Out of a winsome whitewashed farmhouse setting in Ballard come plates of inspired Korean 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 a black bean vinaigrette, or morsels of barbecued 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.
The owners of Georgetown’s Fonda la Catrina (itself home to a great outdoor space) turned a former punk rock club next door into a low-lit marisqueria, home to smoky mescal cocktails and snacks reminiscent of a Mexican seaside vacation, served in warmer months on a most atmospheric patio. Everyone freaks out about the bar’s fish tacos—housemade tortillas, juicy fried fish, and an abundance of cabbage and pickled onion and spicy crema, delivering every texture you can think of—and the freak-out is justified. Plates all cost $12 or less (incredible given all the fresh local seafood), and you’ll need two or three of them to keep pace with those drinks.
Not even the Space Needle delivers a stiffer shot of Seattle than an organic pizza joint, hand built of recycled materials by its LEED-certified architect owner—he even made the stools. Humble Pie smokes its own GMO-free pulled pork, imports just five ingredients from out of state, processes its own rainwater, and maintains a chicken coop. Snicker at your own peril, for these are killer, wood-fired pizza crusts, thin but with plenty of spring in the chew, topped with combos like organic Fuji apples, Beecher’s Flagship cheese, and bacon or smoked eggplant with cherry tomatoes and red onions. Mostly outdoor seating makes this a mostly-in-summer place, but bevs (boutique brews, rotating ciders) and the neighborhood vibe are irresistible even if you have to cram into the tiny building.
Nothing trendy about this timeless landmark, where the family of Carmine Smeraldo has been serving sumptuous Italian classics for over three decades. If pressed, the establishment regulars will praise the peerless osso buco, the garlicky rack of lamb, the noble cioppino—but nobody wants to cultivate competition for their favorite tables. Which, incidentally, are formally sheathed in white and arrayed handsomely in a windowed room with a courtyard off the back for urban (um, loud) summer dining. Its new Bellevue sibling, Carmine’s serves a similar menu on a shaded front terrace.
One of Seattle’s genuinely electrifying culinary adventures, Joule is a Korean-fusion steak house—close quarters buzzing with loud music and a lively vibe—where the humblest cuts of beef (chuck steak, short ribs) get draped in chili sauces and fermented tofu and served with sides like rice cakes with greens and chorizo or Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto, all with admirable consistency. The room is swank and modern; weekend brunch, with its serve-yourself lineup of salads and Asian-tinged breakfast items, legitimately fascinating. Like its neighbor, the Whale Wins, Joule boasts a sweet little outdoor seating section in front of the restaurant.
It’s a known fact that rockfish ceviche and plantain chips taste their brightest and best within quarters as cerulean and sparkling as a wave breaking on a tropical beach. That’s Manolin on Stone Way, whose rounded bar within and surroundable fire pit out front create all the right kinds of warmth—heightened when you throw in the sweetest service in town and a pisco cocktail or two. Add food to the mix—small plates of halibut cooked with restraint over a light mole, smoked arctic char posing artfully on oiled and herb-flecked sour cream, one of those ceviches, and the place is not only transporting, it’s gastronomically spot on.
Imagine if every hole-in-the-wall with a patio offered food as flat-out stunning as chef Manu Alfau’s tribute to his Latin American heritage: yam and smoked gouda empanadas with sofrito, sloppy baguette sandwiches packed with salted green tomatoes, a swooner of a puerco asado plate whose rice and beans could proudly stand alone. A sibling sidewalk stall, Manu’s Bodegita, brings tacos, sandwiches, and tortas to Capitol Hill.
First there was the award-winning truck introducing us to Marination’s signature collisions of Korean and Hawaiian flavors. Then came the brick-and-mortar takeout, Marination Station—with another, simply Marination, now a lunchtime staple at Sixth and Virginia downtown. But the city’s favorite is Marination Ma Kai, just off the foot ferry on the West Seattle shore, which peddles pork katsu sandwiches, Spam sliders, fish-and-chips, Hawaiian shave ice, and booze—with a side of full-frontal Seattle skyline on the house, courtesy of the water-facing deck.
