Funny how things go — just as COVID-19 vaccines have made it 87% less terrifying to be indoors with other humans, it’s the time of year here when no one wants to be inside at all. Now we’re in the season of less rain, warmer air, longer days and late and lovely sunsets … this is when Seattle-area restaurant patios and decks are at their best. Seattle Times food critics Bethany Jean Clement and Tan Vinh set out to find the places that combine the most pleasant outdoor spaces with great food to create the most summertime fun. Some are classics; some you might not expect. In any case, enjoy — we all deserve it this summer!
Marination Ma Kai
1660 Harbor Ave. S.W., Seattle; 206-328-8226; marinationmobile.com
Every outdoor dining setup listed here has myriad charms, but Marination Ma Kai wins when it comes to a combination of the best food at the best price with the best view. Behold, across the gleaming Puget Sound, the Seattle skyline looking like a souvenir — a vista that makes everybody feel instantaneously on vacation. Partake of the Hawaiian-Korean fusion food by ordering at the counter, in volume — the kalua pork sliders and kalbi beef tacos (four for $12) are pretty much required, as is the kimchi fried rice ($8.50), Spam musubi ($4.50) and shaved ice ($4.75). Then to the patio bar, serving lots of tropical cocktails, frosé, cold beer, Jell-O shots … why not? If you’re marooned in West Seattle due to the broken bridge, Marination Ma Kai in summertime is reason for celebration; to get here from elsewhere, the water taxi from downtown Seattle makes a better designated driver than ever.
— Bethany Jean Clement
Corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Ferdinand Street, Seattle; columbiacityseattle.com
This is a neighborhood pandemic relief project at its textbook best. At the elbow of South Ferdinand Street and Rainier Avenue South, off the main drag of Columbia City, a dozen steel tables sit in the westbound lane, cordoned off by a white picket fence and traffic cones. These seats are free for anyone to use and sit at and eat their food from any of the dozens of restaurants nearby. (Check out the gumbo at Island Soul, the crème brûlée doughnuts at The Flour Box or the signature iced coffee with the velvety cheese foam at Coffeeholic House, for starters.) A public dining area by design, but it feels more like a Third Place or community hub. On a late afternoon, some moms were talking PTA stuff over a cup of joe. As the sun slanted west on an early evening, the mood turned into happy hour with people laughing and clinking their plastic cups of margaritas (from Lottie’s Lounge) and dark and stormy rum cocktails (from Island Soul). For a brief hour, it looked as if an invisible force field were shielding this patio from all the awful news from around the world.
— Tan Vinh
South Lake Union
400 Fairview Ave. N., Suite 105, Seattle; 206-922-3288; barharborbar.com
You’d never expect a random corner of a newish South Lake Union building to feel so fully like a relaxed backyard party, but Bar Harbor’s huge deck is here to show you exactly that kind of a very good time. Plenty of boozy slushies, tiki cocktails and beers ranging from Rainier to aficionados’ local favorites help out, while the neighborhood’s plethora of cute dogs do their part, too (welcomed with signage proclaiming the space “Bark Harbor”). Then there’s Bar Harbor’s specialty: Some say it’s the best lobster roll around. Owner Ben Hodgetts hails from Maine, but he’s ecumenical enough to let you have it your way, offering them in the styles of his home state, Connecticut or New England, all on custom-made, toasty-golden rolls. An option to double the lobster ($22/$35) is new to the counter-service menu, along with a contender for our city’s greatest BLT ($12), a crab cake salad ($19) and more.
The Lodge at St. Edward State Park
14477 Juanita Dr. N.E., Kenmore; 425-470-6500; thelodgeatstedward.com
For those inept at planning date night, there is The Lodge, where you can choose your own adventure at one of the outdoor areas around this Romanesque-style brick seminary building at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore. The hotel basement drinking den, Tonsorium Bar, hawks craft cocktails and boasts a row of patio seats where you can sip potent mai tais and other tiki drinks under the sun. Upstairs sits the al fresco dining area of Cedar + Elm restaurant, where soon diners who order the tasting menu will be given a bowl and shears to cut edible flowers and greens in the chef’s garden for their customized salad. (It sounds so “Portlandia” but still fun, no?) For the cheapskates, you can split a drippy, fatty wagyu cheeseburger with Kennebec fries ($19) or share a flatbread ($18) dressed like an everything bagel with smoked Chinook, red onions, dill crème fraiche and capers. These patios face a lawn; beyond that, a gravel trail under a canopy of firs and hemlocks leads to the freshwater shoreline of Lake Washington, if you want a romantic stroll at sunset. Later this summer, the Lodge will roll out a grill, and you can grab some grub for a picnic on the park or by the water.
The Pink Door
Pike Place Market
1919 Post Alley, Seattle; 206-443-3241; thepinkdoor.net
If you asked 10 longtime Seattleites to name the city’s best dining-out deck, it’s probable that nine of them (or maybe more) would say The Pink Door. Classics are classic for a reason, and this place — open since 1981 — knows how to patio: flowers blooming everywhere, tables covered in adorable oilcloth with wide stripes or cherries, colored lights laced in the lattice overhead, tranquility amongst summertime tourist mayhem with a water-and-beyond view above the Pike Place Market’s rooftops. The also-classic Italian food seems possibly better than ever, e.g., cushiony ravioli handmade for springtime with peas, ricotta and herbs ($24/lunch and $25/dinner), or a hugely generous, fresh and fabulous Caesar salad with Little Gem lettuce and Dungeness crab ($22/$23). Turns out longtime local chef Dylan Giordan (Serafina, Cicchetti, Piatti) is newly installed in the kitchen here, and when I emailed Jackie Roberts, owner of The Pink Door since the beginning, to confirm, she said, apropos of everything: “Life is GOOD AGAIN.” YES.
