“I’m coming to Seattle. Where should I eat?” As The Seattle Times restaurant critic, I get asked that often. It’s a simple question, but complicated to answer. Seattle has so much to offer food-wise and everyone’s tastes are different. Nevertheless, here’s my attempt at a one-size-fits-all Baedeker to eating around Seattle. Most are in or close to downtown.
Pike Place Market, a must-stop for every food-lover, is no tourist trap but a truly local treasure, full of unique shops and artisans. One of the newest is Rachel’s Ginger Beer (1530 Post Alley, rachelsgingerbeer.com). Rachel Marshall’s small-batch, nonalcoholic brew earned a fervent farmers market following. Her sleek new flagship store sells the sodas (plain or seasonally flavored), plus cocktails and ice-cream floats based on them.
Nearby is Matt’s in the Market (94 Pike St., 3rd floor, 206-467-7909, mattsinthemarket.com). This hidden gem is a quintessentially Seattle restaurant, not just for its view of the iconic red-neon market sign, but also for its relaxed vibe and a globally influenced, seafood-rich menu that relies on market-fresh ingredients. At dinner, green coconut curry permeates a seafood stew; mint pesto embellishes wild salmon. Lunch sandwiches might include grilled albacore with hot-mustard pickle relish or “porkstrami” on rye.
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Matt’s has a brand-new, boozy, meat-centric sibling across the hall. Radiator Whiskey (206-467-4268, radiatorwhiskey.com) evokes the rough-and-tumble pre-Prohibition era. This is the place for fried beef-lip terrine, pork-cheek stew or lamb-neck sloppy Joes chased with local moonshine or barrel-aged cocktails.
Don’t miss the oysters
Oysters are on a lot of menus but perhaps no place routinely stocks as many varieties as Elliott’s Oyster House (1201 Alaskan Way at Pier 56, 206-623-4340, elliottsoysterhouse.com) on the downtown waterfront, right next door to Seattle’s 175-foot-high Great Wheel.
Cocktail geeks will find no lack of serious bars to belly up to. Canon’s candle-lit shelves (928 12th Ave., 206-552-9755, canonseattle.com) hold 2,000 different whiskeys, many of them rare. No wonder this jewel box of a bar snagged the “World’s Best Drink Selection” honor at 2013’s Tales of the Cocktail, an industry confab held annually in New Orleans.
The Zig Zag Café
on the Pike Place Market Hillclimb (1501 Western Ave., 206-625-1146, zigzagseattle.com) is a classic, old-school sort of place, where the bartender remembers your face, sometimes even your name, and will happily customize your drink.
Wear your best Tommy Bahama shirt or your favorite shorts to Rumba (1112 Pike St., 206-583-7177, rumbaonpike.com) and you’ll not only complement the turquoise-accented tropical décor but be suitably attired for drinking the daiquiris, punches and tiki drinks this rum bar does so well.
Climbing to Capitol Hill
Melrose Market (1501-1535 Melrose Ave., melrosemarketseattle.com) sits just a bit farther up the Pike-Pine corridor from Rumba. It’s walkable, if you are staying downtown, and the climb up to Capitol Hill will prime your appetite for the blocklong urban food bazaar that awaits.
Cafe tables edge the sidewalk in front of Homegrown, known for inventive sandwiches, sustainably made. Oysters, clams and geoducks huddle in burbling tanks at Taylor Shellfish Farms. Peek into the custom curing room at Rain Shadow Meats, a full-service butcher shop and charcuterie. Taste farmstead cheeses, many from the Pacific NW, at The Calf & Kid. Buy organic flowers and edibles at Marigold and Mint.
Sitka & Spruce (1531 Melrose Ave., 206-324-0662, sitkaandspruce.com) anchors one end of the Melrose Market complex. At the other sits Tamara Murphy’s
Terra Plata (1501 Melrose Ave., 206-325-1501, terraplata.com) with its rooftop patio. Murphy cooks with Mediterranean aplomb; smoked paprika perfumes her signature roast pig with chorizo and clams. Dillon’s contemporary American menu focuses on what’s of-the-moment. In late summer that might mean heirloom tomatoes with spigarello (a leafy broccoli), snails and aioli.
