TNT Diner

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

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Category: First Bite

June
13th

First-bite report: Cafe Vincero in downtown Tacoma

Kevin Cornwell has just remodeled this downtown Tacoma space into his new Italian restaurant Cafe Vincero.  His team includes Connor Guzman (left), Bruce Barber, and Madisen Bryan (right).  Peter Haley/Staff photographer
Kevin Cornwell has just remodeled this downtown Tacoma space into his new Italian restaurant Cafe Vincero. His team includes Connor Guzman (left), Bruce Barber, and Madisen Bryan (right). Peter Haley/Staff photographer

Downtown Tacoma’s finest entertainment corridor percolates between Seventh and Ninth on Pacific Avenue. Consider it equally fit for nightlife seekers or daytime lunch grubbers.

At night, there’s the tiki bar Tacoma Cabana with handcrafted cocktails from Jason Alexander and island-themed “vacation fusion” eats from Robyn Murphy. The Tex-Mex restaurant Matador has a knock-out tequila list. The casual pubs Meconi’s, The Forum and The Office compete for the same crowd, but each display distinct identities.

The excellent Orange Door Vietnamese bistro and the lunch buffet at India Mahal get my vote for noon dining.
And then there’s that fun spot for kids of all ages, Dorky’s Arcade, with pinball machines from an era when we wanted our hair and music equally big and obnoxious.

It gets better. Two promising brewery-taprooms — Odd Otter Brewing Co., and Pacific Brewing and Malting Co. — are expected this summer.

Kevin Cornwell was smart for planting his casual Italian eatery in the middle of that stretch. He opened Cafe Vincero April 23 at 714 Pacific Ave. Cornwell, a South Sound native whose first restaurant job was working at Vince’s Italian Restaurant, carved a beautiful restaurant into the narrow space that previously held a retail shop. Read more »

May
30th

First-bite report: Aviateur French Diner, downtown Tacoma’s new French cafe

30goeatsIn the South Sound, we’re short on a few styles of food and the restaurants that serve them.

One shortage is an authentic Jewish deli — with house-cured pastrami, knishes and rugelach. I frequently play a fun game I call “assemble my own deli,” threading together a meal from various stops.

And aside from a 25-minute drive to a small dinner-only cafe in Steilacoom, La Creme Brulee, I’ve had to play a similar game called “assemble my own French bistro.” Beef bourguignon at Brix 25 and steamed mussels and fries at Pacific Grill filled that void.

Then came Aviateur French Diner, which opened in early April in downtown Tacoma, a restaurant offering bistro classics — and serious potential. Read more »

May
19th

Cinnamon rolls return to Freighthouse Square – at Sasquatch Cinnamon Rolls

Sasquatch's cinnamon rolls are served in a 7-inch disposable pie pan.
Sasquatch’s cinnamon rolls are served in a 7-inch disposable pie pan.

Depending on the Scandinavian address, they’re kanelbullar or skillingsboller. Around here – we just call them cinnamon rolls.

Dagmar Simard is a Tacoman by birth, Norwegian by heritage. Her cinnamon rolls – err, skillingsboller – looked every bit a Norwegian pastry, but relayed an American recalibration – a spice often subtracted outside Northern Europe.

“The only thing we’re missing is cardamom,” confirmed Simard, whose Norwegian mother and great aunt – both named Mona – taught her to bake as a youngster growing up near the Salishan neighborhood. She described her maternal elders with her signature salty humor, “Cranky old Scandinavian women; in flour sack dresses, with pudgy ankles.”

Peterson, with her son and husband, opened Sasquatch Cinnamon Rolls in April in a small cafe space in Freighthouse Square that long has hosted bakeries. Read more »

April
25th

First-bite report: Tacoma’s Smoke + Cedar

A flame torched prime-rib sandwich with house potato chips at the new Smoke + Cedar restaurant.
A flame torched prime-rib sandwich with house potato chips at the new Smoke + Cedar restaurant. Dean Koepfler/Staff photographer

The prime rib grabbed my attention and held it for several bites – until that awkward moment when I sensed my dining partner might forcibly reclaim the entree.

