Restaurants come and restaurants go, we all know, but some losses linger — from the places that made for the most special occasions, to the ones that served beautifully basic food with kindness, in comfort, accessible to all. Herewith, a highly arbitrary list of some of Seattle’s most-missed.
Christina Choi, a hero of local food and friend to all she met, ran this marvelous, affordable, heartfelt spot in the tiny original Sitka & Spruce space on Eastlake. She closed Nettletown down in August of 2011, saying she felt terribly tired. Choi died of an aneurysm at age 34 in December of that year, and all of our hearts were broken.
Some special Frenchy magic surrounded this lovely little high-end place where chef Bruce Naftaly quietly, elegantly helped lead the revolution in Pacific Northwest food. He and his wife, Sara, closed it in 2012, after 27 (!) years. They now run Capitol Hill’s Marmite and Amandine, but people who were lucky enough to have eaten there still pine for Le Gourmand.
The Silver Fork
This Rainier Valley spot with the classic signage did classic diner soul food so, so right — the grits here could change your outlook on life — and functioned as a South Seattle community hub, and played the perfect ’70s R&B soundtrack, and gave you coffee in a thermal carafe, and, and, and. After almost a quarter of a century, it made way for gentrification in the form of a Safeway in 2013.
After 32 years serving New York-style pizza on Madison, the Piecora family sold the building for $10.29 million in 2014, which was nice for them but didn’t console the rest of us. Piecora’s hosted birthday parties, wakes, literature crawls and political rallies both conservative (like one Piecora’s brother) and liberal (the other Piecora’s brother). The soothing dark-green walls, vinyl-upholstered booths and red-and-white-checked plastic tablecloths were comfortable, familiar and loved. Something big and fancy and new is there now.
This Seattle institution of 24-hour dining opened in South Lake Union in 1967. It still looked beautifully of that era when it shut down on New Year’s Day of 2018 — all retro tones of brown, the famously upholstered-for-assignations booths, the high-backed captain’s chairs along the kitchen counter. Owls carved into the wood watched over you. Seattle Times journalists ate and drank (mostly drank) here all those years, as it was conveniently adjacent to the newsroom. The Coins has moved to Pioneer Square, where it’s bigger and swankier and too far away.
Mama’s Mexican Kitchen
Four-plus decades in, beloved Mama’s Mexican Kitchen in Belltown got renamed (“Mama’s Cantina” — OK, sure) and upscaled (no!) by local entrepreneur Marcus Charles. He said in a statement at the time — 2016 — that “Keeping Mama’s open, and in its original location, means a lot to me, the neighborhood and Seattle residents. It’s a piece of Seattle history that cannot be lost on future generations.” He shut it down this past summer.
Ludi’s started out as The Turf, serving anyone and everyone in what was then a down-and-out part of downtown. Gregorio Rosas started out as an undocumented dishwasher there after coming to Seattle from the Philippines in 1978. The owner eventually gave him the place, and he introduced staples of his homeland to the menu and continued to serve “real food, home-cooked food” for 17 years. Rosas lost his lease this past summer, and Ludi’s became another casualty of our city’s heedless development.
Chef Jerry Traunfeld’s closure of his Capitol Hill restaurant last August marked the end of an era, as the James Beard award-winner ended his storied career. Through decades of excellence, dating back to his 17-year tenure at The Herbfarm, with so much mentoring of others along the way, Traunfeld shaped the way we think about local food here today. He and his husband have decamped to Palm Springs, California, which sounds pretty nice right about now.
Sitka & Spruce
James Beard award-winning chef Matt Dillon still runs his restaurant, Bar Ferdinand, but the closure of his influential first place after 14 years at the end of 2019 signals something momentous in the local restaurant scene. At Sitka & Spruce’s original tiny, strip-mall space on Eastlake, Dillon made magic with Northwest ingredients — a kind of shoestring start that a young chef can hardly hope to get in our city today. Closing Sitka now, he’s said, has less to do with the $15 minimum wage and more to do with vastly increasing expenses associated with leasing the newer Capitol Hill space — a New Seattle squeeze that many in the industry are feeling.