Barnacle Bar Food
At Boat Street Cafe, the Walrus and the Carpenter, and the Whale Wins, Renee Erickson has showcased two distinct gifts: sourcing and presenting perfect seafood and spinning a magical sense of place. Both are in full bloom at Barnacle, her skinny 20-seater with the copper counter, the Euro bar, and the chalkboard menu—heavy on the fishies. Don’t go expecting dinner—the place was conceived as the antipasti anteroom to Ballard’s ever-packed Walrus—but the genius of the joint is in the care it takes with mere tipples and nibbles: Items like octopus terrine in rich Ligurian olive oil with lemon, or Italian bread with escabeche mussels and cilantro sauce. Seven or eight of these “snacks” happen nightly, for pairing with the cocktails, amari, Proseccos, and other Italian drinkables. As for that patented Erickson atmo? The room is wrapped entirely in white and indigo Moroccan tiles. Uh huh.
Bar Sajor Northwest
From the restlessly creative mind of Matt Dillon (Sitka and Spruce, the Corson Building) comes his most hyperlocal restaurant—both culinarily and philosophically, as Bar Sajor is driving the revival of Seattle’s original neighborhood, Pioneer Square. The corner space looking out on the ruffly trees of Occidental Mall is lofty and Old World white—like an English farmhouse reclaimed by the Parsons School of Design— anchored with the roaring wood oven that is the kitchen’s only heat source. So food nerds will relish Dillon’s ingenuity of cooking methods: roasting chickens and sumptuous steaks on the fire; fermenting pickles and yogurts and even butter; serving plenty of things raw, including his peerless salads. Libations are terrific, including a full lineup of refreshing vinegar drinks.
Chico Madrid Spanish
As the corner coffee shop is to Seattle, so the bocadillo snack cafe is to Spain: casual, all-day, everywhere, essential. Chico Madrid is both—a sleek and mod splash of Europe on the west flank of Capitol Hill, with stunning beverages and noshes and just the patio for enjoying them. The all-day menu features bocadillo sandwiches—toasted baguettes with simple, pure ingredients, like Manchego cheese and tomato pulp, or bonito tuna and preserved lemon—along with open-face toasts with toppings like honey-drizzled blue cheese and pepper, or the Barcelonan grilled cheese sandwiches called bikinis. Coffee is handpulled organic Caffe Vita—read: exquisite—and Sangria never topples into the realm of the oversweet. (After your search for a parking spot, you’ll need a glass.)
Gastropod New American
The casual culinary offspring of local craft brewery Epic Ales makes up in gastronomy what it lacks in decor. Itself a culinary enterprise, Epic devotes itself to the use of uncommon grains, aromatics (lemongrass, spruce tips, chamomile), and sour mash fermenting to create beers of exceptional wildness and funk. The tiny kitchen extemporizes food to match—gloriously seasonal and local—where organic carrot greens might ruffle salads of roast carrots and grilled apricots and slivers of preserved lemon; where swoony chunks of lamb belly and roasted garlic aioli might liven up a classic BLT. Of the roughly half-dozen entrees nightly, don’t ignore the okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake/tabula rasa for all manner of culinary playfulness.
Il Corvo Pasta Italian
The order-at-the-counter, lunch-only relocation of a beloved pasta popup has hit its stride, serving three to five daily plates all made from pasta cut, extruded, or hand formed in house that morning. By about 11am, chef and owner and pasta geek Mike Easton emails a photo of the headliner dish to his slavering fans—a money shot of beet spaghetti in a caramelized garlic sauce perhaps, or conchiglie seashells wet with meaty ragù, or gnocchetti with sweet corn, fresh sage, and cream—and that one will sell out by 12:30 easy. His repertoire is bottomless, his seasonality admirable, his passion winning. A couple of salads and a dessert round out the offerings, making this ticket to Italy no more than $15.
