Chanterelle pappardelle at Cafe Juanita.

Image: Olivia Brent

Cafe Juanita

Owner and chef Holly Smith (Best Chef Northwest 2008) has long produced the classiest Northern Italian innovations on the Eastside, now in sleekly updated midcentury quarters befitting the distinction and white-tablecloth ideal for special occasions. Smith has a sixth sense for conception, so Anderson Valley rack of lamb might be paired with green beans in a swell idea of a bagna cauda sauce and studded with thyme-roasted blackberries. But much of the menu is sure-handed classics, like richly sauced housemade pastas or a slice of heirloom tomato lavished with silky burrata lending subtle shadings of cream and salt. Executions sometimes falter, but not so anyone notices, and desserts approach perfect. Warning: Unless you’re familiar with Kirkland’s lakeside community of Juanita, you will not find this hidden spot without help. 9702 NE 120th Pl, Kirkland, 425-823-1505


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 (Design Icon Award 2019), the dress code (jackets for some of the gents), the noblest mixed drinks in town, fathoms-deep wine list (Outstanding Wine Program 2017), 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 insist 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 from chef Brady Williams (Best Chef Northwest 2019) are genuinely impeccable. Service has been updated as well, to a most intelligent and nimble brand of affability. 2576 Aurora Ave N, Queen Anne, 206-283-3313

Dahlia Lounge

Remember when innovation took the form of a little garlic whipped into the butter, fusion was pineapple on a pizza, and all the whimsy you got was folded inside a fortune cookie? Dahlia Lounge changed all that. There, Tom Douglas’s (Best Chef Northwest 1994) unique brand of culinary effrontery was foreshadowed in its vermillion walls, gilt brocades, and paper lanterns. There, seafood wasn’t just served, it was revered: items like lush raw sashimi and ceviche, 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. (See Dahlia coconut cream pie.) Indeed, Douglas’s influence has been so pervasive in this town that you may wonder if Dahlia is a standout—and it is, mostly. Erratic performance that may plague dinners rarely ruins them; crowds—who lend this place a sensational urban buzz—are still in mad pursuit. The private room seats up to 50. 2001 Fourth Ave, Denny Regrade, 206-682-4142


Proof aplenty of the old adage: Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to make a fish sandwich and feed his customers really, really well. FareStart (Humanitarian of the Year 2011), the nonprofit that trains homeless women and men in food-service jobs, didn’t need shiny new digs to earn our esteem, but the lofty blond-wood and raw-raftered room with a sweeping orange curtain and black tables located at the downtown portal to South Lake Union does nothing to diminish it. On weekdays it’s a lunch-only menu full of big flavors, including a flat iron steak with gorgonzola and onion rings and the aforementioned feisty fish sandwich—blackened salmon with lemon-caper aioli, that is. On Thursdays it’s open for dinner, when an impressive roster of guest chefs donate their time to empower students and wow diners. Either meal, it’s worth a peek through the window into the kitchen, where you’ll see opportunity cookin’. 700 Virginia St, Denny Regrade, 206-682-4142


Chef Edouardo Jordan cemented his fine-dining cred at Salare, but his second restaurant (Best New Restaurant 2018) is far more personal: A thoughtful telling of southern food, from crowd-pleasers like biscuits and Sunday-only fried chicken to more culturally nuanced fare like chitterlings and oxtail. A few seasonal dishes hint at Jordan’s high-end training, while desserts like bourbon dark chocolate bread pudding and hummingbird cake make you want to hunt down pastry chef Margaryta Karagodina and hug her tenderly. There’s a reason this restaurant is on the national radar. 2122 NE 65th St, Ravenna, 206-257-4470


John Sundstrom (Best Chef Northwest 2007) 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 bar, Bitter/Raw, offering charcuterie and crudo along with plenty of bitter cocktails. But Lark, once the upstart that pioneered small-plate dining, has become the noble elder; grownups come here for that disappearing species—relaxing high-end dinners—assembled either from small plates or 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 Lark’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. 952 E Seneca St, First Hill, 206-323-5275

Any meal feels special beneath Lark's pseudo-starry sky.


