The buzzy stretch of Greenwood Avenue has bars and restaurants and taprooms aplenty, but the 24-hour diner with an adjoined karaoke bar remains a singular treasure. Breakfast and lunch menus are available morning or night; here your last meal of the day may actually be the most important one after drunkenly singing bygone hits in the bar opposite the diner’s entrance. Plop down in a glittery vinyl booth beside a wall of mounted astronaut portraits* or in a seat near draped faux ivy to peruse a menu just as eclectic as the surroundings: buttermilk pancakes, chilaquiles with housemade chorizo, meatloaf, a crabby bacon melt on grilled sourdough. Then there’s the simple blessing of a baked potato, which has its own toppings card because, per the menu, North Star will “put anything on this baked potato!”
*There are 180 framed astronaut portraits at North Star, but one is a photoshopped image of a former employee.
By appearance it’s a casual neighborhood drop-in spot on Leary Ave, serving Ballardites in a lofty, light-filled old building, but the season-abiding menu has way more ambition than you might expect. The daily brunch looks largely familiar—egg dishes, a grits bowl, a croque madame. But, is that…foie gras in french toast? And kimchi punching up the steak hash? Chef-owner Paul Osher takes tremendous care with the details here. His signature item—a whole nine-ounce pork chop stuffed inside a ciabatta bun, bone jutting out the side in an almost Flintstonian manner—is a dish to behold, truly.
A pumpkin-colored dining room serves homespun fare like meatloaf, hash, sandwiches with wonderful seasoned fries, and bread pudding. But the enormous rooster sculpture that struts outside on Sand Point Way (plus the tastefully appointed rotisserie that dominates the small interior) should put you on notice: Chicken’s the thing here. Order some well-spiced, crisp-skinned bird with mashed potatoes and gravy, or get a whole or half chicken to go (even the chicken tenders are stellar). The little nook by the restaurant’s entrance that once held a full-on ice cream shop is now a bona fide bar aptly dubbed the Coop.
Oh, to have a place like Union Saloon down the street, with its oversize wooden booths and a vibe that strikes the seemingly simple balance of careful and chill. Calling this Wallingford haven a neighborhood bar doesn’t do justice to the food—crisp fried chicken, hearty open-face sandwiches, even housemade chips with onion dip. Just don’t pass up those butterball potatoes, which may occasionally make an appearance during brunch: slightly smashed, very crispy, and cohered in a bright mustard dressing with some spicy sausage.
A retro standalone building on Fremont Avenue starts each day with impeccable coffee and aspirationally approachable bowls of porridge with kimchi, avocado, and a runny egg, or lentils and greens with garlic toast. Tartines dominate later in the day, as lingering patrons turn their attention from macchiato to natural wine*—the area by the door doubles as a bottle shop of sorts. Everything about this place makes you want to linger, but Vif closes by 7pm most nights (and has a “no laptop” policy on weekends).
Capitol Hill’s glut of new construction may now 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 2011, 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. 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 patios.
What feels like a friend’s effortlessly vintage-bedecked apartment—mix-and-match brass lighting fixtures, timeworn rugs, antique furniture, a patchwork of maps that stand in as bathroom wallpaper—is actually the cozy Capitol Hill dwelling of Harry’s Fine Foods on the corner of Bellevue and Mercer. The menu bears dishes as varied as the decor: cauliflower that’s caramelized until deep brown, its crisp edges the perfect home for a creamy, herbed chutney; ricotta semolina dumplings accompanied by such seasonal offerings as tender oyster mushrooms; a whole fried trout and a pile of greens and herbs with which to pull away the fish’s meat. But should it all sound too darling, there’s silverware and paper napkins stuffed into tin cans atop each table, plus Snickers and wines to go that all serve as a reminder—it’s as lovely a spot for brunch, lunch, or dinner as it is a useful pantry shop.
