A cavernous 1920s-era sawmill building just off Ballard Ave is now home to oxtail nachos, crisped porchetta platters, nduja-spiked “cheesy bread” and other dishes that draw from the two halves of chef Mitch Mayers’s mind. A former chef de cuisine at Lark, he can deliver an elegant composition of spot prawns, then turn around and present jojos as cragged and crisp as the most carefully tended fried chicken. Playful food. Fancy food. A high-low supercut fueled by nimbly balanced cocktails in a room carefully layered in herringbone walls and storm-blue banquettes. Take Sawyer at face value and it’s still worth an immediate drive to Ballard. But there’s more to this place: Mayers’s fine dining background and his family’s three-generation background in fair concessions inform one another, and transform his plates into something more ingenious. The proof is in the labor intensive yet freakout-worthy choco tacos.
In 1999, Seattle embraced this string bean of a sandwich shop in Pioneer Square, with its drippy porchetta and deeply spiced salami layered onto ciabatta buns, and its origin story of retired Boeing engineer Armandino Batali pursuing his passion of Italian cured meat. In 2017, daughter Gina sold the majority stake in one of Seattle’s most beloved food institutions to two women with formidable business backgrounds, but a longtime love of the meatballs and mole salumi. These days the deli occupies larger, brighter quarters a few blocks from the original in Pioneer Square; lines move faster, the merch is more tasteful, but thank goodness, the soul of Salumi remains largely intact.
Just eight people per seating file in from Rainier Avenue to sit at Aaron Verzosa’s kitchen counter. What follows is a meal of 10–12 courses that breaks Filipino cuisine down to its essence—in both flavor and cultural context—and builds them up again using only ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. That might mean a bread course of heirloom wheat pandesal with shallot butter, miki noodles with dungeness crab and bacon marmalade, and clever shifts, like sinigang whose tamarind flavor profile gets replicated with puckering accuracy thanks to Oregon cranberries. Verzosa introduces each course with a bit of backstory, but in this tiny Hillman City storefront, with a group of fellow diners small enough to share an elevator, the result is more magical than precious.
Renee Erickson has transplanted Rome’s culture of sturdy, streetside pizza into the undercarriage of the Amazon Spheres. Though this crescent-shaped space layered with mod light fixtures, plush circular leather booths, and liberal doses of pink is more Jetsons chic than Campo de Fiori. Willmott’s Ghost doles out square slices, with crust a beat removed from really good bread and restrained Roman topping combos heavy on seasonal produce. Let bread be your north star, guiding you to pizza of course, but also a porchetta sandwich on a perfect crusty rosetta roll, and focaccia to make you forget every bland version you’ve ever had before. Willmott’s riffs on Italy’s typical menu format—starters, sides, the pasta-heavy primi course, and meatier secondi—subbing pizza in place of pasta. Though authenticity quibbles seem silly when they happen beneath an artificially engineered jungle in Seattle’s urban core.
Two captains of Seattle’s higher-end dining industry joined forces to embrace our new era of viaduct-free waterfront with a polished destination restaurant a block from Pike Place Market. Credit El Gaucho head Chad Mackay for Aerlume’s understated polish (a coat check, superb service) and chef Jason Wilson for dishes that zero in on the specific marvels of each Northwest season, while also appealing to the broadest possible swath of diners. Sometimes those visions harmonize, whether its ssam-like dungeness crab lettuce wraps, thick slabs of king salmon gravlax with whipped creme fraiche, or an excellent spread of fried chicken. Other dishes suffer from issues sure to bum you out when entrée prices hover in the mid-40s. But, man—that view. Aerlume’s location and pedigree make it a de facto destination restaurant. What you come here for is another matter entirely.
Dacha is a literal diner the way the Borscht Belt is a literal garment, with its limited hours and funky bilevel layout on East Olive Way. The menu’s a serendipitous confluence of co-owner Tom Siegel’s memories (latkes, matzo ball soup, his grandmother’s cheese blintzes, Reubens at Manhattan’s Jewish delis during culinary school) and partner Joe Heffernan’s immense talents with dough, which keeps Dacha’s ubiquitous black bread light and intriguing and its dumplings damn near ethereal. Does it seem weird that the guys behind Madison Park’s Independent Pizzeria would expand into Jewish deli staples and hearty plates from across Eastern Europe? Then try the khachapuri. This canoe-shaped oblong of golden dough, the national dish of the Caucasus republic of Georgia, harbors molten, slightly tangy white cheese in its chewy confines. It’s a revelation, and the reason you might need to wait for a table.
Some restaurants treat their wood-burning grills like status symbols that give good backdrop. Eric Anderson treats the one at his Sunset Hill restaurant like the center of gravity, channeling fire’s primal pleasures into plates whose finesse occasionally requires tweezers. Butter’s often his intermediary of choice, as evidenced by the menu’s smash hit—a patty of charred rice, topped with butter-steeped crab and layered with emulsified dashi and pureed tarragon. While those leaping flames lend themselves to beautifully grilled meat (almost exclusively duck and mangalitsa pig), it also bakes and smokes its way to some of the town’s most artful vegetable dishes. Samara’s a neighborhood restaurant in the sense that it’s in a neighborhood, but this is destination dining.
Sure, part of the charm of this place is traversing the beat-up passage of Broadway Alley, only to find a nine-seat sushi restaurant hidden behind a barber and a tobacco shop. Here, chef Hideaki Taneda inlays some ornate seasonal traditions of kaiseki within a high-end sushi omakase. Nigiri, naked save a light sear and a swipe of the condensed soy sauce known as nikiri, bookend ritual-thick kaiseki courses like the hassun: eight disparate bites—from a morsel of rich wagyu to broiled eel wrapped in a tamago ribbon—on a single plate. This unlikely alliance of two Japanese culinary traditions works, thanks to the meal’s measured tempo—and some excellent sake pours.
Homer has recently been crowned Seattle Met’s Restaurant of the Year. After a stint as head chef at Sitka and Spruce, Logan Cox opened a restaurant on Beacon Hill that’s ostensibly just a casual neighborhood spot, yet puts out some of the most vivid flavors in the city right now. The rugged ease of dishes large and small belies the deliberate hours of stewing, grinding, and roasting that transform something as humble as meatballs into a kefte-inspired monument amid a pool of sauce—tomato and fried fruits, cinnamon and yogurt whey, reduced for hours into something so rich it’s more syrup than sauce. Homer dedicates a menu section to things one might spread on saucer-size pitas, which arrive at the table almost too hot to touch, soft interior still puffed up with hot air from the dome oven in the corner of the open kitchen. Brace yourself for a wait, but that’s what the Lambrusco spritzes are for.