I lived in Seattle for two years, and I’d venture a guess that if the 16,000 or so hours I spent there were broken down, a good 10,000 of them would have been spent eating my way around the city. Based on my highly scientific research (aka, trying nearly every restaurant in town), here are my picks for the top places in Seattle every food-loving tourist should try.
Had a little much to drink the night before? Hightail it straight to Pike Place Market and follow the sweet smell of dough to Piroshky Piroshky. This little storefront was my savior on many a hungover morning. There’s often a line but it moves fast, so make your selections before you get to the front. Go for my usual – the chewy, doughy, cheese and green onion – or try a traditional onion and potato or smoked salmon and cream cheese. Most piroshkies are under $5 and will keep you full for several hours.
The closest thing you’ll find to Paris in Seattle,Cafe Campagne is the place to go when you want a decadent meal. Little sister to Campagne Restaurant, it’s a bit more casual and less expensive, while still offering plenty of French ambiance.The food is here rich – think poached eggs with pearl onions and bacon in a red wine foie gras sauce or Burgundy snails in parsley, garlic, and shallot butter – but the prices are not. Lunch and brunch plates average $15 each with dinner entrees not much more. Happy hour bites are all under $5.
La Buona Tavola
Another Pike Place favorite, La Buona Tavola is part Italian deli, part gourmet grocer. They specialize in all things Italian, including pasta, sauces, olive oils and small vineyard wines. The main draw though, are the truffle goods. You can buy jars of white or black truffle cream, truffle oil, truffle salt, truffle-infused sauces, and even (very expensive) whole truffles when available. Sit down for a $5 wine tasting, and order a truffle, prosciutto and cheese panini, or just sample liberally from the jars out for tastings.
Tom Douglas’ Lola
Actually any Tom Douglas joint will do (the city’s celebrity chef owns four restaurants, a pizza parlor and a bakery), but Lola gets my vote for the smooth, garlicky skordalia spread with pita dip for $3.50, and the tender chicken or lamb skewers ($6 at happy hour, along with $3 Greek beers). I preferred to come snack on small plates, but even if you settle in for a full dinner, you can still enjoy a wide variety of Mediterranean-influenced food on a small budget. Small plates range from $8-12, entrees are $22-28. Lola also serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and a late-night menu. Be sure to try the cinnamon and sugar dusted made-to-order donuts for dessert.
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
Beecher’s is Seattle’s best known cheese shop, and with good reason. Their Flagship Cheddar regularly wins awards from groups like the American Cheese Society and Wine Spectator. They sell wedges of their delicious cheese, and offer cheesy meals like grilled cheese (with tomato soup, natch) and macaroni and cheese. While you wait, watch fresh cheese being made in the production room or nibble on some fresh cheese curds.
Some things, like the sandwiches at Salumi, are worth waiting for. Owned by Mario Batali’s father, Armandino Batali, Salumi is a cured meat emporium and sandwich shop. There’s always a line, there are few seats inside (so plan on taking your grub to go) and they often run out of ingredients so you’ll need to plan on a back-up choice. But once you bite into a hearty muffuletta or fig, goat cheese and salami sandwich, all will be forgiven. Come just before they open or wait for the afternoon lull for your best chance at a short wait. Sandwiches are around $9 each.
Farestart isn’t your typical restaurant. The menu is always changing and the food isn’t exactly consistent, but that’s because the people preparing and serving it aren’t your typical restaurant workers with years, or even months of experience preparing familiar dishes. The servers and kitchen staff are “homeless and disadvantaged individuals” learning a new skill – one that will hopefully get them back on their feet and on a path to self-sufficiency. The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday and only serves dinner on Thursday nights, when a guest chef from a local restaurant takes control of the kitchen. The three-course dinner is $24.95 and 100% of the proceeds go back into the program to help educate other students.
The sign on the door at Elemental says “There are 1500 ‘normal’ restaurants in Seattle. This is not one of them.” And it’s true. Dining at Elemental requires a bit of effort. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations and has only five tables. Dinner service begins at 6pm, but if you want to snag a table, come for cocktails at 5pm to be the first in line (conversely, come around 10pm and you might get a table; the kitchen stays open until midnight). The tasting menu changes weekly but offers multiple courses of seasonally-based dishes each paired with wine. The price is usually around $75-$80 per person so it’s a little more expensive, but well worth it for the experience that the husband (server and sommelier) and wife (chef) team provide. If you can’t get in at Elemental, or if you aren’t up for a 3-4 hour culinary tour, check out Elemental Next Door, where you can get half bottles of wine for $15 and appetizers like artichoke dip.
Pike Place Chowder
Tucked away in Pike Place Market (just look for the long line and you’ll find it), Pike Place Chowder is one of the few places local Seattleites on their lunch break will actually wait for food – especially on a cold, rainy, winter’s day. The clam chowder here has won numerous awards on both coasts. In addition to New England and Manhattan clam chowders, they also serve a smoked salmon chowder, seafood bisque, and (my favorite) the Dungeness crab roll – a huge baguette piled high while heaping scoops of Dungeness crab. It’s $12 but easily feeds two when paired with a $6 bowl of soup.
I’m probably biased when it comes to McMenamins. My husband was a manager at this location (one of dozens of pubs in the Pacific Northwest chain that also includes hotels located in renovated historic buildings) and I spent many an evening at the bar, sipping one of the brewed-onsite beers like Hammerhead and Terminator Stout. It’s where I began to comprehend that there was a whole world of beer outside of Bud Light. Before that, my idea of a “craft beer” was Blue Moon. The food is your average pub grub: burgers, tater tots, salads. But the beer – oh the beer – is fantastic. Pints are discounted during happy hour (3pm – 6pm daily) and the staff is always willing to give you a sample or two to help you decide on your beer.
These ten restaurants are by no means the definitive list of great places to eat in Seattle. For a fancy meal overlooking Puget Sound, try the Waterfront at Pier 70 (yes, the same one those crazy Real World kids lived on); for New-American fusion, head to Restaurant Zoe (which was recently named one of the best in the country by Open Table); looking for romantic Italian, Il Bistro fits the bill; for a hearty breakfast, order a crumpet topped with egg and pesto at The Crumpet Shop . . . I could go on and on. The bottom line is: Seattle is a foodie town, so if you’re coming for a visit, come hungry.