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Here are 50+ new Tacoma restaurants that opened during the pandemic

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If you felt you missed out on a few things the last 15 months, you’re not alone. Dining inside restaurants was put on pause by many. It’s difficult to get up to speed after spending a year doing take-out only and eating in your sweatpants on the couch. Would you believe I wrote more than 50 restaurant opening stories during the pandemic?

I’m still surprised that since March 2020, we’ve had a flurry of openings and a lot of firsts to the area.

First specialized Laotian restaurant in Tacoma. 

First gin bar in Tacoma with a whopping 30+ gin libations on the menu.

First French bakery with pastries I’ve never seen in Tacoma. 

First boutique beef steak restaurant.

soup
Sweet Rice in Tacoma opened in October 2020.

Vaccination counts are inching upward. Virus cases are plummeting downward. Restaurant restrictions are coming to an end right now and Washington state is reopening. Say goodbye to capacity constraints, table seating limits, limited hours for alcohol service, no bar seating and table spacing requirements at restaurants. Those restrictions have lifted.

It’s a good time to dine inside restaurants again. Well, so long as a diner feels safe doing so. There’s no harm in waiting to dine out again – restaurants will still welcome to-go orders.

For those ready to dine out again, below you will find 50+ openings of the fine dining restaurants, casual eateries, bars, craft beverage companies and all the other Tacoma and Pierce County area restaurants and food businesses I have written about since March 2020 when our world changed significantly.


PLEASE REMEMBER: Even though restrictions are lifted for restaurants, that doesn’t mean everything has returned to normal for restaurants.

Staffing was problematic before the pandemic and is worse now. Restaurants might limit capacity because they don’t have adequate staffing.

Although the state won’t mandate a mask any longer in restaurants for fully-vaccinated individuals, private businesses (including restaurants) could still require masks, regardless of vaccination status, to protect employees. Check for mask-up signs upon entry.

The restaurant supply chain is still broken. That is why the menu of your favorite spot might look different and your favorites have not yet returned to the menu. Things definitely are not back to normal for restaurants.

Servers are overworked right now. Be kind to industry workers. Tip big. Let the small stuff slide.


steak
A 24-ounce prime USDA delmonico steak at Cuerno Bravo.

CUERNO BRAVO

Cuerno Bravo in Tacoma’s St. Helens neighborhood triumphantly opened in March 2020 – all the way back when things were a lot better for local restaurants. In a matter of days, we were in a full-blown pandemic and the restaurant closed. The restaurant powered through its second opening in September 2020 and has proven that this is the splurge restaurant to have on your to-dine list. It’s a level of restaurant we don’t see opening here often. 

It has the longest and most thorough list of premium beef in the city (the excellent Asado and El Gaucho both included). It’s a beautiful restaurant with kitchen equipment rivaling the finest steakhouses. Cuerno Bravo also comes with some financial flexibility where a diner can drop $200 on apps, premium cocktails and Japanese A5 beef or shell out $25 for a platter of Wagyu carne asada built for sharing. 

carne asada
Delicious carne asada built for two diners at Cuerno Bravo.

Owner David Orozco is the Northwest’s champion of boutique beef. Food publications have lauded his focus on prime beef, Wagyu and A5 meat at his five-year-old Kent strip-mall restaurant Asadero Prime, which he expanded to Ballard in 2016. 

Location: 616 St Helens Ave, Tacoma; 253-328-6688;  https://www.cuernobravo.com/

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/10/04/new-high-end-mexican-steakhouse-cuerno-bravo-is-open-in-tacoma-heres-a-first-look/


Jaeger schnitzel
Jaeger schnitzel at Berliner Beerhall.

BERLINER BEER HALL

This emporium for all things German food and drink finally debuted, after seven years (SEVEN YEARS!!!) of construction in downtown Tacoma. The inviting restaurant and beer hall opened in March 2020, just ahead of the pandemic and shut down almost immediately. I was delighted to find on my first-bite visit, crunchy-edged schnitzel, springy spaetzle and so many German beer choices, my head was spinning. The beer hall is a two-tier dining space with nooks and crannies for more private seating. The main dining area is filled with communal tables. Come winter, you’ll want to cozy up to the fireplace that anchors the bar.

Owners Lydia and Dennis Mascarinas have told me they intend to reopen after capacity returns to normalish circumstances. Keep an eye on my website for a reopening announcement, plus information about a second restaurant they’re opening.

Location: 2401 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; https://www.facebook.com/BerlinerBeerHall/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/03/13/heres-a-first-look-at-berliner-beerhall-in-downtown-tacoma-check-out-the-schnitzel-and-20-german-beers/

Beer hall
The main beer hall at Berliner Beerhall in downtown Tacoma.

Perry's Cocktail Bar dining room
The dining room at Perry’s Cocktail Bar carries midcentury modern touches.

