The lion’s share of recent Seattle restaurant openings come from established names, whether longtime local ones or multinational chains — operators with deep (or at least deeper) pockets, forging forth with expansion plans as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on and on into fall 2020.
After a lines-around-the-block local debut in South Lake Union, then a Kirkland location, Shake Shack’s now open in University Village, featuring an “enhanced digital order and pickup solution” called Shack Track, along with a walk-up window for these troubled times. (FWIW, I vote yes on the burger-brilliance Shack Stack, but very much no on the dry crinkle-cut fries.)
The hugely popular and hotly anticipated hot-pot chain from China Haidilao has debuted at remodeled (though largely vacant) Pacific Place — and it’s got a huge 8,408-square-foot location on the third floor in which to try to adapt communal-style dining and famously interactive service to coronavirus reality. Also up in the air and part of a global enterprise, there’s Charlotte Restaurant & Lounge downtown on the 16th floor of a new Lotte Hotel.
In noninternational news, Ethan Stowell has opened a second version of How To Cook A Wolf in Madison Park. He has also reopened his former Mexican spot Super Bueno as a third version of Tavolàta on the Fremont/Wallingford border. He has transitioned Staple & Fancy in Ballard to a steakhouse akin to his extant Red Cow, keeping the Staple & Fancy name. And he recently announced plans to open a fourth Tavolàta in Spokane next year (subject to change due to the unpredictability of everything henceforth).
It’s a lot — rejiggering underperforming concepts alongside plans in the works since before “the huge curveball” of COVID-19, Stowell says. But with rent and construction costs that must be paid, “delaying all openings indefinitely just wasn’t an option,” he says. He’s in a far better position than most to carry on, and he professes thanks, saying, “Seattle has rallied to support our industry, and that support, along with hometown pride, has been a source of strength during what has been a very, very hard year.” Meanwhile, all ESR restaurants are carrying out “the strictest of safety practices,” including temperature checks for workers and patrons entering.
Another big-name local restaurateur has one new iron in the fire: Renee Erickson has opened a sixth outlet of Great State Burger in Ballard. In much smaller-scale local growth, Capitol Hill cookie favorite Hello Robin has a new, second shop in University Village — it’s near the new Shake Shack, and it’s got its own walk-up window dispensing the signature Mackles’more. Capitol Hill’s Soi has branched out to Kirkland with more to love of chef/co-owner Yuie Wiborg’s Issan-and-beyond Thai cuisine. Bounty Kitchen on Capitol Hill is the third location of the popular spot for salads, bowls and all-day brunch — it’s where Tallulah’s used to be, open for pretty patio dining and to-go only at the moment. Talarico’s in Fremont serves the giant slices that people in West Seattle have long sworn by. Leftcraft, new in Edmonds, offers a full menu, full bar and 22 taps with crowlers to go, and comes from the team behind The Dray, The Yard and Tailbend Taproom (joining eight more recent beer, wine and cider taproom openings).
Finally, some first-timers are valiantly sallying forth — the kind of debuts that’ll be more and more rare as times only get tougher for the restaurant industry under COVID-19. If you have the means, go put your support where your mouth is by getting takeout (and tipping big!), then use that same mouth to tell your friends when you find new food you love.
The Flour Box in Hillman City represents the realization of a dream for Pamela Vuong, who went from taking a cookie-baking class before starting school at the University of Washington in 2014, to an over-the-top-successful pop-up, to her brand-new spot. For the safety of her customers, she’s made it online preorder only, so no lines around the block; however, the preorders, which open Sundays at 10 a.m., go very fast.
Soul Shack on Da Hill on Capitol Hill looks like a must-try: an “African Americanly diverse menu” menu including “Lollipop WANGZ” and fried alligator with housemade pesto aioli, plus a variety of hot dogs, with the house being the former espresso stand at the corner of Broadway and Harrison. Co-owner Kyshaun Wilson is a line cook at Olmstead next door/across the parking lot, and he and his fellow industry veteran partners are sourcing their fresh ingredients from farmers markets, hoping to make something big happen in 80 square feet. During COVID, starting out with a model like this makes all the sense.
Then there’s The Fry Guys in Sodo, the new enterprise of a guy named Mikael Pisnoy — he likes fries and serves them loaded up with the likes of Buffalo chicken or jalapeño/bacon/cheddar. He says he’s doing to-go or delivery orders only to keep things safe, keep costs low and “focus in on quality” — he was previously managing for Starbucks, and he sounds psyched “to bring good eats to the people of Seattle, one fry at a time!”
Chef Evan Leichtling — with an impressive background abroad and at local Lark, The Harvest Vine and La Bête — has opened Off Alley in Columbia City. After their Fowl and Offal pop-ups, he and business/life partner Meghna Prakash decided to go for it in the form of a tiny brick-and-mortar spot for his changing, hyperlocal/seasonal/sustainable menu emphasizing “the fifth quarter of meat,” e.g., grilled pork cheek and lamb brain Rockefeller. Now in COVID times, they’re in an “extended soft launch” — find details on their website (and a lot of beautiful stuff on their Instagram).
In Belltown, Shinya Shokudo is making a menu full of recipes from a chef at the esteemed Tokyo yakitori chain Toriko (which also has an outlet in New York). After working at Dough Zone for six years, owner Patrick Wang wanted to open his own place, and it’s been two years in the planning. About a pandemic opening, he says, “It’s done — we had to get it started.” And happily, he notes, business has already been “actually better than what we thought.”
And brother-and-sister team Evan Poulias and Jo Ann Poulias Schmidt have opened takeout-only The Counter at Old Ballard Catering Co. after COVID-19 decimated the catering gigs they had lined up for their nascent business. They both previously worked for the Neighborhood Grills & Lunchbox Labs group, and Schmidt says that with parents from Greece and Japan, they grew up with “a love of many different global cuisines, so we decided to go with ‘global comfort food.’” Their motto: “Life Deserves to Be Delicious.”
Right now, it really needs to be. On that note, two things to look forward to: More extremely excellent, independently owned baked goods are on the way to Seattle mouths as Christina Woods readies the Central District brick-and-mortar version of her Temple Pastries. And just after debuting a new food truck, hometown favorite Dick’s is coming to the Eastside — yes! The search for the exact location is on, and your vote counts — more info at the Dick’s website.