Restaurant-wise, this year started slow—no surprise in the face of so many challenges—then gathered serious steam. Ascendant chefs and savvy veterans enriched our days with pupusas, seafood, various approaches to sushi, and some bangin’ Filipino-style fried chicken. Everything feels different this year…except our never-ending obsession with pizza.
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South Lake Union, Kirkland
Seattle restaurateurs usually aim new locations of their existing concepts at the burgeoning tech populations in Kirkland or South Lake Union. Mamnoon owners Wassef and Racha Haroun thoughtfully tailored new restaurants to each specific locale. In SLU, their Levantine flavors present as fast-casual flatbread sandwiches and coffee drinks at Manna. Meanwhile, over at the Village at Totem Lake, Hanoon sports a tad more flash and adds a menu of mezze.
Grayson Corrales draws on her grandmother’s Galician cooking for this lovely tapas bar in the former Cafe Presse space. That region of Spain is known for octopus; the version here is a stunning play on the rustic original. Other dishes like oxtail fideua or a tahdig-inspired paella combine Corrales’s culinary training with her own family’s narrative. The result is a place where everything succeeds: the food, the bar program full of kalimotxos and Spanish wine; the warm welcome at the door. MariPili even pulls off a most unlikely triumph in our current staff-strapped restaurant landscape: an ambitious dessert menu where every plate’s a winner.
Peru and its Nikkei cuisine make for a straight-up enthralling foodway. Seattle deserves more of it. Joe Tuesta pads our too-slim roster with a friendly dining room in Pioneer Square, serving lomo saltado, traditional ceviche, Nikkei rolls and nigiri, an unmissable causa crocante, and so many other tempting things. Both the space and the food are more heartfelt than glitzy, which feels exactly right.
The former Hitchcock dining room is now a destination-worthy house of seafood, where the menu might list the fishing vessel or method responsible for procuring your razor clams or lingcod. Brendan McGill’s original restaurant celebrated Bainbridge Island’s largesse of ingredients. As Seabird, the tribute to nearby fields and waterways runs even deeper. A pat of sablefish might float in almond broth, flawlessly cooked beneath a surface of salsa macha and Rainier cherry slices. Bite-size fingers of smoked scallop french toast feel like a special occasion; a hunk of wood-fired halibut in black garlic mole is more rustic, but just as impressive. Executive chef Grant Rico’s interest in seaweed—its promise for sustainability, its flavor—shows up in unexpected places, like the bread plate and the dessert menu. The ambition runs high; the service is great.
New hotels are everywhere, but a historic one, the Fairmont Olympic, got its huge-scale remodel just right. Amid all this neo-Edwardian atmosphere, the all-day menu looks a little staid at first. But each salad of bibb lettuce and Dungeness crab, lamb neck agnolotti pasta, and roasted half-chicken transcends reasonable expectations. This new iteration of the longtime Georgian restaurant is just as versatile, suited for business breakfasts, birthday dinners, or celebratory brunch.
Heard anyone gush extensively about a takeout meal lately? It was probably from Chicken Supply. Fried chicken is a crowded culinary field, but Paolo Campbell and Donnie Adams make a Filipino-style version that’s juicy, crunchy, with notes of soy sauce and lemon. This is “hang a U-turn” level chicken, with Filipino-based sides like heady garlic rice, coconut collard greens, and monggo beans and rice. The cold pancit noodles—lightly lemony, topped with breadcrumbs—could be an entree unto itself. Chicken Supply offers only one dessert, but I’d physically fight someone for another piece of Stephen Toyofuku’s butter mochi cake. You can order chicken by the individual piece, provided the kitchen hasn’t already run out for the night. Even more hospitable: The whole menu is gluten free.
In 2000, Jun Takai arrived from Tokyo to work as Shiro Kashiba’s apprentice. This fall, Seattle’s sushi legend helped his longtime mentee open his own restaurant at the base of downtown Bellevue’s One88 condo tower. Now Takai presides over a 10-seat sushi counter and small dining room, serving his own take on Edomae sushi. Here the a la carte menu is limited; dinner is almost exclusively omakase. The format of these seasonal courses should look familiar to fans of Kashiba, but Takai puts his own imprint on the omakase. This elegant space is still in its breaking-in stages, but already a landmark for sushi on the Eastside.