PERRY’S COCKTAIL BAR

This new cocktail lounge and restaurant in downtown Puyallup is another restaurant that opened at the beginning of the pandemic, in early March 2020. It’s a purely unexpected dining gem in a space built for comfort. Consider the opening of Perry’s Cocktail Bar a full circle back to the owner’s restaurant roots in Puyallup. Laura Perry started in the business working at Sizzler by the fairgrounds. She’s worked both front-of-house and back-of-house and co-owned Three Chicks Catering. “I think I’ve done every position in a restaurant, except, ironically, bartending,” said Perry. Be sure to put the New American cuisine and excellent cocktails on your try list. The Late Night Burger is catching a lot of buzz. It’s a high-end version of a Frisko Freeze burger.

Location: 105 S. Meridian, Puyallup; 253-604-7920; https://perryscocktailbar.com/menu

Read my preview opening story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/02/05/fine-food-and-hand-crafted-cocktails-perrys-cocktail-bar-opens-this-month/


Tacos
Carnitas tacos at Los Amigos Taqueria in Puyallup.

LOS AMIGOS TAQUERIA 

This South Hill taqueria opened in July 2020 in its first brick-and-mortar Pierce County location after operating as a taco bus on South Hill for a decade. Antonio Ruiz and Enedina Martinez run the restaurant with their children. The family spent a year overhauling the 5,000-square-feet space that previously housed a Chinese buffet. The opening brought with it the familiar eats for which the taco bus was well known: excellent tacos, burritos, enchiladas, combo platters and all the usual taqueria favorites at more-than-affordable prices. It’s home to my favorite carnitas burrito in Pierce County. 

Location:  4215 S. Meridian, Puyallup; 253-848-0176; https://www.facebook.com/losmigostaqueria/

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/07/17/los-amigos-taqueria-finally-opens-in-puyallup/


saigon house food
A trio of dishes from Tacoma’s Saigon House.

SAIGON HOUSE 

The summer 2020 opening of Saigon House added one more excellent upscale Vietnamese restaurant – joining the ranks of Sixth Avenue’s La Ca Bar and the local trio of Le-Le restaurants for a more stylized dining experience. Nestled between check cashing businesses and nail salons, good bites are in abundant supply in our local strip malls. Chef-owner Dung Tran has created a sit-and-sip respite with Vietnamese brushes on everything – from the giant photo of Hanoi spanning the back wall to the cocktails infused with Southeastern Asia flavors to the Obama noodles from the famous episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” 

“We’ve got food from the south, food from the north and food from the east,” explained manager and cocktail slinger Dan Chau. “It’s food from every part of the country. And one that’s larger in scope with food that is beyond like a mom-and-pop type of restaurant.” When you go, be sure to order his tamarind whiskey sour and those famous Obama noodles. 

Location: 2505 S. 38th St., Tacoma; 253-503-3010; https://www.saigonhouse.us/

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/10/24/saigon-house-now-open-in-tacoma-and-is-date-night-ready/


sandwich
The Beef on Weck at Cooper’s Food & Drink in Tacoma’s Westgate neighborhood.

COOPER’S FOOD & DRINK 

Cooper’s Food & Drink’s July 2020 debut in Westgate brought a comfortable enclave with a distinct neighborhood vibe, a focus on family dining and an outdoor-dining space built for socially distant dining. The opening culminated three years of work by the Troger family, who flipped the restaurant space from the dated Westgate Bar & Grill (old timers still call it Barb’s).

Co-owners Greg and Tanya Troger also are behind The Forum restaurants in Puyallup and Tacoma. Their children help run the restaurants. The menu at Cooper’s is playful enough to interest seasoned restaurant warriors and familiar enough to appeal to everyone else. Finely composed sandwiches, outstanding soups, burgers, pizzas and an appetizer list built for cocktailing accentuate a very comfortable space. The restaurant also is home to a Beef on Weck, a sublime roast beef sandwich imported from Greg Troger’s native New York. The revered East Coast sandwich comes with a massive pile of thinly-shaved roast beef, roasted in house of course, dunked in a salty au jus and served on a substantial salty roll. It’s simple and satisfying and everyone should try it. 

Location: 5928 N. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-503-0329; https://cooperstacoma.com/

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/07/21/coopers-food-drink-in-tacoma-finally-opens-heres-a-first-look/


cocktail
The Escape From Room 428 at Gilman House in Tacoma.

GILMAN HOUSE

Stadium neighborhood’s Gilman House should be famous for two things: its deep library of gin cocktails from Jason Alexander and the outstanding brunch program from Robyn Alexander. The husband-wife duo opened Gilman House in August 2020 as a companion to their nautical-themed Devil’s Reef in Tacoma’s Opera Alley. Both restaurants are loosely themed around an H.P. Lovecraft story called “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Find reminders of Cthulhu tucked into every corner of the Gilman House space designed to look like a hotel lobby in a New England port town.

 When visiting the restaurant for brunch, prioritize Robyn Alexanders brunch biscuits, which break apart effortlessly into delicious buttery layers with the gentlest of nudges. If you’re doing it right, you’ll slather each layer with butter and jam like a biscuit hasselback. The drinks are Jason Alexander’s unique creations. Like the cocktails at Devil’s Reef, Alexander’s Gilman House cocktails feature hand-mixed syrups and house-steeped liqueurs heavy on aromatics and citrus. 

biscuit
Buttermilk biscuit with butter and jam at Gilman House in Tacoma.