Wood-fired cookery is the central theme of Dillon’s new Bar Sajor (323 Occidental Ave. S., 206-682-1117, barsajor.com). It’s just one reason food folks are frequenting the tree-lined blocks of historic Pioneer Square these days.
Rain Shadow Meats Squared (404 Occidental Ave. S., 206-467-4854, rainshadowmeats.com), kitty-corner to Bar Sajor, is another. This branch of the butcher shop allows room for a casual, brick-walled café serving meaty sandwiches, charcuterie plates, salads and more.
Fresh pasta for less than a ten-spot is another Pioneer Square attraction. At Il Corvo (217 James St., 206-538-0999, ilcorvopasta.com), Chef Mike Easton makes three different types of noodles every day, shaped and sauced to his whim. One example: sedani (big celery-shaped noodles) with peposo, a peppery, wine-rich, beef ragu. He’s open weekdays for lunch only; no credit cards.
Ethnic edges upscale
Seattle is rich with ethnic restaurants. Three newer ones stand out as unique. Tiny Chan, near Pike Place Market (86 Pine St., 206-443-5443, chanseattle.com), packs big flavors into artful small plates of modern Korean fare.
The contemporary Indian cuisine at South Lake Union’s Shanik (500 Terry Ave. N., 206-486-6884, shanikrestaurant.com), sister restaurant to Vij’s in Vancouver, B.C., reveals astonishing depth of flavor.
The Syrian-Lebanese delights at Mamnoon on Capitol Hill (1508 Melrose Ave., 206-906-9606,
mamnoonrestaurant.com) include folded flatbread sandwiches (mana’eesh), grilled lamb kefta, and aromatic oven-roasted fish and meats.
Traveling with kids? Seattle Center must be on your must-see list. A recent refurbishment resulted in a vastly improved food court with enough variety to please the whole family. Called The Armory (305 Harrison St., 206-684-7200, seattlecenter.com/armory), it’s stocked with outposts of homegrown favorites, among them: Skillet: Counter (modern American comfort food), Eltana Wood-Fired Bagel Cafe
(hand-rolled and wood-fired), MOD Pizza (thin-crusted, fast and fresh), Bigfood BBQ (smoked meats and BBQ plus all the fixings), Plum Market (creative vegan fare), Pie (sweet, meat or veggie, individually sized), and The Confectional (mini cheesecakes in many flavors).
Worth the splurge
Looking to splurge? Canlis (2576 Aurora Ave N., 206-283-3313, canlis.com) gets my vote for peerless service, a superior cocktail and wine program, and the cooking of Chef Jason Franey, who brilliantly re-imagines gazpacho with peaches and coriander, and reinvents “Ham and Eggs” using lonza (cured pork loin), soft-poached quail eggs and fermented buttermilk.
Worth the trip
Take a little in-city trip to Ballard and eat your way through the trendy neighborhood in northwest Seattle.
Start with croissants at Café Besalu (5909 24th Ave. N.W., cafebesalu.com). End with an Italian feast at Ethan Stowell’s
Staple & Fancy Mercantile (4739 Ballard Ave. N.W., ethanstowellrestaurants.com); at $48 it’s the best tasting-menu value in town.
In between meander the cobblestone streets of Old Ballard, enjoy the boutiques and graze. You might sample a lobster roll at Ballard Annex Oyster House (5410 Ballard Ave. N.W., ballardannex.com), tacos at La Carta de Oaxaca (5431 Ballard Ave. N.W., lacartadeoaxaca.com), shortbread cookies from Hot Cakes (5427 Ballard Ave. N.W., getyourhotcakes.com) and oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter (4743 Ballard Ave. N.W., thewalrusbar.com).
Want to escape the city? Head to the downtown Seattle ferry dock and walk on the ferry to Bainbridge Island. Wander around the little town of Winslow and dine at Hitchcock (133 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge, 206-201-3789, hitchcockrestaurant.com) with this proviso: Name your price — even as little as $30 each — and let Chef Brendan McGill surprise you with a commensurate tasting menu. You won’t be sorry.