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 (Best Chef Northwest 1998, for the erstwhile 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. 600 Union St, Downtown, 206-402-4588

Miller’s Guild

This all-day downtown restaurant adjoining the lobby of the Hotel Max is like a cave designed by Martha Stewart: lights low, lines classic, firewood stacked at the entrance, flames leaping brightly out of the custom-built nine-foot grill in back. And holding forth at those flames is chef Jason Wilson (Best Chef Northwest 2010, for Crush), who eschews the nuanced refinements of his previous restaurant in favor of big pedigreed steaks, less-than-fascinating sides, and appetizers with an inexplicable Middle Eastern inclination. Salads are the best things on the menu. 612 Stewart St, Denny Regrade, 206-443-3663


So casual and clattering is this hard-edged room with concrete floors and raw beams and giddy splashes of popsicle brights, a person wandering in off the street might never suspect that here lives some of the most sophisticated fare in the Pacific Northwest. After all, it’s Jerry Traunfeld (Best Chef Northwest 2000, for the Herbfarm) in the kitchen—he who once brought off nine-course feasts at the Herbfarm, and who is now performing a somewhat more modest version of the same endeavor: the seven-dish platters, thali, he picked up on a research trip to India. So it’s small-plate dining, only with the considerable bonus of the chef choosing the combinations. At Poppy the technique results in some glorious dining: carrot matchsticks exotic with clove and lemon thyme; gazpacho bright with melon and mint; a chunk of pink albacore with green tomato, peppers, and fennel. This is not Indian food but a Northwest tasting menu, from one of the Northwest’s finest chefs. 622 Broadway E, Capitol Hill, 206-324-1108


The provinces no more, Ravenna arrived with this destination from Edouardo Jordan, a chef with Bar Sajor and French Laundry on his resume (plus Best Chef Northwest 2018). Prices and preparations in the airy farmhouse space may thus be a little rich for the neighborhood’s blood, but they can also hold innovative and painterly appeal, like a recent dish of grilled octopus with watermelon gazpacho, salted plums, and preserved lemon, or a salad of yogurt with heirloom tomato, spring onion, pine nuts, and chrysanthemum. Weekend brunch and a kid’s menu lend populist welcome, as does a fleet of sweet staffers. Oysters, charcuterie, crudo, cocktails—who needs downtown anyhow? 2404 NE 65th St, Ravenna, 206-556-2192

Sitka and Spruce

It’s a food lab, it’s an artist’s garret—it’s genius chef Matt Dillon’s (Best Chef Northwest 2012) sun-drenched farmhouse dining room, where you can spy the food merchants of Melrose Market through vintage panes. Sit at the butcher’s table to watch Dillon’s crew assemble plates which satisfy at an unusually elemental level—simple constructions, like sweet whole carrots over chickpea puree with harissa and fried mint, strike global, even tribal notes, and as tone poems of Northwest place and moment may take your breath away. 1531 Melrose Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-324-0662

Sitka and Spruce's airy dining room is tucked into Melrose Market.

Image: Olivia Brent


The bright, warmly lit industrial space in the lobby of the Via6 apartments is the Asian fusion joint Tom Douglas has been hinting at for years, named for his longtime lieutenant Eric Tanaka (Best Chef Northwest 2004). One of a tangle of Douglas businesses including a coffeehouse and a gift shop, TanakaSan’s setup can be confusing (is this patio table for sale, or am I in another restaurant?). Once seated, however, the place buzzes with a drop-in youthfulness befitting the menu of boundary-busting Asian comfort foods—things like ketchup-bacon fried rice or pork belly noodle soup—that will horrify purists but kick off cravings for everyone else. Drinks, boozy or un-, are uncommonly intriguing here. 2121 Sixth Ave, Denny Regrade, 206-812-8412