Devil’s Reef covers the gamut of rum, but at Gilman House, it’s all about gin, citrus, botanicals and elixirs that taste like they were made by a cocktail scientist. You’ll find Navy-strength gin, barrel-aged gin and gunpowder Irish gin. The gin specialty menu at the restaurant’s opening listed a collection of 25 cocktails and covered the usual gin suspects: a sling, gimlet, negroni, a Collins, fruit cup, rickey, Corpse Reviver, French 75 and so much more.

Location: 12 N Tacoma Ave, Tacoma; https://www.instagram.com/gilmanhousetacoma

Read the whole store here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/08/15/gilman-house-now-open-in-tacomas-stadium-neighborhood-with-must-eat-brunch-and-epic-cocktails/


sushi
A plate of sushi from Miyamoto in Tacoma.

MIYAMOTO 

September 2020 brought the opening of another strip-mall gem, Miyamoto. If you’re an experienced sushi eater in Tacoma with a penchant for traditional Japanese restaurants such as Sixth Avenue’s Sushi Tama, you’ll appreciate the simple aesthetic at this new Japanese restaurant near Tacoma Mall that is the sister restaurant to Seattle’s Musashi.  Takashi Sasaki, the owner of the now-closed excellent Kanpai in Puyallup, came out of retirement to lead the sushi counter at Miyamoto. Like Kanpai, Miyamoto rolls are tightly wound, simple and beautiful. There are no supersized rolls with an array of colorful sauces or flaming ingredients. This is a restaurant that pays homage to the simple aesthetic of Japanese cuisine. The menu is well rounded with a wide selection of bento boxes, Japanese curries, udon soups, donburi bowls, a terrific list of appetizers and, of course, a selection of nigiri and maki.

Location: 2919 S 38th St., Tacoma; 253-302-4445; https://www.instagram.com/miyamoto_tacoma/

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/10/11/tacomas-newest-sushi-destination-miyamoto-is-open-heres-a-first-look/


spaghetti
Spaghetti and meatballs from Costella’s in South Hill.

COSTELLA’S ITALIAN RESTAURANT AND MARKET 

The opening of this South Hill Italian restaurant and deli market continued a 2020 trend that had Puyallup diners rejoicing: a deluge of locally-grown restaurants. Taqueria El Rinconsito, Los Amigos Taqueria and Fiesta Taqueria are a worthy trio of restaurants that opened from March to July 2020, with Costella’s Italian Restaurant and Market following in September 2020. Did I mention that Red Wagon burgers opened in South Hill November 2020? Dining is really looking up in South Hill. Costella’s is a concept that was missing from the entire region, not just South Hill. Consider it a cross between Europa Bistro in Proctor and Viafore’s, the Italian deli in Fircrest that closed permanently earlier this year (but was replaced in 2020 by sausage maker and sandwich maker, Verone’s Italian Kitchen).

Much of the Costella’s menu is hand crafted – an unusual find in South Hill – from the pomodoro to the pasta. The opening menu had handmade fettuccini, hand-stuffed ravioli, two versions of house-made gnocchi, three styles of risotto, plenty of other Italian-American menu classics and a kid-friendly atmosphere. Be sure to take a moment to peruse the Italian market and deli that’s just beyond the restaurant’s entrance. 

Location: 214 39th Ave SW, Puyallup; 253-466-3964; https://costellas.net/

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/09/18/costellas-italian-restaurant-and-market-is-now-open/


Lao food
An assortment of dishes at Sweet Rice in Tacoma.

SWEET RICE  

Sweet Rice’s name nods to sweet sticky rice, a staple of Laotian cuisine. “In Thailand, the Thai eat a lot of their dishes with jasmine rice, but with us in Laos, our primary rice is sweet rice, the sticky rice you mold in your hand,” explained Sweet Rice co-owner Robert Saysana when he and his family  opened their second location of Sweet Rice in October 2020. 

He and his sister, who grew up in Northeast Tacoma and are Stadium High School graduates, also operate a Sweet Rice in Auburn. His extended family also operates Sweet Rice restaurants in Texas. 

The food is an homage to the Laoatian cuisine the Saysanas and extended family grew up eating. Never tried Laotian cuisine? Not surprising around here where there are few restaurants of this kind, “We eat that with finger food, a lot of crispy fried, grilled foods that you can eat with the rice,” explained Saysana. “We like dipping a lot. We like the sweet rice and we get a protein and then we dip it,” he said.  

“Most of our food consists of a lot of mixtures, a lot of herbs and a lot of flavors,” he said. Laotian food is similar to Thai cuisine in that the harmony of Laotian cuisine borrows from the same symphony that comprises the Southeast Asia palate: sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter. On a first visit try the nam khao crispy lettuce wraps or the mix plate, which provides an overview of Laotian fried finger foods and the jeo sauces that are a signature of Lao cuisine.

