2011 MUST EAT: Lucia Italian Restaurant & Bar

Authentic Italian cuisine with a splash of glitz and glamour, this restauranteur took family history to the next level.

Lucia’s Signature Spaghetti and Meatballs

One could say Mike Halter, owner of taste-bud-tempting Lucia in Kirkland Parkplace, was born with pasta sauce in his veins.

In Mike’s case, however, it would be a decadent white truffle oil fondue (Lucia’s signature spaghetti and meatball dish). One taste of the homemade meatballs perched on pasta-smothered marinara, straddling the fondue littered with shaved black truffles and you’ll ask for more.

A demure, edgy bistro, with silent black and white movies playing on the brick wall entrance, Lucia’s ambiance includes intimate lighting and seating amid a raw black background bursting with burnt orange accents.

From his toddler years, Mike was surrounded by the hospitality business. His parents owned and operated Portland’s famous Barney Bagel and Susie Cream Cheese (by the Galleria downtown), and then moved up to Seattle to open Mama Lucia.

One of his first memories is when his parents discovered him sitting at a table talking to customers. This doesn’t surprise Mike’s wife, co-owner Megan. “Everyone is Mike’s best friend. He’s the one who’s in the know, on the floor, getting to know you.”

Beginning his restaurant career in the “dish pit,” Mike moved up the restaurant ladder during his teens. In his early twenties he moved out the door for a corporate stint. He then opened restaurants in California and New York. Coming full circle, Mike is back where his career began.

The space Lucia occupies was Mama Lucia’s, the family restaurant where it all started.

Upon his return to Seattle, Mike cut a hole in the restaurant wall, overflowed into an open space next door and updated the look. With a complete gut, away went the red and white checked vinyl tablecloths and Italian deli décor.

An event loft now hovers over the black poured-in-place concrete bar area. The outdoor patio, adorned with ginger-orange throws, keeps you toasty and comfortable while enjoying nightly live music. With the impeccable service you’d receive in Mama’s kitchen, Lucia’s knowledgeable wait staff is ready with a recommendation, asks the right questions and is attentive without annoying.

Where the youngest in this restaurant-owning family wanted change, the long time patrons wanted what they loved – the food. Many of Mama Lucia’s old-timers associated good Italian food with an American-Italian atmosphere – respect given to the Italian flag, red and green colors, the stated checked tablecloths and those pictures of people you don’t know but are probably related to dotting the walls.

Over time those who loved Mama Lucia adjusted to the new digs because the food is still amazing. From the crab cakes topped with crunchy, candied pancetta to seafood-loaded choppino, Mike has made an age-old recipe delectable without feeling the need to go all fusion-inspired on us.

Mike credits the amazing and authentic Italian menu to his own mama – and dad too. The recipes used in the restaurants he’s worked and opened have been hers all along. Many of the items on Lucia’s current menu are the same ones his mom, Caterina Gargaglione-Shyne, brought with her from her Italian upbringing in the Calabria region.

Other recipes come from a slew of restaurant owning relatives scattered all over Italy. The homemade pepper sauce that Lucia presents alongside the parmesan cheese is lovingly named “Uncle Franco’s Viagra.” Mike’s dad, Jack Halter, although retired, can’t stay away and is always available for advice and assistance.

Mike truly wants Lucia to reflect an authentic, family-owned Italian restaurant feel. He points out that Lucia has “a true bistro sense. The movies feel like you are in downtown Manhattan. The open space gives a versatile appeal and the staff is great. It’s a true, all-encompassing Italian family experience.”

Indeed, the restaurant allows you to gather large or pair off. It’s romantic and private, crowded and boisterous. The diner gets a full experience with atmosphere, quality, family friendly, complete with the owner on the floor. There’s no sterile, institutional or corporate feel. Lucia’s is the authentic Italian you want.

Open at 11am Monday-Friday, 4pm on Saturday, and 5pm on Sunday.

Lucia | 222 Parkplace, Kirkland WA 98033 | (425) 889-0200