A very careful spread at Reckless Noodle House. Photograph by Amber Fouts.
“Best” is relative, really. Sometimes the best place to eat is the one down the street, or the place that knows your order. And this town has easily another hundred or so wonderful spots that deserve your time and attention. But here—in no particular order other than geography—are Seattle’s most indispensable restaurants. We spend so much time highlighting newcomers; this list consists of places at least one year old that remain masters of what they do. Especially in a landscape even more challenging than it was pre-pandemic.
This lineup began as our 100 Very Best Restaurants project a few years back, updated and organized by neighborhood. Consider it a living document, one we will revisit twice a year (and look for an Eastside version in the coming months). Got a contender you think we should consider—or reconsider? Want to berate us for neglecting your favorite? Weigh in at [email protected].
Jump to Your Neighborhood:
Ballard / Beacon Hill / Belltown / Capitol Hill / Central District / Chinatown-International District / Columbia City / Eastlake / Fremont / Georgetown / Greenlake / Greenwood / Hillman City / Madison Valley / Madrona / Montlake / Mount Baker / Northgate / Phinney Ridge / Pike Place Market / Pioneer Square / Queen Anne / Rainier Beach / Ravenna / South Lake Union / University District / Wallingford / West Seattle / Multiple Locations
Asadero means “grill,” or in this case, a beloved Kent restaurant that expanded into Ballard with northern Mexico’s traditions of mesquite-grilled meats and tacos thereof. Seemingly every table has a 16-ounce carne asada draped on top of it, and the flawless prep and simple seasoning (just salt, pepper, and the savory smoke of mesquite charcoal) give you an almost bionic ability to register every vivid detail of the meat, which is mostly American wagyu.
Jen Doak deserves some sort of pivot trophy for the changes she wrought to keep her brick-and-farmhouse neighborhood spot solvent in 2020: a wine club, a new coffee shop in the back garden, and so many dinners on that tree-shrouded patio. But let us not overlook the food, which remains in excellent (globally tinged Northwest) hands under chef MacGregor Tadie.
Seattle used to be full of neighborly restaurants that were by no means fancy, but delivered vivid, personal fare worth a drive across town. Rajah Gargour’s lively Middle Eastern spot in Loyal Heights opened in 2012 and feels like a souvenir from that glorious era. Striking hummus plates (try the one topped with lamb and pine nuts) share tabletops with mezze dips and spreads, meat and vegetable kebabs, and family style platters, all served in an intimate room with arched doorways, white tablecloths, and pretty filigree light pendants.
Shaun McCrain has always operated on his own exacting frequency. A veteran of Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se, he makes dinner feel unabashedly special, from the signature amuse-bouche (cured salmon cloaked in tempura and topped with roe) to the warm greeting from Jill Kinney, his wife, partner, and fellow Per Se alum who runs the front of house with calm polish. Three-course tasting menus are rife with classic French elements, but actual ingredients can globe-trot from Italy to Japan with plenty of Northwest stops.
In a town filled with great pizza, Brandon Pettit’s restaurant feels special. His pies may honor New York by way of Naples, but Delancey’s charm draws firmly from the Northwest, in topping combos that balance tomato brightness with pairings like Zoe’s bacon, cremini mushrooms, and basil. When Delancey opened in 2009, the pizza vaulted it into Seattle institution status, even before you throw in the impeccable seasonal salads, wood-fired odes to seasonal produce, and those bittersweet chocolate chip cookies dusted with gray salt.
Old Ballard brick walls meet the terra-cotta tiles of old Mexico in this teeming sensation that’s been plying an appreciative public with lush and complex mole negro since 2003. All those people ahead of you in line agree, its version is still one of the best in town. The menu’s appeal expands far beyond this Oaxacan staple, like entomatadas that come with kicky tomatillo sauce...and highly enjoyable margaritas.
A bare-bones counter in Ballard delivers something rare: sandwich combinations that feel truly new or unexpected, not just an ever-more-outrageous pileup of various meats. Newish owner Dan Crookston (yep, he’s Renee Erickson’s husband) mercifully kept all the favorites, like the signature Mean Sandwich (fat hunks of corned beef, mustard, pickled red cabbage—an unexpected gust of mint), a steak tartare club, and the “skins and ins”—fried chunks of baked potato instead of fries. In case you still aren’t convinced: The kitchen takes its day-old sandwich buns and turns them into bread pudding.
It’s a restaurant sweet spot, lantern-lit and nice enough for casual Saturday nights, able to feed the family without incurring a punishing bill. Most importantly, this little dining room on Ballard’s main drag preaches the pungent, spicy gospel of Thailand’s Isan region, using high-quality proteins, like a nam tok meat salad made extra savory with boar collar, or deceptively fiery Thai sausages. Khao soi curry noodle soup: mandatory.
Woe to anyone who underestimates chef Liz Kenyon, a woman who answered the challenge of a cocktail bar that celebrates Sri Lanka by immersing herself in this vibrant foodway. She extracted her own polished take, a menu perhaps as much South Indian as Sri Lankan. It’s served in a minuscule peacock-blue room as rich and bold as the bar food—fish curry, mutton rolls, triumphant fried chicken dusted in chili powder. Excitement over the food can overshadow a cocktail program unlike anything else in the city, though Sri Lankan spices crossed with beach vibes should be a game changer for anyone who loves tiki. (Kenyon’s versatility is also on display over at sister restaurant Manolin, currently living a double life as a Brazilian beach party slash bagel shop.)
