I lived in Seattle for three years, and get asked every once in a while where I liked to chow down and get a drink. So here’s a list of places that were my favorites while I lived there, broken down by neighborhood and cuisine, in random order. There should be a whole category of places that serve food to help you with the gray, cold, depressingly misty weekend afternoons but maybe if you’ve had a sufficient quantity of beer, it won’t matter.
I never found a satisfactory Chinese, Indian or Mexican place in Seattle. For context, my favorite places to eat these cuisines at in San Francisco are, respectively, Oakland’s Chinatown (because the parking’s a lot easier); Dosa and Aslam’s Rasoi; a bunch of places in the Mission (of course.)
My wife swore by Gordito’s burritos and there were places in the International District (Seattle’s “Chinatown”) that some of my Chinese co-workers recommended, but for both Indian and Chinese, I believe you have to head to the Eastside.
I lived in Queen Anne for the first half of my stay there. There are two main shopping areas – Lower Queen Anne, along Mercer St, and West or upper Queen Anne, at the top of the hill. At the top of the hill, How To Cook A Wolf was a favorite, though on the pricier side. Right opposite them was a neat sushi place called Ototo, that had awesome vegetarian sushi. Their website’s up as of this blog post, but on Yelp, reviewers have noted it as having closed.
The Five Spot was always interesting to go to when they had cycled in a new region, and had brunch lines out the door but it never caught my fancy that much.
I have to give a shout out to the bars and dives of Lower Queen Anne – the Mecca, Tini Bigs, the Sitting Room, and of course the Streamline Tavern which had the friendliest crowd and also vends Boundary Bay pale ale, a truly refreshing WA beer which is surprisingly a rare find in the city.
The spicy phos at Pho Viet Anh, and the fake meat menu at Bamboo Garden were staples; as was hanging out in the booths at Peso’s and McMenamin’s though for all their success, there’s really nothing remarkable about the food or drink at either of those restaurants. But we met friends there all the time, so they must have had some sort of magic going on.
Of course, Capitol Hill is the hippest neighborhood, as anyone will tell you, and we lived in First Hill for a while so we were close enough. But I hate eating at hip spots, so I can’t say I’m much of a reference for restaurants there. But there are fun places, especially the less-pretentious, non-gastropubby ones: Glo’s for brunch (get there before 10a and you shouldn’t have trouble battling the hungover hipsters); In The Bowl for more fake meat that you can make spicy enough to burn your tongue (we ate a lot of fake meat – Seattle was where I switched to a very-reduced meat intake level) and
If you don’t go during the weekend (and even on weekends, you can get there before 6p), the constantly-mentioned Pike Street Fish Fry is reasonably sane and the dips are indeed nice.
If you head over the hill to the bad part of town, you can get a pretty good pork chop on the way at Skillet, great Ethiopian food at Lalibela’s and mop up the fried rice (and more fake meats!) at Moonlight Cafe, in the Central District.
Machiavelli’s gets mentioned a lot, el-cheapo Pagliacci’s is delivered and eaten a lot, but I prefer Veraci’s. Find their wood-fired awesomeness at various neighborhood farmer’s markets, though on a typically clammy Seattle day, the crust tends to cool off too quickly.
There’s a king of downtown cuisine, and his name is Tom Douglas. Don’t bother eating anything else, it’s not worth your time. As long as Tom Douglas reigns, all else is sub-par.
We couldn’t get enough of Palace Kitchen – those in the know call it PK. God, PK, how I love you and your curry chicken wings, and the awesome burger with fries and pretty much everything else.
We ate only once at Cuoco – I regret that. Once. What a stupid idea. It is a bit on the pricey side, but the squid ink pasta was so divine.
Do you know Tom makes money hand-over-fist at Serious Pie? I don’t know why, I still preferred Veraci’s. And he opens a restaurant as often as it rains. It’s incredible – I can’t keep track of all the places, just go to them one by one and figure it out for yourself.
If you only eat TD, you won’t eat much in Belltown, and that’s what I did. There are a couple of places that are on the edge of it (as is PK, I suppose) that I went to a lot – Bacco for their brunches and fruit juices, and The Tasting Room for a great selection of local wines; a friend who worked downtown loved Le Pichet for their lunches. There is a passel of places that deal in happy hours and the tourist crowd to equal measure and they’re mostly all forgettable.
There were three places I satisfied all my beer cravings at: Taphouse Grill which has more than a hundred taps at any time, frequently being rotated, and where I aspired to get my name up on the counter by drinking 165 different beers but gave out when I hit about forty; Brouwer’s (but don’t expect good service); and Bottleworks, where you can buy, taste and drink.
There’s no really good restaurant in U District, but there are a bunch of perfectly reasonable casual spots – it’s probably something to do with the fact that most of the clientele are students who suffer from too little cash in their wallets, a lack of discerning taste, or both.
