I went to Barnacle last Monday and waded through perhaps 30 people to do so. They were clustered grimly in front of the joint to which Barnacle attached itself, the impossibly popular Walrus and the Carpenter, fully 15 minutes before the oyster bar had even opened.
Barnacle was opened by the Walrus folks to be holding pen for those poor hungry sad-sacks before their Walrus tables came open—much the way the late Licorous was created as the waiting room for Lark, and Bar Ferd’nand for Sitka and Spruce. Smart strategy, giving customers the opportunity to pay for their own wait.
At Walrus and Carpenter, few were biting the day of my visit. They preferred to stand clench-jawed in the vestibule waiting for the oysters they really wanted, instead of filing into the narrow Barnacle to try out a new delight. (Silly them…the octopus terrine at Barnacle, enriched with lemon and rich Ligurian olive oil, is a knockout.) Instead they waited; those who arrived at 4:30pm, fully 45 minutes.
That’s the Monday average at Walrus, sighed its patient host. Is there any time in the week a diner might reasonably expect to sail right in? “That’d be Monday nights,” she said. “After 8:30pm.”
Consider yourself tipped.
Advice from other notoriously crowded restaurants:
Tat’s Deli: For a Tat’s sandwich you will wait in line if it’s between 11am and 1:30pm; a longer line (stretching to the door, then curling around the east wall) if it’s a Thursday, Friday, or game day. But take heart: A line stretching from the register to the door only takes about 10 minutes. And check out this line cam!
Crumble and Flake: These days it’s rare that folks populate the sidewalk out front of this killer patisserie before it opens at 7am. But to avoid the lines that still happen later, arrive before 11am on a Wednesday or a Thursday—those days' slower traffic also ensures more stock on hand, and therefore, often, a later closing time (maybe even as late as 3pm).
Salumi: The Pioneer Square sandwich shop that kicked off that neighborhood’s ownership of lunchtime features an inevitable wait, mitigated by earliness (getting in line at 10:30 for an 11am opening), weather (rainy days bring a shorter, if damper, stint on the sidewalk), and earliness-in-the-week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays are slowest; Fridays are packed). Waiting for the lunch rush to subside is dicey; porchetta and meatballs may be sold out. Best hint: Be the jerk who saunters right past everyone in the line to pick up the sandwich he called for in advance. (Unless it’s a hot sandwich, which the health department won’t let you pre-order.)
Portage Bay Café: Seattle’s favorite casual weekend brunch house is so slammed in all three of its locations, they’ve started taking reservations. (“Fifteen minutes before you want a table is not a reservation,” clarified a host.) Failing that, don’t come between 11am and 1pm unless you’re prepared to wait an hour. Of the three, Roosevelt will likely have the shortest lines.
Von Trapp’s: Those lines you see driving down 12th are pretty much restricted to late in the evening (post 9pm), late in the week (Friday and Saturday). Other than that, insist the folks at the door, you should be able to snag a spot in this hangar-sized warehouse. Snagging a bocce court is another matter entirely.
La Carta de Oaxaca: Ballard Avenue’s tequila-slinger of choice offers the best shot at a table early in the evening on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays. Show up as a party of four at 7pm on a Friday night, and you’re probably looking at 45 minutes. Here, the wait that is 45 minutes for a party of four and an hour for a party of six will only be about 20 minutes for a party of two.
Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream: Quick success at Seattle’s favorite ice creamerie requires avoiding sunny days, choosing Queen Anne and Wallingford and Madrona outposts over the busier Capitol Hill, visiting earlier in the week, and honing in on dinner hour. “When most people are having dinner, 5:30 to 6:30, that’s a good time for short lines,” says a staffer.
Macrina Bakery and Cafe: Lines for breakfast happen from 8am to 9:30ish, lines for lunch happen from 11:30 to 2pmish, and that’s at all three locations. (Pssst: At breakfast all three locations are pretty equitably slammed, but at lunch Queen Anne isn’t as busy as Belltown or SoDo.)
Paseo: Alright...help. Does anyone have a trick for getting to the Cuban sandwiches a little quicker at this guaranteed line of a spot? Do share.