From the folks who brought us Matt’s in the Market comes the rare South Lake Union spot with waves lapping at its toes. Yes, it’s a fish and chips shack—you sit outside—but quality on the casual menu is cranked a full notch or three up from expectations, from steamed clams elevated with leeks, fennel, and Mama Lil’s peppers to fried chunks of corn on the cob slathered with smoked jalapeno cream. Where to come by bike, or kayak, all summer; and if you’re lucky enough to have a boat, they’ll deliver to it.
This vibrant restaurant—as great a spot for early lunch as it is post-dinner nightcaps—is Eric and Sophie Banh’s love song to the street food they ate as children in Saigon and therefore hews to a more traditionalist standard than we’ve seen in their Monsoon restaurants. Where those represent bright fusion, Ba Bar serves up street-style classics: like noodle bowls topped with grilled chicken or charry prawns or Peking duck, with peanuts and caramelized shallots and greens and nuoc cham; or big, loaded bowls of pho, heady with basil and onions and mint and sprouts and fork-tender sheets of flank steak. Ingredients are scrupulously sourced and lovingly handled; beverages, coffee to cocktails, are bright and free flowing.
It’s a splash of down-east Maine in Seattle; a tidy nautical space in the restaurant-court lobby of the 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 market-price (read: spendy) 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. And for dessert? A whoopie pie, for goodness’ sake.
Tom Douglas brings his intelligent brand of comfort food to the burgeoning South Lake Union headquarters of Amazon, in a classic wood-rafters-and-vintage-signs beer hall above his Cuoco Italian restaurant (see below). The deal is 30-plus tap beers (including a locally brewed Brave Horse signature ale) with burgers and fresh pretzels for ballast. Burgers are on the diminutive side, but crafted of Painted Hills chuck, ground in house, and topped with apple-wood bacon, perhaps, on terrific Dahlia Bakery buns. Better yet are the malt-boiled, hearth-roasted pretzels—fresh, buttery, yeasty testimonials to the Douglas empire’s baking savvy—that you dip into toppings from cheddar-pimento to smoky peanut butter-bacon. The former warehouse is exuberant as spring break, with young adults playing darts and shuffleboard.
The food is good, at times outright great, with a list of tacos, salads, soups, and the Mexican tapas called antojitos. Entrees hail from the American Southwest and the plains and playas of Mexico, eschewing standard-issue anything in favor of thinking eaters’ novelties like ahi tuna tamales with polenta cakes. Though the kitchen will occasionally rest on laurels—producing a mushy this, an overcooked that—one can always count on the succulent tamales (which sell out early)…and did we mention the margaritas?
The 15th food-service enterprise that Seattle mega restaurateur Tom Douglas has crammed into a single square mile of downtown real estate is all about fresh pasta, crafted by hand at a station near the door and showing up on your plate in the form of (very) buttery cappelleti with gnocchi in nettle pesto or delicate seven-layer Bolognese lasagna. Robust secondi are better, including slices of smoky bistecca on bread salad: far and away the most fun steak is having in this town. The place is a looker, carved out of a South Lake Union brick-and-timber warehouse and sprawling into several private dining alcoves befitting different occasions and moods. Still it feels a little “seen this before,” missing the bracing originality that Douglas pretty much invented in this town.
This local steakhouse chain is usually better than it has to be, with a list of devotees as long as its sweeping views (Lake Union at the Fairview location, Lake Washington at Leschi, and the sweep of Bellevue at NE Eighth). USDA Prime is the beefy standard, served up in swanky quarters with Wine Spectator-worthy wine lists.
It’s an Old World–styled German restaurant and bar in shiny new Cascade, populated by upwardly mobile young condo dwellers from all over the emerging South Lake Union neighborhood. So—pictures of lads in lederhosen notwithstanding—it doesn’t exactly feel like a retreat in the Alps. It does cook like one, with large portions of uncommonly good housemade cheesy spaetzle (German pastalike dumplings) alongside a rich stuffed portobello; schnitzels, brats, and Bavarian veal sausage; giant pork loins pounded tender, breaded, and sautéed; beautiful sides like red cabbage; and 18 imported draft biers, deep and brown and malty, and well navigated by a knowledgeable staff.
The combination of Washington beer and miniature golf is an undeniable recipe for a fun night. Add in Flatstick owner Sam Largent’s game inventions—Duffleboard, Smash Stick!—and you’re likely to spend an entire evening in the subterranean adult playground in Pioneer Square or its swankier new sibling in South Lake Union.
There’s something jolly and effervescent about this feels-like-it’s-been-here-forever icon, from the colorfully painted tabletops and the jubilant list of shareable seafood platters to the unrelenting din, which has been known to send senior citizens race-walkering for the exits. Pity, for lauded owner-chef Christine Keff’s seafood (which with admirable self-assurance makes up about 98 percent of the menu) is reliably innovative, and 100 percent of raw ingredients are organic or wild. The hordes of fans here till late every night—Belltown gambolers and destination diners alike—obviously love the place.
