What differentiates brunch from breakfast?
A menu that contains sweet things and savory ones, built for lingering rather than perfunctory nourishment, and served on a day that begins with the letter S. Gentle, juice-driven cocktails don’t hurt, either. 

But somewhere along the way brunch acquired a bad reputation—one of interminable waits, phoned-in menus, and overcooked eggs. These transgressions do happen, but is it really fair to cast such aspersions on an entire meal that, at its essence, combines bacon, biscuits, and socially acceptable day drinking? 


Stoneburner

This dramatic Ballard Ave space mellows out in daylight, though the brunch menu plays to the same strengths as dinner: delicate vegetables, come-hither starches, and attention to detail. Dishes skew more savory than sweet, but an entire section dedicated to pizza? That’s just brilliant. The breakfast pie has the same blistery crust as dinnertime versions; it’s topped with paper-thin layers of potato, two eggs, and full strips of pancetta cured in the restaurant and smoked across the street at sibling (and fellow brunch stalwart) Bastille. Runny-yolked eggs make a lot of appearances—on the lamb hash that’s really a deep sugo atop potato gnocchi, on the meatballs, on a polenta cake with lemony broccolini—but making the obvious “put an egg on it” jokes doesn’t seem right when each iteration is so different…and when the food’s this memorable.  

Breakfast pizza at Stoneburner.

Image: Olivia Brent 

Rock Creek Seafood and Spirits

This could be the pickled-shishito-pepper bloody mary talking, but the bacon-oyster benedict from RockCreek may be the single best brunch dish we sampled, period. A textural thrill ride—slabs of buttery brioche, crunchy breaded oysters, and chewy bacon bound with Old Bay–lemon hollandaise and heady rivulets of golden yolk—this is a flavor romp of salty, briny, earthy, and sweet, and it’s not even the headliner at the friendly, raw-timbered Fremont fish house. “People order the caramelized apple and ricotta beignets in vanilla bean caramel from the door,” a host chuckled. Truth is, this menu is impressive across the board—big on herby eggs, inventive specials, variety (only about a third of the dishes include seafood), stiff innovation from the bar—and lots of people ahead of you in line. Arrive early.

Mimosas and merrymaking at RockCreek.

Image: Olivia Brent

Sun Liquor Distillery

The streets of Pike/Pine are largely deserted on weekend mornings, save the occasional empty energy drink can clattering around in the gutter. By about one in the afternoon, Capitol Hill denizens have at last crawled out of bed and filled the tables here in search of some hair of the dog—a term not nearly elegant enough for the apple toddies, Old Cubans, or fresh grapefruit mimosas ordered in multiple rounds. Amidst the brunch standbys are lesser-known vintage drinks heavy on fresh citrus. Brunch here started modestly, and the slender menu still plays it straight—a BLT on slabs of springy sourdough, biscuits all but obscured by pork gravy, French toast battered with a pinch of spice. And yet the tiny kitchen pulls off some impressive details like a dressing of honey and chopped mint that makes the fruit salad disappear faster than the home fries. Or the turboboozy maple syrup simmered with Sun Liquor’s rum. A shot of which might get you drunker than one of the house bloody marys—made, naturally, with Sun Liquor vodka and a good amount of heat.
 

Cocktails and sustenance at Sun Liquor.

Image: Olivia Brent 

Ma’ono Fried Chicken and Whisky

Some vestiges from the restaurant’s Spring Hill days remain, but this brunch is slowly assuming Ma’ono’s Hawaiian-fused persona. Some changes are subtle, like expanding the noodle section and making the French toast with coconut. The curry and bacon fried rice is neither subtle in its flavor nor its fusion, and the best thing to happen to savory brunchers in ages. It’s rife with peas, crunchy bean sprouts, and fat cubes of crisp bacon, deeply savory even before a fork punctures the poached eggs, overlaying the whole situation with yolk. Also available at brunch: the labor-intensive, twice-fried chicken that brings people here in droves come nightfall; it’s not uncommon to see someone tearing into a pile of crunchy, golden-coated drumsticks and thighs at 9:30 in the morning. The $12 bottomless mimosas are equally appreciated by groups of friends (the chill kind, not the screechy kind) and surreptitiously day-drinking parents.
 

Ma'ono's loco moco.

