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A rainbow of plastic baskets imported from Thailand—in quantities large enough to puzzle customs officials—hang from the cavernous Belltown ceiling, a reflection of the vibrancy happening on a huge menu. Partners Ott Jaicharoensook and Sangduen Auesiriwong, whose extended families both run restaurants around town, calibrated Thai street food staples (and some bar snack approximations) for the neighborhood’s lunch by day, drink by night crowd. Grilled sausage snaps with lemongrass and galangal, spice and coconut conspire in one fantastic khao soi, and papaya salad (Bangrak goes through 100 pounds of fruit a week) is pungent with salted crab. A similarly colorful bar area sports Thai beer, Washington wine, and an oversize bottle of Malibu rum that does frequent duty on the long cocktail list.
This Pioneer Square hangout from experienced front-of-house guy Jonathan Fleming and wife Libby Aker goes heavy on housemade ingredients and doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Common dishes get brainy upgrades, like a giant sheet of chicharron that ripples like a Frank Gehry building and arrives at the table still crackling. The generously fried chicken sandwich and PNW Lager tallboy, a $10 combo, appeal to the pre-game pit stop crowd, though the kitchen uses the pasta machine inherited from the previous owner to crank out spaghetti in creamy spinach sauce, and tosses perfectly spiced cauliflower atop pooled feta—dishes equally suited to dates and business lunches.
Ostensibly, Brian Clevenger’s roomy new digs on a prime stretch of California Avenue gives the chef behind Vendemmia, Raccolto, and Le Messe a chance to explore life beyond his patented combo of pasta, seafood, and vegetables. Haymaker does tread new ground, like a grilled pork collar balanced with stewed plums and verdant salmoriglio, an olive-y kin to pesto or chimichurri. The bar even offers a cheeseburger. But Haymaker mostly emphasizes what Clevenger does best. Like blistered green beans, showered with grated parmigiano-reggiano atop a bright tonnato—a vegetable dish with all the intrigue of a main course.
The business model—order online, pick up at a commissary kitchen in Delridge—may be borrowed from early-era Windy City Pie, but owner Shawn Millard makes a deep dish for the classicists. Really it’s more of a cornmeal crust vessel that packs its cheese and bevy of toppings (pepperoni and housemade sausage, mushrooms with spinach, artichokes, and roasted garlic, even a Hawaiian combo) beneath a placid tomato sauce surface. Right now, West of Chicago does takeout Thursday through Sunday, but Millard’s got long-term plans for a proper pizzeria.
The most visible adjustment Renee Erickson made when her Sea Creatures restaurant group absorbed some of Josh Henderson’s restaurants was refashioning Saint Helens Cafe in Laurelhurst into a more recognizable French bistro, with her spin on tartares and tartines, plus way more French wine. The restaurateur traded some questionable decor choices for French blue and installed the pork chop from her original Boat Street Cafe, but a few holdovers remain. Namely, the fish and chips (with an updated prep) and one of the town’s best patios, where you can bound directly off the Burke-Gilman and into some Parisian-style gnocchi, which add light, almost flaky dimension to familiar doughy dumplings. Shirlee, named for Erickson’s mom, is downright parental in its consistency, serving brunch, lunch, and dinner.
On weekdays, Sun and Erin Hong put out a sign-up sheet for three daily seatings at their eight-stool lunch counter, hidden in the heart of Capitol Hill’s Chophouse Row. That sheet can fill up fast, which makes perfect sense. For around $30, Sun delivers three impeccable hand rolls straight to your fingertips—eat them fast for maximum crackle on that nori—plus a few extra bites that borrow flavors from Japan, Korea, and Sun’s background in kitchens like Matt Dillon’s Bar Ferdinand. This singular concept cracked the code on a counter that’s seen a few failed projects. And let’s not forget the astonishing value. By Tae’s two-person operation means hours can sometimes vary, but news of an occasional “drinking hour” surfaces on Instagram whenever the Hongs muster extra energy.