Location: 8425 S. Hosmer St., Tacoma; 253-507-5618;  https://www.sweetricewa.com/location/tacoma/

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/11/07/sweet-rice-tacomas-first-laotian-restaurant-now-open/


kouign-amann
The kouign-amann from Unique Bakery in Tacoma.

FOUR EXCELLENT BAKERIES 

The last year was significant for bakeries in the Tacoma area. In order of opening are Delish Bakery in Steilacoom, Cat & Rabbitt Cakeshop in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood, Unique Bakery in downtown Tacoma and Bon Bon Bakery in Lakewood. Here’s a bit about each: 

brownie
The brownie at Delish Bakery in Steilacoom.

DELISH BAKERY

From her first day of business in September 2020, Lisa Holmgren was inundated with customers at her Steilacoom bakery featuring everything from homespun cookies to fudgy brownies, delicate macarons and custom cakes. Delish Bakery is a second career for Holmgren, who lost her job during the pandemic and pivoted to pastry. On a first visit, do not miss the dense, delicious brownie. 

Location: 1603 Lafayette St., Steilacoom; 253-325-9822;  https://delish-bakery.com/

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/09/14/delish-bakery-is-now-open-and-you-have-got-to-try-the-brownie/

lime berry
A slice of berry lime cake from The Cat & Rabbitt Cakeshop in Tacoma.

CAT & RABBITT CAKESHOP

Naturally a business plan that’s hatched during a pandemic will be molded by that pandemic. Enter the cake window, The Cat & Rabbitt Cakeshop, which debuted in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood in November 2020. 

“We want people to be able to walk up to a window and get a big, giant slab of the best cake they’ve ever had,” said co-owner Julia Brown back in October when I first spoke with her and co-owner Terryn Abbitt about their venture. Before Cat & Rabbitt, they were the pastry super duo behind X Group Catering, the companion business to the Pine Room, Asado, Engine House No. 9 and E9 Brewing. 

What beautiful cakes they produce. Surprise flavor boosters tweak the taste and texture of the cakes to a degree I’ve never tasted in Tacoma. The menu focuses on cake-by-the-slice, but they bake other occasional pastry offerings. The bakery’s four-layer berry lime cake was the best slice of cake I ate in 2020 (or maybe my whole life). It tasted substantially luscious with a lime soak and a subtly tart cream cheese buttercream. Each layer hid a swipe of lush lime curd and a channel of berry jam swooped down the center. If you see a line outside the cake window on berry-lime cake day, you might get to meet me. The menu changes frequently. 

Location:  2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; https://www.thecatandrabbitt.com/

Read the whole story  here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/12/12/just-what-tacoma-needed-a-wiener-and-a-cake-window-on-6th-ave/

macarons
A selection of macarons from Unique Bakery in Tacoma. Out front is the cinnamon roll themed macaron, next to the rose raspberry. There are also a Tajin-mango flavored macaron and cassis pictured here.

UNIQUE BAKERY 

The December 2020 opening of downtown Tacoma’s Unique Bakery brought with it a deep selection of French pastries, something tough to find under one bakery roof in Tacoma. Local carb lovers will adore the croissants, cream puffs, pain au chocolat, pain au raisins, eclairs, fruit tarts, a wide selection of macarons and Danish pastries with myriad fruit fillings.

And, for the first time that I’ve seen in Tacoma, kouign-amann is offered at a local bakery. The pastry wizards behind the bakery are Roger Martinho and Mirtha Sanchez, previous owners of La Waffletz & Macaron Station in Freighthouse Square, which closed in 2019 following serious heart surgery for Martinho. Martinho grew up in France, but comes from a Porgugeuse family. He worked his way through Europe and previously operated a bakery in Liege, Belgium before meeting Sanchez while both were working as bakers at a pastry corporation. Martinho has since recovered and is back in action at Unique Bakery. Put it in your must-visit list. Now. 

Location: 925 Market St., Tacoma; info@afcdesserts.com; https://www.facebook.com/uniquebakerydessert

Read the whole story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/12/19/unique-bakery-opens-in-downtown-tacoma-with-macarons-croissants-kouign-amann-more/

doughnuts
Sweet rice doughnuts filled with red beans at Bon Bon Bakery in Lakewood.

BON BON BAKERY

I was two bites in when I became completely enamored with the sweet rice doughnut. The doughnut orb came with a crunchy exterior, fried until golden brown. Each bite yielded an elastic chew with satisfying resilience. Licked with sweetness, the red beans inside were a sticky treat. Sweet rice doughnuts don’t get better than at Bon Bon Bakery, which opened in April 2021.

Bon Bon co-owners Chris Chung and Danny Shin credit BooHan Market owner Jae Han with recruiting them to the space inside BooHan Plaza. The French-Korean bakery carries a farflung stock of cakes, breads, cookies, cream puffs, macarons, madeleines, mochi, chestnut bread, egg tarts and those delicious sweet rice doughnuts. Like many French-Asian hybrid desserts, sweets at this bakery yield a less sugary treat. There’s an emphasis on soft, delicate textures, subdued sweetness and the bakery is committed to using only real butter. They also use the water-roux method, a fancy pastry chef trick that results in moist and fluffy textures.

