The snug russet room off the lobby of the Mayflower Park Hotel presents downtown’s most intimate face for a business lunch, most convenient for a shopping stop, and one of its most alluring for an amber-lit dinner. The food can be majestic—from paella to one of the city’s best meat dishes: Cabrales-crusted tenderloin with grilled pears—prepared so lushly it can at times overreach into overrich. Though all this makes it feel like a special-occasion destination, Andaluca remains a hotel restaurant, obliged to do the near-daily breakfast-lunch-dinner duty that can at times tax service and dull a kitchen’s consistency. Considering complimentary valet parking at this central downtown address…all is forgiven.
Boldly overseen by larger-than-life proprietor Mauro Golmarvi—benevolently regarded by the cherubim and seraphim painted all over the wall and ceiling murals—Assaggio may at first seem a throwback to the more cliched conventions of Italian restaurant dining. Not so fast. There’s a reason this room, graciously high ceilinged and partitioned to resemble a European streetscape, sustains the devotion of midtown business-lunchers and evening pasta twirlers alike. (Hint: It comes out of the kitchen.) Execution is steady and impressive on classic pastas—linguine vongole, a beautifully briny capellini donato, fettucine swathed in a meaty Bolognese—and wickedly rich specials. But the Northern Italian place is quite capable of a lighter touch, as in a crisply refreshing fennel-and-green-apple salad with pecorino Romano and truffle oil. Classic Italian desserts are sumptuous. Closed Sun.
Barolo Ristorante Italian
Is it all the beautiful male waiters in their Italian trousers? The Murano glass chandeliers and candle-waxy romance and pulsing music? Whatever it is, Barolo (from the family who brought us the U District’s Mamma Melina) has overcome an initial lukewarm critical appraisal to achieve beloved status with the People. They crowd the long windowy room for $6 ahi carpaccio and $7 hanger steak at one of downtown’s most overcrowded happy hours, and love it up for business lunches and evening dates behind seductive sheers. The Italian food is satisfying, particularly the admirable tomato-oiled bean soups and meat entrees. And if pastas are at times too lavishly oiled, it’s all of a piece with the overall sexiness of the room.
Fonté Cafe and Wine Bar Wine bar
It was only a matter of time before someone in this thirsty town united the boutique coffee roaster with the fine wine bar—and at Fonté, genuinely terrific food is the glue. The sleek blond-leather Euro cafe next to the Four Seasons Hotel, across from SAM, features a crisp layout as accommodating of tete-a-tetes as solo drop-ins; a place where you can savor a ciabatta sandwich of applewood bacon, egg, cheese, caramelized onion with your single-origin French press Sumatran or perfectly pulled cappuccino, then return in the afternoon for spiced lamb burger sliders or sesame seared tofu with a beautiful glass of wine. If service errs on the side of...relaxed, all this beauty and offhand excellence still makes Fonté our choice for a world-class downtown pit stop.
The Georgian Continental
The opulent centerpiece of the grand old Fairmont Olympic Hotel is as creamy as a wedding cake: a pilastered and filigreed marvel of soaring ceilings and sparkling chandeliers, where every second table is toasting an anniversary and the others are filled with families treating grandma. The Georgian is the place fussy service went when it died—a source of both luxuriant pampering (particularly from the finest fleet of busers in the city) and unintentional hilarity—and the food can likewise suffer under the weight of this much pretension. But when the kitchen hits it, out will come a truly inventive creation—a Caesar derivative with the romaine wrapped in curls of potato, for instance—or a classic triumph, like one of the Georgian’s legendary souffles. No detail is missed, from the herbed butters to the crumbscoops, and one therefore pays handsomely, something the expense accounters and power breakfasters are ever willing to do. No dinner Sun & Mon.
Le Pichet French
Francophiles sniffed out Le Pichet the instant it opened, and they’ve been here ever since. One step inside the slender First Ave bistro with the little black awning transports you directly to the Right Bank of Paris—with all the buzz of lively conversation, the pulse of an all-day crowd, and the petit ceramic pitchers of wine it’s named for. Just like in Paris, the menu is full of terrines, pates, charcuterie, and entrees like moules frites, that perfect combination of shellfish and fries that passes as fast food in France; or succulent roast chicken for two, which is renowned across the city and worth the hour wait. Just like in Paris, that chicken might at times arrive slightly overcooked. C’est la vie: You’ll be back to idle away a morning with a cafe au lait and a baguette or to lunch on country pate with greens. Evenings the place fills up and gets noisy, but this is one spot that understands that more tables packed closely together is more intimate than tables spaced too far apart.
The epicenter of downtown from the moment it opened—Loulay is one of the most cosmopolitan lunch and dinner stops in Seattle, its packed bar and plummy fixtures and soaring sight lines making it feel like a great party in a gloriously unaffordable home. The huge room has plenty of seating options, romantic (the corner table in the bar should have a room number) to solo to life of the party, from which to sample seasoned chef Thierry Rautureau’s (and his staff from the former Rover’s) classic food. Look for careful execution on short, well-chosen menus of both French classics (terrific fish dishes, seared foie gras) and accessible everyman food, like the killer 12-buck rib-eye burger, at prices below what you might expect amid this much style. Great service.
The Metropolitan Grill Steak House
The unofficial commissary of the financial district, this chophouse is handsome in the manliest of ways—from the noble burnished wood and brass appointments to the power steaks coming out of the kitchen. It’s the flagship of Consolidated Restaurants, a chain known for letting the diner set the agenda, so the Met delivers everything you expect and nothing you don’t: straightforward preparations of dependable beef, lots of single-malt scotches, seafood and pastas and salads for contrast, insider trading across tables (kid-ding!), even stock-market postings in the lively bar.
