Article and Photos by James W Beckman
Smarty Pants is your spot for acclaimed sandwiches that have been praised all over the region.
Smarty Pants is an easy-to-miss restaurant and bar tucked in behind Grand Central Bakery off 152nd in downtown Burien. The café-racer-inspired décor and layout offer intimate seating and a fitting setting for large groups, which is hard to come by in downtown Burien’s oft-compact restaurants.
Walk through the large double doors, and a dimly lit setting immediately invites you in. Café racer-style motorcycles mounted above the kitchen draw your eyes upward, yet the space feels cozy and warm even with the tall ceilings. The large oval bar is a centerpiece of the restaurant, with its surrounding bar seating area filled with high-top tables for two.
The overall layout is a sort of “pick your adventure,” allowing one portion of the dining room to serve as a dimly-lit 21+ bar for hours-long conversations with a friend or a lover. The other section of the restaurant serves a family setting with a large table next to a window.
The latter was my experience this time, but I’ve experienced the former on several occasions.
Service outside the bar is sometimes slow, but it is always friendly. Even though it isn’t a “family restaurant,” staff are eager to accommodate children (my wonderful wife and I dined with our 2-year-old and 3-month-old); there is a limited kids’ menu. Our particular waitress, who has – to my recollection – worked here for years, was a delight and made our whole family feel welcomed and supported at every turn of the meal.
Every sandwich is excellent.
Even after reading through the menu, sandwiches that seem dull or appear to be a strange combination of ingredients end up coming together somehow to become more than the sum of their parts. It’s like magic!
The sandwich-heavy menu has some variety if you’re not in the mood for bread, but I didn’t have the chance to try those options. We ordered the French Dip, the ‘Lil Philly (with steak), and the kids’ menu grilled cheese, along with a beer and a cider.
Having enjoyed incredible Philly Cheesesteaks in both Philly and D.C., I have high expectations for any sandwich carrying that name.
Smarty Pants’ ‘Lil Philly was very well executed; The bread wasn’t dry, yet still had the necessary characteristics to soak up the juice from the meat, cheese, and veggies. The steak possessed incredible flavor. The texture and flavor of every bite created a rich depth. The most significant difference between this sandwich and one you’ll find on the East Coast is the amount of filling; whereas a “Philly” in Philly might sink you for the night, this one feels just right.
The French Dip was so simple and very well executed. The sandwich did so little but did it so well. Just steak, cheese, and bread with a little sauce.
What made this sandwich shine is the incredible house-made ajous. This sandwich is the definition of “more than the sum of its parts.” The waitress gushed about how this was her favorite thing on the menu; I fully understand why. It’s better than any French Dip I’ve had in a restaurant, and one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten!
We ordered the grilled cheese from the kids’ menu for our “kiddo.” While it was the only thing on the kids’ menu, it was so good that I would have ordered it as a complete meal for myself. The sandwich was buttery on grilled-to-crispy-perfection white bread, stuffed with at least two kinds of cheese that melted into an ideal grilled cheese texture.
We opted for french fries as the side for all three of our orders. Smarty Pants’ fries are some of my favorites. They’re the perfect combination of crisp and heft.
They have a double-fried feel but aren’t overly greasy. They’re loaded with flavor without being unnecessarily doused in an herbed seasoning blend (not that there’s anything wrong with that). There are other sides you can choose to accompany your sandwich, but you should order the fries if you’re in a “french-fry mood” .. (and make sure you get dipping sauces! Most all their sauces are house-made and lauded by the staff. They taste the part.)
The bar has 8 taps that rotate through a great selection of seasonal favorites and solid year-round options. The bartender always does a good job and faithfully honors a selection of traditional cocktails.
I’ve been to Smarty Pants many times over the years, and the food has been excellent each time. My standard order is “The TroubleMaker,” it’s the sandwich I recommend to everyone on their first visit.
Smarty Pants offers excellent food and friendly service wrapped in a unique and fun atmosphere. Easy parking in an attached parking lot is the cherry on top.
If you have yet to go, you’re missing out on one of the gems of the Puget Sound!