Saying that Samara cooks seasonal ingredients over wood fire doesn’t begin to describe what Eric Anderson accomplishes with his vaguely medieval flame chamber in this handsome Sunset Hill dining room. Samara’s uncontested smash, the dungeness crab, begins with a patty of charred short-grain rice piled with butter-soaked crabmeat; pureed tarragon keeps the French influence from surrendering to Japan. That jaw-dropping level of buttery finesse spreads across a menu of vegetables, seafood, and smaller-scale proteins like duck and pork.
Before he struck out on his own in a former sawmill off Ballard Avenue, Mitch Mayers headed the kitchen at Lark. That’s a long way from his first food job, mixing cotton candy sugar at age 14 at the state fair for his family’s third-generation concessions business. These seemingly disparate influences converge in a menu that serves elegant grilled artichokes and foie gras mousse next to jojos and pork belly steam buns and cheesesteak tartare. The result is a high-low supercut fueled by nimbly balanced cocktails in a carefully layered room—and a synergy of ingenious and fun that’s worth an immediate drive to Ballard.
The dining room off the Hotel Ballard lobby is peak James Weimann and Deming Maclise, two restaurateurs unafraid to import giant light fixtures, even chunks of schoolhouse ceiling or factory window, to deliver dining room drama. Culinary drama comes courtesy of chef Jason Stoneburner, whose menu of pizza, pasta, and an unexpectedly lavish vegetable lineup balance the elegant with the accessible.
The sons of the original Paseo founder opened Un Bien with their dad’s recipes, which makes this Caribbean roast sandwich the legendarily messy original: pork shoulder, caramelized onions, pickled jalapenos, all on an aioli-swiped Macrina roll. A blast to eat, especially with a cob of slathered grilled corn during warmer months—but have multiple napkins handy. Two locations bookend Ballard.
Renee Erickson’s jostling oyster bar on Ballard Ave remains the gold standard for showing visitors (the kind who don’t mind a two-hour wait) what Seattle is capable of. Not that you need a houseguest to justify a night of meticulously sourced oysters, octopus carpaccio, and food-simpatico cocktails beneath the glow of an enormous coral reef of a chandelier.
It’s one of the city’s most indispensable Italian restaurants thanks to Jerry Corso’s pizza—crusts blistered from the wood-fire oven, toppings simple and seasonal. But after pizza comes a mosaic of Roman street food like fried risotto balls, grilled octopus, Italian regional antipasti, and luminous seasonal salads. Because this understated dining room on Beacon Avenue (with a hidden-away back patio) is far more than a pizza joint: The menu is short, the waits can be long, and the aperitivi-based cocktails feel imperative.
It’s the tortillas that make this family-run restaurant in the former Inay’s space so marvelous—springy masa pressed into delicate rounds, edges singed from the griddle. No, actually…the meat is what lodges these ample plates in your memory: charred carne asada, the tender titular carnitas, or an al pastor that melds pork, spices, and pineapple sweetness on an almost molecular level. Superlative quibbles aside, the food that emanates from the busy open kitchen blows away meals at way fancier (and more expensive) places. The friendly service and bags of dark and crackly chicharrones for sale by the register are just a bonus.
Logan Cox is the sort of chef who can make lamb ribs craveable, redefine roast chicken as something new and exciting, and recognize most of the neighborhood dogs (and their owners) by name. His original restaurant puts big, broadly Mediterranean flavors in crunchy context but also runs a soft-serve window, just because. It’s hard to narrow down your options here, but the meatballs and lamb ribs remain perennial standouts, along with just about anything from the section of the menu dedicated to things one might spread on saucer-size pitas. These arrive at the table almost too hot to touch, soft interior still puffed up from the wood oven. Seattle Met’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year.
Few restaurants burst on the scene amid such heightened excitement. Even fewer shoot right past those lofty expectations. Melissa Miranda’s ode to the Filipino food of her Northwest youth—from kare kare to seasonal pancits, brunch silog to squid adobo—combines the intention of a talented chef with enough soul to win over grandmas skeptical of seeing their dishes served alongside a cocktail list. The converted lavender Craftsman serves lunch as well as dinner. Seattle Met’s 2020 Restaurant of the Year.
As a child, Trey Lamont would visit Caribbean relatives on the East Coast, then yearn for their distinct spice combinations back home in Seattle. As an adult, he combines those worldly flavors with his culinary training to produce a majestic half chicken, fried just past golden, its skin a terrain of crusted spice that delivers a low roar of flavor. While Lamont certainly excels at classic Caribbean dishes, he’s unafraid to meld jerk influences with burritos, or pasta in cream sauce. All this happens in a room where sunshine-yellow walls and turquoise seating feel more tropical getaway than Northwest dining.
As Tom Douglas Restaurants emerges, gingerly, from the tumult of 2020’s restaurant shutdown, two of the restaurateur’s best concepts joined forces to replace a legend. The former home of Dahlia Lounge now holds Serious Pie and its oval pizzas—crackling, puffed crusts topped with Northwest-friendly combos like potatoes, rosemary, and pecorino (even better if you add lardo). The other end of the room holds an enlarged Dahlia Bakery pastry counter for all your mochi doughnut and coconut cream pie needs.
Tilikum’s warm service and moderate prices give it the aura of a neighborhood restaurant, which can leave people wholly unprepared for such exacting food. Chef Ba Culbert’s been serving midmorning realness in the form of dutch babies—baked pancakes in a hot cast-iron skillet, perhaps with spiced pumpkin or duck confit—since 2008. But the brick-walled restaurant beloved for brunch stuns in equal measure at lunch or dinner, from a chop salad that makes kale feel new again to a homey pork chop with polenta, greens, and a grilled fig. Always investigate the specials.
