Welcome to Seattle: A Newcomer's Eating Tour

Big on all things seasonal, local and straight out of Puget Sound, Seattle is inexplicably overlooked as a food lover’s destination — but it won't be for long. Find the best spots to eat and drink like an Emerald City local with these highlights of the city’s vibrant restaurant scene. 

By: Chelsea Lin

Photo By: Sarah Flotard

Photo By: Colin Bishop

Photo By: Colin Bishop

Photo By: Colin Bishop

Photo By: Brandon Pettit

Photo By: Colin Bishop

Photo By: Colin Bishop

Photo By: Colin Bishop

Photo By: Will Foster

Photo By: Todd Rotkis

Photo By: Colin Bishop

Photo By: Brooke Fitts

Photo By: Colin Bishop

Photo By: Charity Burggraaf

Photo By: Naomi Tomky

Photo By: Sarah Flotard

Photo By: Nic Lehoux

Photo By: Canlis

Photo By: Jamie Boudreau

Welcome to Seattle

Seattle is a city best known by tech-heads, outdoor adventurers and grunge rock fans still pining for the ’90s. But below the plaid-clad stereotype lies a scene of passionate, inventive chefs — and the well-fed food fanatics who support them — who forage mushrooms from local forests, troll the sea for fresh Dungeness crabs and visit Pike Place Market for the freshest produce. Obviously, you’ll find the bounty of the Pacific Northwest on the menus of rock star chefs around town, but you’re just as likely to see these ingredients in the mom-and-pop ethnic restaurants, the plentiful pop-ups and the food trucks that feed the city’s growing work force. 

Iconic Spot: Matt's in the Market

Blink as you’re walking past the corner flower stand at Pike Place Market and you may miss the sign for this hidden gem tucked above the market’s busy thoroughfare. But it’s worth tracking down: Matt’s in the Market is Seattle’s most-enchanting neighborhood bistro, made even more enjoyable by views of Pike Place’s iconic neon sign out the dining room window and the tiny ferry boats crossing Elliott Bay beyond. Chef Shane Ryan’s food is at once casual — you shouldn’t miss the half-dozen deviled eggs — and sophisticated. This is the sort of place that makes both lunch and dinner feel special. Make sure, too, that you check out the restaurant’s sibling bar, Radiator Whiskey, across the hall. 

Seafood: White Swan Public House

This dimly lit, near-broody restaurant on Lake Union’s southeastern shore has different water views from the Elliott Bay vantage tourists have come to expect. For that matter, White Swan doesn’t serve the standard seafood dishes either—and that’s precisely the point. Chef Josh Nebe approaches oysters, clams, scallops and even whole daily fish with a bit of a rock-and-roll attitude. Check out the Poutine O’ The Sea (essentially chowder-topped fries) and the Bone Marrow Kilpatrick (with smoked oysters and bacon) for excellent examples.

Go to: The White Swan Public House

Pizza: Delancey and Dino's Tomato Pie

It’s a local toss up — pun intended — whether the pizza is better at Delancey or Dino’s Tomato Pie. If the Pacific Northwest had a style of pizza, Delancey would have spearheaded it: The wood-fired pies at the cozy Ballard restaurant are topped with nettles or roasted padron peppers, as seasons allow. But owner Brandon Pettit (the same that owns Essex, and its awesome burger) is an East Coast native, and though Delancey’s pizzas are New York-ish, he longed for the kind of square Sicilian “grandma pies” he grew up eating in Jersey pizza taverns. So he started one of his own: Dino’s Tomato Pie opened in Capitol Hill in early 2016.

Go to: Dino's Tomato Pie

Burger: Essex

To argue about Seattle’s best burger is a lesson in futility: Either you’re in the camp for Dick’s Drive-In, a local institution where the deluxe is still around $3, or you’re not. But the burger at Ballard cocktail bar Essex isn’t drive-in-quality fare — and that’s a good thing. Owner Brandon Pettit cooks the charred, juicy patties in the same wood-fired fashion as the pizzas at his first place, Delancey, next door, and then dresses them simply with two different aiolis and lettuce. Cheddar, bacon and Padrón peppers are available (and recommended). OK, so it’s $16 and occasionally takes upward of 30 minutes (more time than it takes to park, order and eat at Dick’s), but the cocktails are divine, the wallpapered space is gorgeous, and this is definitely a burger worth waiting for. 

Essex

Sushi: Sushi Kashiba

To sit at the sushi counter and have master chef Shiro Kashiba expertly prepare you handrolls and perfect salmon nigiri, and to look out over Pike Place Market’s neon signs onto Elliott Bay beyond… well, to have that meal is to participate in a living piece of Seattle’s history. Kashiba is recognized as the local godfather of sushi. Now in his 70s, Kashiba opened his eponymous restaurant late in 2015; no reservations are taken for the sushi counter, so go early to wait in line, because the omakase is unparalleled. If it’s not Kashiba behind the counter, you needn’t worry—all his sushi chefs are talented, and there’s not a bad bite in the house.