Seattle has seen a number of Marjories: the cozy Belltown original and the windowy quarters in the Central District, the latter of which has evolved into a relaxed neighborhood charmer. Owner Donna Moodie, one of the city’s most genuine hosts, has warmed hard edges with pillows and exuberant azure walls; in summer the garage doors roll up and the happy clamor from the bar and restaurant rolls out onto the patio. Through a narrow hallway, an adjunct space seats overflow or private parties amongst twinkling string lights. The menu pays globe-trotting homage to Italy (tagliatelle and clams, housemade ricotta 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.
You’ll have to beat back the hordes to snag a table in this compact, raw-timbered Leschi favorite (from the owners of Purple and Barrio), but once you do you’ll encounter a menu of crowd-pleasers, whether that menu’s for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. Pastries at brunch, grain bowls by evening, globally tweaked dishes like tuna poke, a strong healthy streak—almost every dish has a fan club. Mind you, reachwise it’s about as highbrow as dinner at Mom’s—but the welcome’s just as sweet.
Reckless Noodle House feels like a neighborhood restaurant with a Vietnamese menu full of texture, fresh herbs, and plenty of personality. But the kitchen doesn’t shy away from heat. The papaya salad (with black crab, shrimp, or pork belly) and squid larb leave your lips with a slow burn well after dinner. In the kitchen is Kenny Lee, a former chef de cuisine at Lionhead, which might explain why his food is already so confident, from the fresh rolls stuffed with caramelized pork to the coconut-rich curry vermicelli bowl. Reckless also has a broad cocktail list of classics (mai tais, barrel-aged negronis) and house drinks that lean into rum and mescal and flavors friendly to Vietnamese fare. Even if there’s no room for dessert, the Chinese five-spice duck-fat caramel is a perfect smoky-sweet final bite.
It’s soul food, sometimes great soul food, tucked away in a folksy Madison Valley storefront. Service can be slow but the food usually puts things right, from the headliner chicken and waffles to stunning biscuits (with or without gravy) or the individual pies (try the sweet potato, a sought-after treasure). In here, Seattle still feels like a small town.
The history of a transplanted culture is still evocatively fragrant in Chinatown–International District spots, or more specifically Japantown, like the low-key* Tsukushinbo. While sushi’s solid here—fish expertly sliced, rice perfectly seasoned, prices an unfailing bargain—the home-style Japanese fare is the reason to go. Bygone dishes such as chicken gizzard kushiyaki, rice vinegar–marinated smelt, and whole grilled squid are still emblematic of the restaurant’s adept way with simple ingredients. Salty-sweet mozuku seaweed salad. Aromatic bowls of curry rice. Crunchy fried pork cutlet with piquant sauce. Light, lacy golden fingers of tempura. And yes, the hand-lettered signboard is worth learning Japanese for. Beware the odd hours; don’t expect instant service.
*No signage, no problem: Tsukushinbo isn’t marked. Just enter through its bright orange door.
Pike Place Market
From the minimalist blond interior to the complimentary dish of edamame that precedes each meal, Urara is a chill neighborhood sushi restaurant whose neighborhood just happens to be Pike Place Market. The menu’s broad—chicken katsu curry, salmon sashimi, maki rolls that sport varying degrees of adornment—and friendly servers keep water glasses filled and don’t dally with the check during lunch hour.
North Admiral’s all-day cafe is white and serene with ample greenery and bulbs that dangle over concrete floors. And yet, this meticulously styled space has everything a neighborhood might need: roomy booths, lots of light, an inviting bar area with a long list of wine and beer and cocktail choices, $5 happy hour plates, abundant sandwiches on hearty toasted bread. But Arthur’s really shines in the morning hours with filling egg bakes and other comforting dishes more mindful than gut busting; the avo smash is an herbaceous standout in a dining landscape littered with avocado toast. The classic Australian breakfast and other Down Under nods (pavlova on the dessert menu, a proper flat white) are in honor of the owner’s Melbourne-born father. Food orders can take a while, but in the kitchen’s defense, most people seem to want to linger.