Terra Plata

Into the skinny, window-lined point of Melrose Market one of Seattle’s finest chefs, Tamara Murphy (Best Chef Northwest 1995, for Cafe Campagne), has tucked a more rustic, more casual, and more global chaser to her late, great Brasa. At wood tables or the warm triangular bar, a broad demographic of diners nibble off small plates of spot prawns in chimichurri or velvety charcuterie, or order among meat, seafood, or veggie plates—including more than a few of the classics (roast pig with clams and housemade chorizo) this pig-loving chef made famous at Brasa. The space particularly shines by streaming daylight, which Murphy exploits with lunch and brunch service. Rooftop dining too. 1515 Melrose Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-325-1501


The original remains the best of Maria Hines’s (Best Chef Northwest 2009) restaurant trifecta—in a cozy Wallingford bungalow named for soil at its most fertile, chef Maria Hines reaches for the gold standard of fresh and seasonal food: 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 sous-vide sablefish with fried green tomato to pea risotto with basil and truffle oil. 1411 N 45th St, Wallingford, 206-633-0801

The Whale Wins

Another white restaurant from the extraordinary Renee Erickson (Best Chef Northwest 2016) wears all the buoyancy and cheer of a country cottage. Add in the wood oven and the menu of French- and English-inspired noshes, many of which are served room temperature at whatever time they come out of the 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 wood-smoky roast chicken or the butter-roasted zucchini bread for dessert. 3506 Stone Way N, Wallingford, 206-632-9425

Renee Erickson's the Whale Wins wears all the buoyancy of a cheery country cottage.

Image: Olivia Brent

Wild Ginger

Both locations are enormous, and they better be, since they’re required to seat the zillions who tell Zagat it’s their favorite spot in town. And what’s not to love? We adore the cosmopolitan pan-Asian purview, encompassing and mastering specialties from Beijing to Bangkok—fragrant duck with steamed buns and plum sauce, Szechuan green beans wizened to perfection, seven-flavor beef (where you can taste all seven!), a slew of pungent soups, originally translated by Wild Ginger’s original chef, Jeem Han Lock (Best Chef Northwest 1997). Pluses include the dead-center downtown locations (Seattle’s next to Benaroya Hall, Bellevue’s at the Bravern), the jumpin’ buzz that comes from being the busiest restaurant around—and sometimes even the servers, who are unfortunately too crazed to be consistent. 1401 Third Ave, Downtown, 206-623-4450

Willows Inn

Sitting a bucolic 10 minutes from the Lummi Island ferry dock, along a road fringed with snowberries and rosehips, the Willows Inn offers no hint that it is by many standards the center of the Northwest culinary vanguard. Chef and co-owner Blaine Wetzel (Rising Star Chef of the Year 2014, Best Chef Northwest 2015) is why: a kid from Olympia who made his name at Noma in Copenhagen and brought its minimalist style back to marry it with Northwest bounty. And not just the usual suspects, but unusual foraged shoots and herbs, along with harvested vegetables, served in a garden basket whimsically filled with “dirt” of hazelnut crumbles and toasted malt. Spot prawns dredged from the sea out the window, then topped with a tart currant granita with bitter greens from the beach across the road. And oysters of course, perhaps two Shigokus from the bay, delivered in their smooth, deep cups on a bed of cold rocks beneath tears of that prolific Northwest weed, lemon sorrel. Over two hours and a tasting menu of 18 to 22 dishes, you taste all that and much more—at once more avant-garde and more elemental than you can believe, and altogether worth the standing ovation that often spontaneously concludes the meal. 2579 W Shore Dr, Lummi Island, 360-758-2620

Editor's Note: Updated March 20, 2018 to include Canlis, which its first award in 2017. Updated March 5, 2019 to include 2018 winner Edouardo Jordan. Updated May 7, 2019 to include two more awards for Canlis.

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