Go to: Sushi Kashiba

Brunch: The Wandering Goose

Seattle isn’t exactly the place you’d expect to have the perfect Southern brunch, but The Wandering Goose has made it so. The shabby-chic cafe is the passion project of noted baker and biscuit maven Heather Earnhardt, whose North Carolina roots show in her execution of pimento mac ‘n’ cheese, fried oysters, collard greens and everything in the beautiful bakery case. The narrow Capitol Hill shop opens at 7 a.m. — meaning you can brunch as early or as late as you want on essentials like buttery biscuits with flavor-packed sausage gravy and poached eggs. Start with a mimosa, the daily squeezed juice (like carrot, beet, apple and ginger) or a stiff cup of locally roasted Caffe Vita coffee. 

The Wandering Goose

Fast Food: Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches

If there were a single chef responsible for satiating the city’s primal need for delicious drunk food, it would be Monica Dimas. Her General Tso’s chicken tacos at dive bar Neon Taco are the stuff of legend, but her Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches, a corner counter inside the colorful, modern Rachel’s Ginger Beer on Capitol Hill, may be her best restaurant yet. Rachel Marshall provides the Moscow Mules, made with her exceptional ginger beer, on tap; Dimas makes sure the fried chicken sandwiches are standard-setting. (The fries, too, are perfection.) There’s no drive-thru, but it’s worth the extra few minutes.

Mexican: Asadero Sinaloa

Seattle is not a city known for its Mexican food. And while California-style Mexican food is not a local forte, there are a number of excellent, more traditional Mexican and Latin American restaurants to be found. For carne asada, there’s none better than Asadero Sinaloa—a Mexican steakhouse of sorts originally from Kent (about a half hour south of the city) and recently opened in the Ballard neighborhood among a strip of hip bars and eateries. The platters of charred meat and house-made flour tortillas aren’t to be missed, but you should also get the bone marrow (you’ll notice it on nearly every table, for good reason).

Coffee: Slate Coffee Roasters

How can one coffeehouse be recommended above Seattle’s many (spectacular) others? When it elevates the game the way Slate does. In other places, a coffee bar built around fine-dining principles—coffee flights served in stemware, full table service option, etc.—may come off as pretentious, but Slate’s skilled baristas pull it off with aplomb. Beans are lightly roasted, with an emphasis on pulling out the coffee’s natural flavors (bright and citrusy, compared to your sad old French roast), and sourced responsibly from farms around the globe.

Vegetarian: The Carlile Room

Want to please an omnivorous crowd? Take them to the Carlile Room, the 13th restaurant in local legend Tom Douglas’ canon, and an unapologetic tribute to ‘70s-era cocktail lounges. Find the drinks in the leather-bound Book of Booze, but know that the food here isn’t an afterthought. In fact, this downtown lounge serves some of the best plant-based cuisine in town—roughly a dozen dishes, all innovative and excellent. (But don’t worry, there’s filet mignon and rotisserie chicken for carnivores, too.) If you’re hitting a show at the Paramount, it’s right across the street. Fairytale eggplant, okra, nasturtium, tomatoes

Tasting Menu: Eden Hill

There are only 24 seats at this picture-perfect Queen Anne restaurant, but that intimacy is one of the many reasons Eden Hill feels so special. Chef Maximillian Petty intends for his seasonal, inventive New American dishes to be shared, and while you can order a la carte, your best bet (and best deal) is the five- or six-course tasting menu ($75-$90 per person) served family-style. Ask about the inclusion of a few regular favorites, particularly the savory crispy pig head “candy bar” and the Lick the Bowl dessert with foie gras cake batter—if they’re not included you can add them on for an additional cost.

Ice Cream: Frankie & Jo's

It makes perfect sense that this new ice creamery was born from the gals behind fellow Capitol Hill businesses specializing in fresh pressed juice and warm chocolate cakes—its wares toe the line between healthy and decadent. Frankie & Jo’s offers plant-based—yes, vegan, though that’s not a dirty word here—ice cream made with house-made nut milks and coconut milk, sweetened with dates, and incorporating all manner of gluten-free goodies. The vibe is decidedly colorful and sunny, a welcome warmth of California summer, even in Washington’s coldest winter.

Hot New Spot: New Luck Toy

When one of the city’s most skilled chefs teams up with a veteran of the design-and-service side of the restaurant industry, it should come as no surprise that the result hits every mark. West Seattle’s new New Luck Toy is a tribute to the old New Luck Toy—a long-closed neighborhood favorite for Chinese takeout, cheap drinks, and karaoke. Here, chef Mark Fuller (who also owns Ma’Ono Fried Chicken & Whisky) is cooking chop-suey-esque dishes—General Tso’s chicken, fried rice, etc.—with expert flare. And while the food is major draw, New Luck Toy is a bar first, with the tiki menu and slushie machines to prove it. There’s also Skeeball. What more could you need?

Worth a Drive: The Willows Inn

Though it’s nearly three hours north of Seattle — including the short ferry ride to Lummi Island — The Willows Inn is worth the time for the truest taste of the Pacific Northwest. James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef Blaine Wetzel prepares a three-hour prix-fixe meal at a single seating each evening that utilizes the best and freshest of what can be fished, farmed or foraged nearby. His kind of edible magic invites comparison to René Redzepi, of Copenhagen’s renowned Noma, where Wetzel spent three years absorbing, learning and crafting his own creative approach. Make a weekend of the restaurant's ever-changing menu with a stay at the Inn.