Seattle has seen a number of Marjories: the cozy Belltown original, exotic as a gypsy caravan; the windowy quarters on Capitol Hill, which kicked culinary pretentions up a notch; and most recently the evolution of that space into a relaxed neighborhood charmer like the original. Owner Donna Moodie, one of the city’s genuine hosts, has warmed hard edges with pillows and exuberant color on azure walls; in summer the garage doors roll up and the happy burble from the bar and restaurant rolls out onto the courtyard. Across the alley, an adjunct space seats overflow or private parties. The menu plays globe-trotting homage to Italy (porchetta, housemade gnocchi), India (tikka masala chicken), and the American South (Marjorie’s classic juicy pork shank with grits and greens and red-eye gravy); but the attention-getter is a fat messy burger with aioli, harissa ketchup, and, if you want it, a distractingly thick slab of bacon. The dessert menu may go beyond the bourbon brioche bread pudding, but we never have.
There’s plenty of Middle Eastern flavors on the menu, but don’t come to this South Lake Union rooftop with the James Bond entrance expecting a clone of sister restaurant Mamnoon. No, up here it’s all about purest Northwest ingredients filtered through the world-ranging sensibilities of chef Jason Stratton, where dishes like foie gras–rabbit bolognese in a bubbling polenta or grilled oysters topped with cinnamon butter and matsutake mushrooms recall Stratton’s dream team of mentors across this city. The expanse of which you can see from this viewy room and adjoining patio—best tables in town in summer, naturally, but also in winter, when a heated, glass-enclosed perch is just where you want to sip scotch in a snowstorm. Clever cocktails.
Rob Roy’s walnut-clad sibling gives beer the same nuanced treatment that craft cocktails enjoy all over town. The tap list has some seriously unusual offerings, stored at a precise 42 or 52 degrees depending on style, and pours are tidied up with a whisk of a foam scraper. Yet all this happens without a whiff of pretension, and servers describe beer using accessible terms like chuggable. Meanwhile, chef Jeffrey Vance delivers the rugged, salty-savory pleasures of bar fare, but in sophisticated dishes that look like art, while the prow-shaped patio doubles down on the nautical theme.
So casual and clattering is this hard-edged room with concrete floors and raw beams and giddy splashes of popsicle brights, a person wandering in off the street might never suspect that here lives some of the most sophisticated fare in the Pacific Northwest. After all, it’s Jerry Traunfeld
in the kitchen—he who once brought off nine-course feasts at the Herbfarm and who is now performing a somewhat more modest version of the same endeavor: the seven-dish platters, thali, he picked up on a research trip to India. So it’s small-plate dining, only with the considerable bonus of the chef choosing the combinations. At Poppy the technique results in some glorious dining: carrot matchsticks exotic with clove and lemon thyme, gazpacho bright with melon and mint, a chunk of pink albacore with green tomato, peppers, and fennel. This is not Indian food but a Northwest tasting menu, from one of the Northwest’s finest chefs. Served, weather permitting, on a “secret” gated garden area behind the restaurant.
For more than four decades this dockside legend has defined Northwest classic, with its blend of quietly elegant raw-timbered decor, its archetypal seafood menu, and its wide-angle view over Shilshole Bay and the Olympic Mountains. Indeed aficionados know that much of what we now take for granted in our finest restaurants—chefs buying the catch of the day down at the dock or making a fuss over the Copper River salmon run—was pioneered at Ray’s. Now the kitchen has settled into a more staid level of accomplishment, where diners know they can count on the caramelly richness of the sake-kasu black cod and the flawless execution of the grilled Alaskan king salmon, but that innovation will be on the back burner. Hence the special occasion and tourist crowds that fill the place every night. Upstairs is Ray’s Cafe, home of a merry bar, an even better view, a cheaper family-oriented menu, mediocre food—and, on a sunny August afternoon, virtually no shot at a table. In either room, desserts are lush and terrific.
It’s eye-popping, rule-breaking Korean-fusion comfort food—pork belly kimchi or smoked herring chermoula pancakes, short rib and pickled shallot dumplings, seaweed noodle bowls with Dungeness crab and creme fraiche—served in a clattering upscale space with subway tile, a buzzing workshop kitchen, and a global street vibe, not to mention an airy back deck. The casual spot from the folks behind Joule especially rocks brunch and booze—the latter at the next-door industrial-chic Quoin, whose barkeeps are fine chemists.
