Skillet Diner, Seattle, WA (pictured). Dressed-up diner food, with big mugs of coffee (from a local independent roaster, yes) and plates of pork belly (house-cured, of course) with cornmeal waffles. The mod-comfy diner anchors a thriving neighborhood that draws shoppers and fun-seekers from breakfast to late-night drinks. Must-try: Fried chicken sandwich; corned beef hash; pork belly and waffle. $$; 1400 E. Union St.; 206/512-2000.
Southern Kitchen, Tacoma, WA. Everything is as it should be, Southern-style, in this small but hopping restaurant. Mason jars arrive brim-full of sweet tea, and the cook takes special pride in fried chicken and bread pudding. Allow time for a post-lunch nap. Must-try: Fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, fried catfish. $$; 1716 Sixth Ave.; 253/627-4282.
Carol’s Corner Cafe, Vancouver, WA. Giant portions of old-fashioned comfort food, in a timeworn spot packed with regulars. Don’t be fooled by the many “half-orders” the menu offers; our leftovers from a “half” breakfast weighed in at 2 pounds. Must-try: C.C. Hash; homemade biscuit and gravy. $; 7800 N.E. St. Johns Rd.; 360/573-6357.
Cora’s Coffee Shoppe, Santa Monica, CA. Former surfers’ hang revamped by Bruce Marder, who owns the expensive (and good) Capo next door. Sweet patio, great tacos, and an American Kobe burger that’s one of the best in town. But there’s an Italian accent too: burrata omelet, bucatini with lamb ragù. Must-try: The rotisserie tacos de carnitas. $$; 1802 Ocean Ave.; 310/451-9562.
Castaways Restaurant & Tiki Bar, Cannon Beach, OR. The tiny cedar-shingled building started out as a bar. But food crept in, and Castaways is now snug in the firmament of worth-a-detour dining. The eclectic cuisine—billed as “Cajun & Creole”—is as serious as the cocktails. 316 N. Fir St.; (503) 436-8777.