When it opened in 2011, Seattle Met’s first-ever Restaurant of the Year served three-, four-, or five-course menus that mixed and matched artful pasta with starters and mains that still felt rustic despite consistently deep finesse. Since then, chef Nathan Lockwood has shifted to a tasting menu–only format that takes Northwest ingredients—ramps, madrone bark, shigoku oysters—in astonishing and elegant directions. Much has changed at this North Broadway destination, pandemic very much included, but its core remains the same: down-to-earth service, a smart wine list, and a rare blend of modesty and blazing self-assurance. Easily one of the city’s best meals for a special occasion.
Renee Erickson refashioned the old-school steak house model into this lovely white-on-white dining room, which makes liberal use of edible flowers, but also lets customers choose their cuts off a wall-size blackboard, plus sides and your butter of choice. Chef Taylor Thornhill’s mandate to use every part of local cows yields beefy and beautiful creativity like a Reuben-inspired mille feuille alongside memorable tartare and those house-butchered, dry-aged steaks, cooked medium rare in hot steel pans and butter aplenty. The off-menu burger’s one of the best in the city, and the starter menu kicks Erickson’s playful way with seasonal produce up into fine-dining territory. Seattle Met’s 2016 Restaurant of the Year.
Le Pichet’s sibling on 12th Avenue captures Parisian bar cafe culture in the form of international magazines, beautiful espresso, egg dishes by morning, and a perfect croque madame. Not to mention a roast chicken for the ages (serves two). The frites alone would ensure a spot on this list: skin-on russets, medium-thick, double-fried, and even better dipped in mayonnaise.
Carmelo Gaspar spent 25 years at the Cactus in Madison Park before striking out with his own family-run window inside Hillcrest Market: an unassuming space that makes showstopping tacos. The staff makes tortillas fresh and puts the same care into what goes inside: rich campechano, nopales with fresh grill marks, an al pastor that plays fiery pork against cool pineapple. A new nearby location at 12th and Cherry offers a larger menu, some seating, and an aural backdrop of meat sizzling on a grill.
The rustic Italian farmstead with the trestle tables and wrought-iron chandeliers serves the best pasta in Pike/Pine, maybe even Seattle: rich hand-cut Piedmontese egg-yolk noodles, buttery delicate strands of tajarin. Smaller dishes pulled from the seasons and hearty meat dishes, from rabbit to roast trout, can also be extraordinary. Chef Stuart Lane carries on the legacy and the quality of one of the city’s most impressive Italian restaurants.
Kevin Burzell and Alysson Wilson parlayed passionate study of Malaysian food into a Capitol Hill walkup, then, in 2013, a full restaurant on Olive Way. Kedai Makan’s cacophonous energy recalls the Southeast Asian night markets that first inspired it: Bowls of chili pan mee, lacy roti, and the country’s signature rice dish, nasi lemak, reflect Malaysia’s perch at the crossroads of so many cultures. The cocktails somehow manage to be as impressive as the food.
We won’t call him “elder” just yet, but John Sundstrom is the closest thing Seattle has to a culinary statesman. The proof lies in his stunning restaurant, where starry lights twinkle above soft banquettes and the kitchen does elegant things with very local ingredients. Meanwhile, under the stairs to the mezzanine, his takeout counter, Slab, applies those same philosophies to sandwiches. That memorable dining room should go live again later this fall.
Racha and Wassef Haroun’s original restaurant translates the Syrian and Lebanese flavors of their upbringing into elegant dishes served in an urbane, low-lit dining room. The menu of hummus, muhammara, end other mezze is reliably masterful; entrees also draw from seasonal Northwest ingredients. But Mamnoon deserves equal props for its lunch menu of man’oushe (also available as wraps). Seattle Met’s 2013 Restaurant of the Year.
Thomas Soukakos translates flavors of his youth into a restrained space that reps the colors of the Greek flag in the heart of Pike/Pine. Salads bursting with ripe tomatoes and fresh herbs, smoked cod fritters, vivid tzatziki—a flurry of smaller plates share space with entrees of grilled octopus or spice-crusted kebabs of grilled lamb. The all-Greek wine list deserves way more attention.
A machine at the front of this tiny shop above the Harvard Market QFC cranks out fresh noodles. Chef Chong Boon Ooi then transfers them into bowls of superlative ramen. He balances traditional styles with his own creations, inspired by flavors from Sichuan or Shanghai. Ooi originally hails from Malaysia, which explains both the presence of ayam goreng chicken—and the fact that it’s so damn good.
Eric and Sophie Banh’s pair of elegant Vietnamese restaurants still sparkle as they did when the first Monsoon wowed the city in 1999. The original location and its Bellevue spinoff each retain their own personas, but both nail consistency—in the warm service, the grilled beef la lot, drunken chicken, clay pot catfish, and the allure of weekend dim sum brunch. Beverage director Jon Christiansen ensures cocktails are on point, and the Seattle rooftop remains one of the town’s best, most secluded patios.
Chef Makini Howell is an avatar for vegan food’s evolution in the United States, from a childhood of earnest tofu and seitan at her family’s vegan sandwich shop and diner to convincing comfort food, and finally the cultured, plant-based plates at her flagship restaurant—a destination for vegan and omnivores alike. Howell has added multiple dishes to Seattle’s meatless canon (her mac and yease, a properly decadent tofu reuben, some incredible salads) but she also knows when to keep things straightforward, like pan-roasted cauliflower or truffle-topped gnocchi.