Location: 9122 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-267-1353; https://instagram.com/bonbonbakery2021

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/05/26/new-bakery-open-in-lakewood-try-the-rice-doughnuts-and-cream-puffs/


burger
The Smashburger at Little Radio.

LITTLE RADIO

Little Radio opened in July 2020 in downtown Tacoma, bringing a menu of outstanding burgers and sandwiches (get the smash burger), fun cocktails and a tap list highlighting its sister business, Wingman Brewers in Tacoma’s brewery district. The restaurant is on hiatus for now, but keep an eye on their social media for what comes next. For now, order to-go food for pickup here: https://app.upserve.com/s/little-radio-tacoma

A bit more about the new spot: Little Radio feels the part of a timber-town tavern. Co-owner Ken Thoburn, Wingman founder, and his crew used layers of salvaged wood to create a timelessness to the decor. You can’t turn your head without spotting some kind of reclaimed wood. Salvaged wood climbs from floor to ceiling at the service bar, where diners order food and beverages. The built-in bench seating also is crafted from salvaged wood. They painted the exposed bricks a jarring shade of orange. The unfussy menu has a little something for everyone and appeals equally to date-night seekers, families with kids and people who like good beer and cocktails.

Location: 728 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1436; https://www.littleradiotacoma.com/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/07/23/tacomas-wingman-brewers-opens-little-radio-heres-a-first-look/


shrimp and grits
Shrimp and grits from Odin Brewing in Tacoma.

ODIN BREWING COMPANY AND PINT & PIE

Odin, a brewery-restaurant, opened in June 2020 in Tacoma’s Saint Helens neighborhood just after restaurant restrictions were lifted after the year’s first round of dining closures. Odin Brewing Company is the sister brewery to the Tukwila-based restaurant with a tap list deep on Odin finds and a pub menu brushed with chef touches (the pimento cheese is outstanding; as are the shrimp and grits with a kick of heat). Pint & Pie is an outpost of local brewery Northwest Brewing and serves a menu of savory and sweet pies. Read more here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/05/27/new-restaurant-and-bar-coming-to-the-old-hub-harmon-tacoma-space/ and here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/05/29/pint-pie-is-coming-to-tacomas-stadium-neighborhood-downstairs-from-odin-tacoma/


chicken
It’s a fight to grab the first piece of chicken at BB.Q Olive Chicken in Lakewood.

BB.Q OLIVE CHICKEN

This Korean fried chicken emporium is a chain restaurant with locations from Seoul to Seattle, but worth mentioning because of its outstanding Korean fried chicken. Local business owner Mija Chang opened the restaurant in August 2020 with her sister Mi Young Kang. Previously, the pair ran a convenience store. This is their first restaurant. Korean fried chicken, to you novices, is an import-export story. It’s Southern-fried chicken exported from America to Seoul, transformed into a Korean staple with the addition of Korean flavors and spicing, then imported back to the United States as a bar staple. At BB.Q Olive Chicken, listed on the menu are 10 styles of Korean fried chicken served in half or whole portion sizes. Chicken orders are served as a selection of bone-in wings, drums, thighs and small-portioned breasts and they’re fried until perfectly crunchy, but super juicy inside. Spice levels range from mild to Defcon Level Help Me. Order the mala for a blast of heat.

Location: 8722 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-507-5427; https://www.instagram.com/tacoma.globalbbq/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/08/12/new-korean-fried-chicken-restaurant-is-open-heres-a-first-look-spoiler-its-awesome/


tartin
A pumpkin tartin from Spice Lab in Tacoma.

SPICE LAB INSIDE THE HARMON

This pop-up restaurant opening in October 2020 brought the return of Chef Blake Lord-Wittig, formerly chef-owner of Steilacoom’s De La Terre. This restaurant delves deep into spices with an aromatic spin on New American cuisine. It operates as a pop-up inside Harmon Brewing in downtown Tacoma. The Spice Lab menu “pulls from North Africa and all the way into the Middle East,” said Lord-Wittig. But he’s not limiting himself to just those regions. Rather, he’ll go as global as his whims take him.

Location: 1938 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-383-2739; https://www.spicelabtacoma.com/

Read my preview story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2020/10/18/spice-lab-new-to-downtown-tacoma-has-a-familiar-chef/


meal
Chicken and apple meatballs over egg noodles (bottom) and beef-and-pork meatballs over mashed potatoes (top left) are flanked by cucumber salad and warm applesauce from Manic Meatballs in Lakewood.


