Is teriyaki Seattle’s signature food? We’ll leave that debate for another day — suffice to say, the sweet-and-salty combo of chicken and rice has been a favorite around here since 1976 (see: Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill). At its best, teriyaki achieves an undeniable tastiness and even a smoky, savory complexity. But the true greatness of this beloved dish lies in the fact that it’s fast, affordable and available all over the place — and fans know that sometimes the teriyaki closest to your mouth is No. 1 in your heart (see No. 4 on this list). And in increasingly expensive Seattle, the independently owned shops need your love — so support your local teriyaki!

1. Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill in Mill Creek: 16212 Bothell Everett Hwy, Mill Creek; 425-225-6420; toshisgrill.com; Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday noon-8 p.m.; Toshi’s Original Chicken combo $8.15, Red-Hot Spicy $8.65

Seattle restaurant classics: Why we love teriyaki so much

Toshihiro Kasahara opened Seattle’s first teriyaki shop near Seattle Center in 1976, when his chicken combo cost $1.85. Expansion and franchising led to a proliferation of the Toshi’s name, and the innate goodness of the idea led to the proliferation of teriyaki in general, regionally and beyond. Kasahara eventually retired but then felt the call of teriyaki duty — he now runs just one place once again, north of Seattle in Mill Creek, where his original marinade, quality rice and careful methodology make his teriyaki some of the best teriyaki you’ll ever taste.

At the sign of the wizard in Ballard, find some shockingly good teriyaki, presented very prettily, alongside an extensive beer selection — this is Choice Deli & Grocery. (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)
At the sign of the wizard in Ballard, find some shockingly good teriyaki, presented very prettily, alongside an extensive beer selection — this is Choice Deli & Grocery. (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)

2. Choice Deli & Grocery in Ballard: 6415 Eighth Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-789-0211; ballardchoice.com; Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; chicken with rice and salad $9.99, spicy chicken $11.99

This more-than-a-mini-mart in Ballard got a remodel and a liquor license a few years back, and now their top-choice teriyaki may be enjoyed at the bar or at pleasant tables along with something from the extensive, local-leaning beer selection. Except at busy times, the bird here is cooked from fresh, and, as tradition dictates, it is charbroiled. Choice Deli’s teriyaki flavor does not cloy, and the spicy version packs actual heat (the owner declined to divulge which peppers are involved). In-house diners enjoy what may be the nicest-ever presentation of food at a place that also sells lottery tickets.

BB’s Teriyaki Grill BB’s has its food politics in the right place, and now has a second location downtown.  (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)
BB’s Teriyaki Grill BB’s has its food politics in the right place, and now has a second location downtown. (Bethany Jean Clement / The Seattle Times)

3. BB’s Teriyaki Grill in the University District and downtown: 4221 University Way N.E., Seattle, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. every day; 1111 Third Ave., Seattle, Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; bbsteriyaki.com; regular or spicy chicken with rice and choice of several sides, $9

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BB’s just might represent the beginning of a teriyaki renaissance. Started in 2017 by a recent University of Washington grad, the contemporary, sleek design of the original shop on the Ave looks ready for replication, while BB’s politics — carefully sourced ingredients, all-compostable everything — appeal to forward-thinking students and beyond. The chicken here is locally raised, antibiotic-free, vegetarian-diet fed and cooked from fresh, and you can taste the quality. Pro tip: Get the spicy — it would overwhelm only the most timid of eaters, and the meat attains a richer depth of flavor.

4. Your favorite teriyaki place in whatever neighborhood you might find it

I don’t mean this as a cop-out — I know from experience that the teriyaki spot nearest to where you grew up, the one closest to your school, to your work or to your current abode, fills a special hole in your stomach and your life with comforting food and low-key joy. These are the places where they remember you when you come in, the ones that make a city a home. Let us give thanks for them!