Detail-oriented street food rules this pair of casual counters, from the kathi rolls that built Spice Waala’s following back at the farmers market, to crackling servings of chaat and a take on nachos. But owners Uttam Mukherjee and Aakanksha Sinha share values beyond just the food they grew up with, in New Delhi and Kolkata, respectively. Every item on the menu remains under $10, a nod to a classic street food experience in India, where customers from all socioeconomic strata converge for the same freshly made comfort food.
This dining room doesn’t look like anything in Seattle—a balmy subtropical paradise of palm-fronded wallpaper and minty accents. Eric Johnson’s food is similarly singular, even in a town with superb Vietnamese food of all stripes. The chef’s background in the highest of high-end restaurants informs intelligent explorations of the flavor crossroads of Vietnam and China, like master stock crispy chicken and Vietnamese iced coffee creamsicles. For a guy driven to produce such exacting food, Johnson is exceedingly modest and hospitable, a vibe that extends to the entire front of house. Seattle Met's 2015 Restaurant of the Year.
Head down the beat-up passage of Broadway Alley 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 unusual alliance of two Japanese culinary traditions works, thanks to the meal’s measured tempo—and some excellent sake pours.
Three veterans of great Seattle restaurants come together in a very small, very bootstrapped kitchen to produce striking Laotian food. Like co-owner Khampaeng Panyathong’s mom’s sausage recipe, all texture and lemongrass, and a khao soi nonpareil. None of which prepares you for this: Taurus Ox makes, indisputably, one of the best burgers in town, with a pair of proper smash patties, two versions of the condiment jeaw, and house-cured pork jowl in place of bacon. It’s cross-culturally clever and drive-across-town good.
Chef Tamara Murphy won a James Beard Award in 1995. Which means she’s been at the top of her game longer than just about any other chef in town. The proof now resides at her restaurant at Melrose Market, and in a menu divided into earth, land, and sea categories and built on longstanding connections with local farmers. The rooftop patio—triangular, strung with lights, surrounded by vintage Seattle—is a peerless brunch destination.
The spongiest injera underpins painterly assemblies of meat or vegetables. Abebu Wondem’s homestyle menu of doro and vegetable wat and meaty tibs distinguishes Cafe Selam, even in a neighborhood peppered with great Ethiopian food. That goes double for the breakfast dishes, which weave in Middle Eastern notes like the stewy bowl of fava beans, known elsewhere in the world as ful medames, or a berbere-spiced scramble.
It’s a Parisian bistro by way of Northwest ingredients—reason enough to love Zac Overman and JJ Proville’s wainscoted hangout at 14th and Jefferson. Proville’s menu recasts classic French dishes with spot prawns, dungeness crab, and arctic char, while Overman runs the marquee-lit bar filled with surprising cocktails. However a sense of fun bubbles behind all that formidable talent. This is a place unafraid to describe a wine as “the purple nurple of pet-nat,” or to embrace outdoor fondue and smash burgers (not to mention an impressive mercantile setup) when the pandemic shut down dining rooms.
The rows of tiny shark maws affixed to the wall should be the first hint that this is more than a perfectly nice neighborhood restaurant. Kenny Lee’s Vietnamese-leaning dishes erupt with herbs and fiery spices. From a scorching wok, he builds heat in dishes like braised beef cheek noodle with sharp pickled mustard greens in Sichuan chili oil, but even the green papaya salad with bird’s eye chilies packs a punch. The cocktail list, courtesy of co-owners Bryce Sweeney and Mario Eckert, also tremendously exceeds expectations.
Fish balls in curry. Stone pots of rice, layered with minced pork and salted fish. Stir-fried rice rolls in spiral formations. Congee, noodle soups, baked pork chops over spaghetti, even oversize tea sandwiches spread with butter and condensed milk. This family-run Hong Kong–style cafe offers a huge menu that sometimes veers into various eclectic western influences. And just about every dish is fabulous. Thus the crowds that descend moments after doors open for lunch.
From the pastry case’s pate chaud and hum bao (baked or steamed) to the pate, ham, and meatballs, the perfect shatter-prone baguettes, even the mayo that populates the sandwich menu, this cheerful banh mi shop from the family behind Hue Ky Mi Ga makes just about everything in house. Even more impressive: Baker Mon Tat spent decades making the baguettes at his family’s banh mi shop in Saigon.
Seattle’s oldest Japanese restaurant has stories aplenty in its 117-year history, from rebuilding after incarceration to Seattle’s first-ever sushi bar—to legendary operators Jean Nakayama and nonagenarian bartender Fusae “Mom” Yokoyama. But this nihonmachi jewel still delivers remarkable comfort food, like the miso-marinated black cod collar.
The formula at this longtime favorite: zero frills, an expansive menu, and steamy vats of boiling water that produce dizzying quantities of noodles. From wide flat rice noodles beneath a stew of cold pork that tingles with spice to wontons that bob in rich bowls of broth and brisket, everything carb-related feels prepped with particular care. Cantonese-style noodle bowls and the smoothest of congee are worth hassling with the cash-only policy.
Seattle has precious few Cambodian restaurants, thus the sense of loss when this three-decade community hub closed in 2018. And our unfettered joy when the family owners, the daughters of founder Sam Ung reopened in 2020 just blocks away in Little Saigon. The new location has more minimalist style than its bamboo-bedecked predecessor, but the spicy-sweet chicken wings, delicate noodle soups, and Chinese-influenced mee katang (order it with crispy noodles) taste just the same.
