Why in the world would anyone open a new restaurant during a global pandemic — one that’s threatening to decimate the restaurant industry? The answer’s simple: Restaurants take months of planning. Leases had been signed. The clock was ticking while rent was being paid. All of the following places have had their backs against the wall since way back in March, when the COVID-19 crisis first unfurled — they had to try to make a go of it, somehow. Here’s a little of some of their stories, which contain an inspiring amount of hope. Go get some takeout, and tip big.
The Barbecue Pit in the Central District: Edward Whitfield — everyone calls him Pookey — says that the pandemic-times reopening of his beloved spot The Barbecue Pit has been “full of uncertainties,” which seems like an understatement. He’d found the perfect new location: the former R&L Home of Good Bar-B-Q on Yesler, famously patronized by Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and more. The date was set for March 1. Then his final inspection got delayed. The government-mandated dining-in shutdown happened. Then came the COVID-related meat shortage. He was finally able to open on the Fourth of July, and now the lines start forming early for his supertender ribs and more. “I feel I’ve been blessed,” Pookey says. “You know — people have been coming. Takeout’s been working. So far, so good!”
Dreamland Bar & Diner in Fremont: “We love pain — that’s why we did this,” jokes co-owner Paul Shanrock. He and his friends from Stampede Cocktail Club just wanted to give Seattle a place for all-day breakfast and fun cocktails on tap. They signed the lease on the former Red Door spot three weeks before the coronavirus shutdown. Now they’re doing temperature checks and hoping to be “a bright spot in a dismal year.” Bar manager/GM Cera Grindstaff, previously at Canon and Navy Strength, won 2020 Seattle Rising Star Bartender. And chef Troy Krajewski used to run RockCreek’s brunch. His Monte Cristo sandwich is huge, hammy, eggy-breaded and excellent, and even travels well to go. “It’s been a rocky start,” Shanrock says, “but Fremont has our back, so overall I wouldn’t change anything in the world.”
Surrell on Madison: Chef Aaron Tekulve, with Canlis and Lark on his résumé, originally planned to open Surrell on March 19 — which turned out to be three days after the dining-in shutdown. He luckily got a call from nonprofit Off Their Plate, which allowed him to provide thousands of meals to health care workers and people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19. Now he’s got “Coronaverse Offerings” of seasonal Pacific Northwest takeout and “distanced dining” on Surrell’s back patio — just two tables at a time, each with its own assigned bathroom, and contactless service that includes prepayment and two intermediary “landing tables” for staff drop-off/diner pickup of each course.
84 Yesler in Pioneer Square: Replacing the short-lived new edition of Bisato, 84 Yesler remains under the same ownership but with a more accessibly priced, seafood-centered menu from chef Shawn Applin, formerly of RN74. One nonoceanic option worth noting: a takeout multicourse New York steak dinner that’s prettily packaged, travels perfectly, tastes delicious and comes generously portioned for two at $65. Owner Sam Takahashi says, “In the age where we don’t know what happens tomorrow, natural and social adaptability is the only way to survive … We will see how it goes, and, further, keep changing.”
Local Tide in Fremont: This locally sourced seafood, mostly sandwiches spot from chef/owner Victor Steinbrueck started as a catering pop-up at Pike Place Market (and yes, his grandfather is the Victor Steinbrueck who helped make the Market a historic district). He calls opening his first restaurant during a pandemic “a roller coaster ride with some steep inclines.” But he also looks at the changes he and his crew have made — a streamlined menu, better to-go packaging and more — as a source of ongoing creativity. “When we come out of this, we will be better for it,” he says.
Milk Drunk on Beacon Hill: This place down the street from its acclaimed big brother Homer serves chicken sandwiches made with bird that’s brined then double-fried. My friend and colleague Tan Vinh — author of “The Best Fried Chicken Sandwich in Seattle” of 2019 — gives it his official stamp of approval, noting that it’s even good to go because “That thick, craggy crust on that meat seems to defy science, remaining remarkably crunchy even a half-hour later.”
