Small yet generous, modest yet gloriously self-assured—Altura (which in Italian means both “height” and “profound depth”) spins its delicate web of opposites in a candlelit space on Broadway. Chef and owner Nathan Lockwood came from the private dining club the Ruins, where he developed an eye for rococo decadence—one formidable angel gazes down from the rafters—and a gift for making diners feel like treasured guests. Service is notably stunning. All this praise and we haven’t even gotten to the food: Northwest seasonal ingredients gone Italian rustic—then pushed through an elegance sieve. Off a weekly changing menu, slices of muscovy duck might come fanned over red cabbage with crumbled amaretti and caramel-roasted turnip; scallops may be dusted with fennel pollen alongside grilled radicchio and fennel. And what once was a semicustomizable three-, four-, or five-course meal has fully evolved into a bona fide prix-fixe tasting menu. Do save room for dessert, which may be a boozy affogato of mascarpone gelato and amaro.
Ten years ago, a mere 20 or so diners would assemble inside a snug, squat Fremont bungalow to eat a parade of dishes from the mind of a chef. Dustin Ronspies’s mind, that is, from which sprang prix-fixe dinners that combined his culinary whims with the season’s freshest yield. But in April 2017, Ronspies and his co-owner and wife, Shannon Van Horn, decamped for a room full of windows and tasteful blond woodwork on Stone Way. Now diners gather in a high-ceilinged space to watch the kitchen from the curved 10-seat chef’s counter or to enjoy the natural wood tabletops’ considerable elbow room. While there’s a new a la carte offering, Ronspies’s tasting menu is still the beating heart of Art of the Table. Everything hits, one deftly presented plate after another: a chilled bowl of peppery pea vine soup with a dollop of creme fraiche, an asparagus terrine so green that Kermit himself might offer a fist bump of solidarity. Neah Bay black cod swims among chili oil and fennel pollen, and it’s not unheard of for diners to order a second foie gras torchon, even amidst a nine-course meal. Art of the Table’s bar, aptly named Under the Table, runs Sunday Funday, a happy hour with refined snacks.
Lucky Beacon Hill, that its pizzeria so embodies the soul of the neighborhood restaurant. The place bubbles, from the sheer crush of devotees inside its tidy, clean-lined quarters to its wood-fired pizza crusts—crispy and flavorful like Neapolitan with a little more tooth to the chew. These pies are the province of master pizzaiolo Jerry Corso, who delivers a short list of regional Italian antipasti, seasonal salads, and terrific Italian desserts—along with cocktails, wines, and beers—to round out the main event. If it’s on offer, don’t miss the sassy anchovy-lit puttanesca, or whatever garden special he’s got going.
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 a 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.
The only restaurant in the city to legitimately rate as mythic has been perched out over the vertiginous eastern edge of Queen Anne Hill since 1950. That makes it about as classic as it gets around here—right down to the midcentury split-level architecture, the dress code (fancy attire encouraged), the noblest mixed drinks in town, fathoms-deep wine list, perfectionist standard of service (where the valets remember your car without aid of a claim ticket), and the whole breathtaking sweep of Lake Union twinkling just beyond the windows. Because the third generation of Canlis family restaurateurs insists on culinary relevance, the food is every bit as grand: Both the warhorses (yes, the Canlis salad is still on the menu) and the more experimental, rigorously Northwest multicourse dinners are genuinely impeccable. Service has been updated as well, to a most intelligent and nimble brand of affability.
A couple of rustic Italian ristoranti delight the crowds of Wallingford and Bellevue with fresh, constantly rotating antipasti, contorni, housemade pastas, and mains—some rarely seen, like tortellini in brodo, and a stunning casoncelli with pancetta and amaretto crumbles—and some classic crowd-pleasers. Earthy studies in farmhouse minimalism with plank tables and wrought-iron chandeliers, the places are constantly slammed; while the no-reservations-for-parties-of-fewer-than-six rule is out, the affable neighborhood ambience, the reasonable price tags, and the hard liquor remain.
Nowhere has bar food progressed from Booze Ballast to Whole Point more auspiciously than in this diner’s watering hole, part of Pioneer Square’s ascent to gustatory destination. All dim and brick lined, the place unites brainy cocktails with sly small plates: maybe grilled peaches with celery leaf and fennel and a smear of blue cheese puree, maybe a duck hot dog with salsa verde, maybe a serving of french fries done up in chicken fat.
An intimate 24-seat room on the top of Queen Anne Hill is both romantic and robust—in energetic vibe and in muscular food, thanks to young Maximillian Petty, a classically trained overachiever. He’ll spend months blackening garlic or fermenting carrots for preparations like fathomless lamb neck pastas with swoony egg spaghetti or dry-aged duck breast with sour quince reduction and pickled raisins; dishes are small and shareable, and gorgeously plated. His wit is all over the menu—Crispy Pig Head Candybar anyone?—but he backs it up with skill, his only failing a youthful overenthusiasm leading to too many innovating elements. (As failings go, that can look an awful lot like success.)
John Sundstrom relocated his fanatically beloved Lark to the warehousey flank of Pike/Pine off Madison, spinning out a starlit space—indigo banquettes, white linens, a welkin of pendants overhead—as elegant as any in town. Out of the rafters he carved a casual lofted upstairs bar, offering charcuterie and crudo, along with plenty of pleasantly bitter cocktails. But Lark, once the upstart that pioneered small-plate dining, has now become the noble elder; grown-ups come here for that disappearing species—relaxing high-end dinners assembled from a combination of mains and Sundstrom’s famous grains. The menu is long and speckled with old favorites (the eel with saba, the skillet of mascarpone-creamy farro) and executed, as in the crisped pork belly with farro grits and a rye whiskey glaze, with Sundstrom’s reliably able hand. Less sure is service: throwing into bold relief the poise of this food even as it reminds that this is, after all, still Pike/Pine.
