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

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. 

 

Photo by Nick Jurich

Matt's in the Market

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. 

 

Photo by Brandon Pettit

Essex

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

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.

 

Photo by Sarah Flotard

Westward

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.

 

Photo by Charity Burggraaf

 

The Willows Inn

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

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.  

 

Photo courtesy of Canlis

Canlis

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.

 

Photo by Naomi Tomky 

Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt

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. 

 

Photo by Jamie Boudreau

Canon

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