Had occasion last week to treat my favorite nonagenarian to dinner at Ivar’s Salmon House, her go-to since, oh…probably the ‘70s. And bless her for the choice, cemented in that era of Seattle’s history where restaurants were more valued for imparting a swanky out-on-the-town feel than for delivering food with interest and flavor.
In fact, alas, our dishes at Ivar’s didn’t bring either. (So sad—verging on tragic—that a $28 piece of alder-cooked salmon in Seattle can impart so little taste, and overcooking in the bargain.) Yes, that north Lake Union view is peerless; yes, those boats tying up just beside the floating dining patio is an atmospheric treasure; yes, the Native American longhouse schtick evokes a rough-hewn sense of place.
Happy hour, maybe; fish and chip bar, sure (if you have patience for the sheep’s-pen experience that is their ordering setup). There are occasions, like mine last week, when you can’t avoid going to one of these viewy, overpriced tourist traps; then you make the best of it and order simple. But as a dinner destination that you actually choose? No, friends. No.
Hence my list, here at the kickoff to Visitor Season, of view restaurants where it’s safe to bring an appetite. Because I don’t care how kind your out-of-town houseguests are: They don’t want to eat in your backyard. They want some of that fabled Northwest food and a killer Seattle view, and they want it tonight.
So here you go. You’re smart gastronomes; please comment-list the places you love.
Chinook’s at the Fisherman’s Terminal isn’t perfect, but it’s a great lower-end choice for simple salmon and shellfish plates, and especially reflects a nice working-dock feel over breakfast. (Don't miss the crowdpleasing blackberry cobbler.) Another casual choice—and my current answer to the perennial if-you-have-one-meal-in-Seattle-this-summer question—is the brilliant Marination Ma Kai at the West Seattle end of the King County Water Taxi. Bike and kayak rentals are right there too—but honestly, the Hawaiian fusion sandwiches (OMG the Pork Katsu sandwich! Gaaaah!) and tacos and shave ices and booze are so diverting…not to mention the full-frontal display of Seattle’s skyline…biking Alki may seem uneventful by comparison.
Along the Seattle waterfront, Six Seven at the Edgewater features busy but thoughtful preparations, along with tables outside, practically inside the sunset. Uptown a ways, at Pike Place Market, Matt’s in the Market continues to knock it out of the park both charm- and foodwise, and that view out demilune windows over the Market and Elliott Bay distills the soul of Seattle. If it’s cocktails and noshes you’re after, head for the iconic Pink Door, where dinners can be pedestrian but drinks on the rooftop are pure Seattle perfection.
Since its remodel, Ray’s Boathouse at Shilshole Bay is in décor and verve a reduced version of its former self (and connoisseurs should avoid the upstairs Ray’s Café altogether), but fish preparations are consistent and the black cod in sake kasu remains a Seattle treasure. For the diametrically opposite experience, Westward on the north shore of Lake Union is a cheeky gem; a sort of Hamptons-for-hipsters right on the rocky beach, where you can slurp oysters from an Adirondack chair, devour crunchy oyster rolls, or sup on Greek-inflected Northwest seafood by evening.
Finally? Hate to tell you what you already know, but Canlis and Book Bindery are spendy destinations—the former with its fabled view eastward over Lake Union, the latter with its charming eyefuls of the Ship Canal across the green. But here’s the thing: Foodwise they both entirely deserve their rarefied reputations as special-occasion splurges—and that’s more than can be said for the waterside tourist spots that do business in just about the same price category.