Agua Verde Cafe Mexican
Seattle does a dead-on Baja impersonation in this color-washed cool breeze of a beach cafe at the UWedge of Portage Bay. A healthy emphasis reigns, from environmentally friendly and good-for-you foods (hormone-free beef, sustainably caught fish) to an impressive array of vegetarian and vegan options. There’s even a kayak rental outfit downstairs for working off the carbs. But hedonists take heart, for Agua Verde serves up a high “yum” quotient. Tacos—three to an order—feature inventive combos like yams and chilies with cotija cheese, or cod fried in coconut-beer tempura and served with shredded cabbage and avocado cream. Rum and tequila flow through this gringo--happy joint like the California Current—to particularly friendly effect in the tart Mexican lime margarita—which makes scoring a deck table on sunny summer afternoons a lesson in patience. So is waiting for your waiter—that blur over there working very hard and still never quite getting to you. A newer location brings a limited menu to the Kirkland waterfront.
AQUA BY EL GAUCHO Seafood
Don’t hate her because she’s beautiful. This sprawling, window-walled sensation at the tip of Pier 70 features cruise-ship vistas of Elliott Bay, along with an interior view—shiny exhibition kitchen, shiny copper light fixtures, shiny gorgeous people—to rival them. All brought to you by impresario Paul Mackay, who changed the name of this specimen (from Waterfront) to highlight its status as surf-and-turf sister to his bet-a-million local steak house chain, El Gaucho. So: piano bar, check; $86 plate of filet and lobster tail, check. Asian-tweaked fish treatments can hold more culinary intrigue but have proven inconsistent in the execution realm. Still, the plus column is far from empty, featuring a good rotating list of oysters, surprisingly substantive cocktails, a warm-weather patio for sunset loveliness, and Seattle’s most dazzling glass-enclosed private room at the end of the pier.
NEW Aragona Spanish
Artiste chef Jason Stratton (Cascina Spinasse, Artusi) has brought his highly singular vision of a Spanish regional restaurant to a long, windowy, casual space downtown—drawing an odd mix of hipster -Strattonophiles and tourists from nearby hotels. No paellas or classic tapas here; instead one finds innovations like a salpicón made with Northwest glories like Shigoku oysters and Asian pear or a Russian salad (a staple in Spain) crafted of Dungeness crab. If the salad tastes a little “one note,” that’s a common failing in this kitchen whose next composition might hit it out of the park. Do not miss the enchanting bar, or, for dessert, the sublime xuxos caseros—crisp-fried pastry filled with vanilla cream and dusted with, swoon, truffle salt.
CANLIS Northwest / Continental
Canlis has been perched out over the vertiginous eastern edge of Queen Anne Hill for over 50 years. That makes it about as classic as it gets in this town—right down to the reconstructed surf-and-turf menu, the midcentury split-level architecture (a marvel of luxurious restraint), the dinner-jacketed clientele, the noblest mixed drinks in town, the fathoms-deep wine list, the perfectionist standard of service (where the valets remember your car without aid of a claim ticket), and the whole breathtaking sweep of Lake Union twinkling just beyond the windows. Now in its third generation of Canlis family operators, what was once the most intimidating dining room in Seattle has a friendlier, almost folksy air—but the food remains, as ever, impeccable.
So Auntie Em’s in from Kansas and wants fresh seafood, reasonable prices, and one of Seattle’s patented liquid views. For that we have Chinook’s, a midpriced entry in the Anthony’s Restaurants chain, whose sprawling, noisy, family-friendly, come-as-you-are setting is ideal for Fishermen’s Terminal, the authentic and comparatively untouristed working port for the North Pacific Fishing Fleet. (Those are real fishermen out the window.) Nothing’s going to knock her socks off, but the fish is reliably fresh, the preparations casual—halibut fish-and-chips, fish tacos, alder-planked salmon, pastas, salads—and the breakfasts particularly appealing with the morning sun glinting off the masts.