MANIC MEATBALLS

This meatball destination debuted in December 2020 with a menu featuring something we’re short on here: Swedish meatballs. The Lakewood eatery is a first-time restaurant project for Carrie Stalder. The entire concept is built around her husband’s penchant for making Swedish meatballs, those heavenly, velvety porky-beefy meatballs suspended in a rich brown gravy. There’s also apple-sausage meatballs in a cream gravy at Manic Meatballs. For vegan and gluten-free diners, and for those trying to increase their plant-based eating, the restaurant offers Impossible plant-based meatballs that are vegan and gluten-free, and are served with a vegan, gluten-free gravy. Do not miss the restaurant’s outstanding homemade applesauce, served warm, and licked with cinnamon.

Location: 4815 Union Ave. SW, Lakewood; 253-584-9798; https://www.facebook.com/manicmeatballs/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/01/20/meatball-poutine-homemade-applesauce-yes-please-new-manic-meatballs-opens-in-lakewood/


sandwich
A po’ boy sandwich from Verone’s Italian Kitchen & Sausage Company in Fircrest.

VERONE’S ITALIAN KITCHEN & SAUSAGE COMPANY

Verone’s Italian Kitchen & Sausage Company in Fircrest opened in December 2020 and it brought with it five-napkin deli sandwiches, a refrigerator case stocked with take-and-bake delights, a display case filled with freshly-made sausage and a whole lot of Italian groceries. It’s also the first time in 30 years the longtime local sausage company has had a brick-and-mortar space that’s open to the public.

The best way I can describe Verone’s is to say that it’s a modernized version of Viafore’s, which operated for three-plus decades in that same space in Fircrest on Regents Boulevard. I loved that deli and sandwich spot and its closure was a tough moment for our local food scene, but the best-case scenario is Verone’s opening in that space. And as the Verone family tells the story, David Viafore of Viafore’s recruited them to the space. 

Location: 604 Regents Blvd, Fircrest; 253-327-1663; https://www.veronesausage.com/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/01/19/new-italian-sandwich-spot-opens-with-a-killer-deli-and-take-out-case/


gyro
A plate of gyros with salad and hummus from Narrows Gyro in Tacoma.

NARROWS GYRO

Narrows Gyro is a rebrand for the old Daniah International Market in Tacoma’s Narrow end of Sixth Avenue. The groceries are gone and in its place is a delightful restaurant with affordable prices and excellent gyro sandwiches and hummus. Did I mention the baklava? Ziad Abusamha and Wafa Ahmad opened their Narrows Gyro in Tacoma in November 2020 after a few rough years trying to operate a combination Mediterranean grocery store and gyro take-out restaurant at the same location.“We weren’t making any money, we were hanging on,” said Abusamha. 

In November they reopened as Narrows Gyro with a light-and-airy casual dining area. “Our menu before it was limited, but we have a whole host of new items like the rice and the shawarma. We can do chicken, lamb and beef shawarma. You can do a chicken gyro. We have all kinds of salads now, such as falafel salad. It’s a broad Mediterranean menu now. We have the cauliflower dishes now. We added the food, such as dishes with the fava beans and we have the kibbeh, which is bulgar shell with meat and spices,” Abusamha explained. 

Do not miss the fried cauliflower sandwich.

Location: 6603 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-503-1674; https://www.narrowsgyro.com/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/03/27/narrows-gyro-in-tacoma-is-now-open-have-you-been/


The bar at the Boom Boom Room in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood.

BOOM BOOM ROOM

Enter the long, narrow, exquisitely decorated lounge and look up at the ceiling. The sparkly starburst chandelier, dropping down over a tall-back curved booth next to the front door, looks straight out of the 1960s. That’s because it is. Owner Robert Stocker fished that chandelier out of the Edgewood home he grew up in. Now it’s proudly displayed in The Boom Boom Room in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood. That chandelier is a tangible link to that house Stocker grew up in, but the entire space is modeled after his childhood home.

Stocker’s vision is heavily weighted in the mid century decor of 1960s-era Vegas. There’s a little bit of the Miami spirit in there, too. The name is an homage to the yesteryear lounge of the same name from the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. The retro-themed lounge opened in April 2021 next door to Stocker’s other restaurant, Beefy’s Burgers.

As you’d guess with a mid-century concept, the cocktails are gussied up Prohibition-era classics. There’s a little bit of tableside theater thrown in for good measure. Be sure to give the bar’s version of a Paper Plane a try.

Location: 3016 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; https://www.facebook.com/people/The-Boom-Boom-Room-Tacoma/100042535407137/

Read my preview opening story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/03/30/boom-boom-room-in-tacoma-opening-on-6th-ave-heres-a-look-inside/


meats
A combo tray of all the meats at FOB Brewing Co. in DuPont. This menu item is not yet available, but will be eventually.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE BREWING CO. BARBECUE POP-UP

Forward Operating Base Brewing Co. owner and Army veteran Jared Wharton added a surprise bonus in April 2021: A kitchen and a smoker. He added both to his 50-seat brewery that’s tucked into an industrial park in DuPont. Fittingly, his brewery is a hop and skip from JBLM. The brewery name is a nod to the name – Forward Operating Base – given to military installations that typically support tactical operations.

