Critic's Notebook

Top Five Restaurant Openings of 2011

Lots of newbies…but which were best?

By Kathryn Robinson December 27, 2011

The tidy, white-and-celery Skillet Diner is one of our new favorites.

Like 2010, this year brought spinoffs aplenty, with restaurateurs like Tom Douglas colonizing in earnest—in his case, South Lake Union (see Serious Pie, Serious Biscuit, Ting Momo, Brave Horse Tavern, and Cuoco.) Jason Stratton of Cascina Spinasse brought us his Italian aperitif masterpiece Artusi, Maria Hines of Tilth delivered her ode to the Arab Spring in the form of Golden Beetle, and Scott Staples of Quinn’s enhanced his portfolio with Uneeda Burger (even as he diminished it by Restaurant Zoe).

Mobile operations like Marination Station, A La Mode Pies, Seattle Sausage Company (which would become Dot’s Delicatessen), and Skillet Street Food went bricks-and-mortar, while Mexican food went the new-restaurant equivalent of viral. (Openings included Poquitos on Capitol Hill, Kirkland’s Milagro Cantina, Coa on Roosevelt, Fremont’s Pecado Bueno, Eastlake’s Little Water Cantina, and the jaw-dropping Queen Anne sister to La Carta de Oaxaca, Mezcaleria Oaxaca.)

But of all the openings, five stood out as superstars. In alphabetical order, they are:

Altura Shhh…open since just October, it hasn’t been operating long enough for my print review to come out. At the risk of spoiling the surprise, let’s just say this North Capitol Hill beaut fires on every cylinder and then some: creative and seasonal Italian food; a romantic space presided over by at least one member of the heavenly host; and some of the most gracious service I have encountered in Seattle.

Bar del Corso Look up “neighborhood restaurant” in the dictionary and there’s a picture of the burbling happy room that’s made Beacon Hill dwellers lose their minds. Perfect wood-oven pizza, nice bitter cocktails, Euro nibbles and salads, and all the community you could ever want—in one deafening room.

Coterie Room Thank you, Dana Tough and Brian McCracken (Spur Gastropub, Tavern Law), for opening a restaurant that’s brought a little life and beauty back to Belltown. The schtick in this elegant white fin de siècle room is timeless comfort food (grilled rib eye, buttermilk chicken) brought off to a turn, with all the modern methods chefs love to employ but hate to own up to.

Revel Sue me, it opened the tail-end of 2010. The folks who brought you Joule have trained their perfectionist eye on Asian street food, and the short rib rice bowls with kimchee and pork belly pancakes and warming morning porridge are simply the most exuberant thing to happen around here all year. A treasure.

Skillet Diner The Pike/Pine neighborhood of Capitol Hill is breathless over its clattering drop-in diner, where the fried chicken has a fennel seed crust and the grilled cheese is made with brie. It all adds up to the perfect ratio of foofy-to-fun, in a tidy white-and-celery space where the cocktails go down like Kool-Aid. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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