Tom Douglas’s restaurant for tourists—owing to its Pike Place Market location, not its reach. Trout or salmon is dressed with deceptive simplicity, steamed clams might get a kick from oven-roasted tomatoes, and meaty Dungeness makes for Seattle’s most famous crab cakes. The kitchen wields a seasoned hand with entrees like butternut squash tortellini, which melt on the tongue. As for atmo, no ironic haircuts fill the roomy booths opposite windows running the length of this prime people--watching restaurant. Forget hipster fanfare in decor or presentation—Etta’s doesn’t need it. Great weekend brunch.
Hitchcock Northwest /
Hitchcock Delicatessen and Charcuterie Deli
This sleek dinner house a few blocks from the ferry dock in Winslow sustains a fierce locavorism: A plate of blasted purple broccoli with pine nuts and goat cheese comes from Indianola’s Persephone Farm; the fat Mediterranean mussels with bacon and wood sorrel hail from Taylor Shellfish. Most of the time these local treasures on the long, mutable menu are treated with intention and skill, but consistency is not Hitchcock’s strong point. Put yourself in the chef’s hands by ordering the chef’s tasting menu—you name your price—and know that charcuterie is dependably terrific, both here and at the next-door (10am to 7pm) deli. Great cocktails.
Marination Ma Kai / Marination Station / Marination Mobile Hawaiian
First there was the truck, which trundled away with Good Morning America’s Best Food Cart in the Nation award for its Spam sliders, kimchi fried rice, ginger-chicken tacos, and other vibrant collisions of Korean, Hawaiian, even Mexican flavors. Then there was the brick-and-mortar foothold, Marination Station, at Pike and Broadway. Now meet Marination Ma Kai, which holds down the West Seattle Water Taxi stop by the sheer weight of its pork katsu sandwiches (officially the messiest—and maybe tastiest—sandwiches in town). Here you’ll find all the usual Marination suspects, along with the panko fish-and-chips, Hawaiian shave ice, and full bar you want at a summertime waterfront joint. If the on-site rental kayaks and bikes haven’t already taken your breath away, the full--frontal view of downtown Seattle from the picnic tables on the patio will. Breakfast sandwiches too!
Matt's in the Market Northwest
It’s Pike Place Market’s neighborhood restaurant, boasting the kind of ever-present crowd and soul-rich vitality that showier joints only dream about. If you haven’t been in a while, you haven’t really been—the “little restaurant that could” busted out its walls and traded up from its butane stove, upgrading its view to iconic status through pretty half-moon windows (there’s the Market pig!) and enhancing its ability to seat the throngs who come knocking lunch and dinner for fresh, exuberant innovations—perhaps tortilla-crusted halibut with guacamole or savory braised duck leg over lentil pilaf with fig jam—that showcase that day’s bounty from the fishmongers and high-stallers downstairs, at times pleasantly, at times extraordinarily. The pulsing open kitchen may steal your attention away from the view. Where to bring the out-of-towners.
The Pink Door Italian
A quarter century ago, it was Seattle’s original cult restaurant: The enigmatic entrance (no sign, just a pink door off Post Alley), the Parisian flea market decor, dripping chandeliers, and—after a few years—the burlesque cabaret that, if you timed it right, would send Tamara the Trapeze Lady soaring over your bechamel lasagna. But more than any of these charms, the city owes its fondness for the Pink Door to the deck. Along about half past 80 degrees on a July afternoon, the ordinary Market rooftop magically transforms into a slice of sun-dappled heaven. It’ll be so packed you’ll feel lucky just to be there, swizzling a pink vodka cocktail, twirling linguine, and lazily watching the sun crash into Elliott Bay. In short: The Door has never been about the food, a list of pastas and seafoods that unreliably satisfy. But we dare you to stop going.
Ray's Boathouse / Ray's Cafe Seafood
For over four decades, this dockside legend defined iconic Northwest dining, with its archetypal seafood menu, its record of pristine sourcing (Copper River salmon was practically invented here), its stunning wide-angle view over Shilshole Bay and the Olympic Mountains. It has settled into a more staid level of accomplishment along with a more casual decorative retrofit, eliminating some of its big-night-out cachet. (One even might have a drop-in shot at a table in the main-floor bar.) The menu gussies up the mainly seafood preparations more than it once did—paella now with king crab legs, saffron-fennel sauce on a dish with Copper River salmon—but fish is still cooked with appropriate restraint. Service is careful, desserts terrific. Upstairs is Ray’s Cafe, home of an even better view, a breezy deck, a family--oriented menu, and mediocre food.
