The brie baguette at Salted Grape Cafe includes turkey ham, brie cheese and pesto aioli, while the Asian steak tacos come with soy marinated flank steak, basil, red onion and sweet wasabi aioli. (Evan Thompson / The Herald)

The brie baguette at Salted Grape Cafe includes turkey ham, brie cheese and pesto aioli, while the Asian steak tacos come with soy marinated flank steak, basil, red onion and sweet wasabi aioli. (Evan Thompson / The Herald)

Escape from work with lunch at Bothell’s Salted Grape Cafe

The cozy place offers quick bites, include hoagies, tacos and paninis, in a relaxing atmosphere.

Salted Grape Cafe is the kind of place where I like to eat lunch in the middle of a busy work day.

It’s cozy, delicious yet reasonably priced, and easy to get to from I-405. But what surprised me most was the menu, which is big enough to give some restaurants a run for their money.

The cafe is tucked away in a business complex that also houses one of Rep. Suzan DelBene’s district offices. The menu has the typical cafe fare, such as coffee, soups and sandwiches. But you also can order tacos, hoagies, paninis, wraps and salads.

Owners Nathan Salter and Leslie Grover, who are a married couple, like to change things up three to four times a year, so expect something new if you visit once in a blue moon.

“I like to have fun with it,” Salter said. “Just like how people can get bored with a menu, so can I.”

I’m a sucker for all things pesto, so I ordered a baguette panini with turkey ham, brie cheese and pesto aioli ($8.50). All of the flavors were distinct, with the melted brie probably my favorite part.

Other paninis include a turkey melt, ham and tomato, and chicken and goat cheese with avocado.

I decided to also try one of the tacos, out of curiosity. There were five to choose from: pulled pork, grilled chicken, Asian steak, veggie and deluxe with a choice of chicken or pork. I went with the Asian steak tacos, which were made with soy-marinated flank steak, tomato, basil, red onion and sweet wasabi aioli.

The steak was slightly dry, but everything else tasted fresh from the farm.

Salter said he uses local ingredients whenever possible.

“I’m getting veggies picked from the garden from the day before,” he said. “It’s not from a warehouse.”

Salter, 45, of Bothell, has more than 20 years of restaurant experience, including six years as the banquet chef at The Westin Seattle, a four-star hotel on Fifth Avenue. But when working up to 80 hours a week got in the way of being a father, Salter decided it was finally time to open his own place and make his own hours. The couple opened the cafe about four years ago.

The space was too small to be a sit-down restaurant, so instead he wanted to make it a reprieve for busy workers nearby.

“Most of what we do is for people having a quick, 30-minute lunch break — and it has to be quick,” Salter said. “We want it to be a place where people can come and calm down and relax and not have to stress.”

Giving customers variety was a goal from the beginning, Salter said. That can be challenging, working within the confines of a 900-foot space, but Salter said he compensates for a lack of kitchen space by experimenting with different flavors that people aren’t exposed to normally.

The cafe’s bestseller, the steak hoagie, is the best example of this. Salter uses sambal aioli — a combination of Korean hot sauce and mayonnaise seasoned with garlic — instead of the tried-and-true sriracha-mayonnaise mixture found on most steak hoagies.

It gives the $11.50 hoagie, which also comes with marinated flank steak, onion, tomato, arugula, cilantro and sweet chili, a new dimension, he said.

“It’s got a sweet, salty and spicy mix to the whole thing,” Salter said.

Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, ethompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.

If you go

Salted Grape Cafe, 22121 17th Ave. SE, Suite E-106, Bothell, is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 425-485-0077 or go to www.facebook.com/SaltedGrapeCafe.

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