To be Seattle’s first pho shop is notable enough, especially given our town’s subsequent obsession with Vietnam’s robust noodle soup. But Pho Bac’s real talent is finding new, impressively on-trend ways to reinforce these traditions. Case in point: This tropically hip dining room where bowls of beautiful pho come with bar snacks and cocktails.
Seattle, thankfully, is increasingly conversant in the fiery flavors of China’s Sichuan province. But back when Sichuan was still a rarity, we had this stalwart on the second floor of the Ding How Center. Through it all, Seven Stars Pepper remains reliable in matters of deeply spiced cumin lamb, chile-laced chongqing chicken, lip-numbing hot pots, and anything that involves hand-shaved noodles.
Seattle’s oldest Chinese restaurant, open since 1935, perfected its homey, steadfast dishes long ago. Today, third-generation owner Harry Chan sees to their continued excellence. He also sees to the quick-but-kind service and makes sure to proffer a cheery wave goodbye as you stagger out the door, stuffed with beef in deep, rich oyster sauce or chop suey loaded with sauteed vegetables. The magic of Tai Tung lies in its long counter, infused with eight decades of scuffs and celebrity photos and its owner as much as its food.
In 2004, Tam Nguyen opened an elegant little restaurant, hidden behind a Little Saigon parking lot, that presented Seattle’s beloved (but heretofore casual) Vietnamese cuisine in an ambient, cocktail-fueled setting worthy of the food. The menu’s long and invariably excellent: a seven-course beef tasting, muc nhoi thit (grilled squid stuffed with ground pork), banh mi hap (a steamed baguette)...on and on for pages. But it offers just as many thrills today as it did two decades ago.
As cross-pollinated menus go, Erasto Jackson’s is both personal and rad: Exacting barbecue meets soul food staples and Jamaica’s tradition of seafood and jerked meats. (The latter honors his wife, Lilieth, and her heritage.) It’s nigh impossible to choose when a single menu might offer jerk spareribs, curry goat, smothered pork chops, spot-on brisket, escovitch fish, piquant mac and cheese, and one of the city’s best burgers. Crowds have (rightfully) descended on this counter-service spot, but online ordering makes it easier to get your hands on some smoked meat (or jerk chicken and waffles at breakfast).
It’s been open barely long enough to qualify for this list, but even during a punishing year of restaurant logistics, this brick corridor of a restaurant blazed its own path. Evan Leichtling celebrates underappreciated organs and oft-overlooked tiny fish. But rather than headline, these often serve as punctuation on elegant plates of seasonal produce. Off Alley recently transitioned away from pandemic-mode tasting menus to embrace its original bar concept; Meghna Prakash’s wine and service seals a very fun deal.
The fantastically varied cuisine of Kenya has relatively few outlets in Seattle. But it’s hard to imagine a more impressive ambassador than this little room with Pepto pink walls and a poster of Kenyan presidents. The samaki, a whole fried tilapia, presides over the table with as much aplomb as the heads of state in the aforementioned poster. Tender goat exudes subtle spice whether you order it dry fried or as curry. Sides (chapati, spiced pilau rice, ugali, and matoke, or green bananas) exhibit just as much care as the meat. Owner Jane Kagira’s background includes both formal culinary training and time in her mother’s restaurant back in Kenya; her food displays that same balance of warmth and study.
Really, any Marination outpost delivers the goods: spam sliders, kalbi beef, comfort fusion tacos. But the full-service sibling in Columbia City kicks things up about 10 notches with a full menu of malasadas, Sichuan-style noodles, and of course the aloha fries, topped with kalua pork, kimchi mayo, and a fried egg. Throw in an expansive cocktail list and a brunch menu that’s trampoline-level fun—all served in a former auto body shop turned industrial diner with a huge patio.
Owner Taichi Kitamura combines one of the city’s top-tier sushi bars with a beautiful menu of ippins, small composed plates like rich black cod glazed in miso or chawan mushi layered with crabmeat. In matters of sushi, Kitamura knows when to simply showcase pristine fish and when to introduce a little flair—or jalapeno. The staggering amount of options (hot plates, nigiri, coursed options, brunch, omakase) makes SKT feel unusually versatile for a restaurant of this caliber.
What began as a tiny, offbeat operation has now settled in nicely to its handsome quarters on Stone Way. What hasn’t changed: Dustin Ronspies’s vision. His five-course menus set Neah Bay cod or pasta stuffed with lamb neck against intricate seasonal backdrops—basically he’s a jeweler who works in cilantro pistou and smoked tomato jam instead of precious metals. The pandemic added a grab-and-go market, but dinner here remains one of the most special occasions in town.
Committed artisan. Classically trained chef. Practitioner of madcap drinking snacks. Pick your preferred description for Mutsuko Soma, a woman who can cut her own soba noodles by hand, but also make a mean TikTok video starring a maple bar, hot dog, and panini press. Both sides of her brain come together on Kamonegi’s menu of stunning soba bowls, seasonal tempura, and Japanese-centered snacks (looking, longingly, at you foie gras tofu). Seattle Met’s 2018 Restaurant of the Year.
Eye-popping, rule-breaking—name your over-the-top adjective and it’s probably a reasonable descriptor of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s Korean-fusion comfort food. Pop art punches up a sleek new dining room that retained the original Revel’s enormous butcher block counter. The current menu mixes favorites from Revel’s 2010 debut—like the short rib rice bowl and dungeness crab noodles in red curry—with newer creations. Throw in a cocktail bar, Quoin inside the restaurant, a kids meal, the destination-worthy brunch, and oh yeah—everything is gluten free. Honestly, Rachel Yang might be the closest thing Seattle has to a superhero.