But you can still eat good Thai fast food at Thai Tom’s (so no-nonsense, they don’t have time to make a website for themselves); good vegetarian Thai food at Araya’s (including fake meats); and cheap gyros at the Aladdin Gyro-cery (ha ha. See what they did there?)
Fuck Fremont, and its frat boys. Fuck ’em.
But Brouwer’s (see Beer) is really good, especially when they have their beer festivals going on; and Revel has this awesome pig-on-the-spit deal where they roast a whole pig and you can order pieces of it that you like. And halfway to Wallingford is Fremont Brewing Company, which serves its beer and gives it away to local-area nonprofits, so go drink there!
And when the frat boys and their hoochie mamas aren’t around, the Ballroom is a neat neighborhoody bar, and my awesome friend Tim bartends there. And then the weekend rolls around and they have to bring in three hundred pound security guards, that’s how bad the fratties get.
It’s not really “international,” it’s just “East Asian,” or more like Japan/Chinatown. But maybe because Seattleites are excessively polite about everything, they called it the ID because Chinkytown or FishySmellyPlace brought a blush to everyone’s faces.
We mostly gave the ID a miss – my wife liked the vegetarian options at Greenleaf but it wasn’t my thing. There’s the de rigeur, massive, Uwajimaya, where you can get your year’s supply of kimchi or cheap sake. But my favorite was the slightly over-priced Malaysian/Singaporean fare (try all the fish plates, one by one) at Malay Satay Hut.
Drive down Leary away from Fremont, and you’ll go through the barren corridor that connects it to the newly (relatively) chic neighborhood of Ballard. The space in between is unnamed, and so up for grabs – a couple of alternatives are suggested above. But it’s being filled up by a neat selection of mostly quick eats – the Dish Cafe for brunch, The Leary Traveler next door for its fish sandwiches and big-screen TVs, and the locally crafted micro-beers at Hale’s Ale’s, Hilliard’s and NW Peaks.
Once you get to Ballard, you’re surrounded by an embarrassment of riches again, though they are camouflaged a bit by a bunch of missable spots. Breaking the rule that you can’t find good Mexican in Seattle are not just one but two places – Senor Moose with tangy salsas and the over-flowing tables of La Carta de Oaxaca.
On the other side of the section are my favorite wine store/bar/restaurant, Portalis, which does free tastings on weekend afternoons, has a fantastic selection that you can open and drink from over a dinner that comes from a small but always tasty selection of meats and vegetables. They call themselves a wine bar and shop but the kitchen is far from being an after-thought. There aren’t many balmy days in Seattle of course, but when there’s one, Portalis throws its french doors wide open for you to thank the heavens for the rare blessing of a warm night breeze while you’re sipping a chilled and crispy Loire chenin blanc.
The foodie fun continues in Ballard – cheap sandwiches at the Other Coast’s Ballard location; beer patio at the Hi-Life; sitting around a communal fire table at Bastille; people watching on the corner of Market and Shilshole at Ocho’s; and sucking oysters (if you get in line early enough on a weekend evening) at Walrus and Carpenter’s.
But honestly, go to Portalis, hug and sniff the oaky warmth of the wine racks, hope they have quail on the menu, and don’t bother with anything else.
Outside the neighborhoods over-run by hipsters, frat boys, tourists and young Microsoft employees out on the town, is Madison Valley, over-run by old Microsoft employees with their two dogs, 2.1 kids, and 5 cars. But you can’t say they aren’t foodies, because this is where you can stuff yourself silly with the exquisitely prepared tapas of Harvest Vine, paired expertly with a fantastic selection of (mostly?) Spanish wines; and the seasonally-inspired vegetarian menus and ridiculously innovative cocktails of Cafe Flora. And right opposite is Luc, for even more fun cocktails.
After two or three years of Tom Douglas and beer-filled comas, you might want to leave Seattle proper:
- Georgetown: Home to the Georgetown Brewing Co and yet another Machiavelli’s; and a clown-filled street fair in the summers
- West Seattle: On the other side of a bridge that might collapse any day, or maybe I’m thinking of the viaduct. I think there’s a sushi place here, on California Ave, that’s tasty. And a brew pub.
- Laurelhurst: Jak’s serves steaks, a fact we couldn’t bring ourselves to verify given that we weren’t eating meat regularly and Laurelhurst is so far away!
- Beacon Hill: The neighborhood was close to a dog park, and there’s a pizza place somewhere on Rainier or nearby that we always wanted to check out. The Vietnamese and Ethiopian in the area is supposedly very good.
Well, there you go … stuff yourself silly, and if you liked this post, come back to it after having eaten at all these places (or even some of them), and let me know what you think!