For more than a decade, Island Soul has melded Caribbean flavors with creole cookery—washed down with a healthy dose of rum—along Columbia City’s shop-lined thoroughfare. Crackle into a plate of tostones, fried plantain chips with sweet red onions, which taste wickedly fried but are actually roasted in garlicked oil. End to end the long menu is just terrific—from the jerk chicken suffused with smoke and jumping off the bone, to the panfried tilapia lavished with a powerful escovitch sauce full of onions and peppers, to a platter of curried goat packing a perfect little sting, to the sweet and moist coconut corn bread. It’s soul food gone Caribbean with flavors every bit as bright and vivid as the sunshiny place and its friendly welcome. Desserts redefine decadence.
Here’s everything you need to know about this sliver of a spot* that gives equal attention to Washington beer and wine: You can buy a drink for someone who isn’t there at the time, and it gets noted on a board by the bar. People who drink here know one another well enough to make this system work, without devolving into dirty fake names or juvenile jokes. The kitchen, little more than a corner in the candlelit bar, puts out a surprisingly broad menu: tacos, banh mi, wedge salad, and fingerling potato poutine.
*Perhaps the most clandestine dining in West Seattle is the cozy, tucked-away patio at Locol.
There’s a beautiful simplicity to the sort of burger served at the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall where you go to grab a burger. And the Oak on Beacon Hill serves one so honest you could swear on it in court: an impeccably seasoned third of a pound of Painted Hills beef, draped in melted cheese between a rich bun generously smeared with spicy roasted-garlic aioli, all together tall enough to need a satisfying smoosh with the hand before taking that first bite. Wash down with microbrews or wine on draft. Get it again—this time perhaps with Belgian frites, salad, soup, a sandwich, or something off the Oak’s entirely vegan section.
Raconteur, the all-day eatery inside the new Seward Park Third Place Books, is a bright, vaulted enclosure of air and pine—with a coffee bar that greets you at the door. Separated from the books by a large wall, the restaurant is all about burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and the occasional international flash of schnitzel or dan dan noodles. The owners (the same guys behind Seattle’s Flying Squirrel pizzerias) left plenty of room between tables for strollers, while the downstairs bar has more of an adult vibe (but is also kid friendly).
It’s like calling Pike Place Market a fruit stand. Oh, there’s a bakery all right—big colorful cases full of sugar cookies and pan mexicanos, sticky buns and the caramelly Caribbean bread pudding called budin. But the savories in this cheerful fluorescent-lit space are what compel some of the many devotees, Salvadorean and otherwise, to make White Center a stop on their way to wherever. See, there’s the menu, much of it in Spanish, over the register: number 10, featuring a deep-fried sweet plantain damming a purple lake of creamy frijoles refritos, crunchy bits of fried cassava root, charred nuggets of the fried pork known as chicharrón, one of the finest moist tamales in three counties, curtido (the brisk Salvadorean cabbage salad), and a pupusa—a Salvadorean stuffed tortilla—oozing flavor and delicious grease.
Charming waterfront restaurants abound on Lake Union and Elliott Bay; less so on Rainier Avenue. Here, a 1920s tudor-style filling station made of stacked stones is reimagined as a lodgy sort of neighborhood restaurant. Sure, there’s all manner of sandwiches (including a prime rib dip) but all day breakfast is the jam here, especially country fried steak or french toast on the umbrella-shaded patio.
In a tiny wedge of a room, at the end of the bar, a guy stands over a bowl of masa forming tortillas by hand—each one a chewy, griddled canvas for black beans, pollo adobado, or cochinita pibil, and…that’s the entire menu. Brass Tacks’ new sibling operates on a colorful shoestring in Georgetown, but nobody inhaling tacos and cold beer seems to mind.
Part coffee shop and cafe, part corner store—okay, also part community hub where a burgeoning babysitter’s club might post a glittery flyer for its child-care services—Wildwood Market is essential to a little stretch located deep in West Seattle’s microhood of Fauntleroy. The menu mostly comprises salads and sandwiches (plus hearty burritos for weekend breakfast) and is way better than one might expect: A purple kale caesar salad comes lightly dressed with a serious shower of parmesan cheese shavings, and a flat iron steak sandwich on toasted Grand Central Bakery bread with a mild horseradish aioli would satisfy any carnivore. But should you simply require a cup of Broadcast Coffee and some pantry staples for home, you’ll find a discerning selection of that, too.