Eric Donnelly created the sort of innovative seafood restaurant Seattle visitors expect to see on every corner, in a raw-wood-and-corrugated-metal space in upper Fremont with an urban fishing lodge vibe. Donnelly bypasses the usual protein-starch-veg combos to architect small plates and larger seafood entrees where every bite is symphonic, every execution perfect (the Kari Out calamari has been a classic from day one). That’s achievement enough, but RockCreek doubles down with a covered patio and smart cocktails.
This pocket-size lunchroom in Georgetown is hardly the first to adapt bibimbap to our prevailing grain bowl culture, but good luck finding another place that does it so well. Owner Jeanny Rhee’s versions—salmon in dashi, kimchi fried rice, or a seasonal vegetable medley in a great black garlic vinaigrette—satisfy carnivores and clean eaters, and the plug and play mix of proteins, sauces, and grains accommodates a ton of dietary restrictions. In a perfect world, this place would be as Seattle-ubiquitous as Evergreens.
A fortress of brick walls conceals a temple of dining influenced by the grilling traditions of South America, Portugal, the Mediterranean, and beyond. Here, an open grill yields harissa-spiced chicken for the whitewashed, warehouse-like dining room, where diners sit in gaily colored chairs beneath the folkloric Stacey Rozich mural. Ciudad defies easy descriptors and that’s part of the charm.
In an old Italianate cottage amid an unlikely Georgetown garden, chef Emily Crawford Dann invents, and reinvents, seasonal odes: coho lox with tahini and ginger-marinated celery, or braised beef shoulder with brussels sprout tips, squash ribbons, and hearty caponata. Few special occasion restaurants feel this legitimately special, a magic that even infuses the old wooden chairs and communal tables (though currently all dining happens outdoors, on the three patios).
La Catrina, the folkloric skeleton in a grand feathered hat, stars in a colorful band of murals. She looks down on a gently industrial dining room—walls full of art, bar full of mezcal, and a menu full of choices. Tacos, platos, pozole, and mole-drenched enchiladas display both a considerable level of care and refreshingly reasonable prices. Meanwhile, a courtyard out back rises to any margaritas-and-guac happy hour occasion. El Sirenito, the sibling marisqueria down the street, probably belongs on this list too.
Consider Jack Timmons Seattle’s affable brisket baron, a Texan turned tech guy who went on to apply those precision sensibilities to smoked meat. Jack’s now has four locations, and another on the way in Bellingham, but it all began at this SoDo roadhouse. The ribs, brisket, and pulled pork are worth the trip, full stop. But once you’re there, you’ll also find summery cocktails and a constellation of great sides, like brisket nachos or a wedge salad with chunks of house bacon. A light-strung patio shares parking lot space with a pair of hulking smokers.
Fried eggplant melts like gnocchi, and the dungeness salad refines sturdy winter vegetables into delicate, almost summery compositions. David Nichols’s poised menu is full of familiar ingredients, drawn from the farms and orchards of his upbringing in Central Washington—and the people who work them. And yet the results stand out, even in a town with plenty of great seasonal Northwest fare. Even the space transcends Seattle’s typical new-construction blandness thanks to supersize white wainscoting and a layout that invites conversation.
When Osbaldo Hernandez and Dennis Ramey decided to start their own business, their first hire was crucial: Osbaldo’s mom, Eva, who sold tamales for years out of their home in Bellevue. They amped up her traditional, springy creations with even more filling—half-pound bundles stuffed with pork in red chile sauce, sweet potato in mole, or chorizo and cheese. Vegetarian and vegan tamales pack just as much flavor as meaty options; no wonder lines are a way of life at the Greenlake walkup counter (the name harkens back to the operation’s farmers market origins).
A game meat destination with cattle in the name, from a chef who also happens to be a virtuoso with fish. Eric Donnelly, also the chef behind RockCreek, presents less-common meats like bison, boar, and duck in a 1926 brick building with the sort of bilevel grandeur that cries out for midcentury chandeliers and a showy central bar. Preparations cast game meat in familiar tableaus (venison in a rich pate, tender wild boar sugo over gnocchi), each one a craveable gateway to these more sustainable proteins. Plus a few beautiful steaks for good measure. Seattle Met’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year.
Maybe eight people per seating form a rapt audience as Aaron Verzosa and Amber Manuguid present roughly 10 courses that explore the Philippines’ many-faceted relationship with the Pacific Northwest. Historical lessons, cultural context, and childhood memories get wrapped around a menu of heirloom grain pandesal, miki noodles, and myriad other smart seasonal creations. You could certainly appreciate these flavors even without the backstory, but in Verzosa’s hands, the combination is a rare sort of magic.
The city’s vegetarian standard-bearer since 1991, Cafe Flora has also mastered the art of vegan and gluten-free indulgence. Brunchers linger over veg scrambles, rosemary biscuits obscured by savory vegan gravy and the famed cinnamon rolls (also vegan). Even devout carnivores appreciate the artful ingredient interplay in hearty lunch and dinner plates, not to mention the plant-filled atrium. Flora’s impressive pastry program is also on display at Flora Bakehouse on Beacon Hill and the Floret spinoff at Sea-Tac, an essential pre-flight destination.
Over two decades, Madison Valley’s 11-seat Basque tapas bar added a downstairs dining room and installed chef Joey Serquinia. The close-quartered warmth radiates as strong as ever, delivered via a fluffy tortilla espanola, thin slices of cured tuna loin topped with caviar, or acorn-fed iberico pork, criminally tender and further enriched with smoked paprika oil. Generous pours of Spanish wines only amplify the appeal. Good luck snagging a seat at that copper-topped bar.
