At the Walrus and the Carpenter and the Whale Wins, Renee Erickson has showcased two distinct gifts: sourcing and presenting perfect seafood, and spinning a magical sense of place. Both are in full bloom at Barnacle, her skinny 20-seater with the copper counter, the Euro bar, and the chalkboard menu—heavy on the fishies. Don’t go expecting dinner—the place was conceived as the antipasto anteroom to Ballard’s ever-packed Walrus—but the genius of the joint is in the care it takes with tipples and nibbles: items like octopus terrine in rich Ligurian olive oil with lemon or Italian bread with escabeche mussels and cilantro sauce. Fifteen of these “snacks” happen nightly, for pairing with the cocktails, amari, proseccos, and other Italian drinkables. Renee Erickson knows good design—the room is wrapped in white and indigo Moroccan tiles.
With its French subway tile and vintage fixtures, Bastille delivers a lively shot of Paris to Ballard Ave. Few restaurants have mastered ambience like this one—from the speakeasylike Back Bar (anchored with a crystal chandelier big as Marie Antoinette’s hair) to the breezy patio. The menu, Sunday brunches, through daily happy hours and suppers, surveys French bistro classics through a carefully sourced Northwest lens: Taylor Shellfish moules frites, burnished salads from the rooftop garden, and North African dishes like the very satisfying Anderson Ranch lamb sausage sandwich with artichoke mustard.
On a weekend morning you’ll invariably find a baby crying in this overcrowded Ballard brunch shack, possibly a clutch of feral toddlers, and several pairs of finger-twining lovers—all tucking into biscuits that define the Platonic ideal of biscuitude. This is the former outpost of Morsel on the Ave, which inherited its biscuit mandate (if not its recipe) from the much-mourned Nook, and whose product is every bit as exceptional—craggy and crunchy on the outside, angelically fluffy and just over the border of sweet within. And—as luck would have it—enormous, whether as a buttermilk or a daily special biscuit, perhaps carrot cardamom, sliced and warmed and honey buttered, or as an overstuffed, melting colossus of bacon, scrambled egg, cheese, and fire-roasted tomato jam. Coffee is terrific and servers are sweet.
Ballard’s stylized urban barbecue and bourbon spot is designed like a mullet: businesslike consumption of ribs and brisket up front, party in the back bar. Flavor the dry-rubbed meats yourself with one of four house sauces, and note appetizers that transcend their down-home origins, like pink pickled deviled eggs.
Out of a winsome whitewashed farmhouse setting in Ballard come plates of inspired Asian fusion so buoyant they ricochet across the palate like pinballs: dishes like smoked lamb shoulder with soy-pickled green garlic, charred spring onions, and paper-thin daikon radishes in black bean vinaigrette or morsels of grilled pork shoulder with seasonal kimchi—served as larges or smalls to enable full dinners or affordable grazing. The food is intelligent and satisfying, the welcome genuine, the bar scene lively (credit thoughtful cocktails), and the enchanting hidden courtyard a sun-dappled must on the romance tour.
It’s a throwback in all the best ways, situated on an unfashionable corner of North Ballard, but decorated with a genteelly industrial aesthetic that unites cylindrical pendants and crisp linenless tables. And, acoustic panels! Shaun McCrain’s food likewise harks to an earlier era: short menus, accessible preparations, underpriced dishes, and OCD-level precision—in everything from the crust on the sear to the intensity of the passion fruit sorbet. McCrain deploys modernist technique in breath-catchingly glorious triumphs, like ahi crudo over compressed watermelon ringed with pepper-sweet gastrique—but make no mistake, the satisfactions in this house are timeless, not new, from the classic French overtones to the soul-healing warmth of the welcome.
If you’d wait an hour for simple combos of carefully sourced toppings on char-bubbled New York–style crusts, the plain Ballard haunt Delancey is your jam. Savor a brilliant chemistry project of a cocktail and a vegetable plate at the sister bar next door, Essex, then return for a pillowy-crackly crusted pie with untempered tomato brightness and pairings of Zoe’s bacon, cremini mushrooms, basil, what have you. Gray salt–bittersweet chocolate chip cookies sustain a fan base.
Mason jars with Sharpie labels—housing, oh, a celery tincture or vanilla angostura—line the top shelf and sing trophylike testament to the same handcrafted tradition of its next-door pizza-slinging sibling, Delancey. And if the taco and tiki Tuesdays seem non sequitur for a Euro-tinged bar, they’re also a welcome reminder that our cocktails can come with a grin as well as a pensively furrowed brow.
A recent expansion of hours means waits aren’t quite as crazy at this absurdly delightful breakfast and brunch destination. The avocado toast, various benedicts, and perfectly pulled lattes are equally photogenic and appetizing, but egg bakes are the real deal here. Most tables have at least one personal-size cast iron skillet containing the egg bake alla boscaiola—two eggs baked in bubbling tomato sauce, with sausage, mushroom, and mozzarella.
Old Ballard brick walls meet the terra-cotta tiles of old Mexico in this teeming sensation, and all those people ahead of you in line agree it’s one of the best in town. Indeed the mole is lush and sweet, entomatadas come with kicky tomatillo sauce, the margaritas rock. Just as fine: a sibling Mezcaleria Oaxaca on Queen Anne.
Ethan Stowell and longtime deputy Michael Gifford present a vibrant challenge to prix fixe’s fusty rap. Casual diners packed into the narrow, low-lit, brick-and-timber room talk across tables and swill volubly at the bar. Most choose the chef’s tasting menu—five courses for $65—which might include a braised beet, tarragon, and avocado salad studded with fat chunks of crabmeat; foie gras butter for the ficelle; and a sweet corn risotto dusted with pepper, herbs, reggiano, and heaps of heady black truffle.