When Shawn Millard moved his takeout-only deep-dish pizza kitchen into a low-key restaurant space, fans were ecstatic about increased access to his Chicago-style pies. Prestige TV show The Bear only amped up affection for his Italian beef sandwich. The best item on the menu is neither of these things. The tavern pie is a less-sung hero of Chicago’s pizza lore. Imagine the crust as one enormous cracker, just chewy enough to put the toppings on the main stage. Tradition dictates it’s cut into square pieces that make it so damn easy to help yourself to just one more.
South Lake Union
Phillip Frankland Lee imported his Michelin-starred sushi concept to a block halfway between the Space Needle and the Spheres. Anyone who scores a reservation reports for dinner by ringing a nondescript doorbell. Inside, diners sip a welcome drink in a small bar before everyone files into the dining room—with its 10-seat sushi counter—for the main show. The omakase comprises 17 courses of non-traditional nigiri; the signature unagi fried in rendered bone marrow fat is everything you might hope for. The crew behind the counter is firmly in performance mode, wielding kitchen torches and dropping F-bombs as they prepare each course, with zero boring bites in the bunch. Dinner here is unlike any other sushi meal in town, a lively, torch-lit alternative to all our pristine Edomae-style omakases.
The Queen Anne’s Revenge cocktail arrives looking like a haunted Coke, garnished with lime and a flower. Inside, squid ink, mezcal, and pineapple flavors acquire a briny shine—this drink is no gimmick. At long last, chef Eric Donnelly has fired up the little space tagged onto the back of his FlintCreek Cattle Co. restaurant in Greenwood. Back here the vibe is “1960s Palm Springs by night.” The name is French, the food is a souvenir of a vacation Donnelly spent roving the tapas bars of San Sebastian. A wood-fired oven does heavy lifting on a short menu that still swims with possibilities: An earthy salad of marinated squid with white beans, lamb crepinette, a dainty charred octopus tentacle atop potato salad. It’s a departure from Donnelly’s other restaurants—FlintCreek and the seafood-focused RockCreek—but displays the same easy confidence.
Hand rolls satisfy sushi cravings in a fast-casual setup that’s in tune with 2022 reality. Is that why we’ve seen a few of these counters open recently? The best is this semi-formal haunt, owned by Kisaku’s Kyu Bum Han. The handsome dining room that briefly housed Aki Kushiyaki now whips up classic combos and the occasional show pony, like pork belly topped with cotton candy. The warm service and steady stream of hand rolls more than justifies trekking through the tangle of construction outside on Madison.
Boca Argentine Bakery and Pizzeria
Restaurateur Marco Casas-Beaux built a cafe to recreate his boyhood breakfasts in Argentina: crescent-shaped medialuna pastries and an espresso. The version by pastry chef Molly Harrison lives up to Casas-Beaux’s memories; she fills a case with dazzling baked goods like pastelitos, chipa cheese breads, coconut coquitos, and dainty churros piped with dulce de leche. Boca also resurrects another Casas-Beaux food memory with the Argentinian pizza known as the fugazzeta. Its thick, fermented crust and edges of caramelized cheese are on point for Seattle’s 2022 pizza culture. On top: oceans of gooey mozzarella italia, olive oil, and the lightest of caramelized onions. It’s pizza greatness, best consumed inside Boca’s languid cafe, where the caffeinated hum of a La Marzocco and woven chairs with cool marble tables reprise Buenos Aires afternoons on a busy stretch of Broadway. 206-322-1063; 426 Broadway E, Seattle, WA 98102
A farmers market vendor gone brick-and-mortar in West Seattle has established a base camp of golden pupusas, whole fried fish, meat-filled pastelitos, and ripping good carne asada platters. Families pile in after soccer, then show up again for brunches of chilaquiles and mimosas and pink horchata. Plantain-based dessert empanadas are just further proof that owner Lillian Anaya Quintanilla is one of the warmest champions for Seattle’s current Latin food boom.