“Pasta, seafood, and vegetables.” Brian Clevenger’s philosophy is pretty simple, as restaurant concepts go, but then factor in the flawless fish and produce. Clevenger’s got a knack for memorable combos—his dungeness crab, endive, and snap peas dish belongs in some sort of salad hall of fame—and for balancing culinary technique with our deep-seated cravings for pasta. Before he applied this formula at three other spots around the city, he honed it at his original restaurant. Vendemmia’s a little Italian, a little Northwest; equally game for birthday dinners or spontaneous Tuesday nights.
Finding beauty in the ingredients around us has been the Italian MO for centuries now, but Carla Leonardi’s kitchen reminds us how thrilling this can be. Her Montlake institution opened in 1990, a destination restaurant posting as a neighborhood cafe. The nine-layer lasagna deserves its legendary status, but saffron linguini with clams, wood-fired pizza, and endless seasonal creations all stand, unassumingly, in Seattle’s pantheon of great Italian food.
If you think Lao food is scarce in Seattle these days, imagine 1992, when plates of phad lao and nam kao first arrived in this chill Rainier strip mall. The latter, a salad of crispy rice studded with pork and roiling with lime, curry, and coconut flakes, has earned a spot in just about every takeout order or sit-down meal in a dining room with way more polish than the exterior suggests. The barbecue chicken has its own fervent following.
The space is unassuming, almost hidden in the corner of a vast parking lot on Aurora Avenue. But the food is some of the most credible Thai in town, made by two detail-oriented guys who adapted their moms’ recipes so we can all revel in papaya salad, sharp with salted crab, or khao mun gai—comforting chicken and rice—in the darkest, most savory of sauce.
Dave Lichterman is an Illinois transplant, but also a pizza scientist, distinguished in the fields of dough-rising and cheese-browning chemical reactions. The result is a Chicago-style pizza that hurls thunderbolts at the brain’s pleasure center and makes converts out of people who think deep-dish is doughy and basic. Right now, the place only seats diners on the slim patio out front; given the cook times, it’s still a good idea to order pies ahead of time online, even if you plan to eat in. (Beacon Hill sibling Breezy Town adds a dash of Detroit to its pan pizza.)
Pike Place Market
After all these years, Seattle’s equivalent of Paris cafe culture still perches on Post Alley in Pike Place Market. Here chef Daisley Gordon does right by classic dishes—quiche, pan-roasted chicken, oeufs en meurette—and instills in his kitchen the sort of perfectionism that renders even the simplest asparagus salad or brunchtime brioche french toast memorable. The patio hits the sweet spot for another hallmark of Parisian cafe culture, watching all the people go by.
Jim Drohman and Joanne Herron plunked this pathologically good Parisian bistro beside Pike Place Market. Here classics spark with nonchalant finesse: a bibb lettuce and hazelnut salad, one of the best charcuterie boards in the city (ranging from jambon to boudin noir). Just as admirable, though, is the quiet, seasonal invention infusing the menu. Grilled rabe with gremolata accompanies steak frites. Turnip puree sauces an olive-plumped pork roulade, along with a small regiment of baby turnips and radishes roasted stem-on, so the leaves turn to gleaming crisps. A study in French grace, sans cliche.
The closest thing Seattle has to an essential restaurant hides up on the second floor of Pike Place Market. Named for its original owner, Matt’s effortlessly combines Seattle’s winningest charms: views over market rooftops to the bay, freshest seafood, straightforward friendliness. Current chef Matt Fortner (yep, the name is pure coincidence) puts subtle global touches on beautiful local ingredients. Sandwiches on the lunch menu (particularly the catfish) deliver the same level of care.
Pasta lovers mourning the loss of Il Corvo should make their way into Pike Place Market’s atrium to console themselves with a bowl of squid ink caserecce or tortiglioni with speck and ricotta. Turin, Italy, native Michela Tartaglia first taught pasta-making classes in the Atrium test kitchen directly below her hidden-away pasta counter; now she oversees four daily bowls that always include meat, seafood, and “from the garden” renditions.
If there’s one spot in Pike Place Market that feels conceived just for locals, it’s Matt’s in the Market’s sibling tavern across the hall. The prevailing liquors skew as brown as the wood-hewn decor, and the kitchen fuses fine dining with stoner fantasy, with a lot of help from animal parts: cornflake-crusted chicken livers, fried nuggets of beef lip terrine with house dijonnaise, smoked mac ’n beef cheeks. Salads, however, display the same finesse you’ll find at Matt’s. Meanwhile, a 14-foot decorative whiskey barrel behind the bar dispenses aged manhattans, negronis, and other rotating creations.
It’s a union that almost seems fated: Shiro Kashiba, the legend who gave Seattle its first-ever sushi counter, and Pike Place Market, our other signature monument to local ingredients. Together as one in a striking neutral-hued space. The dining room takes reservations, but diners jockey for first-come-first-serve spot at the long sushi bar—and its peerless omakase. Shiro himself is still known to hold court for diners at the far end.
This white-on-wainscot Pinterest dream of a space holds a flower shop, an outstanding bakery counter, and a cafe menu as natural and considered as the space: bold salads with grains, egg dishes rife with produce, and shared plates of cheese or labneh or deviled eggs. The London Plane began as a vision of chef Matt Dillon, but his other business partners now largely run the show, adding new dimension to one of his best creations.