Mezzanotte in Georgetown: The former Bar Ciudad has pivoted to become home to the pasta of chef Jake Vorono, whose local résumé for that — Il Corvo and Bar del Corso — couldn’t be much better. There’s a big patio for social distancing, shared with sister restaurant Ciudad, which remains open.
Kakigori Dessert Cafe on Capitol Hill: Just in time for the tail end of Seattle summertime, here’s a place on Madison for Instagram-optimal desserts including the Japanese shaved ice of the place’s name and the Korean version called bingsu. Owner Day Anujornrapan, who also runs Thai by Day in Edmonds with his family, told Capitol Hill Seattle Blog that while COVID-19 delayed the opening, “I decided OK, this is my passion — I want to do it. I want to create a happiness to people.”
Sunny Hill in Sunset Hill: Chef Jason Stoneburner’s bringing lots of dough to the former location of gluten-free Lucky Santo in North Ballard with this spot “serving round pies, crispy squares, big salads & a house burger with waffle fries.” My friend and colleague Jackie Varriano visited and notes that “the Loyal square pie is completely joy-inducing,” and even more so if you add sausage.
Feast in Kirkland: This French restaurant from the owners of Bottle & Bull and Marcy’s soft-opened in February, just before the COVID crisis hit Kirkland terribly hard. They shut down until June — since then, the classic brasserie menu has been getting praise on Yelp of the “I’ve been to Paris and …” variety. Executive Chef Rich Jimenez grew up with his parents’ restaurants in Boise and previously had a food truck called Umami Avenue.
MORE NEW PLACES
The Ballard Cut: a Japanese whisky bar plus farm-to-table restaurant from two industry vets • Biang Biang Noodles on Capitol Hill: for “traditional Xi’an hand-pulled noodles with a creative twist, inspired by our family recipes.” • Búho in White Center: for “mezcal, tequila, burritos, & more!” with half-off mezcal on Mondays • Di Fiora on First Hill: “Asian with a twist of European cuisine in a way that you had never tried before” with local/organic ingredients • La Josie’s on Capitol Hill: a sister spot from nearby, beloved Fogón Cocina Mexicana • Osprey Bistro in South Park: open for breakfast and lunch with specials like the Haliwich, with heirloom tomato, corn mayo and almond-basil pesto • Pik-N-Move in Green Lake: fast Indian food including kathi rolls, plus Indochinese favorites and more • SAI Sushi & Sake on Queen Anne: “Limited-seating omakase dining” from the chef/owner of the now-closed Cutting Board • Susu Dessert Bar in Chinatown International District: known for their rolled ice cream but now serving pastries and more for curbside pickup • The Spot West Seattle: “a dynamic waffle menu, coffee and full bar” next to the Luna Park Cafe
AND NEW LOCATIONS OF EXISTING PLACES
Caffe Ladro in Kirkland: at the new Kirkland Urban shopping center • Donburi Station in Georgetown: a sibling for Fremont Bowl (which made our list of 2018 Best Cheap Eats) • Frankie & Jo’s in University Village: the third outlet for the vegan/gluten-free ice creamery • i5 Pho in Lower Queen Anne: first a favorite in Tacoma, now also in Pioneer Square and this newest location • Molly Moon’s in Bellevue: No. 9 in the ice cream constellation (and the third on the Eastside) • Sazón D’la Baja on Queen Anne: from family-owned Ballard favorite Sazon Kitchen/the Sazon Tacos food truck • Third Culture Coffee in Pioneer Square: the third branch, following two older siblings on the Eastside • Two Doors Down in Pioneer Square: the second location of the beer-and-burgers spot from the owners of the BottleNeck Lounge • Tyger Tyger in Lower Queen Anne: the sibling to Broadway Sichuan spot Lionhead
Correction: 84 Yesler chef Shawn Applin’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.