Chef Eric Donnelly built his casual raw-beamed fish house as a Montana fishing lodge smack in the heart of upper Fremont, complete with a light-strung patio. And if the deep menu seems overambitious—a dozen each of small plates and large ones, and that’s just the seafood—Donnelly has navigated his share of long menus in corporate restaurants, with startling success. Here, his wild Mexican prawns over grits is a sure-handed and bright Napa Valley–style plate; his mad variety of finfish preparations, often topped with handfuls of leafy herbs, are exact and supremely satisfying. Affable service completes the picture; a perfect place to bring your out-of-town guests when they say they want fish. Open late.
From Josh Henderson, one of the busiest restaurateurs in town, comes a crisp and breezy fantasy of a French bistro—complete with cafe-style tables and negronis (and other rotating cocktails). However this is also Josh Henderson, the creator of bacon jam—so the restraint one might see in a French bistro is replaced here with a broad streak of wanton excess (see burger with housemade palate-lacquering American cheese, see overbuttered grilled Essential Bakery bread). The long narrow room—bar on one side, dining tables on the other—is awkwardly cramped, making summer, when the partially covered patio off the Burke-Gilman Trail is roaring morning to night, this restaurant’s prime time.
It’s rustic Italian cuisine, in a setting so unabashedly sexy it makes raging lust look just a little uptight. To the strains of live jazz vocals in summer, against a backdrop in all the sultry colors of a Tuscan twilight—or alfresco in a charming vine-entwined courtyard—lovers can feed one another lush forkfuls of pumpkin ravioli in brown butter-sage sauce or braised rabbit with parmesan polenta or vermouth-simmered Penn Cove mussels. A vibrant bar and perhaps a velvety panna cotta bookend your evening in a way that altogether explains why it was so hard to get a table.
The slackers who once hauled their hangovers to brunch at Linda’s Tavern are older now. For them, there’s Tallulah’s, the 19th Avenue spot from Linda’s own Linda Derschang (King’s Hardware, Oddfellows, Smith, Bait Shop)—a classy, glassy marvel of midcentury good taste, with Dusty Springfield on the sound system and nary a taxidermic animal head in sight. At booths and tables around the window-clad corner room, beneath floating globe pendants and sweeping sight lines, aging hipsters chat loudly while enjoying refined eggy brunches (chunky corned beef hash with poached eggs, a fine wild mushroom omelet with crispy onion frizzles) and evening noshes of topped flatbreads, veggie small plates, and some half dozen solidly achieved and healthy mains. Cocktails are creative, “gluten free” and “vegan” are carefully marked on the menu, and a general wave of bonhomie wafts about the room, borne on the goodwill of a genuinely friendly crew. In fine weather, dining spills through double doors onto every neighborhood’s dream of a patio.
Into the skinny, window-lined point of Melrose Market, one of Seattle’s finest chefs, Tamara Murphy, has tucked a more rustic, more casual, and more global chaser to her late, great Brasa. At wood tables or the warm triangular bar, a broad demographic of diners nibble off small plates of spot prawns in chimichurri or velvety charcuterie, or order among meat, seafood, or veggie plates—including more than a few of the classics (roast pig with clams and housemade chorizo) this pig-loving chef made famous at Brasa. The space particularly shines by streaming daylight, which Murphy exploits with lunch and brunch service. The rare rooftop patio is a summertime oasis.
Seafood, Small Plates
In summer it’s pure Hamptons, as you tie your boat to the North Lake Union dock and slurp beautifully shucked oysters at an adirondack chair on the tiny beach. In winter it’s all about the cozy, sipping inspired cocktails in the glow of the hearth oven. Inventions can miss from time to time, and the place can suffer from a surfeit of tropes. But oh, that beach in summer.
Another white restaurant from the extraordinary Renee Erickson (the Walrus and the Carpenter) wears all the buoyancy and cheer of a country cottage. Add in the menu of French- and English-inspired noshes, many of which are served room temperature at whatever time they come out of the wood oven (smoked herring butter on toast with pickled fennel, sliced and salt-roasted filet mignon with potatoes and horseradish cream)—and what you’ve got is a very good picnic, right in the heart of the Fremont Collective, best enjoyed during summer months in the leafy little patio out front. Don’t miss the smoky roast chicken or the butter-roasted zucchini bread for dessert.