A zillion light years ago, during pre-pandemic times, you could barely count on one hand the number of restaurants offering comfortable outdoor seating options during the dead of winter in Seattle. And good luck getting everyone in your party to agree to alfresco dining during the dark, soggy season.
But two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve become such an outdoor dining city that when you pick up the phone to make reservations or hit the host counter, the question likely asked is, do you prefer indoor or outdoor seating?
Seattle has 191 sidewalk cafe permits now, more than at any other time in recent history, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Restaurants have winterized their patios with windshields, corrugated metal roofs and heaters, lots and lots of heaters. Many alfresco set ups tend to look like, um, revival tents or unfinished kids’ clubhouses. But never mind that. The goal is a dry and (relatively) warm place to dine for those who want to avoid dining rooms during COVID.
We sent our food writers Tan Vinh and Jackie Varriano around the Seattle area to find cozy spots where they could dine alfresco and enjoy good food and the company of friends without freezing to death. Here’s a collection of their favorite patios.
5-10 p.m., Wednesdays-Sundays (Closed Mondays and Tuesdays); 127 N. 36th St. (Fremont), Seattle; 206-632-0135; meeshaforyou.com
Out the back door stands a slim, brown deck with chocolate brown slats and glowing orange pillows to match the candles on the tables. The drip, drip of rainwater off the roof lends a Zen temple-like tranquility to this vibe. For those who get cold easily, this spot is for you: the heat lamps are sauna-like hot unless you dial them down a few notches. The stellar Indian food is composed by one of the new talents in the city, Chef Preeti Agarwal, who offers small plates for starters with entrees served family-style, perfect for date night or to catch up with friends or family. Start with the spicy lamb sliders (rarah keema pao) follow by the lamb chops and Agarwal’s charcoal-smoked version of the takeout standby, buttered chicken. If the server asks if you want ghee rice with that. The answer is “hell, yeah!”
— Tan Vinh
11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, noon-10 p.m. Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 5313 Ballard Ave. NW (Ballard), Seattle; 206-268-0217; graciaseattle.com
I’m not quite sure what exactly it is about melted cheese that I find so irresistible, but I’m done trying to fight it and lean in whenever possible. Take the queso fundido at Ballard’s Gracia: a blend of cheeses, spicy chorizo and roasted poblano peppers that is like sunshine on a dreary day. It comes with soft corn tortillas, but you’re going to want chips — and probably guacamole — to really get in there effectively with all those oozing cheese strands. That and the huarache — a thick, oblong masa cake topped with carnitas, crema and queso fresco — are two of the items not normally offered on Gracia’s to-go menu. Luckily, the outdoor space is just as lovely as the fundido, stacked with plenty of heaters plus greenery and strands of lights for just the right amount of cozy ambience. Go there on a Tuesday and all 2-ounce pours of mezcal, tequila or agave distillates are 25% off.
— Jackie Varriano
11a.m.-midnight daily; 2504 S. Jackson St. (Central District), Seattle; standardbrew.com
One of the most underrated patios sits at the elbow of South Jackson Street and 25th Avenue South, hidden behind cinder blocks and bamboo stalks. There’s no table service. But the house rules are posted all around.
“Please bus your dishes.”
“No bikes on the patio, Daddy-O.”
The 60-seat patio splits between some picnic tables en plein air, and benches and chairs under a covered wooden structure with heaters and a television turned to ESPN. The food and drinks at Standard Brewing are as good as any bar in the city. Owner Justin Gerardy brews some stellar lagers and India pale ales and has assembled an all-star cast to assist with the rest of the menu: talented bartender Connor O’Brien has curated a craft cocktail list ($10-$12) that runs about $5 cheaper per drink than what you would pay on Capitol Hill or Ballard. You won’t find better cocktail deals anywhere in Seattle. Holiday specials include bourbon-rum eggnog and a hot mulled wine. The food comes from the creative mind of chef Wiley Frank, formerly of the much-missed cult favorite Little Uncle restaurant. His menu, mostly tacos and sandwiches, gives a nod to soul food and Asian cuisine including a creamy hariyali chicken taco brightened with herbs and chili.
Stoup Brewing Kenmore
3-9 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Sunday; 6704 NE 181st St., Kenmore; 425-470-6222; stoupbrewing.com
When Kenmore’s Seaplane (sister restaurant to Stoneburner, Rhein Haus and Poquitos) was reimagined as a partnership between Ballard’s Stoup Brewery and Jason Stoneburner, not only did the menu change, the outdoor space exploded. Open since early May as Stoup Brewing Kenmore, the existing open-air fire pit has been joined by four separate covered seating areas, with heaters strewn about the ample plaza space directly in front of and around the dramatic industrial-chic building, meaning you can nosh on a pretty good smash burger while sipping a Citra IPA, all while under ample cover. The food menus have been trimmed down: brunch is gone, as are many of the salads and big plates. But, you can still get pizza and soft serve, and Tuesday nights will get you a dinner of fried chicken with kimchi mac and cheese and hush puppies — it’s $40 for a whole chicken! I’ve also got my eye on the French onion grilled cheese, served with a side of butternut squash soup in place of tomato for dipping.