Le Zinc French
What were the chances that a chic Capitol Hill bistro and bar—gleaming mercury glass, mod metalwork partitions, a single blood-red banquette curving coolly through the room—would traffic in genuinely admirable French food? Thank the owners of Maximilien in Pike Place Market, who imported its fine chef to pan sear half chickens to heartbreaking tenderness and serve them over fingerlings and garlic butter with a flutter of nasturtiums; to steam Penn Cove mussels in four ways every evening and serve them with a cone of perfect frites. Wines are fine French labels, but why pass up absinthe?
The Old Sage Gastropub
This smoked-meats-and-whiskey bar from the prolific Brian McCracken and Dana Tough (Spur, Tavern Law, the Coterie Room) feels like a casual watering hole but traffics in haute cuisine—with each of its eight or so nightly meats smoked in wood, herbs, corn, bamboo, or other mediums. The food can be sumptuous: a gorgeously composed plate of roasted and raw gourds, where smoky roasted squash, curled cuke slices, and chunks of compressed watermelon come masterfully accented with mint leaves, dollops of yogurt, and Calabrian chili.
Radiator Whiskey Bar Food
Supple whiskies, smoky meats, a Bourbon-hued room as lived in as a rawhide boot, Showgirls strip joint right out the window—now here’s what eating paleo oughta be. Owned by the folks from Matt’s in the Market across the hall, food is accorded real attention here—from the crackle-crusted fried pork shank on a bed of green aioli and draped in Mama Lil’s Peppers to the porchetta sandwich overloaded with pulled pig cheeks, smoked cheddar, and a softly fried egg. The booze list is equally careful, with a happy surfeit of Manhattans; join the club and bartenders will mix your favorite cocktail in your own personal flask.
RockCreek Seafood and Spirits Seafood
Chef Eric Donnelly built his casual raw-beamed fish house as a Montana fishing lodge smack in the heart of upper Fremont. And if the deep menu seems overambitious—a dozen each of small plates and large ones, and that’s just the seafood—Donnelly has navigated his share of long menus in corporate restaurants, with startling success. Here, his wild Mexican prawns over Anson Mills grits is a surehanded and bright Napa Valley–style plate; his mad variety of finfish preparations, often topped with handfuls of leafy herbs, are exact and supremely satisfying. Affable service completes the picture; a perfect place to bring your out-of-town guests. Open late.
The best of Deming Maclise and James Weimann’s stage set restaurants (Bastille, Poquito’s, MacLeod’s,
Von Trapp’s), this sprawler in Ballard Avenue’s Hotel Ballard recalls early twentieth-century New York with gleaming hardwoods and antique glass. In the kitchen it’s all about the stone hearth oven, the chef at its helm (really named Jason Stoneburner), and the fine blistered pizzas he pulls out of it. It’s also about seasonal fresh produce, bushels of it, which Stoneburner turns into buoyant salads, antipasti, roasted veggie plates, and pasta innovations. His carmelized cauliflower bedsheet ravioli is just one of the reasons diners have so much fun here.
TanakaSan Asian Fusion
The bright, warmly industrial space in the lobby of the Via6 apartments is the Asian fusion joint Tom Douglas has been hinting at for years. One of a tangle of Douglas businesses including a coffeehouse and a gift shop, the setup can be confusing (is this patio table for sale, or am I in another restaurant?). Once seated, however, the place buzzes with a drop-in youthfulness befitting the menu of boundary-busting Asian comfort foods—things like ketchup-bacon fried rice or pork and sweet corn ramen—that will horrify purists but kick off cravings for everyone else. Drinks, boozy or un-, are uncommonly intriguing here.
Westward Mediterranean, Seafood
In summer it’s pure Hamptons, as you tie your boat to the North Lake Union dock and slurp beautifully shucked oysters at an Adirondack chair on the tiny beach. In winter it’s all about the cozy, sipping inspired cocktails inside the whimsical basement in the glow of the hearth oven. All year long Westward is a thoroughly original collision of Northwest seafood and Mediterranean preparations, in dishes like wood-roasted branzino with tart avgolemono sauce for doctoring or killer fish stew in currylike ras el hanout broth. Inventions can miss from time to time, and the place can suffer from a surfeit of tropes. But oh, that beach in summer.