“Jus one merrr bite,” I might have murmured, mouth full of the juicy beef.

Supple and lightly charred from a finish with a blowtorch – yes, a blowtorch – the prime rib might as well be called “beef velvet” at Smoke + Cedar, the Tacoma restaurant from Gordon Naccarato that opened March 1 at the new Elks Lodge at Allenmore Golf Course (open to the public). It’s Tacoma’s newest view restaurant, with a lush course-side perch. Read more »

March
28th

Favorite Chinese restaurants: Yen Ching, Tacoma Szechuan and newcomer Malri Hyang

Frank Luu is head waiter at Yen Ching Restaurant on South Tacoma Way in Lakewood. He's the longtime face of the Chinese restaurant that's served Lakewood diners for 30 years. Peter Haley/Staff photographer
Frank Luu is head waiter at Yen Ching Restaurant on South Tacoma Way in Lakewood. He’s the longtime face of the Chinese restaurant that’s served Lakewood diners for 30 years. Peter Haley/Staff photographer

Readers frequently ask me about my favorite Chinese restaurant.

My answer is a neighborhood, not a specific restaurant.

Along a one-mile stretch of South Tacoma Way, in a Lakewood neighborhood known for Korean dining, three restaurants comprise what I call the Chinese Restaurant Vortex of South Sound.

One is an old-time find, a Chinese-American restaurant reminiscent of the chop suey houses of yesteryear. A second is a stylish, modern Chinese venture featuring some of the best Szechuan dishes you’ll encounter around here. The third is an unproven hybrid that offers something new for diners: a handsome Chinese-Korean bistro. Read more »

Feb.
21st

Burger Smackdown: Three new South Sound burger restaurants

The Ranch Hand cheeseburger at Blazing Onion in Tacoma. Lui Kit Wong/Staff photographer
The Ranch Hand cheeseburger at Blazing Onion in Tacoma. Lui Kit Wong/Staff photographer

Since 2008, I’ve taken you on tours of burger stands, bar burgers, highfalutin burgers, fair burgers and the finest handcrafted veggie burgers in the South Sound.

With three gourmet burger joints that have just opened in the South Sound — one in October, two in January — I thought it time for another burger pilgrimage.

Today’s burger trail encompasses the land of “chain restaurants,” a term that usually strikes fear deep in the gut of a dining critic.

Don’t worry. These aren’t those mindlessly homogenous could-be-in-Toledo-or-Tacoma chains. These chains are small and Washington-born and bred: Blazing Onion, Lunchbox Laboratory, and Bob’s Burgers & Brew.

Whose burgers proved best? That designation goes to Blazing Onion for superior burger construction, skilled service and pricing that won’t bust your wallet.

I rated each restaurant for variety, construction and flavor. I ate similar burgers at each: a “classic” cheeseburger, a blue cheese burger, a burger with a smokey flavor profile, and a wild-card burger from the “other than beef” category. Each restaurant was visited twice. Read more »

Feb.
17th

First glance: Salsa 7 in downtown Puyallup

A poblano (pasilla) chile relleno at Salsa 7, a Mexican restaurant that opened last week in Puyallup.
A poblano (pasilla) chile relleno at Salsa 7, a Mexican restaurant that opened last week in Puyallup.

Salsa 7 opened last week in downtown Puyallup. It replaces Sam’s Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant, carved into a former gas station, that had operated downtown for more than a decade.

While Salsa 7 bills itself as modern Mexican, a first visit at the restaurant found modern decor, but the menu looked familiar – tacos, burritos, chile rellenos, mole, chimichangas and the ubiquitous basket of chips and two kinds of salsa to start the meal. Read more »

Feb.
3rd

First bite: Bob’s Burgers and Brew Puyallup

The classic 6-ounce broiled burger at Bob's Burgers and Brew in South Hill, Puyallup.
The classic 6-ounce broiled burger at Bob’s Burgers and Brew in South Hill, Puyallup.

I stopped in at Bob’s Burgers and Brew on South Hill, now entering its third week of operation, and found a few things worth noting about the Washington-based chain that is new to the South Sound. Read more »