Food snobs long scoffed that Seattle has no good barbecue. Except, that hasn’t really been true since Jack Timmons set up a custom-built offset smoker outside his Georgetown roadhouse. Timmons is a Texan—so brisket’s naturally the star, though it’s hard to go wrong with the meats or the lineup of sides (oh, hey Frito pie). Chairs don’t match, service is happy and harried, but the many tenderizing hours meat spends in that smoker—not to mention the gleeful geekery surrounding wood choice, sauce minimalism, and the Tuesday-night-only gargantuan beef ribs—renders this all very charming. Two new locations feed the downtown (and Amazonian) masses.
Tucked away on a quiet South Lake Union street is a vegan Thai haven that, well, doesn’t taste vegan. That might be a product of Thai food’s inherent tendency towards plants and away from dairy, but Kati reminds us of an important truth—vegetables can be profoundly decadent. Like broccoli, stir fried and doused in garlic lime sauce, oyster mushrooms that travel first through sesame batter, then a fryer. Though meat’s not an option here, classic dishes—curries, khao soi, pad thai, tom yum, larb—still feel classic. And the tofu-averse can substitute jackfruit in its stead. Towering bar shelves and windows that open onto Thomas Street suit the happy hour crowd, but come for the lunchtime buffet, a steal at $15.
Marcus Lalario’s burger joints boast Painted Hills beef signatures and a few less signature ones, a buttermilk fried chicken burger, hand-cut Washington fries, and handmade Full Tilt malts and shakes.
There’s plenty of Middle Eastern flavors on the menu, but don’t come to this South Lake Union rooftop with the James Bond entrance expecting a clone of sister restaurant Mamnoon. No, up here it’s all about purest Northwest ingredients filtered through the world-ranging sensibilities of chef Jason Stratton, where dishes like foie gras–rabbit bolognese in a bubbling polenta or grilled oysters topped with cinnamon butter and matsutake mushrooms recall Stratton’s dream team of mentors across this city. The expanse of which you can see from this viewy room and adjoining patio—best tables in town in summer, naturally, but also in winter, when a heated, glass-enclosed perch is just where you want to sip scotch in a snowstorm. Cocktails are clever, too.
Plenty of joints do the porchetta-plus-salsa verde combo, so what is it about the Vancouver sandwich shop’s Seattle outpost (another Meat and Bread location on Capitol Hill shuttered in summer 2016) serving up this combo with such satisfying success that it sells out daily? In a word: cracklings. The helpful servers slice off pieces of impossibly moist porchetta, pile it high on sturdy rectangular buns with the green sauce, then add in all that crackly fat that brings the lushness and the music. Just wow.
None of the visual cues in this South Lake Union hot spot scream “gastronomic destination”—not the big bar, nor the bar scene, nor the big screens, nor the generic brick-wall-and-exposed-ductwork decor. But then your food arrives, and it’s brave, with the courage of its flavor convictions—smoky anchovy tartines, deep-fried pig’s tail with mustard, a pungent oxtail ragu over fresh pappardelle—and you realize that Re:public is actually a restaurant first (with incredible Italian desserts, too).
It’s eye-popping, rule-breaking Korean-fusion comfort food—pork belly kimchi or smoked herring chermoula pancakes, short rib and pickled shallot dumplings, seaweed noodle bowls with Dungeness crab and creme fraiche—temporarily served in South Lake Union while its Fremont home is redeveloped. The casual spot from the folks behind Joule is on the short list of must-visit Seattle restaurants.
Tom Douglas’s duo of pizza places hold shared plank tables, with enormous granite ovens for the serious business at hand: rustic applewood-smoky pizza crusts with blistery crackle and satisfying chew topped with seasonal harvests, like Yukon Gold potatoes with rosemary or Penn Cove clams with pancetta and lemon thyme. Short lists of vegetal starters and memorable finales round out the brief menu. At the Westlake branch, breakfast means swoonworthy biscuit sandwiches stuffed with fried chicken or truffles frittata or bananas and honey with housemade peanut butter.
Tacos Chukís drags eaters by the taste buds on a tour of Mexico City. Yes there are $3.50 baby burritos and $4 quesadillas—but your first order of business has to be the tacos, swaddled in their corn cradles with plenty of cilantro, onion, salsa, and guacamole. And meat, like the deeply marinated adobada pork—sheared off a vertical spit and served with a slice of caramelized pineapple. If there is a single more compelling taco in this city—bring it. The original location is hidden in the upstairs warrens of the Broadway Alley building, and a second outpost feeds the Amazon lunch hordes. A third graces Beacon Hill, and oh you better believe it, a fourth and largest spot recently opened in the Central District.
From the minds behind 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 (see above), services a glorious outdoor patio with steamed clams, deep-fried corn, and other delectable reminders of why we live here.
Amazonland abounds with lunch options—cheap ones, fancy ones, ones backed by high-profile chefs. So why patronize this glorified counter near Whole Foods? Vinason applies sustainable sourcing to Vietnamese standards—vermicelli bowls, banh mi, spring rolls, and an unexpectedly deep-flavored pho. The results are familiar favorites with just a bit more verve, and under-$10 prices you don’t see much in these parts. Vinason knows its customer base; the website details its commitment to local vendors, and the back window for online order pickups somewhat mitigates the lunch lines.