Spots on our best restaurant patios will be coveted this season even more than before, so how about grabbing a friend and making your own al fresco fun with the view of your choice at a favorite park, along the nearest lake or gazing out at the Sound? These top Seattle chefs are ready to send us into summertime with the greatest food that’s ever graced a blanket. (And since drinking in public is still illegal here, the cocktail/beer/wine pairings are most definitely for carrying home afterward to drink there, for sure, absolutely — who would do anything otherwise?)
An Italian feast from Bar del Corso
Beacon Hill; 3057 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle; 206-395-2069; bardelcorso.com
Jefferson Park, the sixth-largest city park, gets less love than its sexier siblings around Seattle. May I suggest a picnic at this lovely, underrated play area? Grab pizza at Bar del Corso and stroll south to here. Order chef Jerry Corso’s Margherita pie ($15). Splurge the extra three bucks for the buffalo mozzarella — it’s been a long year. You deserve it. You want the $13 la vignarola stew (peas, favas, artichoke, onion, mint and pancetta) while the beans are sweeter and less starchy this time of year. And you want to pop those cod fritters ($8) one after another. Pair them with a bottle of Lambrusco or prosecco ($20). On any given day here, you might see skateboarders doing kickflips, Samoans playing cricket or dudes who look very serious while lawn bowling. Find a shaded area. Bring sunscreen. And just breathe in the sights and sounds of this magnificent Seattle time once again.
— Tan Vinh
Pique-nique à la Café Presse
First Hill; 1117 12th Ave., Seattle; 206-709-7674; cafepresseseattle.com
The French know a thing or two about summertime relaxing (hello, a whole month off!), and very luckily, Café Presse is here for us. Chef Jim Drohman’s menu for two is specially priced at $50 for takeout only; kindly allow one hour for its preparation. Then you’ll head to park, beach or boat with one of Presse’s famously fantastic whole roast chickens, served with mayonnaise and lots of napkins; the equally, rightfully renowned chicken liver terrine; the greatness of Washington state asparagus plus chives, crispy bits of ham and Dijon cream; the city’s best demi baguette with butter; and pain au chocolat à l’ancienne (which means best baguette with bittersweet chocolate melted on it). Should you care to add a bottle of rosé definitely not for drinking en plein air — what do you think this is, France?! — the organic 2019 Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Vin de Pays de l’Hérault can come along for just $16.50 extra (and, Drohman points out for no reason, “This wine has a screw top, so no corkscrew needed!”).
— Bethany Jean Clement
Dream sandwiches from Dacha Diner
Capitol Hill; 1416 E. Olive Way, Seattle; 206-708-6855; dachadiner.com
Dacha Diner co-owner Tora Hennessey has put together a hearty picnic for two that includes a tomato and cucumber Georgian salad with tarragon vinaigrette, egg salad sandwiches, and either a strawberry rhubarb kompot fruit drink ($34) or a strawberry rhubarb kompot cocktail ($40). For a $4 upgrade, trade the egg salad on challah for an open-faced lox sandwich on rye or a corned beef with sauerkraut on rye. I went for one egg and one corned beef, which proved to be the half-and-half of my dreams. As for where to take your picnic, Hennessey says, “Volunteer Park is our favorite, but another cute, closer option is our community park up the street, Summit Slope Park.”
— Jackie Varriano
A poem of a supper from Iconiq
Mount Baker; 1421 31st Ave. S., Seattle; 206-568-7715; iconiqseattle.net
Here’s one with which to celebrate love whilst gazing at gorgeous Lake Washington — perhaps on a blanket at Genesee or Seward Park? Chef Toshiyuki Kawai (formerly of Harvest Vine and the late, great Book Bindery) has put together a to-go menu to impress for two ($78) at his Mount Baker bistro, Iconiq (which made our list of top 12 pandemic-times takeout picks). The stanzas speak for themselves:
Mini tomato salad with Sungolds, Sweet 100s, Persian cucumber, mozzarella ball and red wine vinaigrette
Iberico baby back ribs with hatcho miso barbecue sauce and sweet corn-rice pilaf
Marinated summer fruit salad with Bing cherries, cantaloupe, strawberries and blueberries with yuzu syrup
and a red wine-hoji tea sangria with peaches, oranges and Fuji apple.
Best. Summer. Date. Ever.
Eat in the park with Jerk Shack
Belltown; 2510 First Ave., Seattle; 206-441-7817; jerkshackseattle.com
Jerk Shack chef and owner Trey Lamont’s Eat-in-the-Park Meal hits all the right notes: a spicy, almost smoky half jerk chicken; saucy Cuban black beans studded with red bell pepper, celery and hunks of juicy pork; sweet, caramelized plantains; creamy, ginger-heavy yams; and two rum punch cocktails ($75). Jerk Shack is in Belltown, and although the meal traveled perfectly back to my house in Greenwood, the park play close to the restaurant is the Olympic Sculpture Park or Pocket Beach for something right on the water.