Image: Olivia Brent

Sushi Kappo Tamura

Why isn’t sushi brunch more of a thing? It’s a food made for slow, deliberate consumption and doesn’t demand an immediate postprandial nap. Brunch at Eastlake’s sushi mecca is downright serene; diners here clutch raku mugs of hot tea and lean in for earnest conversation. Sure, you can order some pristine rolls and sashimi, but most people lay out the $25 for one of the gozen—not cheap, but it is a rocking value. The almost bentolike procession begins with miso soup and moves on to an array of ceramic and stone dishes on a wooden tray. There might be springy agedashi tofu, crunchy pickled cabbage, and several pieces of sashimi too pure of flavor to sully with soy sauce. Each gozen has its own main event; the asa (Japanese for “morning”) gozen’s grilled sockeye salmon hews toward traditional Japanese breakfast, while a small donabe, or earthenware hot pot, of Wagyu skirt steak is so tender that eating it requires just chopsticks and a smidgen of intent. When you’re full enough to cry uncle, a yuzu panna cotta dessert arrives. 

Hangtown fry at The Wandering Goose.

Image: Olivia Brent

The Wandering Goose

Forget pancakes. Biscuits are Seattle’s ubiquitous leavened buttermilk brunch starch. And yet the ones at Heather Earnhardt’s place on 15th Avenue are special—crispy all the way around, but with feather-soft innards. An entire section of the blackboard over the counter is dedicated to filling these biscuits with fried chicken and fat bread-and-butter pickle slices, or peanut butter, banana, honey, and bacon. It’s hard to stray from the biscuits, but plenty of wonderful things happen here in individual-size cast-iron skillets, like a hangtown fry with cured pork belly in place of bacon and a duo of fat oysters that display the kitchen’s superlative frying abilities. Earnhardt’s North Carolina roots are evident in the hip-grandma decor, relaxed pace, and hospitable servers—the kind that bring share plates without being asked. Ordering at the counter adds to the crazy-crowded feeling, but offers an up-close view of the pastry case stocked with brownstone crunch cake, cherry hand pies, and chocolate-toffee-walnut cookies. 

Cafe Pettirosso

Capitol Hill’s glut of new construction projects dominate the block, but this agreeably low-lit space—weathered wooden walls, whitewashed ceiling—feels like it’s been around forever. The current incarnation has actually existed since just 2012, when the owners of Belltown’s Bang Bang Cafe took over Pettirosso, added a large dining room in back, and installed a menu that’s equally friendly to carnivores and vegetarians. “Poached eggs on brioche” is a deceptively low-key description for the fireworks that happen when two perfect pieces of toast meet up with spinach, goat cheese, a puree of fresh tomatoes, runny yolks, and a fist full of Mama Lil’s peppers. The vegan mac and cheese is more savory than cheddary, but absolutely deserving of its fan base, while the espresso stands out even in a neighborhood full of excellent coffee. By noon the crowd of table seekers has usually spilled to the sidewalk—a strong statement in a neighborhood brimming with great brunches.

Monsoon

The elegantly hangover-busting oxtail pho, delicate dim sum bites, and an egg-bedecked daytime rendition of drunken chicken have enshrined Monsoon’s two locations as brunch go-tos (sibling Ba Bar is close on its heels). Recently Monsoon Seattle added a bar area; this glossy new room installed full cocktail capabilities and doubled the seating, so Sundays feel lively rather than jam freaking packed. Most tables sport at least one steamer basket containing shrimp dumplings or pork buns, but the kitchen is just as adept with fluffy pumpkin-flavored waffles or entrees both hearty and vegetarian, like slivers of delicata squash roasted soft and arranged with sauteed rapini and the requisite perfectly poached egg. Cheaper pho and dim sum absolutely have their moments, but wet, windy days call for the warming powers of a broth made with brisket, and tender eye of round and simmered for 72 hours. (It even makes a cameo in the bloody mary; see above.) 

Westward

Very little on the brunch menu at Josh Henderson’s stylized nautical hideaway is overtly brunchy. Yet it hits on this meal’s most vital elements. When done right (as they are here) fried oysters rank right up there with bacon. In lieu of toast, a Dungeness tartine: a generous amount of crab, plus a memorable take on sauerkraut made from seaweed. Sawing through the bread isn’t easy, but on the upside it keeps the tartine from disappearing quickly. Breakfast potatoes, small as robin’s eggs, roast in the wood oven until the skins crackle. Then there’s the small matter of that Lake Union view—it might even be more stunning in AM daylight. Like dinner, it’s split between large and small plates, which will be frustrating to brunch purists but liberating to those who want to try everything.

Vios

As jovial and overpopulated as a Greek family reunion, the sprawling North Capitol Hill Vios is all persimmon walls and warm wood and steamy windows—just the place to unspool a lazy morning over scrambled eggs with Greek sausage and kasseri cheese or the herby potato quiche called sfougato. The menu speaks in effortlessly Mediterranean accents, from the plate of falafel cakes with hummus to a Syrian cereal of wheat berries, pistachios, pomegranates, and rosewater-scented Greek yogurt. Here is a kitchen that finally accords carbonara the brunch status it deserves, that brilliantly crafts its bennies with crisp potato latkes, that knows grilled focaccia makes the best toast. All that and bloody marys (and frequent coffee refills, flaky pastries, a kids’ play area…) too. Another Vios in Ravenna’s Third Place Books offers brunch off a different menu.
 

