The Sicilian restaurant Maria Hines opened in 2012 is every inch as nobly organic as the James Beard award–winning chef’s groundbreaking original, Tilth. In a gracious and comfortable space warmed by the leafy limbs of a ficus tree, patrons savor the sunny citruses and olives and capers and tomatoes of Sicily—perhaps in a heaping herby salad, or a briny tangle of housemade tagliarini pasta with clams and pine nuts, or an impeccable half chicken topped with a caponata of brussels sprouts and golden raisins (a dish that embodies the “sour and sweet” of Agrodolce’s name). Some dishes suffer from insufficient innovation or, at brunch especially, size—limitations of an organic mandate, perhaps, that organic food appreciators will be all too happy to forgive.
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 February 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.
This is the place to go when you want Elysian Stout in a cone. The Fremont location boasts a cool vintage soda fountain and a lineup of floats to match, the outpost on Greenwood Ave incorporates a mini brewery for beer floats. Snickerdoodle ice cream forever.
At this Fremont mainstay, done all in windows and clean-lined neutrals, Seattleites bliss out on pristine raw fish (order whatever’s on the fresh sheet), a terrific black cod kasuzuke, excellent tempura, and daily specials that truly are. (If the Japanese pine mushrooms called matsutake are on the menu—order first, ask questions later.) Or order the omakase (chef’s choice) menu: a spendier way to be dazzled.
The dream of the ’70s is alive in Fremont, at this “elevated hippie food” restaurant across from Waiting for the Interurban. For a spot that’s become a daily haunt for families and people carrying yoga mats, Eve offers an airily romantic sense of place at moderate prices. As for the food—starters, spreads, salads, veggies, and mains—it nails “hippie” more consistently than it does “elevated,” alas, but that’s not a deal breaker for a town that doesn’t offer much else for clean-eating destinations. Look for egg-crowned grain bowls, bright veggie spreads, a bison burger brilliantly topped with pickled apple and sweet onion jam, and a kale-with-olives-and-currants salad for the ages. Lunch and brunch too!
A pastiche of how Seattle eats right now would look a lot like this: subway tile, crowds awaiting takeout. So much poke. But before raw fish salad seized our fast-casual imaginations, there was chirashi. This Japanese comfort food spot surfs a breaker of buzz thanks to its version—rice blanketed with an almost obscene amount of raw fish. Salmon, three types of tuna, shrimp, and broiled eel glisten on Instagram, but the reality is every bit as vivid and pleasurable as the social media imagery. The donburi, rice bowls topped with rich broiled eel, seared salmon, or tonkatsu satisfy on a more visceral, if less photogenic level.
One of Seattle’s genuinely electrifying culinary adventures is Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s 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 pastries, is legitimately fascinating.
There’s so much backstory to the delicate noodles that chef Mutsuko Soma makes by hand via centuries-old methods at her Fremont soba restaurant, it’s easy to overlook the basic fact of eating here: The food is really flipping fun. The lineup of eight-ish soba dishes takes the occasional culinary liberty with classic combinations; Japanese chefs weren’t making soba with duck meatballs or curry with gooey mozzarella centuries ago, but in Soma’s hands it all makes sense. Same goes for the tempura menu, which might dress up fried satsuma yam with honey and gorgonzola. Dismiss the tempura Oreos as a mere gimmick and you’ll miss out on a surprisingly legitimate dessert. Kamonegi took over the original Art of the Table space, as well as its legacy for making unlikely magic in a tiny, awkwardly shaped space. No wonder it’s always hopping.
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 startlingly fine ceviches (there are two on every day’s menu)—and the place is not only transporting, it’s gastronomically spot on.
The closure of this legendary sandwich shop in Fremont prompted its fans to shed actual tears and leave flowers at its flaming-hued front door. Until a longtime Paseo fan purchased the restaurant at a bankruptcy auction and hired some former employees to reverse engineer the menu, including the famed Caribbean Roast sandwich—a gloriously sloppy spectacle of roast pork, aioli, and grilled onions. The reborn Paseo now has three outposts around town, accepts credit cards, and is open on Sundays. The lines: long as ever, but fairly speedy.
From prolific Continental classicist Vuong Loc comes a sleek, modern, and crisp-edged room that looks like Fremont but cooks like France. Off a wood-fired grill come highly composed plates of unapologetically traditional fare—glistening short ribs over cauliflower puree with shallot confit, slices of lamb leg on an anise-fennel-carrot braise, moist pan-roasted chicken in a lush sherry sauce—executed with a seasoned hand and near-perfect consistency. Desserts are busy, busy, busy—but delectable.
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.
Just 10 diners per seating settle in at the long, semicircular table that casts chef Perfecte Rocher’s open kitchen as the stage, his progression of 12 (or 18) dishes that fuse Valencian tradition with Northwest flavors the players. Each diminutive course—a savory xuxo pastry made with aerated local stout, pristine Hamachi crudo with apple and jalapeno, coconut panna cotta blanketed in caviar and dotted with fermented lime—is wrought using nothing more than a wood fire, a ton of fermentation projects, and various modernist techniques. A five-course paella menu, available only on Sundays, is far less expensive and every bit as memorable.
The Brothers Than get the essentials of hearty Vietnamese soup right: the full choice of beef cuts, from flank and brisket to tripe, and those surprisingly tasty rubbery meatballs; ample basil and bean-sprout garnish; noodles served however you say “al dente” in Vietnamese; a price point that's increasingly rare in this town; and, most important, the soul-soothing, star-anise-laced broth that is the essence of pho. And the Thans have played three aces: They’ve kept up quality and authenticity even in the North End. They offer a rare, guilt-free vegetarian passport to pho heaven, with straw mushrooms and fried tofu. And they give every soup sipper a free, if oddly timed, appetizer—a miniature cream puff, recalling the long history of culinary crossovers between France and Vietnam. Eight locations within the purview of our geographical reach (and three more outside it) keep the region amply covered.
No-nonsense thin crust pizzas from the wood oven, a small list of thoughtful sides (could be a beautiful seasonal salad, could be hearty pozole) and a top-notch draft list that leans more European than hophead. Lower Queen Anne needs more casually grownup spaces like the Masonry, but for now that blessing goes to Fremont, where the Masonry opened a second spot housing a few more taps of craft beers and just as many satisfying pizzas, all of which can be had on the expansive front deck.
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. Don’t miss the smoky roast chicken or the butter-roasted zucchini bread for dessert.
Scott Staples built his burger bona fides at Quinn’s, then turned an old Fremont auto garage into a casual burger joint. Here, all-natural patties might be topped with gruyere and two kinds of mushrooms, or watercress, blue cheese, and caramelized onions. Customers might be budget-conscious food geeks or the sort of families who try to avoid family-geared restaurants. Both camps love the covered patio.
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 weekend).