BOAT STREET KITCHEN (3131 Western Ave., 206-323-7132)

Tucked away in a complex of work lofts, this spare, light-filled cafe makes an ideal lunch spot. The menu offers something for every appetite: herbed roast pork sandwiches for the carnivore, creamy oyster stew for the seafood lover, a silken pumpkin flan for sweet tooths. Bonus: All of the wines by the glass are a mere $5. Entrees $8.75-$10.50.

ELEMENTAL@GASWORKS (3309 Wallingford Ave. N., 206-547-2317)

Owners Phred Westfall (he whips up drinks) and Laurie Riedman (she cooks) play by their own rules at their spare-but-chic eatery, which doesn't take reservations, forbids tipping and has room for fewer than 20 diners. "We're not doing the normal thing," concedes the bartender-host. Yet the couple treats everyone like house guests -- cocktails and truffle-scented popcorn appear without your even asking -- and part of the fun of an evening here is watching Riedman prepare dinner, solo, just feet in front of you. The choices change every Tuesday; highlights have run to short ribs with a garlic waffle and green-chili cheesecake. Dishes $9-$16.

VEIL (555 Aloha St., 206-216-0600)

The chairs, the tables, the walls -- everything is white at the 50-seat Veil. "We thought the food would be the art," says co-owner Erik Lindstrom, nodding to the appealing plates created by chef Shannon Galusha, a veteran of the esteemed French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley. Picture pedigreed ingredients -- artichoke soup with Parma ham, dry-aged steak with heirloom carrots -- and flavors that sing. Entrees $23-$29.