Renee Erickson constructed her breezy Capitol Hill corner spot, splashed with sprays of seafoam green, as 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 an eggy sauce gribiche—all in addition to the half dozen fresh oysters daily. If Melusine’s innovations are tamer than Erickson’s famed Walrus and the Carpenter, they are no less satisfying—and they also include more meat. (Little surprise, here alongside Erickson’s French steak house, Bateau.)
It’s the stereotypically perfect Seattle location—dockside, screeching gulls—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 touristorama exterior is the soul of a truly great oyster house. Off its 21-foot oyster bar, as many as 30 varieties of fresh, variously local oysters are available daily—Seattle’s best selection, respectfully treated.
Outspoken founder Hajime Sato sold his longstanding West Seattle sushi destination to three long-time employees, who carry on its essential presence in the neighborhood. Mashiko was well ahead of the sustainability movement; Sato ditched problematically sourced seafood back in 2009, and proved to a sushi-loving city that marinated domestic catfish can, indeed, be delicious. The sushi menu hops from omakases to hot dishes to rolls that can rock a dash of wasabi mayo without losing their dignity.
Eric Donnelly created the sort of innovative seafood restaurant Seattle visitors expect to see on every corner, in a raw-wood-and-corrugated-metal space in upper Fremont with an urban fishing lodge vibe. Donnelly bypasses the usual protein-starch-veg combos to architect small plates and larger entrees where every bite is symphonic. That’s achievement enough, but RockCreek doubles down with a sunny patio, smart cocktails, and one of the town’s best brunch menus.
It’s a union that almost seems fated: Shiro Kashiba, the legend who gave Seattle its first-ever sushi counter, and Pike Place Market, our other signature monument to local ingredients. Together as one in a striking neutral-hued space. The dining room takes reservations, and serves various hot and cold starters nearly as special as the Edomae-style sushi. But diners jockey for a spot at the long sushi bar and a peerless omakase meal. Shiro himself is still known to hold court for diners at the far end.
It’s not easy to find this clattering tavern on Lake Union—and elder sibling Matt’s in the Market tends to get more buzz. But White Swan combines one of the city’s epic waterside patios with some of the best elements of its restaurant group peers, treating seafood with the same humorous verve Radiator Whiskey applies to meat. Service can get overwhelmed on sunny days, but show me another place where you can chase beautiful raw oysters with chowder-inspired poutine.
No mortal restaurant can really live up to that national hype…right? Well, Renee Erickson’s merrily jostling Ballard oyster bar remains the gold standard for showing visitors (the kind who don’t mind a two-hour wait) what Seattle is capable of. Not that you need a houseguest to justify a night of meticulously sourced oysters, scallop crudo, unexpectedly great steak tartare, and food-simpatico cocktails beneath the glow of an enormous coral reef–esque chandelier. The tile-clad watering hole Barnacle next door makes the best waiting room in town.
Some delightful expats from Mutual Fish and City Fish opened a seafood market in a nondescript building at 23rd and Jackson that is so much more than just a seafood market. The deli counter serves up multiple iterations of absurdly fresh poke, a mac salad made with smoked salmon, uni and oysters, smoked salmon belly, shrimp cocktail, and the perfect handful of beers to wash it all down. One of the Central District’s favorite destinations for a convivial lunch is also an after-work godsend for picking up dinner.
Each of the four dining outposts of the premier oyster farmer in the Northwest has its own menu and ambience—a pregame-fried-food feel at Pioneer Square, a bright intimacy at Seattle Center, a genuine fish market vibe on Capitol Hill—but each forefronts multiple kinds of immaculate oysters. Get them by the dozen or in hot preparations like Taylor’s signature oyster stew.
The unassuming restaurant anchor of the Kimpton Palladian Hotel occupies a downstairs space as tastefully neutral as its menu of seafood—dungeness crab, linguine with clams, grilled branzino. But consider Shaker and Spear your secret weapon when looking for a credible lunch or dinner in this weird nether region between Amazonia and the market’s tourist throngs. Careful touches lift up the standards, like tomato and fennel sausage that dial up the Italian sensibility on that linguine with clams. Global fish preparations land in a pretty terrific place, as with a grilled octopus starter with hazelnut romesco or the whole snapper, fried to perfection and curled around a pool of basil and lemongrass aioli. Servers are reliably charming.
This Fremont restaurant departs the schools of other wood-fired, seafood Pacific Northwest spots with a simple measure of focus: A generous dash of coastal Latin and Caribbean flavors. Citrus splashes everywhere—ceviches, a bitter-bright endive and orange salad—punctuated by rich flourishes, like posole made with mussels. All of it’s an excellent match for the tiny space’s sparkling blue tile and ample flames, a grill inside and a firepit outside.
For over four decades, this dockside legend defined iconic Northwest dining, with its archetypal seafood menu, its record of pristine sourcing (Copper River salmon was practically invented here), its stunning wide-angle view over Shilshole Bay and the Olympic Mountains. It’s now settled into a more staid level of accomplishment along with a more casual decorative retrofit, eliminating some of its big-night-out cachet. The menu gussies up the mainly seafood preparations more than it once did but fish is still cooked with appropriate restraint. Service is careful and desserts terrific. Upstairs is Ray’s Cafe, home of an even better view and a breezy deck.
For a quarter century Tom Douglas’s most tourist-facing restaurant has served up the sort of appealing Northwest seafood plates visitors expect to find near Pike Place Market. Trout or salmon is dressed with deceptive simplicity, steamed clams might get a kick from smoked tomatoes, and meaty dungeness makes for Seattle’s most famous crab cakes (not to mention an entire happy hour menu dedicated to our hometown crab). The kitchen wields a seasoned hand with entrees like butternut squash tortellini, and roomy booths opposite windows running the length of this prime people-watching restaurant. Forget Insta-worthy fanfare in decor or presentation—Etta’s doesn’t need it.
The next-door sibling to Italian restaurant Vendemmia, this seafood market sells fresh trout and salmon and halibut, sure. But also a small but stellar menu of seafood snacks, like a poke bowl that makes you remember why poke became a thing in the first place. Plus grab-and-go lunch and dinner items made over at the restaurant, and platters of freshly shucked oysters (not to mention a few glasses of wine to go with them).
If Seattle ever erected a Mount Rushmore-esque monument to its original fish house giants, Duke Moscrip’s visage would be front and center. The guy who established the habit of traveling to Alaska to ensure quality seafood for the masses in the late 1970s begat a chain of eight Puget Sound restaurants that keeps its lineup of prawns, Copper River salmon and famed chowder uber accessible, but remains on the vanguard of coursing.
It’s a splash of down-east Maine in Seattle; a tidy nautical space at 400 Fairview, with plenty of patio seating for the large parties that colonize this spot for craft beer, trenchant appetizers and cocktails, clam chowders, and lobster rolls. They’re diminutive and served with plain coleslaw and potato chips—but they’re great, their buttery toasted white rolls spilling meaty chunks of lobster dressed in your choice of three regional styles. (Choose New England for classic mayo, celery, and chive.) Dungeness rolls provide a more regional, and no less exceptional, statement. For dessert? A whoopie pie, no question.