Kamonegi’s sando pack
Fremont; 1054 N. 39th St., Seattle; 206-632-0185; kamonegiseattle.com
I’m sorry, but this is not up for debate: Chef Mutsuko Soma has perfected the picnic egg salad. Her play is eggs two ways: wedges from a dashi-soaked soft-boiled egg submerged into the creamy egg salad with Kewpie mayo and shallots. If the fillings squish out when you press this delicate sammie full of umami, then use the shoestring fries to scrape off the edges. Wash it down with a hazy IPA. Soma’s $35 picnic includes two tallboys and any two sandos with fries. If her egg salad is not your jam, you can get a Philly cheesesteak or a pork katsu sandwich to take to nearby Gas Works Park.
The chef’s recommendations from Musang
Beacon Hill; 2524 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle; 206-708-6871; musangseattle.com
“Musang actually just introduced its spring menu a few weeks ago, which is full of goodies meant to be enjoyed on a beautiful sunny-but-cloudy Seattle day,” chef Melissa Miranda says. She suggests starting with lumpia, “a great handheld snack,” made with her grandma’s recipe and served in a generous, golden-fried stack ($8), as well as an order of comfort-food favorite pancit canton ($15). Her new seasonal laing puts garlicky pea vines, spring onions and chives in a pool of luxurious coconut loveliness ($13). And for the centerpiece: the halang halang na manok, half a roasted chicken served southern Philippines-style in a rich curry colored bright gold with turmeric, set off with spinach leaves ($22). Lunchtime rice bowls also feature the chicken and laing ($15 each). And Miranda notes, “Our cocktails travel great, too — the apat [rum, pandan, lime and Aperol with cardamom bitters] would be my personal favorite to enjoy on a picnic” (hypothetically, of course), with Mount Baker Park just moments away for lakeside loveliness.
Sando Box at Paju
Uptown; 11 Mercer St., Seattle; 206-829-8215; pajurestaurant.com
Bill and Chunghoon Jeong make some of Seattle’s best modern Korean food at Uptown’s Paju. Now for weekend lunches, they’re doing something new: Japanese-style sandwiches. Bill says that with Seattle Center so close, what they’re calling Sando Box just made sense: “We think a sando is the ideal picnic food — it travels well, it’s light and, most importantly, it’s delicious!” Truth! They’re using thicker-than-usual, super-soft white bread, which plays particularly well with a fluffy, rich egg salad made magically great with potato puree, Dijon and scallion, then centered with halves of orange-yolked, barely hard-boiled egg. Chicken katsu equals comfort-food goodness, with the deep-brown crust staying crispy, the sando updated Paju-style with charred cabbage and radish; the pork version achieves a smoky complexity you ought to pause to appreciate while wolfing it down. Getting one of each seems the obvious thing to do, and with the nice price of $5.99 to $8.99, no reason not to. They’re cut into thirds, all lined up for your Instagram and ready for sharing, maybe in the sunshine while gazing up at the Space Needle. To drink: the nuanced sweetness of Paju’s housemade Korean horchata, aka sikhye.
Favorites from Spice Waala
Capitol Hill: 340 15th Ave. E., Suite 202, Seattle; 206-466-5195; Ballard: 2008 N.W. 56th St., Seattle; 206-457-8691; spicewaala.com
Everything on Spice Waala’s menu is under $10, making it an incredibly affordable spot to put together a last-minute outdoor picnic. Co-owner Uttam Mukherjee recommends the papdi chaat, a combination of chips and cubed potatoes topped with sweet yogurt, chutney, beets ($5). “The different textures, the cooling sweet yogurt — it’s a summertime favorite,” he says. The kathi rolls ($7-$8) are a perfect handheld dinner (I’m especially into the lamb kebab), and don’t forget a thick mango lassi ($3). The Ballard location is close to the Ballard Locks, Sunset Hill Park and Golden Gardens, while Mukherjee recommends heading to Volunteer Park after visiting the Capitol Hill location.
All the fish from Sushi Kappo Tamura
Eastlake; 2968 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle; 206-547-0937; sushikappotamura.com
One of Seattle’s most critically acclaimed sushi places, this Eastlake spot packs a picnic ($50 feeds two) that will hold up better than most other takeout options. A dozen nigiri pieces from snappy shrimp to wild sockeye are snuggled in a sleek, floral plastic container. A second tray features the popular spicy tuna roll and a Seattle roll. Just pop off these lids that double as plastic plates. Go easy on the soy sauce. Chef Taichi Kitamura’s well-curated fish lineup shouldn’t be adulterated much. For $20 more, your picnic comes with two lychee martinis with sides of lychees for a garnish. It’s ideal for an afternoon date by Lake Union.
Taku’s new to-go karaage
Capitol Hill; 706 E. Pike St., Seattle; 206-829-9418; takuseattle.com
Shota Nakajima’s new iteration of his Capitol Hill spot Taku (which originally opened as a street food concept just days before the pandemic hit last March) now features crispy Japanese chicken karaage. Order a bento box for two stuffed with fried chicken, rice, macaroni salad, some pickled cucumbers and a cabbage salad with a light vinaigrette, plus two Tecates or two miniature bottles of sake ($30). You can get the chicken tossed dry in salt and pepper or with bonito and soy, curry or teriyaki. If you’re heading directly to a park, Cal Anderson is the closest, but if you’ve got a few minutes, take that bento to Washington Park Arboretum where you can easily find a private-feeling patch of grass.