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Ten South Sound essential meals

Dishes to sink your teeth into

Engine House #9’s deep-fried French toast. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

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With such a generous variety of cuisines available in the South Sound, it can be difficult to decide what to eat. We’ve all been there, deciding between a burger or Chinese take-out. However, diversity can also offer some great dishes that you don’t find at every restaurant, or at the very least, a not-so-garden-variety offering. Here are 10 essential dishes offered locally that will make you question every boring meal you’ve ever eaten.

Engine House #9 (E9) has been a Tacoma staple for years. In addition to the large selection of brews and ciders, great care is taken with every meal served. Pop in on a Saturday or Sunday for breakfast and order the deep-fried French toast breakfast. Three huge slices of baguette are egg-battered and deep-fried offering a unique crunchy crust that is like no other. Crispy on the outside and warm, soft and fresh on the inside, drench them in butter and syrup and you will not be disappointed. If that’s not enough, it comes with two eggs and your choice of bacon, sausage or ham for just $10. 11 a.m. to midnight, Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday; 611 N. Pine St., Tacoma, 253.272.3435,

South Tacoma is home to several quality Asian restaurants, but Tacoma Szechuan is the closest you can get to authentic Chinese cuisine without a 16-hour plane ride. Specifically, Tacoma Szechuan has hot pot down to a science, offering both a mild or spicy broth, as well as a split pot that houses both options. The meat choices of beef, lamb, chicken, pork, and seafood are sure to make anyone satisfied. If you’ve never had hot pot, it is essentially a meat and vegetable stew that you cook at your own table. Traditionally, this will include platters of frozen, thinly sliced meat, leafy vegetables, and noodles or won tons alongside a boiling pot of broth and assorted dipping sauces. Give the hot pot a shot and you will see why it is one of the best around the South Sound. 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 9701 South Tacoma Way #102, Lakewood, 253.581.0102,

Never order a plain burger when instead, you can head to Olympia and take on The Outrageous Blarney at O’Blarney’s Irish Pub. Steady yourself, as this is not a burger for the faint of appetite, this is a two-quarter pound patty offering with double the cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, bacon and ham, as well as a fried egg. Make certain you have both hands free, lean over the plate, and have plenty of napkins handy. And it doesn’t come alone; you have your choice of soup, potato salad, cole slaw or fries. When you have the appetite, this is worth the drive, but be aware that you may never have a basic burger again. 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., daily, 4411 Martin Way, Olympia, 360.459.8084,

Tacoma Cabana downtown often feels like a staycation for your palate. One offering that should be your reason for visiting is the Kona Coffee rubbed steak. At only $18, it is the most expensive item on the menu, but is well worth the price. All the flavors on the plate, from the rice, to the grilled vegetables, work perfectly with the bold coffee and earthy tones of the steak.  I’ve eaten a lot of steak in my day, but few that matched so well with everything else on the menu. Plus, we’re talking about coffee and steak here, people! 5 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday-Saturday, 728 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.222.4184,

As far as comfort food goes, Italian is right up there, and for 30 years, Marzano’s in Parkland has been comforting everyone that comes through the door. Though lasagna can be tricky to find the right balance between pasta, sauce, cheese and meat; Marzano’s has mastered it. Each bite, from beginning to end, is the right distribution of sausage and pasta, with plenty of cheese for any cheese lover, and the sauce screams fresh and flavorful. Oh, and the service is so good, you’ll feel like family. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-8:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-9 p.m., Friday; 4-9 p.m., Saturday; 516 Garfield St. S., Tacoma, 253.537.4191,

Lasagna from Marzano’s in Parkland. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

If you find yourself in Olympia, head into the Bread Peddler for a traditional open-faced French croque sandwich. There are several choices ranging from sautéed onions and mushrooms, to salami, or my favorite, the Croque Monsieur, which includes ham, Dijon, Swiss, and the Fromage Blanc that truly brings flavor to the dish. Think French onion soup, but in a sandwich with lots of flavor sitting atop rustic bread, and a hard, crunchy broiled cheese top. As a bonus, each sandwich is also available with a broiled egg. 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily, 222 Capitol Blvd. N., Olympia, 360.352.1175,

I could fill myself beyond what I should with traditional Filipino lumpia. Cebu in Lacey boasts a scratch menu, and the lumpia here is no exception. These little Filipino egg rolls don’t look picture-perfect because they are hand rolled and fried, but rest assured, they are packed with seasoned ground pork, and then deep-fried to a crispy perfection. As if it couldn’t get any better, they are served with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. At just six to an order, you will want to order a plate per person. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Friday; noon-9 p.m., Saturday, 9408 Martin Way E., Lacey, 360.455.9128,

Cebu’s lumpia is packed with seasoned ground pork. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

In the heart of the Proctor neighborhood of Tacoma, Viva serves up organic vegan dishes to anyone willing to take a healthy approach to dining out. Vegan cuisine has come a long way from bland, steamed veggies on a plate, and Viva’s cauliflower “wings” are a prime example. A large helping of cauliflower florets is pan-fried and tossed in your choice of sauces, either ginger tamari or Kansas BBQ. Though nobody will likely mistake these for actual chicken wings, they are tender, tasty, and bite-sized, all ready for dipping in the side of Ranch included with each order. In this case, healthy is not boring. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday, 2602 N. Proctor St., Tacoma, 253.503.6498,

In Lakewood, Hoagies Sub Deli, features the favorite Hoagie’s Corner menu from the now-gone NW chain from the 1970s and 80s. Here, your taste buds have a chance to re-live their youth by way of a Cheesy British. In case you’ve forgotten, this includes roast beef, ham and turkey with lettuce, dill pickles, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and of course, the mayo/mustard mixed spread. Make sure to have a full experience by ordering it heated to appreciate the full melty, cheesy goodness that can only be found here. Available to go, or eat in if you can’t wait. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Friday, 11202 Bridgeport Way SW, Lakewood, 253.589.1211
The Cheesy British from Hoagies Sub Deli in Lakewood. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

Taco Rico in Edgewood is quite possibly the biggest surprise in the area. Located in the back of a gas station, and not a new fancy one, but one that needs work, it offers behemoth burritos for anyone willing to take one on. But one in particular will have you racing to get here. The Rico burrito is bacon-wrapped, yes, bacon-wrapped. A crispy bacon blanketed burrito is stuffed with rice and your choice of meat. The dish is finished off with a fresh avocado, tomato, lettuce, sour cream, and the house hot sauce. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 486 Meridian Ave. E., Edgewood, 253.719.8938

The Rico burrito from Taco Rico. Photo credit: Dutch Randall

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