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 the classic food of seasoned chef Thierry Rautureau (and his staff from the former Rover’s). 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 16-buck rib-eye burger, at prices below what you might expect amid this much style.
A legit hit of Paris in the Central District, L’Oursin glows with pendant lights and Parisian signs, in an unfussy room whose populated bar and open kitchen crook an alluring finger from the street. Chef and co-owner J. J. Proville grew up mostly in France and knows its subtleties, in dishes like a fathomless bouillabaisse with Northwest shellfish under a pastry crust or a tartine of house-smoked bacon with greens on charred brioche. Northwest seafood is his thing; natural wines a close second. And if it all seems rather more about pleasing their own sensibilities rather than their diners’ (this is not a steak-frites kind of bistro)…it’s art! Cocktails are not to be missed.
This longtime pair of Northwest (as in freshness) meets Southeast (as in Asian) hybrids brings genuine global elegance to North Capitol Hill and Old Town Bellevue, whose denizens can’t get enough of the consistent Vietnamese favorites in polished, sophisticated quarters. Grilled beef la lot, drunken chicken, and clay pot catfish sustain breathless followings. As does weekend dim sum brunch. (As does the Seattle rooftop, glorious in summer.)
The happy hour destination north of the Cut is this farmhouse-rustic bistro on a corner in Ravenna, where small-plate favorites like cambozola fondue with pears and fontina mac and cheese have fan clubs. Careful owners train a close eye on details, and, though execution can vary, goodwill is constant. The place is smaller than its popularity, so prepare to wait.
This hidden bistro behind the Pike Place Market fish tossers is français to the max—down to the black-and-white floor tiles and très cosmopolitan little bar boasting regulars who come for the hard-to-find aperitifs. But the little place with the charming ferry view has a Seattleite soul, lighting with particular fondness on Northwest seafood. The bacony steamed mussels are locally famous—they’re an appealing antidote to the ubiquitous wine-butter rendition, served in a tangy balsamic near-gravy you’ll want every last hearty hunk of Grand Central Bakery baguette to dispatch. Other dishes ply the regions between solid and pleasing, with the occasional foray into truly admirable—like the lush creme brulee for dessert.
Go to the frenetic corner of Pine and Melrose. Step inside the bustling wedge of a restaurant. Enter Brooklyn. With only 14 tables, you will wait, but Machiavelli’s shadowy little bar is a very appealing place to do it, over some people watching par excellence—the whole spectrum of Capitol Hill’s monde and demimonde—and a terrific cocktail. Seasoned servers, who can turn a table without a whiff of a rush, can likewise turn a table on to some fine saucy classics—creamy alfredos, kickin’ marinaras, and a fine carbonara. The veal is a house specialty and a guilty pleasure; the steak, known among cognoscenti, is a triumph, as in the tiramisu.
Restaurateur Michael Mina busted the myth that national names can’t succeed in Seattle (he is from Ellensburg, after all). He did it with a downtown outpost of his erstwhile San Francisco wine restaurant, marrying lovely platings with a vast bottle list that boasts plenty of Washington cred—the “Last Bottle” wine board clacks out updates whenever the cellar’s down to one bottle. When diners decreed it a happy hour destination, RN74 leaned in with a lineup of snacks and booze that feel like an even better deal given the supremely luxe room.
Eric Banh, whose Monsoon and Ba Bar are very Vietnamese, has opened a visually stunning steak house that isn’t, really, at all. Seven Beef stands for the traditional Vietnamese Beef Seven Ways feast, which comprises the prix-fixe portion of Seven Beef’s menu, and its several dishes fragrantly evoke Banh’s native cuisine with sausages and sweet-spiced congees and herb-topped meats. But mostly Seven Beef is a steak house, starring around 13 cuts a night, competently prepared and served in simple pools of demiglace. If this feels oddly hybridized, these sorts of disconnects live at the heart of this spendy yet youthfully freewheeling house, where side orders of things like beet salads and brandades and sweet potatoes cooked in woodsmoke vary madly but a happy vibe prevails from buzzing bar to flaming grill, all the way up to the timber rafters. They play records!
The occupants of maybe two dozen apartments in high-density North Capitol Hill can just about glance out their windows to see if Single Shot has an open table—but it won’t. The restaurant is small, after all, and possessed of whatever intangible it takes to invest in something with a sense of place. Sipping a lush cocktail at the marble bar amid this welkin of starry votives is just what you want to do in your neighborhood pub, nibbling off a menu featuring a mix of pizza, charcuterie, pub cheese, a few entrees, and a few desserts, like a buttermilk-sweet biscuit with creme fraiche. What it lacks in consistency it makes up for in excellence when Single Shot is on its game, making it a crapshoot—but one that the ambience makes worthwhile. Allow time to find parking, though moving to the neighborhood may be faster.
The best of Deming Maclise and James Weimann’s stage set restaurants (Bastille, Poquitos, 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 original remains the best of chef Maria Hines’s duo of restaurants—in a cozy Wallingford Craftsman named for soil at its most fertile, she reaches for the gold standard of fresh and seasonal food: stringent Oregon Tilth organic certification. Ninety-five percent of her food comes from certified-organic sources—a mandate that can limit Tilth’s purview, but here shows off Hines’s standard of care, which her crew brings to everything from sablefish with fried green tomato to pea risotto with basil and truffle oil.