10 Places to Grab a Bite Around Seattle Center
Between the old brick, the big windows, and the strings of white lights, this just might be the most charming cafe in Lower Queen Anne—and we haven’t even mentioned the patio yet. The loftlike atmosphere makes for a great conversation spot, but the real reason to check out Citizen is the crepes. Take your pick between savory (like apple-smoked bacon, sharp cheddar cheese, and basil drizzled in maple syrup) or sweet (strawberries, ricotta cheese, and honey powdered in sugar).
Once a terrible place to be caught hungry, Seattle Center is tasting a little better these days thanks to the fine food stalls in the updated Armory and this shiny street-level cafe across from it, at Chihuly Garden and Glass. It’s upscale Americana food—dishes like pork ciabatta sandwiches with apple slaw, or flatbread pizza with speck and figs—conceived with more gastronomic sophistication than one might expect (an early menu featured octopus), but executed too often with a punch-pulling dearth of flavor (the octopus was bland). Still, the bright, windowy place is worthwhile for a casual bite or a tipple after a visit to the museum, thanks to the aesthetic appeal of 28 of Dale Chihuly’s own collections. Each table holds displays under glass—here a little ceramic herd of dogs, there an array of alarm clocks—along with big decorative statements, like the strangely elegant spectacle of vintage accordions hanging from the ceiling.
Nothing soaks up an evening’s intemperance better than a Dick’s deluxe burger with fries and a shake, served till 2am every night of the week. The original Wallingford drive-in debuted in 1954 and has since hatched six more locations, each with the same streamlined menu, eye-catching signs, and 5-cent surcharge for ketchup.
Every day Seattle coffee drinkers order espresso pulled from a La Marzocco machine without knowing much of the company’s rich Italian history, or the fact that the U.S. headquarters for the leading espresso hardware manufacturer in the world is located right here in Ballard. Or, perhaps, that it has a showroom and cafe whose space is adjacent to music station KEXP in which its ambitious multiroaster format brings in new roasters from all over the world with a menu that changes every month.
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 restaurant 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 until late.
Queen Anne Beerhall
As the name implies, this sweeping place is indeed a beer hall, all whopping 7,000 square feet of it. It rips a page out of ye olde Bavarian drinking playbook: long communal tables, soft Bavarian pretzels, wiener schnitzel, grilled sausages with sauerkraut, plus draft beer hailing from Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic.
Each of the three 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 fish market bustle at Capitol Hill—but each forefronts oysters, which you must order. Get them by the dozen or in the form of Xinh’s oyster stew, which is like slurping the nectar straight out of the shell.
Tilikum Place Cafe
The lived-in ease of this cozy brick-walled boite not only makes Belltown feel like a neighborhood, it leaves you quite unprepared for the exacting food. Chef Ba Culbert’s savory appetizer tarts are rich with delectables like bacon and fine Gruyere, and meltingly crusted; her celeriac soup a fathomless marvel topped with smoky paprika and caramelized pear. Dinners are comforting affairs—perhaps a moist, charry pork chop with polenta cake and greens and grilled fig—and lunches casual and precise. Everything, including the long, luscious list of housemade desserts, tastes more careful and authentic than it ought to at prices this low. And weekend brunch, with its rotating lineup of Dutch babies, is legendary.
Don’t let the gorgeous filigreed decor or the crush of posturing singles or the fact that it’s open all day and half the night signal the place is less than serious foodwise—Toulouse’s vast menu of French Quarter classics is solid and its kitchen surprisingly consistent. Fish and shellfish, a madly popular brunch, and an even more popular happy hour are the headliners. Well, you know, and the gratuitous rum drinks.
This minimalist room on Tilikum Place in Belltown is home to Seattle’s only kaiseki restaurant. Chef Hiro Tawara devises a single menu for each month; the six-course version is available in the dining room, but the counter, with its eight courses explained by the chef himself, is a far more engaging experience. Tawara trained in kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto; here he adapts Japan’s oldest form of fine dining to fashion a parade of small dishes that celebrate the season. His food is subtle; Wa’z isn’t a place for umami bombs or drizzles of spicy sauce. But at its best, the supremely subtle food challenges diners to slow down and appreciate how beautifully a sweet fig lends itself to tempura, or the nuance that a gelee of reduced dashi can bring to an otherwise spare arrangement of chilled vegetables. While the food is restrained, the sake menu is downright expansive.