Ballard Beer District
More than a dozen tap rooms are spread out south of Northwest 53rd Street and east of Shilshole Avenue Northwest.
I’m gonna cheat and lump this hub of 15 taprooms (and counting) as one patio. The Ballard beer district has become one of the most coveted pieces of real estate for food trucks and pop-ups due to the large crowd and all the kitchenless taprooms. Don’t miss the shrimp and pork lumpia burger ($12) at Musangtino’s, the pop-up operated by talented chef Melissa Miranda at Fair Isle Brewing on Tuesdays, or the shoyu chashu men ($15) at Midnite Ramen food truck, parked on different days by Obec Brewing or Reuben’s Brews. Anchored by the beer gardens at Reuben’s Brews and Stoup Brewing, the beer district is a never-ending Octoberfest party that every vitamin D-deprived being wants to attend to make up for the lost summer of 2020. Unless you’re a beer geek seeking a certain barrel-aged ale and willing to endure a long line to get into a certain beer garden (some patio waiting lists have 100 names on Saturday nights), the chill, stress-free approach is to roam within a four-block radius and stop at whichever brewery has an open table outside. Also, more relief is on the way: Bale Breaker Brewing in Yakima, which makes some of the best hoppy beers in the state, is teaming up with Yonder Cider soon to open a taproom that boasts a 6,000-square-foot backyard with fire pits and benches.
The White Swan
South Lake Union
1001 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle; 206-588-2680; whiteswanpublichouse.com
Outdoor dining doesn’t get much closer to the water than at The White Swan, located dockside on South Lake Union. Getting a table here feels like a maritime getaway — no cars in view, just gleaming yachts, bobbing speedboats, the occasional seaplane swooping in for a landing. (Swans, white or otherwise, no; geese, yes.) Cocktails are colorful but don’t pander, like a Puget Sour that looks sweetly pretty but lives up to its name. The menu ranges from snacks like a creamy smoked coho salmon dip seasoned with Old Bay ($10), to crispy-cornmeal-crusted fish and chips ($17), to an upscale plate of perfectly seared sea scallops ($32). The pleasant, simple setup — a few hanging baskets of flowers, strings of white lights, picnic tables — lets the surroundings shine. If you want to drift away afterward, the Seattle Donut Boat Co. is right there to rent you a craft in which to lazily circle the lake.
3621 Stone Way N., Seattle; 206-294-3331; manolinseattle.com
Like you, this acclaimed seafood restaurant is sick of this pandemic and ready to party hearty outside in shorts and sandals. Scheduled for a mid-June revamp, Manolin the fancy restaurant will pivot to “Beach Party at Manolin,” with at least 60 seats in its courtyard, two fire pits and speakers looping a beach-themed soundtrack. (Please let there be yacht rock.) Expect a cookout with peel-and-eat shrimp, seafood kebabs and shared plates of grilled pork, chicken and veggies. Talented barman Patrick Thalasinos will sling agave and tropical drinks, though the pitchers of daiquiris and margaritas are the way to go. Bottoms up!
— T. V.
2501 N. Northlake Way, Seattle; 206-552-8215; westwardseattle.com
I took my mom to Westward. She was anxious, she confessed; she hadn’t dined out, even outdoors, since before the pandemic, and that all-vaccinated-but-still-fearful limbo is a heck of a place to be. The host couldn’t have been nicer, stamping our single-use menu like a passport; same with the server, who seemed to intuitively expedite our glasses of Monte Xanic sauvignon blanc and rosé (from Baja, as featured by owner Renee Erickson in her new cookbook, “Getaway”). I questioned Mom about the purple-blossomed plants waving in the breeze between us and the placid water of north Lake Union — catmint, she said, as a bee also investigated. Mom knows all about plants. Then we ate: oysters Rockefeller made with nettles ($15); big, crispy chickpea fritters ($20); seared halibut with more nettles in the form of a brightly tangy salsa verde ($32); Dungeness crab salad with curly endive and kumquat ($18). It was the first time my mom and I had eaten together anywhere besides her backyard in more than a year. She loved everything, especially the oysters. Thank you for your safe, charming harbor, Westward.
1501 Melrose Ave., Seattle; 206-325-1501; terraplata.com
Terra Plata’s rooftop deck exists as an uplifting Capitol Hill oasis, with two sides of the triangular aerie all garden-lined. True to chef Tamara Murphy’s local, seasonal ethos, the greenery isn’t just for show; from time to time, someone from the kitchen weaves their way through, snipping parsley, mint, rosemary and/or thyme. The New American menu borrows beautifully from all over the place — landing this longtime favorite on our 2018 list of 10 Essential Seattle Restaurants — and it all tastes arguably better than ever in the hopeful open air of this strange and lovely spring, from the spicy green chili pork ($25) to a big, messy brunch-time grilled andouille sandwich ($17). If you’re thinking you probably should get an order of the housemade potato chips, sprinkled in truffled sea salt with pecorino-chive cream dip ($14), you are correct, for they are lacy and amazing and almost lighter than the rooftop deck’s air.