21 Belltown Spots You Don't Want to Miss
Bang Bang Cafe
Great coffee, the city’s best breakfast burritos with homemade chili sauce, and a ton of veg and vegan options at this tidy little spot bring in the Belltownies daily. Sisters Miki and Yuki Sodos's New Mexican fare has also moved beyond the bounds of Belltown—a larger full-service restaurant sits across from the Othello light rail station.
Equipped with cheddar-topped hangover cures, this self-described “trailer park to table” cafe serves up gravy-drenched biscuits with Southern-inspired fixings: garlic grits, hot links, pork sausage, and more. Bitches get stuff done, and can do so with biscuits in hand at their Downtown, Belltown, and Pioneer Square locations.
Belltown’s sleek Black Bottle wine bar—with its bare wood and blond tables—has attracted a rabid following based on “blasted” broccoli and lemon curd ricotta cake, and a whole lot of intentional innovations in between. Flaky flatbreads might be speckled with prosciutto and béchamel or smoked chicken and sun-dried cherries; a meaty hank of hanger steak arrives in its potent juices alongside a cloud of shredded daikon and shiso. An industrial-sleek outpost serves downtown Bellevue.
Boat Street Kitchen
Just like its late sister restaurant, Boat Street Cafe, there’s whimsy and loveliness to every little thing about the Kitchen: its whitewashed walls, its flickering votives, its wintry floral arrangements, and weekend brunches so inventive and extraordinary you may never settle for pancakes again.
Through an alleyway entrance off Bell Street awaits Branchwater, a low-lit lounge with dark wood everything and cushy armchairs. Inside the tucked-away bar—sibling to street-facing Pintxo—comfort comes in many forms, particularly bourbon. Take the Mighty Jack, a balancing act of bonded bourbon and apple brandy whose sweetness is tempered by a nice hit of amaro.
A venerable temple of mixology it’s not, but Cursed Oak still has all the requisite bars of a craft cocktail spot: twists on classic recipes, barrel-aged concoctions, and a deep spirit list. Add in spacious interiors, louder-than-average music on the speakers, and a 4–7 happy hour with discounts on tallboys and more composed libations alike, and you have a Belltown location that’s just as appropriate for a rowdy birthday party as it is for beverage nerds.
A straight shot of retro has been injected into this sprawling Belltown homage to the '50s-era Gaucho original —from the banquettes to the pianist, from the showy tableside preparations (including a flaming bananas Foster) to the candlelight-only shimmer of what has to be the darkest dinner house in town. The result is a showstopper if you want to impress a date—regardless, it's a sensational place to tipple (there’s even an inn upstairs in Belltown).
FOB Poke Bar
Seen one new poke shop in this town, you’ve seen the other 500, right? Not so—this Belltown newcomer lets you assemble a bowl with uncommon add-ins like octopus, pickled radish, or crispy lotus root. Staff suggestions keep all these choices from becoming overwhelming, and you walk away with a healthyish lunch that bursts with color and texture. FOB Poke Bar also just expanded to Capitol Hill in the space formerly home to another poke spot, Wanderfish.
Green Leaf gives you everything you want in a hole-in-the-wall and nothing you don’t: plentiful plates of fresh and wholesome Vietnamese food delivered on handsome ceramic plates by extremely friendly folks at giveaway prices (not much over $10) inside the sprawling basement of the Labor Temple in Belltown. Whichever you choose, order the Vietnamese pancakes: thickly embedded with shrimp, nearly cream textured, brimming with bean sprouts, swaddled in fresh basil, mint, and lettuce greens, and anointed with drips of briny fish sauce.
Painted bright yellow inside, with greenery atop repurposed rum barrels, this shack exudes the smoky aroma of an island-style cookout. Belltown suddenly feels much more Caribbean, thanks to chef Trey Lamont. Let Jerk Shack transport you to a warmer world—with warm service—in which two can share a half jerk-spiced fried chicken rustically served on a wood slab with medallions of crispy plantain. Extend this tropical retreat with rum punch. Even better if the rum’s sipped out back, under the sun, in the fenced-in patio.
La Vita è Bella Cafe and Pizzeria
The Sicilian proprietor named this Belltown cafe for the heartwarming Roberto Benigni film, and the place is warming as well—thanks to the brick oven behind the bar, the dimly lit intimacy of the terra-cotta-tiled room, and inevitable afterwork revelers. Start with the just-right caprese salad of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil in extra virgin olive oil; for a zesty counterpoint try the caponata, a tangy eggplant appetizer. If the oven beckons, order one of 20 thin-crust pizzas. Otherwise, slightly spicy spaghetti di mare with tiger prawns, clams, mussels, Roma tomatoes, garlic, and white wine will serve well. And the pepper in the gnocchi al forno, served with roma tomatoes and spinach, is moderated by chunks of fresh melty mozzarella.