His brisket is simply prepared, Central Texas style, and mesquite smoked. I asked him if he’ll stick with basic salt-and-pepper, the preferred seasoning at Central Texas smokehouses. Absolutely, said Wharton, but he added, “I can’t leave anything alone.” He infused a little dash of Northwest into the recipe. What’s the most Northwest seasoning you can think of? A sprinkle of Johnny’s, of course. The ribs are Memphis style with a dry rub that skews more savory and earthy. As served in Memphis, the ribs arrive unsauced. (In fact, all the meat is unsauced, the way all barbecue should be served). 

Location: 2750 Williamson Place #100, DuPont; https://www.fobbrewingcompany.com/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/04/07/new-barbecue-restaurant-opens-in-a-familiar-brewery-been-to-fob-brewing/


burger
A Jack Burger with bacon, American cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles and farm sauce from Jake’s Burgers at Sterino Farms.

JAKE’S BURGERS AT STERINO FARMS

From field to shake, Jake’s Burgers at Sterino Farms is about as fresh a berry milkshake experience as a diner can find in Pierce County.  The burger truck opened in May 2021 at the Sterino Farms Puyallup farm stand at 6116 52nd St. E. The burger truck offers a succinct menu of burgers and fries, and a list of milkshakes that make great use of the farm’s broad berry stock, as well as other regional berries from local farmers. And pie. They also serve pie-by-the-slice. I don’t know that any local restaurant could ever have as fresh of produce as Jake’s Burgers will have.

“That lettuce we cut this morning can be on your burger at lunchtime,” said owner Jake Sterino, a fourth-generation Sterino to farm the land in and around the Puyallup Valley. His great grandfather started the family’s farming legacy 100 years ago with a 15-acre patch of land in Fife. After I-5 bisected the property, the family expanded into Puyallup. The farm’s famous berries anchor the shake menu. “We raise golden raspberries, tayberries, which is a raspberry-blackberry mix, and gooseberries, black and red currants,” explained Sterino.

Location: Sterino Farms, 6116 52nd St. E., Puyallup; 253-922-8945; http://sterinofarms.com/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/05/31/new-jakes-burgers-at-sterino-farms-has-berries-that-go-from-field-to-shake/


lumpia plate
A combo plate from BukBuk’s Island Chicken and Lumpia, which is opening in Tacoma. Photo courtesy of BukBuk’s Island Chicken and Lumpia

BUKBUK’S ISLAND CHICKEN AND LUMPIA

BukBuk’s merges Pacific Island flavors in portable, handheld eats. Flavors initially will be influenced by dishes from the Philippines and Guam, but expect to see a broader Pacific Island palate in the form of daily specials and new menu items. BukBuk’s debuted in June 2021 with a food truck at Beer Star in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood and a kitchen for delivery (for now) at Freighthouse Square.

“This will be a street-food experience, through handheld food. Pacific Island tapas is an easy way to describe it,” said owner Domonick Arnett – a longtime Tacoma restaurant industry worker. “I’m starting with Filipino food because that’s what I grew up with and that’s what I know, but I want to represent more Pacific Island food.”

Locations: Beer Star Tacoma and Freighthouse Square, Tacoma; check social for updates – https://www.facebook.com/BukBuksLumpia

Read my preview opening story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/05/27/bukbuks-island-chicken-and-lumpia-opening-in-tacoma/


corn
Traditional elote with mayo, parmesan and chili powder at I Luv Elotes in Tacoma.

I LUV ELOTES

Count I Luv Elotes, serving gussied up corn on the cob, as another food business born out of the pandemic. Owner William Terry, a lifelong Tacoman, has operated a security company, has worked as a barber and helped run a youth housing organization. When the pandemic hit, the events for which he provided security dried up, as did his other work. His path led him to open I Luv Elotes with his son. It’s a pop-up corn on the cob stand in the Oakland neighborhood in Tacoma.

Want your corn on the cob dunked in crushed Takis or Cool Ranch Doritos? They’ve got that at I Luv Elotes. There are also fun flavor combinations, such as a Cajun version, called Bayou Elote, dusted with shrimp powder, coated in two kinds of crushed chips and sprinkled with Cajun seasoning and/or Old Bay. The traditional elote comes with the standard ingredients – butter, mayo, parmesan, chili powder and lime juice (ask them to go easy on the lime juice if you want it less citrusy). 

Location: 4002 Center St., Tacoma; http://www.facebook.com/I-Luv-Elotes-113903953745140/

Read my first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/06/03/the-i-luv-elotes-cart-is-now-open-in-tacoma-try-the-cajun-corn/


pizza
La Casa, a Detroit-style pizza, from Tacoma Pie.

MORE NEW SPOTS

Cafe Azure opened a lovely cafe with bountiful breakfast burritos, simple cafe fare and coffee in February 2020 inside a building built on top of Tacoma’s first indoor pool. Read about it here. 

Hong’s Restaurant in Lakewood opened in March 2020. This scrappy restaurant is a conglomeration of all kinds of Asian cuisine and has a menu deep on Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine. Read more here. 

