanese-Southeast Asian hybrid fusion ramen soup at Pacific Grill.

In the last few weeks, I’ve encountered even more soups worthy of your dining dollars. The creamy tomato at Doyle’s Public House, the salmon chowder at The Swiss Tavern and a delicious navy bean at the new Leila’s Deli in Tacoma. Click “more” to read about the soups.

YOUR TURN: Where do you go for good soup? Comment here, please. Read more »


Fish tacos: Shrimp and sole embedded in a puffy batter at El Paraiso in Lakewood

The fish tacos at El Paraiso Fish Tacos in Lakewood come with a choice of battered shrimp or Dover sole.

Fish tacos come in all flavors and configurations – and they’re ubiquitous on menus. I’ve spotted them at brewpubs, sit-down chain restaurants and even corner delis: Grilled, blackened, sautéed, fried or baked; with lettuce, cabbage and even fancy micro greens; cilantro-lime infused sour cream, roasted pepper salsa and even a pomegranate sauce.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen fish tacos as cheap or as tasty as the shrimp and sole tacos at El Paraiso Fish Tacos in Lakewood.

I got a tip from a TNT Diner reader about this curious little Mexican restaurant (read: hole in the wall) that opened a few months ago in the same shopping center as the Lakewood Cinema theaters. The fish tacos here don’t have an Americana or healthy eating twist or some high falutin’ pomegranate sour cream sauce– they’re good ol’ battered and fried fish tacos served on house-made tortillas. And they’re about as perfect as I’ve found for that style of fish taco. Read more »


Last-minute gift giving gets easy with sweet treats. Tacoma’s Johnson Candy Company, Brown & Haley and Great Northwest Popcorn deliver the Christmas goods

Candy Cane Roca from Brown & Haley is buttercrunch toffee embedded with pieces of candy cane. It's covered in chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate.

Forget Hershey’s and M&Ms. Tacoma’s got the Johnsons, Brown & Haley and Great Northwest Popcorn – all locally grown businesses that dabble in sweet eats and Christmas treats.

At the Johnson Candy Company, which has operated since 1918 in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, the popular turtles, peanut butter smidgens, Christmas-colored candy corn and those famous handmade truffles are ready for the taking. They’ve even got gift-wrapped boxes for the purely lazy Christmas giver. (You know who you are.)

At the factory outlet stores for Brown & Haley, bargains abound in the form of 99 cent boxes of Candy Cane Roca (can you say White Elephant gift?) and heftily discounted boxes, tins and bags of Roca and its affiliated sibling products.

At Great Northwest Popcorn in downtown Tacoma, a few bucks can buy a bag of handmade flavored popcorn that comes in straightforward flavors like toffee or cheese or more kitschy blends like the Elvis (peanut butter and banana) and a riff on soda pop: cherry vanilla.

Click “more” to read about what local candy companies offer for holiday giving. Bonus: All of these stores are located far enough away from the mall (read: less of a traffic nightmare). Read more »