Holding down the corner of First and Bell is this sweet-spirited spot with raw timbers, lofty ceilings, long tables, and a drop-in ambiance—Belltown’s version of Oddfellows. The menus (brunch, lunch, dinner) are heavy on comfort food (fried chicken and waffles!) and even heavier on sustainability: Ninety percent of raw ingredients are sourced within 360 miles of Seattle. That ethos extends to the beef, too, like grass-fed cuts of rib eye or New York strip grilled over wood-fueled flames for a charry bite of meat served with a side of frites.
A good conversation bar is a rare and wonderful thing, especially on Belltown's Second Ave. But one of the neighborhood's newest wine and cocktail haunts, Mr. Darcy's, is just that. In keeping with it's Jane Austen moniker, a genteel literary mood gently infuses the space: gold-lettering on the windows, a decorative (presumably) phonograph and piano, an antique clock, lots of woodwork, a shelf of books. There are seven house cocktails and another six faintly obscure classics like the Champ Elyees. All run $12 each and hew to current craft conventions. The wines—a chalkboard listing five white and five reds, each $9–$13 a glass ($7 at happy hour from 5–7 every day)—rotate frequently and roam the globe: Spain, Morocco, France, Washington, Hungary, Uruguay.
This cocktail bar sibling to No Anchor and Rob Roy puts a modern spin on tiki, via sleek midcentury decor and a drink list that mixes classics (zombies, mai tais) with modern creations inspired by tropical flavors. The food menu is heavy on crudo, fancy chips and dip, and dishes inspired by whatever spot on the globe currently holds court on the drink menu—every six months, Navy Strength celebrates the flavor profiles of a new country.
Yes, technically this is a beer bar, a place to learn why draft temps matter, or deploy their handy grid system to explore smoked saison, or a Spanish ale brewed with grapes. But the eccentric food menu has its own legion of fans. No Anchor’s dishes distill ambitious fine dining into plates of snacks, spreads, and finger food—like mussels, meat smoked and pickled, arranged carefully over burnt garlic aioli. Summer brings charred strawberries beneath buttermilk granita and a sprinkle of dill. And if you prefer your beer without a side of esoteric, great cheese comes by the ounce, and the dungeness crab roll comes with a side of housemade ketchup chips. Brunch is great, too.
Linda Derschang felt the downtown environs lacked something: a burger-and-cocktail kind of joint. She opened such a place in the old Queen City Grill some five blocks in Belltown. She didn’t change much, except to call it simply Queen City, in keeping with its original moniker back when it was an 1890s-era saloon. It evokes a little bit of nostalgia and has Derschang’s signature aesthetic touch (vintage fixtures, taxidermied adornments), as well as that burger, you know the one, from Smith on Capitol Hill (oh, and moules frites, a classic caesar salad, roasted chickens, and the like).
Shiro's Sushi Restaurant
Sushi bars spread like herring roe in this town, but the one long personified by Shiro Kashiba remains one of the best, even after his departure. The small room is elegant in a plain Bauhaus fashion, and you will eat exceptionally well on one of its white tablecloths. But the dozen seats at the sushi bar are the place to be, both for the show and for the entirely unpredictable, sometimes revelatory, offerings of the evening. Best to dispense with ordering and ask to be surprised. You may be amazed, and you’ll at least be entertained by old masters who both respect tradition and dare to invent. Their exuberance seems to rub off; the sushi and show get strangers at the bar chatting like old friends, belying everything you’ve ever heard about Seattleite and Japanese reticence.
As far as clown-surrounded drinking in the city goes, Shorty’s is it—either apotheosis or nadir, depending on how you look upon a painted face. That the circus decor here is antiquated only adds to the bar’s bent, after-hours luster. Shorty’s belongs in the same category as places like Blue Moon Tavern—true drives hanging on in an increasingly renovated city. Play pinball, drink Rainier tallboys, and get spooked when you notice the vaguely melted clown mask hovering over your friend’s shoulder.
Forget what you know about hotel restaurants: The over-the-water centerpiece of the charming Edgewater Hotel doesn’t rely on captive audiences or killer Elliott Bay views—there goes another ferry!—to fill its cushy seats. Instead, in a room as warmly Northwest as a forest clearing, the menu celebrates land (perhaps braised short ribs with parsnip puree) and sea (a beautiful hunk of cedar-plank salmon with blackberry honey and several dozen other components) with general skill.
Ethan Stowell’s Belltown restaurant is also his most overtly Italian, a den of fresh housemade pastas, tossed simply with elegant enhancements like veal brains and brown butter, or short ribs and parsley. Richly braised meats that could come in the form of lamb shank with eggplant or a masterful plate of branzino are winners, too. And here we should note that we’ve never seen the concrete-and-wood, lofted urban hotspot with the windows that open onto the Second Avenue sidewalk not slammed: The big communal table in the center fills up fast, and the energy is irresistible. A second location on Pike/Pine replicates the original’s vibe, but adds a patio.
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.