When it comes to seafood, Seattle's got it all. There are steadfast spots that serve classically prepared fish, and then there are oyster bars preaching the briny bivalve gospel to locals and newcomers alike. Surrounded by water (and, luckily, fisherman), we have no shortage of seafood joints. These 11 are just a few of our favorites.
Seattle seafood legend Renee Erickson has reprised her Ballard oyster bar—the Walrus and the Carpenter (see below)—in this breezy Capitol Hill bar splashed with sprays of seafoam green and constructed as an homage to the shores of Normandy and Brittany. Thus a bowl of manila clams may arrive with tarragon and rings of shallot, halibut crudo might be brightened with pickled cucumber and fresh rhubarb, brined and smoked leg of lamb may be served with the French egg sauce known as sauce gribiche—all in addition to the half dozen fresh oysters daily. If Melusine’s innovations are tamer than Walrus’s, they are no less satisfying—and they also include more meat. (Little surprise, here alongside Erickson’s French steak house, Bateau.)
Tom Douglas’s unique brand of culinary effrontery was foreshadowed in Dahlia’s vermillion walls and paper lanterns. There, seafood wasn’t just served, it was revered: items like lush sashimi and ceviches, caramelly black cod, often a piece of perfect local salmon. There, the skilled irreverence in the kitchen made for the kind of brazen pairings that would later be called fusion—and helped pave the way for the recent upmarket embrace of doughnuts and cupcakes. All that and Dahlia coconut cream pie.
It’s the stereotypically perfect Seattle location—dockside, screeching gulls, the smell of creosote and fried fish—with viewy outdoor pier tables in summer, so three trillion Seattle tourists leave our fair city thinking Seattle’s all about mediocre seafood served in corporate chain restaurants. What locals know, however, is that lurking beneath Elliott’s touristy exterior is the soul of a truly great oyster house. Off its 21-foot oyster bar, some 30 varieties of fresh, variously local oysters are available daily—Seattle’s best selection, respectfully treated.
Hajime Sato’s bustling West Seattle sushi joint has always been very Seattle: deeply traditional and thoroughly modern in the very same bite. And now that modernity requires environmental awareness and action, Mashiko is really on a roll. Since phasing out Atlantic salmon, Southeast Asian shrimp, and other endangered and at-risk seafood, demand for Sato’s seats and bar stools has only increased. With reusable chopsticks made from wheat products in hand, environmentally conscious eaters pout, just a little, about the soft-shell crab and black cod liver that no longer make the cut, and cheerfully inquire about the domestic catfish that replaces off-limits freshwater eel. (It’s marinated to almost the exact same sweet and buttery effect, without the hairy, sort of scratchy texture of unagi). A Japanese-born, traditionally trained sushi chef making sustainability seem sexy and slathering just a little cream cheese here and there? Only in Seattle, folks, only in Seattle.
Like its surroundings, this second-story hideaway has evolved over the years but remains the market’s culinary epicenter—collegial by day, elegant by night, and fiercely beloved by locals. If you have just one meal to eat in this town, this spendy upstairs aerie in Pike Place Market effortlessly combines Seattle’s winningest charms: views over market rooftops to the bay, freshest seafood, straightforward friendliness. Owner Dan Bugge’s market tenure dates back to his days as a fishmonger/thrower downstairs, but new chef Matt Fortner stewards the Northwest menu (and restores a Matt to the premises for the first time since the days of founder Matt Janke).
Chef Eric Donnelly built his casual raw-beamed fish house as a Montana fishing lodge smack in the heart of upper Fremont. 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.
Bellevue has taken to this restaurateur’s restaurant with relish—and avocado-tomatillo salsa and tomato-thyme emulsion and…you get the idea. It’s all about globally embellished seafood, presented in creamy surroundings (expense accounters take note!) in a Bellevue high-rise. The headliner here is the raw bar, featuring noble Hawaiian ahi poke or Olympia oysters, perhaps, which purists will love. But chef John Howie also ranges all over the map to find something-for-everyone preparations—at times, alas, prepared to assembly-line standards.
The most fortuitously located restaurant downtown is a pricey paean to oysters and their briny brethren. In variety and freshness, the place does well by the bivalves, but after that, the catch of the day is your best bet. The rest of the seafood—battered halibut and chips, Louie salads, these sorts of things—varies wildly from overcooked and overcoated to decent. The space, a former haberdashery in the corner of the well-heeled Fairmont, is a gleaming looker—big for business lunches—but cramped when it crowds up. Bring the platinum card.
Shiro Kashiba is a verifiable sushi legend in this town; 50 years after he arrived from Japan to become Seattle’s first sushi chef, Kashiba opened his serene restaurant in the heart of Pike Place Market, where people queue up for a spot at the 14-seat sushi bar and perhaps the most pristine sushi experience Seattle has to offer. If you’re more into reservations than long waits, the dining room offers the same omakase menu as the counter, plus classic Shiro dishes a la carte. To clear up any confusion: The chef is no longer affiliated with his previous more casual restaurant, Shiro’s in Belltown, though it still bears his name and is still worth a visit.
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.
From the good folks who brought us Matt’s in the Market and Radiator Whiskey comes a waterside pub along the docks of South Lake Union, which treats seafood as robustly as Radiator treats meat. The entryway, and indeed the whole place, is confusing—is it a cozy, broey bar or a sit-in-the-sun restaurant?—but nails elements of both, with casual food like clam chowder poutine, deep-fried brussels sprouts, steamed clams, and fried oyster salad taking no time becoming some of the city’s famous craveables. When it moves into more ambitious realms, spendy halibut in experimental preparations for instance, the kitchen can falter, so keep it simple. An adjoining fish-and-chip shack, 100 Pound Clam, services a glorious outdoor patio with steamed clams, deep-fried corn, and other delectable reminders of why we live here.