Palace Kitchen New American
Medievally lit, anchored by a twinkling bar, lined with floor-to-ceiling windows, dripping with chandeliers, peopled by…everyone—this is the Tom Douglas restaurant Seattleites love best. Oh sure, it’s the food—big satisfying plates of items like grilled mustard sausage and applesauce or Piedmontese ravioli or goat cheese fondue or grilled rib steak with chanterelle jus—or any of the rest of Douglas’s canny comfort-food originals. But more, it’s that the Palace virtually crackles with the energy of a smashing cocktail party, till well after most restaurants are shuttered for the night. It’s the place where you can pop in for a plate of sausage and grits at midnight (it’s open every night until 1am), assured that the server will know just the right cocktail to accompany it, and confident that you won’t be drinking anywhere near alone. Reservations are essential; pity they don’t take them for parties of less than six.
Purple Cafe and Wine Bar Americana/Wine Bar
There’s nothing else like it downtown: no other place casual enough for dropping in, festive enough for an occasion, visible enough to remain on the radar, and proffering a vast menu of populist comfort foods rigorously embellished by mayo and melted cheese. We’re talking pastas, sandwiches (a very nice breaded shrimp and pickled fennel number), salads, and pizza; evenings, there’s a grandma’s kitchen full of comforting mains. And wine, rivers of it, is offered in flights or 80-plus by-the-glass selections, with cheeses or with nosh trios you assemble yourself. Nothing rises above the culinarily predictable, but sitting in the soaring glass-skinned chamber centrally anchored by a massive tower of wine, amid the clattering urban jumble of shoppers and theatergoers and business folk at Fourth and University—you feel you’ve located the beating heart of downtown. The more rustic Woodinville original and the more suburban Kirkland and Bellevue branches cater to families and gambolers at a more relaxed pace.
National superstar chef Michael Mina brings approachable French to downtown Seattle, and the generically elegant surroundings, manic atmosphere (the “Last Bottle” wine boards clack out deafening updates whenever the cellar’s down to one bottle), and “concept dining” belies what turns out to be a serious kitchen, dedicated to local sourcing and capable of fine things. Of particular note are the composed salads, pork-lentil preparations, and “deconstructed” beef Bourguignon featuring a melting hunk of Painted Hills short rib. The place shines brightest as a drop-in wine bar, with a thoughtful selection of bottles and trusty bar nibbles (check the foie gras sliders) befitting its central downtown location.
Serious Pie Pizza
Praise the Lord and pass the foraged fungi—Tom Douglas has opened a pizzeria. Two of them, in fact: drop-in, takeout departures from his destination restaurants (you know, Dahlia Lounge, et al.) but the food is taken every bit as, like the sign says, seriously. Toppings like wild mushrooms, Penn Cove clams, and housemade mozzarella light upon rustic applewood-smoky crusts with lots of blistery crackle and satisfying chew in each bite. A list of fresh appetizers at the start, a couple of memorable finales—just say “cannoli”—and Italian wines and rotating microbrews round out the menu with laudable brevity. The rough-hewn spaces are small but fit enough long plank tables to seat crowds and boast enormous pizza ovens to keep every last one of them happy.
Taste New American
After its identity crisis right out of the blocks, the Seattle Art Museum’s downtown commissary hit the reset button and found itself—making this one of the urban core’s better casual food stops. Gone from the tall-windowed sidewalk storefront are the stark-white cafeteria hard edges, softened now with tawny upholstery and half-moon banquettes. The menu offers ladies lunching classics gone upscale, like frittata with Quillisascut chevre or an elegant chopped salad with Salumi charcuterie; and dinners of unexpected reach, as in the lamb rack with cherry jus or the pork belly confit with horseradish puree and grapefruit gastrique. The kitchen cares about sourcing (about half the menu items hail from within 150 miles, with the rest trying hard for organic or other forms of correctness), which the well-heeled urban gambolers don’t mind paying for. It also cares about dessert, with—among other delights—luscous ice cream.
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria Pizza
Time was, 20-plus years ago, you had to trek to Filiberto’s in outer Burien to find pizza made the way it was meant to be made: thin crusted and barely scorched in a wood-fired brick oven built by Neapolitan masons. Now, many burn wood, but none to better effect than the cozy Tutta Bella, a cornerstone of Columbia City’s renaissance. The toppings show zealous attention to proportion, quality, and authenticity, from real San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce to a seasonal wild-mushroom special heavy with funghi. Salads and desserts are the only extras; the shaved fennel in the insalata di Salerno is an especially nice home-country touch. Newer outposts in Wallingford, South Lake Union, and Issaquah spread the love—if not the warm old-brick atmo.
Wild Ginger Pan-Asian
Both locations are enormous, and they better be, since they’re required to seat the zillions who tell the Zagats it’s their favorite spot in town. We favor the cosmopolitan pan-Asian purview, encompassing specialties from Beijing to Bangkok—fragrant duck with steamed buns and plum sauce, Szechuan green beans wizened to perfection, seven-flavor beef (you can taste all seven!), a slew of pungent soups. Pluses include the dead-center downtown locations (Seattle’s next to Benaroya Hall, Bellevue’s at the Bravern), the buzz that comes from being the busiest restaurant around—and sometimes the servers, who are unfortunately too crazed to be consistent.