Bar Del Corso
4-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 3057 Beacon Ave. S. (Beacon Hill), Seattle; 206 395-2069; bardelcorso.com
Chef Jerry Corso doubled his patio seating capacity to 40 during the early-pandemic indoor dining ban, cordoning off the backyard with cedar slats and positioning at least one propane heater between every table. The hop vines and honeysuckles growing up the trellis give this patio some life during winter. A Beacon Hill stalwart, Bar Del Corso slings some of the best Neapolitan-style pies in Seattle. Get the classic margherita, with the distinctive fermentative tang that hearkens to the best pies from your vacation in Naples, Italy. It’s been a rough year, splurge on the extra $3.50 for the buffalo mozzarella on that pie. For those who demand protein on their pizza, the salame piccante is the better pepperoni pizza. For shared plates, the meatballs, of course, remain popular. But do yourself a favor and whisper to the server that you want the morsels of saltfish fritters. They’re not listed on the menu, but you can request them.
5-9 p.m. daily; 401 N. 36th St., Seattle (Fremont); 206-547-2040; revelseattle.com
This past summer I sat (hugely pregnant) with a friend for an early dinner on the patio at Fremont’s Revel. I thought I would miss that quirky back patio of the old space (demolished in 2018 to make way for the new Cedar Speedster building), but the place — complete with the same swags of bistro lights — is full-on charming now. Pretty sure I swooned after that first bite of short rib wonton. Was it hormonal? The joy of being vaxxed and eating those wontons fresh from the kitchen instead of for takeout? Who knows. Regardless, I’m always down to swoon at Revel. They’ve recently winterized the space with a little extra wind and rain protection and heaters, meaning those wontons (and the kimchi pancake! The spicy miso rice cakes! The crab noodles!) can be eaten outdoors without having to gulp it all down as it rapidly cools in the brisk, wintry air.
5-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays; 6307 24th Ave. NW (Ballard), Seattle; 206-397-3263; rupeeseattle.com
One of the big openings in 2019, this Sri Lankan-Indian inspired bar had waits that ran two hours long back then. Your chance of scoring a table increases exponentially now that the owners have plopped down a patio with a cozy fireplace in the parking lane out front. During the summer, the bar next door even hired a band to perform along the sidewalks. And there is even a swing set up hanging from a corner tree. When the pandemic gives you lemons …
At this Ballard bar, food is all shared plates. Start with the deviled prawns, a spicy nosh with the shells dusted with cornstarch, turmeric and chili and fried to create this briny pork rind-like snack. More substantial are the lamb shank and an order of charred cabbage made coated with yellow curry.
11 a.m.-midnight daily; 8617 14th Ave. S. (South Park), Seattle; 206-327-9649; lorettasnorthwesterner.com
Past the snug booths at Loretta’s in South Park you’ll find a wonderfully rustic oasis out back complete with a wood-burning stove. There are striped awnings and even a partial roof under which you can enjoy the fourth best burger in America. And sure, that burger is still delightful in all its squishy bun, dill pickled, melty cheese glory. I especially love that the pickles are on the bottom — or at least they were on mine — and that fries only come with it if you want them (which, duh): a whole pile for an extra four bucks. However, if I’m going to be outside this winter at Loretta’s, I’m ordering the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich which features a pounded-thin, crispy, crunchy cutlet that is roughly the size of my face, if not larger. It’s so comically large it’s entirely possible to trim around the bun and save the trimmings for another complete sandwich later. It comes with lettuce, pickles, and onion and a delicate schmear of mayo. With extra pickles and a little extra mayo it’s darn near perfect.
Ba Bar Central District
10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily; 550 12th Ave. (Central District), Seattle; note Ba Bar also has branches in South Lake Union and University Village; 206-328-2030; babarseattle.com
The outdoor décor time-travels back to a Graham Greene era before the fall of Saigon, in festive yellow and orange hues and women on the speakers singing about a magical countryside.
The hanging infrared heaters aren’t the tropical sun, but in a pinch they’ll do to keep you cozy in 40-degree weather. Them and Ba Bar soups. Winter is slurping weather, so belly flop into a cauldron of steaming broth from the familiar sweet southern style beef pho to a saltier, Northern version listed on the menu as “Phở Hà Nội Style.” Or try the signature soup from Central Vietnam, Bun Bo Hue, where chef Eric Banh’s contemporary take comes with fancy cuts of brisket, roasted pork belly and ham hock, with the funky broth smoothed out with star anise and punched up with ginger.
Brimmer & Heeltap
5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; 425 N.W. Market St. (Ballard), Seattle; 206-420-2534; brimmerandheeltap.com
The outdoor space at this Ballard restaurant has the distinction of having two sort of separate areas. The upper space — which doubles as the coffee shop Red Arrow daily from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. — has a cozy little fire pit and tables located directly under built-in heaters. There’s also a large, roll-down garage door that is often rolled all the way up making an additional indoors space feel like the outside. The lower area features small, intimate tables nestled into gorgeous hydrangea bushes and greenery — one only needs to bring their own cozy blanket and you’re set. There’s always something a little surprising on the menu there to fall in love with: a tender pork chop with einkorn and nước chấm or wild salmon roe paired with herby crème fraîche and crunchy watermelon radishes. As always, there is the irresistible bread, slathered with butter, salt and pepper. Oh — and don’t forget to swing into Half Seas, the wine shop in the restaurant. Buy a bottle and it’s just a $10 corkage charge.