 

The Willows Inn

Cheap Eat: Ellenos

Yogurt … really? Before you scoff at the idea of intentionally seeking out one of breakfast’s most-stalwart options, know that Ellenos is no ordinary yogurt. Made from farm-fresh whole milk and a proprietary dose of probiotic cultures, it is Greek yogurt at its very finest: so rich and creamy it could easily replace dessert, but with enough protein to keep it fairly guilt-free. Toppings range from seasonal marionberries to exotic passion fruit to housemade muesli and more. It’s a secret treat even locally, though word is getting out now that the yogurt is available on local grocery and cafe shelves, with nationwide shipping. 

Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt

Patio: Westward

Seattle’s best view can be seen from the waterline: Lake Union in the foreground, that iconic skyline punctuated by a tiny Space Needle in the back. And set in the most-prime location, with a perfect patio, Westward has been steadily gaining accolades since it opened in 2013. While Chef Zoi Antonitsas’ inspired, award-winning Mediterranean cuisine is reason enough to go, the real draw is the outdoor space, complete with picnic tables, a fire pit ensconced in oyster shells and a dock to pull right up to from the lake.

Westward

Iconic Dish: Pho Bac

In 1982, the same year Kurt Cobain was recording his first demo not far from here, a family opened Pho Bac, Seattle’s first Vietnamese noodle-soup restaurant. The rest, as they say, is history. Pho is now the city’s unofficial favorite dish — the ideal fast and cheap meal to cure both the winter cold and the summer sweats. Though these days pho spots are outnumbered only by the city's many coffee shops, Pho Bac is still the best option: steaming bowls of complexly flavorful broth with a generous serving of chewy rice noodles, your choice of meat (choose tai nam, with thin slices of round steak and melt-in-your-mouth brisket) and all the fixings. 

Pho Bac

View: The Nest

The words “hotel rooftop bar” don’t exactly elicit enthusiasm among locals—you can imagine the sort of scene one can expect there—but the Nest, on the top floor of the Thompson Hotel downtown, is something different. Open in the summer of 2016, this megawatt stunner of a bar is part of the Huxley Wallace family, as is the hotel’s restaurant, Scout, on the bottom floor. It’s an obvious choice on a sparkling summer evening, when the sun doesn’t set over Elliott Bay until past 9 p.m., but it’s a delight on winter nights, too, when you can retreat to a cozy spot near the floor-to-ceiling windows and watch the lights twinkle along the waterfront.

Fine Dining: Canlis

To dine at Canlis is to experience 65 years of Seattle’s culinary history. In many ways, things here have stayed the same — the family-run business still offers unparalleled views, spectacular service, live piano music in the lounge and the city’s only dress code (suit coats on, boys). But age doesn’t mean that Canlis has lost its touch. Though you’ll still find original owner Peter Canlis’ signature prawns and steak tartare on the menu, the kitchen has been home to a number of high-profile chefs over the years (currently Brady Williams) who play adventurously with the tasting menu, reinventing the restaurant's rich history in a very modern way. Don’t miss the 90-page wine list.  

Canlis

Late-Night Spot: Kedai Makan

From the outside, Kedai Makan is nothing special: a walk-up window along a corridor of Capitol Hill bars, doling out to-go containers to a long line of hungry (and, potentially, liquored) patrons. But this is no routine pizza shack or taco joint. Kedai Makan specializes in the fiery, sweet and occasionally funky flavors of Malaysian street food — nasi goreng, chili pan mee, roti canai and more. The best part: You can take a bar stool at Montana next door to enjoy your dinner with a Moscow mule on tap. Though regular hours are 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., they offer a special late-night menu — including the popular Ramly burger — Fridays and Saturdays until 2 a.m. 

Kedai Makan

Cocktail Bar: Canon

It’s only fitting that one of the city’s best mixologists opened its best cocktail bar — the man is Jamie Boudreau, and the bar is Canon. It’s a dark, sexy sort of place with just seven tables, where bartenders need a library ladder to reach the top shelves, and the menu of inventive and classic cocktails is so encyclopedic you may die of thirst before reaching the end. Make it simple: If you can’t narrow down the barrel-aged creations, group-sized punches and seasonal specialties, your best bet is the signature Canon cocktail: rye, amaro, Triple Sec foam and a dash of bitters. A well-curated food menu is available as well. 

Canon

Power Lunch: Loulay

Chef Thierry Rautureau (known as the Chef in the Hat for his ubiquitous chapeau) is the sort of chef you can’t help but love, and the same goes for this charmingly indulgent corner restaurant downtown. Named after Rautureau’s hometown in France, the menu features all the classic French favorites—a simple herb omelet, croque madame, foie gras, the best onion soup—with his personal twist. And while the food will surely woo a date or business exec, it’s the décor that remains something special here: sparkling chandeliers, high-backed leather banquettes, and neon “LOULAY” over the kitchen make even a midday respite a meal to remember.

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