Combine vinyl, ’90s-era R&B, outdoor seating, and University District views—don’t forget to apply an outdoorsy theme—and you’ve got the Graduate Seattle hotel’s rooftop bar. The menu isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but it checks the Pacific Northwest boxes: oysters on the half shell, clam chowder, smoked salmon delivered in a tin with toast, an upgraded wagyu hot dog with heaps of dungeness crab on toasted brioche. While the location is stunning, cocktails can lean heavily on camp (both the sensibility and the summer activity). Keep your order simple and focus on that view.
Don’t get Bryn Lumsden twisted: His Interbay restaurant isn’t the hipsterification of the classic American diner, though the long, marble-esque bar, modern light fixtures, and list of natural wines could suggest otherwise. The man whose Damn the Weather bar in Pioneer Square is one of the coolest place to eat and drink has preserved the romantic elements that make diners great—proletarian menu mainstays like burgers, melts, meatloaf, even rib eye steak—and folded in a contemporary drink program with funky Spanish ciders, a calvados old-fashioned, and, yes, bubbles, too.
Bar impresarios Anu and Chris Elford converted a slip of a coffee counter in between two other bars into a den of raw seafood and natural wine. Get past that whole brightly lit “we used to sell lattes” aesthetic and you’ll find an explorer’s map of tart rosé and funky lambrusco, all made with minimal intervention, and seafood where the intervention is frequent and takes the form of traditional charcuterie methods. A platter of salmon pastrami, octopus terrine, and smoked fish rillettes balance out that inevitable second (or third) glass of wine.
Nikki DeGidio’s celiac diagnosis ushered her out of her role making pasta at Stoneburner and, eventually, into a relaxed cafe on Sunset Hill. The menu takes a pass on dairy, legumes, refined sugar, and most grains—but definitely not meat (or nuts). DeGidio channels her chef training to make canny swaps, like the thinnest slice of roast sweet potato standing in for toast in a hearty brunch tartine. Other dishes are simply solid renditions of combos that sidestep these dietary concerns entirely, like short ribs or steamed clams in broth. Lucky Santo’s Whole 30, keto, and paleo-compliant dishes drive a lot of its fan base, but the list of cider and natural wine (and the counter full of surprisingly legit baked sweets) ensure clean eating can still be fun.
It’s as though someone waved a magic wand that retroed the hell out of this brick walled Pioneer Square burger joint. Megan Coombes, the chef who also co-owns Euro gastropub Altstadt mere blocks away, channels all things old-school with special sauce–topped smash patty burgers, beef fat fries, and diner-esque decor to befit a scene in Grease. The neon signage is the luminous guide to a bygone era, updated with today’s mindful meat practices.
It’s easy to walk out of Josh Grunig’s north Seattle (Pinehurst, to be exact) deli with a bag of bagels, or a tub of deep amber–hued matzo ball soup, the likes of which could warm the soul of any curmudgeon justifiably lamenting the city’s scarcity of Jewish food. Ditto Russian-style potato salad, chopped liver (if they haven’t run out for the day), and a couple of slices of lemon zesty cheesecake. It’s all well worth schlepping. But stay to eat at one of the few tables to consume the beautiful mess that is the pastrami and corned beef sandwich on rye—yep, the very same cuts of meat you see on racks just behind the counter, prepared under Grunig’s watchful eye.
With the Viaduct fallen away like a crumbly concrete stage curtain, this Western Avenue dining room suddenly has unrivaled waterfront views. The hospitality partnership forged by chef Jason Wilson and El Gaucho restaurateur Chad Mackay delivered a polished, farm-forward spot a block from Pike Place Market. Food remains up and down, partly a function of an ambitious custom produce program still finding its footing, but service this good is rare in Seattle, and lunch or happy hour provide more affordable opportunities to take in those views.