The palm-thatched, bamboo-adorned evolution of the No Bones About It vegan food truck has morphed into a fully formed coastal-inspired, plant-based restaurant in Ballard. Truly, it doesn’t get more offbeat than “vegan tiki bar,” a place where surfboards hang on the walls, Blue Crush plays on the TV over the bar, and just about every table has a towering plate of nachos, with cashew and smoked poblano faux queso as a decadent stand-in for the real thing. It’s food even an omnivore can love, and you’d have to be made of stone to resist a boat drink (painkillers, mai tais, a creamy coconut mojito) bedecked with a paper umbrella.
Ballard’s moody, atmospheric destination for classic and seasonal tapas (especially deviled eggs and any sort of toast), plus red wine, sangria, and a list of gentle cocktails that’s longer, and better than you’d expect. There’s a reason Ocho has outlasted a million trendier places.
It’s a restaurant sweet spot: lantern lit and nice enough for casual Saturday nights, able to feed the family without incurring a punishing bill. Most importantly, this little dining room on Ballard’s main drag preaches the pungent, spicy gospel of Thailand’s Isan region using high-quality proteins, like a nam tok meat salad made extra savory with boar collar or deceptively fiery Thai sausages. Khao soi curry noodle soup: mandatory.
By appearance it’s a casual neighborhood drop-in spot on Leary Avenue, serving Ballardites weekday breakfasts and lunch, plus a hearty daily brunch in a lofty, light-filled old building. But the season-abiding menu has way more ambition than you might expect, from roasted salmon collars to chanterelle toast. Chef-owner Paul Osher’s signature item—a whole nine-ounce pork chop, stuffed inside a ciabatta bun, bone jutting out the side in an almost Flintstonian manner—gives you an idea how seriously the kitchen takes its menu of hearty sandwiches.
When Seattleites gush about this Ballard cafe, it’s often because of the icing-filled macaron cookies (and rightfully so). But early risers know that the caramelly cannelé treats and the buttery Breton cake kouign-amann are just as deserving of attention. And calories.
There’s an Italian miracle happening on Ballard Ave: Two conjoined old houses, the city’s oldest intact residences in fact, are reborn as a stylishly atmospheric warren of dining rooms, serving memorable pastas (the spaghetti bolognese…ye gods), a perfectly dressed caesar, an osso bucco whose rich sauce, topped with a gremolata of orange and sage, could be served in a bowl on its own. The food packs all the hearty pomp of an old-school Italian American restaurant, reimagined through the prism of Northwest seasons. Add to that the attentively informal service—and have we mentioned the space?
Sen Noodle Bar
Pestle Rock was the best Thai restaurant in Ballard. Until its owners opened a megacasual Southeast Asian noodle bar next door, where so much happens inside each fortifying bowl, like the guay tiow khaek, a seafood soup with fat, square noodles in a rich coconut curry broth that snaps with chili oil. If the build-your-own-adventure combinations seem daunting, head straight for the ba mee giow muu dang, a clear, porky broth full of leaner-than-usual barbecue pork atop egg noodles and a few of Sen’s excellent dumplings.
This little splash of colorful Mexican authenticity brightens a particularly gray patch of Leary Avenue with deep dark moles and notable seafood preparations, reminiscent of owner Kathleen Andersen’s 20 years in Mexico. But the joint’s real distinction is its stunning way with breakfast: entomatadas with eggs and black beans, huevos rancheros, and the city’s best chilaquiles, simmered in green or smoky red salsa and topped with cream and cotija cheese. Great coffee too.
Staple and Fancy Mercantile
It’s Seattle’s favorite Ethan Stowell restaurant—and why wouldn’t it be, with the vintage brick-lined authenticity, the perpetually effervescent crowd, the crowd-pleasing purview. Many choose the $55 tasting menu—a flurry of appetizers, a pasta, a main, a dessert; it’s a deal—but if you don’t, a solid meal can be cobbled out of other Italian-tinged favorites, beloved fried oysters to pappardelle bolognese.
The best of Deming Maclise and James Weimann’s stage set restaurants (Bastille, Poquito’s, MacLeod’s, Rhein Haus), this sprawler in Ballard Avenue’s Hotel Ballard recalls early-twentieth-century New York with gleaming hardwoods and antique glass. In the kitchen it’s all about the stone hearth oven, the chef at its helm (really named Jason Stoneburner), and the fine blistered pizzas he pulls out of it. It’s also about seasonal fresh produce, bushels of it, which Stoneburner turns into buoyant salads, antipasti, roasted veggie plates, and pasta innovations. His caramelized cauliflower bedsheet ravioli is just one of the reasons diners have so much fun here.
The sons of the original Paseo founder opened Un Bien with their dad’s recipes—which makes this Caribbean roast sandwich the legendarily messy original: pork shoulder, caramelized onions, pickled jalapeños, all on an aiolied Macrina roll. A blast to eat, especially with a cob of slathered grilled corn—but have multiple napkins handy. Two locations bookend Ballard.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
From the idiosyncratic French sensibilities of the prolific Renee Erickson comes a Ballard nosh bar par excellence. Settle into the whitewashed-and-windowpaned rusticity (dig the enormous, coralesque chandelier) and nibble a melon-and-cucumber salad or fresh oysters with champagne mignonette, the house specialty. Or cobble together a few heartier dishes—gin-cured Copper River salmon, perhaps, or breathtaking steak tartare with egg yolk and toast—and call it dinner. Thoughtfully selected Euro wines and a list of Frenchy cocktails lubricate richly. From its position on the backside of Ballard Avenue’s Staple and Fancy (the two share a windowed wall) the Walrus is at once at the center of everything and away from it all; on the back patio you can smell the tide turning.