Benedicts at Vios swap in latkes for English muffins.

Image: Olivia Brent

Roux

Matthew Lewis goes big for brunch. Not with portions—with flavors. On weekend mornings his dignified Creole restaurant on Fremont Ave embraces spice and butter and fried things…like the sugar-showered beignets, more ubiquitous on the tables than coffee cups. Order the huevos rancheros, and the server will issue a warning about the heat levels. The warning is no joke, nor is the miniature skillet layered with cheese, tortillas, eggs, and hemispheric pools of red and Hatch chili sauces. The corn-bread benedict with Benton country ham should also require a warning, or at least a safe word. The storied Tennessee pork is dry cured for nearly a year, and so salty, so funky, that even the thinnest of shavings bring one’s palate to the brink of explosion in the best possible way…provided you like ham. Brunch is the only time Roux serves Lewis’s po’boys—otherwise the crusty bun flown in from New Orleans and stuffed with fried oysters or shrimp requires a rendezvous with his Where Ya At Matt food truck. 

Señor Moose Cafe

Colorful in every sense of the word, this humble Ballard favorite does up the best Mexican brunch in town—period. (We say that not just because of its steamed horchata with a tequila shot, though that helps.) It’s the kitchen’s sure-handed second nature with Mexican cuisine, resulting in regional dishes of uncommon authenticity, from the vivid huevos divorciados with their red and green salsas and puddle of black beans to the sopes, variously stuffed masa cakes. Chilaquiles, or tortilla chips tossed with salsa and topped with eggs and meats and cream, is a fan favorite. Even the coffee is Mexican. The one downside of the quality is too much popularity; you will wait—for your table, for your food, for every coffee refill.

Burgundian

Bourbon is a brunch drink, right? Damn right, amid the high-backed booths and pierced clientele and Motown playlist of this Tangletown barroom—land of the morning-through-dinner brunch menu and the justly famous chicken and waffles. Big tender pieces of crackle-skinned bird arrive over thick and swooningly fluffy malt waffles alongside pots of apple butter, sausage gravy, and bourbon-maple syrup. (See, it is a brunch drink.) Quite simply the best version of this dish we’ve found in this city—as good with Belgian Ale or cider as with Fonté Coffee—the chicken and waffles share billing with relative brunch rarities like a croque madame and a caramel-topped breakfast bread pudding…anytime you want them. Ages 21 and over.  

The London Plane

Matt Dillon’s Pioneer Square tribute to microseasonal produce and cultured dairy delivers the most singular brunch experience in Seattle. There is its vintage setting—two stories of airy, whitewashed, sun-painted prettiness—with the deli/bakery and floral shop providing a backdrop industrious as a country kitchen. But Dillon’s food remains the major draw: lush whole-milk yogurts topped with roasted fruits and crisped grains, thick slices of springy housemade sourdough toast lavished with hazelnut butter and sea-salted honey, eggs fried in harissa oil, big raw salads, and an old-country lineup of baked goods—labneh-frosted cinnamon buns, gentle cardamom tea cakes—to savor with drip coffee from Caffe Umbria. Flavors trend Middle Eastern and vinegar tangy—turns out fruity shrubs were made for brunching. 

Joule

The sophisticated and serene big sister to the lovably clattering Revel (also a master of brunch) is Korean fusion gone comfort food—delivering both a wink and a nudge in the form of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Order your entree from a list that may include a smoked mackerel and chili remoulade hash, or mac and cheese with sausage and fennel spaetzle or a plate of sesame waffles with chicken-fried steak, smoky maple syrup, and vanilla yogurt—all even better than they sound, thanks to a smart and disciplined kitchen. Then gild the lily with unlimited trips down a buffet line offering salads and other accompaniments along a theme—and lucky you if it’s Japanese, with smoky bacon okonomiyaki with kewpie sauce or a sesame-seeded kale-bean salad or mochi-wrapped coconut bites. It’s exacting and intriguing and very, very good; even better with one of Joule’s original boozy concoctions.
 

Joule’s brunch entrees include access to the most elegant all-you-can-eat buffet in town.

Image: Olivia Brent

Juicebox

Servers at this artful storefront along Capitol Hill’s 12th Avenue restaurant row stand as proof that healthy people are just plain nicer than the rest of us. With its signature radiant sweetness Juicebox introduces diners to its weekend concepts—drop by after yoga for a fresh 12- or 16-ounce juice, crafted of chlorophyll-rich produce from the juicer; or linger awhile with brunch, lubed with Stumptown coffee, Remedy teas, and mimosas (beet apple, carrot orange, or pineapple ginger) you can actually feel superior about. The brunch food to justify them is noble too: scrambles, congee with bok choy and pickled turmeric root, salads of various description, vanilla plum oatmeal, gluten-free baked goods, and an array of flatbread sandwiches. One of them—a ridiculously tasty wrap combining sweet peppers and harissa with eggs, cheddar, and spinach—is available weekdays too, thank god. 