Cravin’ Crawfish was the first of two seafood boil restaurants that opened in 2020 (including Captain Crab in Lakewood, mentioned below). The Tacoma Mall-area boil restaurant opened in May 2020. Owner Vu Nguyen’s love for lobster, crab and crawfish is translated into bowls brimming with flavorful sauces. Read more here. 

Captain Crab, another seafood boil joint opened in Lakewood in September 2020 with a broad, and economically priced, seafood boil menu. It’s a sibling business to the buffet next door. Read more here. 

Mogoso Noodles is currently on hiatus, but co-owners June Yoon and Sun Lee plan for a more permanent home for their noodle and dumpling stand they debuted in the summer of 2020 at local farmers markets. Read more here. 

Dock Street Deli debuted on the Foss waterway in June 2020, the project of a third-generation Tacoma restaurant owner and a terrific spot for sandwiches piled high with delicious deli meats. Read more here. 

Fiesta Taqueria opened a second location in May 2020 in South Hill in an area newly bustling with independently-owned restaurants. A lengthy tequila list, excellent street tacos and a serve-yourself salsa bar make this a great destination. Read more here.

Taqueria El Rinconsito opened a South Hill location in March 2020, just ahead of the pandemic. It slugged through the pandemic with a serious take-out game. Find a long list of portable Mexican eats and a daily special for $5.99. Read more here.

Toast Mi’s summer 2020 opening brought Tacoma’s Proctor neighborhood its first banh mi sandwich shop. The lovely restaurant features a build-to-your-specs sandwich menu paired with delightful teas and other drinks. Read more here. 

The Main Ingredient Pizzeria opened in August 2020 in the former Stonegate space on South Tacoma Way. Consider the crust a hybrid between Neapolitan and New York, with a menu of beer-friendly appetizers. Read more here. 

Tacoma Pie celebrated a summer opening as a pop-up restaurant in 2020. Serving out of the commissary kitchen called The Gourmet Niche, owner Dean Shivers has built a following for his Detroit-style pizza. He just closed for a brief hiatus and plans to come back later this summer with a new location. Read more here.

BBQ Pete’s opened its Lakewood location in September 2020, marking the longtime regional barbecue restaurant’s return to a brick-and-mortar smokehouse in Pierce County. Read more here. 

Pour Me Bar & Bistro added a much needed date-night spot to the Graham-Puyallup dining scene. Find great sandwiches and solid cocktails at this spot that opened in September 2020. Read more here. 

Wienerschnitzel returned to the South Sound in September 2020 with a first modern-era location in Pierce County for the national hot dog company. Read more here. 

Forbidden City opened in Parkland in January 2021 the longtime home of Lieu’s Chinese. It brought with it a menu of Chinese wok classics, dumplings and, eventually a hot pot menu. Read more here.

Jet City Pizza, the small regional pizza chain known for its dough made with brew, opened a Sixth Avenue location in May. It’s a first Pierce County location. Read more here.


Kvlt Mead
Enjoy Kvlt Mead in a neighborhood filled with great eating destinations.

BEVERAGE OPENINGS

Amitie Wine Company debuted in March 2020, the project of Tacoma’s wine dame Kris Blondin and business partner Jack Noble. Longtime Tacomans will know them as the original owners of the excellent Stink Cheese + Meat. They have all your wine needs covered at Amitie, plus they’re next door to Fujiya for excellent sushi access. Read more here. 

Mingle is a concept flip for the former Flanagan’s in downtown Puyallup. Co-owners Tim and Kari Carson Mellema reconfigured the space to be an all-purpose cocktail lounge. It opened in March 2021. Read more here.

Cider + Cedar is a cider taproom that opened in the summer 2020 with a concept that combines the loves of its owners – cider and woodworking. Read more here. 

Grit City Ciderworks opened in July 2020 in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood with a taplist featuring the fun and fizzy creations of Kelsey and David Horne. Read more here. 

Fierce County Cider opened its first tasting room in September 2020 with a location in South Hill. Visitors will find a rotating list of handcrafted ciders using regionally-sourced fruit, plus a solid lineup of food trucks in a lovely, sprawling space. This is a must visit during the summer months. Read more here.

Home Turf Taproom opened next door to PLU in September 2020 with a taplist featuring brews from sister business, Gig Harbor Brewing. Read more here. 

Old Town Wine Skins is a delightful wine bar and neighborhood destination in Tacoma’s Old Town, opened by PLU business professor Cosette Pfaff and her husband John, who is a longtime self-taught chef. Read more here.  

Kvlt Mead opened its new location in January 2020. It moved from the Dome District to a sprawling industrial space in one of Tacoma’s most interesting eating neighborhoods along South Tacoma Way. Find handmade meads and a metal soundtrack with two owners, Jen Otis and Brian Sprouse, committed to creating an inviting space for all. Read more here.

Mission Mountain Meadery is a production only meadery selling direct to consumers and a few select local watering holes. The meadery comes from Steve Taylor, formerly of nano brewery, Brewgenix. Read more here.

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