Restaurant Marché French
Among the tony shops and solar trash compactors of downtown Bainbridge sits a French bistro entirely befitting the carriage-house pedigree, brought to us by former Canlis chef and local gastronomic celebrity Greg Atkinson. The space, all receding neutrals and intimate corners, smells of expensive resort vacations—perfume and wood smoke—and tastes of the French bistro canon, unreconstructed. Chicken pate is smooth and velvety and offset with local onion jam; French onion soup is potent with an extra plug of port, the way Julia did it; moules frites presents the mussels in a classic broth of fennel and Pernod. The excitement is in the ingredients, studiously local, and the perfectionism of a seasoned chef who simply doesn’t make mistakes. Servers, alas, do.
Salish Lodge Modern European
Until some fool plants a restaurant upon the crown of Mount Rainier, no place will capture the Northwest’s numinous splendor quite like the -Salish. Perched on a ledge alongside thundering Snoqualmie Falls (hard to see them from most of the tables), the lodge overlooks a horizon so mystically mist-obscured one understands immediately why David Lynch set his Twin Peaks here. The interior gleams with a burnished elegance befitting autumnal dinners, with a fire roaring in the fireplace and a wash of amber light. The fawning service and formal food mirrors that elegance—with tabs to match. The wine list offers a stunning selection of Northwest reds.
Seatown Seabar and Rotisserie Seafood /
The Rub with Love Shack Takeout
It’s a pair of joints at the north edge of Pike Place Market, dedicated to the just-folks fare Tom Douglas has made a career of preparing to four-star standards. Seatown Seabar is the sit-down spot—at tables, a diner counter, or the sidewalk—which appears to hold down the corner of Western and Virginia by the sheer weight of its tourists. They’re enjoying roast chicken with roasted potatoes or crab a half dozen ways (try the crab BLT). Next door is the to-go storefront, Rub with Love, open 11 to 6:30, with few seats but so many aromatic options for tonight’s dinner—sage butter turkey pies in buttery crusts, corn grits with Beecher’s jack, garlic-rosemary--rotisserie chickens—you may be forgiven for suddenly forgetting how to cook. Morning brings a swoony lineup of portable McMuffins—if it’s on, try the porchetta-fried egg.
Six Seven Northwest
Forget what you know about hotel restaurants: The over-the-water centerpiece of the charming Edgewater Hotel doesn’t rely on captive audiences or killer Elliott Bay views—there goes another ferry!—to fill its cushy seats. Instead, in a room as warmly Northwest as a forest clearing, the menu celebrates land (perhaps braised short ribs with parsnip puree) and sea (a beautiful hunk of cedar-plank salmon with blackberry honey and several dozen other components) with general skill. Preparations are pricey and busy—lots of sweet sauces, about a third too many ingredients—but taste good and can be ordered in half portions. Folksy service.
Steelhead Diner Americana
Sincerely friendly and snazzily appointed, the cafe with the menu on the paper place mats enshrines the casual hospitality of a diner, and displays through huge windows the distinctive iconography of the region—the ferries on the bay, the snow on the Olympics, the rooftops of the Market. Therefore you’ll want to bring visiting inlanders, who will love the pristine Northwest ingredients—housemade beef bresaola, Samish Bay gouda, organic greens—and the comfort-food treatments they receive, from slow-braised short ribs with hominy polenta to a Dungeness crab sandwich with bacon and melted cheddar. Purists may find the chef’s touch heavy, with lots of sauces, lots of fried things, big goopy desserts, and that French Canadian curiosity, poutine, which consists of French fries drenched in gravy and melted cheese curds. The rest will secretly love it. A big private room is great for meetings.
New 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.