Boat Street Kitchen

Quite simply a legend, Boat Street Kitchen has provided the twinkling stage set for more romancing couples than any brunch house in town—and aesthetic charm is only part of why. (Kir royales crafted of French sparkling wines are another.) The menu shimmers with French simplicity, on plates one doesn’t see all over town: baguette with goat cheese, figs, blueberries, and greens, baked eggs with emmental, real-deal cream scones, a rustic cornmeal custard cake. That last one is Boat Street’s longtime signature, served with sausage and banana in a puddle of maple syrup, and it’s so good you can, if you close your eyes, hear tiny sighs of pleasure from all over the room. It’s a long brunch menu, with plenty of savories, and one which rightly honors the importance of the morning dessert. As in: Miss the amaretto bread pudding at your peril.

The Butcher and the Baker

The teensy pleaser along Latona’s restaurant row is both charcuterie and bakery, with a lineup of thoughtful sandwiches at lunchtime and a weekend brunch so adored the sidewalk wait often stretches to 40 minutes. (Yes, an expansion of the cramped 16-seat spot is under way.) The reason? An unusually high level of invention in the preparations, particularly the savories—witness a recent bennie with cured pork leg, garlic collard greens, and fried tomatoes on a cheddar chive biscuit alongside a curried vegetable hash; or the perennially favored Winner Winner Chicken Fritter, where craveable fried chicken arrives all gravied up over a bacon cheddar biscuit with a crown of parsnip frizzles. Pastries are not yet up to this level, which means the gratis cakey blueberry-vanilla bean scone is finer as a gesture than as an accompaniment, but in general the view through B&B’s pomegranate sparkler is a rosy one.
 

The brunch crowd at the Butcher and the Baker.

Image: Olivia Brent

Tilikum Place Cafe

The cozy restaurant/bar that turned Belltown into a neighborhood is at its best weekends 8am to 3pm, when the Dutch baby takes her star turn on the brunch menu and the crowd—there’s always a crowd—goes wild. Dutch babies, baked pancakes served here puffed and golden in a cast-iron skillet bubbling hotly with fillings like poached pear and frangipane or confit chicken with apples and sage—live entirely up to their outsize hype. But pity the diner who never pushes past them into the menu’s more quotidian stuff, from baked eggs and omelets to quiches and tarts in impossibly flaky crusts—conceived with verve and executed with unusual attention to detail, right down to the garnish. Order a fizzy cocktail with the Tilikum fryup (a homely/sublime heap of eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, and toast on baked beans) and enjoy the not-altogether-unhappy sensation of simultaneously slaying one hangover while launching another. 

Volunteer Park Cafe

Like the beloved eccentric in the family, Volunteer Park Cafe is full of annoyances that somehow make the place dearer—at least to the legions of friends and regulars who wander in on a near-daily basis. By day the folksy room is a drop-in coffee and bakery stop, where the line is long and the tables are cramped and the children are loud and the wait is interminable. And the patient find that the panini are toasty and the individual stratas are rich and the banana brioche French toast, with its caramelized bananas and vanilla-orange-ricotta filling, constitutes extreme decadence. Also notable are the cookies, bundt cakes, muffins, and other pastries which fill the case you’re lined up beside, which may lead to more impulse buys than at any other restaurant in town. It’s money well spent, for these pastries are the real deal, especially with a cup of Slate coffee. 

Harbor City

Seattle, shockingly, has no clear-cut favorite for dim sum. Let’s settle that debate with a trip to Harbor City, where roast ducks hang in the front window, lazy susans spin atop oversize tables, and carts circle the narrow room sporting miniature skylines of stacked bamboo baskets. The contents bear none of the common pitfalls of dim sum: too much unmemorable fried stuff, oil overload, a lineup of dumplings that all taste the same. Here dumplings are filled with fat pieces of shrimp or juicy ground pork and steamed until the pleated wrappers are translucent and not too chewy. Fried items rock just as hard. The menu is generally traditional—steamed spareribs, barbecue pork buns, siu mai, Chinese broccoli—but a few little flourishes are welcome, like adding curry to the fried taro and pork dumplings. Brunch here is best with a group, though if you’re coming here expecting slick decor, mimosas, and immediate seating, perhaps consider recharting your course.

Towers of Dim Sum at Harbor City.

Image: Olivia Brent

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