The new year brought hope that the pandemic would soon be in our rearview mirror, but the flip of the calendar didn’t make the challenges go poof in the night. So, many new restaurants have decided to open instead of waiting until the masses get the vaccine, relying on pickups and deliveries until the Washington state indoor dining ban gets lifted. Here’s a look at Seattle’s latest round of new restaurants.
A surprise hit when it debuted on Capitol Hill two years ago, the Indian street food outlet Spice Waala boldly signed a lease during the pandemic to open a second branch in Ballard. Spice Waala, from the couple Aakanksha Sinha and Uttam Mukherjee, started out as a stand at the farmers market and quickly gained a following. Their no-frills, fast-casual approach helped the couple weather the indoor dining ban better than most. Even before the pandemic, their business relied heavily on to-go orders, and while their menu prices (everything under $10) seem low by industry standards, they make up for it with high sales volume. Their Ballard branch, in the former Boar’s Nest space, houses a bigger kitchen, so the owners plan to utilize that space to add more Indian street food items by summer. In the meantime, all their greatest hits, from the Tikka Kathi Roll to aloo tikki chaat, are now more accessible to the North Seattle crowd.
Opening a half-mile northeast of Spice Waala is the Italian restaurant Nolita. The pasta portions are generous and cheap (many are $15 or less) with kid-friendly dishes like spaghetti and meatballs ($15) and, for grown-ups, the bucatini with pig cheek, tomatoes, pecorino cheese and chili flakes ($14).
While many restaurants have struggled to make a go out of wintertime al fresco dining, the businesses along the barhopping drag of Ballard pull in large crowds, with a dozen restaurants running long waiting lists on Fridays and Saturdays for outdoor seating along Ballard Avenue Northwest (between 20th Avenue Northwest and 22nd Avenue Northwest). Last summer, the city shut off part of this stretch to traffic and allowed bars and bistros to plop down dining tables on the sidewalks and in parking spaces. The latest to take advantage of the outdoor permit is Parish Northwest, which offers two dozens seats out front and a menu focused on Cajun and Creole cooking, from gumbo to étouffée. The owners also opened the nearby cocktail spot The Ballard Cut.
West Seattle gets the vegan restaurant Allyum, with the help of Food Network “Iron Chef” contestant Ally Rael, the former chef at the acclaimed Little Prince in Santa Monica, California. Rael, who has also worked for Seattle luminaries such as Renee Erickson and Ethan Stowell, was on the team that beat Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s crew in “Iron Chef America,” Season 13. In the new plant-based bistro, Rael teams up with Dahli Strayer, who helped opened Luna Park Cafe. Their vegan lineup changes every two weeks — the latest theme being Latin America with a mushroom version of shrimp diablo, served on housemade tortillas. Allyum offers many gluten-free and nut-free options as well.
One of the city’s most popular vegetarian restaurants, Cafe Flora, has expanded to Beacon Hill. The Flora Bakehouse, located near Cleveland High School, will serve kouign-amann and other pastries, including Cafe Flora’s popular cinnamon rolls as well as sandwiches. When the weather warms up, look for a rooftop outdoor seating area with views of Mount Rainier, as well as a parklet in front of the bakery.
Aviv Hummus Bar on Capitol Hill has opened Aviv Shawarma Bar near the Amazon campus in South Lake Union. In addition to their signature hummus and falafel, the new Aviv features a vertical pit of roasted dark turkey meat layered with lamb fat; meat is served with their own housemade pitas. But Aviv won’t be able to cash in on that busy lunch rush till summer, when the Amazon busy bees are expected to return to their office cubicles.
Two blocks north of Aviv sits Mochinut, which makes those sticky, stretchy mochi doughnuts. (Remember when mochi mania hit Seattle in 2019? That’s when Dochi opened in the Chinatown International District, with the line snaking around the corner.) Mochinut offers 20 different varieties, mostly fruity variations such as banana milk, and hybrids from churro mochi to a strawberry funnel doughnut. Mochinut also does the Asian version of a corn dog, with a rice flour batter dog studded with potato or dry ramen. It’s similar to the Korean corn dog from ChungChun Rice Hot Dog in the ID. The chain plans to expand to Bellevue, Edmonds, Tukwila (Westfield Southcenter mall) and Lakewood in the near future.
Tanoor in Sammamish now serves Lebanese comfort food in the former Mollusk Brewing space near the Facebook campus. Owner Wassim Fayed said his original intent was to use the brewery facility as a production kitchen to make hummus and pita for PCC Community Markets, but the landlord gave him such a good deal during the pandemic, he also used the dining space to open a second Tanoor to sell lamb kebabs, gyros and falafel.
Rubinstein Bagels has landed in Tom Douglas’ old food hall across from the Amazon Spheres, with a dozen different bagels, from jalapeño-white cheddar to a chocolate chip version. (Cookbook author and recent Seattle transplant J. Kenji López-Alt recently checked out all of our bagel spots and wondered if this bagel pastrami sandwich is a thing? Yes, it is. Rubinstein’s pastrami sandwich comes with Kewpie mayo, horseradish coleslaw and yellow mustard.)
In Wallingford, Drunken Chicken focuses on the famous Hainan chicken rice dish with two versions: the classic Khoa Mun Gai-style poached chicken, and also the restaurant’s namesake version with steamed dark meat soaked in rice wine.
Get ready for a wave of Vietnamese coffeehouses. The siblings behind the popular Pho Bac chain plan to open Hello Em Viet Coffee & Roastery in Little Saigon on Jan. 24. The snack menu features pressed banh mis. Hello Em roastery sits four blocks southeast of another new Vietnamese coffee shop, Phin, which debuted last fall. They join newbies Sip House in the University District and the wildly popular Coffeeholic House in Columbia City.
La Rue Creperie + Espresso has opened on Capitol Hill, doing sweet (Nutella) and savory (ham and egg) crêpes. And DIY Tea Lab brings its popular boba drinks to Fremont, near the underrated craft beer haven Masonry.
On the pivot and pop-up front: Even Manolin, which Bon Appétit anointed as one of the best new restaurants in America in 2015, has suffered through the economic hardship of the pandemic. The acclaimed seafood restaurant in Fremont now does just bagels and smoked fish (cod, halibut and salmon) under the banner of Old Salt restaurant. Manolin’s small plate seafood menu will likely return in May. Management is also considering running its Old Salt bagel concept during the day and the Manolin menu at night in late spring. The Old Salt menu is headed by James Beard-nominated chef Elisabeth Kenyon, who is behind the Sri Lankan/Indian-inspired concept Rupee Bar in Ballard.
Heigh Connects Food Group, which owns Poke to the Max restaurant in Hillman City and three poke food trucks, gave its fleet a makeover with different cuisine themes. One truck focuses on ramen and another runs a rotating theme (Eggs Isle, Pacific Wings and Sea Sandwich). On deck now is Sea Sandwich, which makes crab sandwiches and lobster tots. Preorders only.
The Hummus Café in Greenwood recently launched a new Egyptian and Mediterranean brunch concept called Afrangie, but then shut it down after Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest indoor dining ban. But expect that pop-up to reopen as soon as the indoor dining ban gets lifted.
On Bainbridge Island, Hitchcock restaurant, under chef Brendan McGill, launches a “Street Food Pop-Up Series” with eight chefs making cameo appearances on the island over the next four months. First up (Jan. 22-24): chef Alejandro Tress, who has worked at the acclaimed Astrid y Gastón in Lima, Peru, and Le Bernardin in New York City.