Nearly seven decades of history, hospitality, and cliffhanging views from atop Queen Anne Hill cemented Canlis’s icon status long ago. But third-generation owners Mark and Brian keep Canlis in league with the country’s dining vanguard. (Even when it means morphing into a crab shack, or taking the whole operation outside as they did during their grueling series of pandemic pivots.) Chef Aisha Ibrahim arrived mid-2021 to build a menu of Japanese technique, local ingredients, and myriad influences from an impressive career that reaches from Northern California to Bangkok.
Maximalism still reigns in chef Maximillian Petty’s 24-seat dining room with the bold toile walls. Dishes like his crispy pig head candy bar and cauliflower chilaquiles exemplify his particular combo of cerebral wit and classical skill. Customers balk whenever he tries to remove some of these dishes from the menu, but he and wife/partner Jennifer Petty constantly seek out new ways to experiment, be it tasting menus or meticulously designed chicken nuggets at their more casual Eden Hill Provisions down the street.
One of Ethan Stowell’s OG restaurants, with its wood-wrapped interior on the neighborhood’s main drag, illustrates how the restaurateur became a household name in his hometown: clever pastas, Italian-meets-Northwest crudos, and an attentive staff that’s quick to refresh the crostini supply that comes with plush chicken liver mousse. The newer outpost in Madison Valley replicates this formula in its curvaceously glowy dining room.
This unassuming spot keeps limited hours and eschews delivery apps or even a website. Word of mouth is what propels Andrae Israel and Sharron Anderson’s unrivaled retro comfort food, from fried pork chop sandwiches to the montana potatoes, a decadent egg-topped skillet of cheese, peppers, and breakfast meat. It’s not hard to make this decadent food taste good; it takes real attention to make it this great. Anderson’s family once ran a chicken and waffle restaurant up on MLK, so any order that involves fried bird feels like a sure bet.
This butcher-deli became a Seattle classic pretty much the moment it opened. In part because of a beer list that corrals unexpected marvels from Washington’s best breweries—the sort of list that can only be achieved by two industry vets calling in favors. The meat-centered menu is just as remarkable: sandwiches stuffed with tri-tip or smoked chicken, crisped pork belly with kimchi, impressive steak and charcuterie borrowed from the butcher counter up front. You wouldn’t expect one of the town’s best kale salads to come from this place, but the kitchen bestows just as much care on vegetables as it does on sausages and rib eye.
South Lake Union
Take the elevator 14 floors up to Mbar’s indoor/outdoor rooftop and you’re in a different city. One populated with glamorous selfies, Vegas lighting, and a patio with a cosmopolitan sheen. The 360-degree view, though, is purely Seattle. So is the menu, which blends owners Racha and Wassef Haroun’s Middle Eastern roots with Northwest notes—the same finessed combo that built their original restaurant, Mamnoon.
It’s not easy to find this clattering tavern on Lake Union—and elder sibling Matt’s in the Market tends to get more buzz. But White Swan combines one of the city’s epic waterside patios with some of the best elements of its restaurant group peers. The kitchen treats seafood with the same humorous verve Radiator Whiskey applies to meat. Service can get overwhelmed on sunny days, but show me another place where you can chase beautiful raw oysters with chowder-inspired poutine against a backdrop of bobbing yachts.
Seattle has a few more destinations than it used to for biang biang noodles, named for the sound that happens when chefs slap long strands of dough against a counter, creating the fissures that lead to those wide, perfectly chewy ribbons. But Lily Wu’s remain the standardbearer, whether they’re dressed in cumin lamb or tingly beef, or just some chile-inused oil. Her dining room on the Ave recently got a much-needed makeover, and a counter hidden in Westlake Center does the same for your downtown lunch hour.
Five-course dinners brim with intelligent vegan creations (saffron lobster mushroom bisque, curried cashew paneer) and equally smart wine pairings. The to-go version of these dinners that arose during 2020’s restaurant shutdowns are still available; same goes for the market stocked with roasted beet garlic hummus, cookies, and creamy salad dressing—a more relaxed insight into the kitchen’s plant-based talents.
Few restaurants in Seattle will reliably blow your mind like Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s original. When Joule moved from 45th to its larger, stylized digs on Stone Way, it acquired a sort of steak house identity, but leave it to Yang and Chirchi to take a staid and prescribed menu format and make it explode with chili oil, scallion pancakes, and Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto. Spicy rice cakes forever.
Quietly, but in a dining room that’s doubled in size over the years, Keisuke Kobayashi puts out izakaya fare both careful and crazy fun. Kobayashi pays particular tribute to dishes from his native Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, like the region’s zangi fried chicken or miso ramen. Add to that a bevy of ramens, including a gluten-free version, okonomiyaki, pressed sushi, and drinking snacks like spam fries. Snacks might be a good idea if you plan to explore the bar full of sake and Japanese whisky.
The Alki Homestead, a landmark century-old log cabin, is a special sort of restaurant space. Just as special: everything that happens inside. Mike Easton first established his pasta prowess at casual lunchtime counter Il Corvo. Now it lives on in Easton’s destination restaurant. Pastas—more labor-intensive seasonal creations than Il Corvo’s crowds allowed—anchor a Tuscan menu that includes antipasti, contorni, and a few climactic meat entrees. Getting a reservation can be certifiably bananas, but the rear patio takes walk-ins.
Marination Ma Kai
If you’re coming from downtown, there’s no better capsule of Seattle than a trip on the West Seattle water taxi for kalbi beef tacos or kalua pork sliders. The cheerful Korean-Hawaiian flavors that defined Seattle’s earliest food truck scene now hold down Marination’s most memorable brick-and-mortar, a former fish and chips shack by the water taxi station. The waterside location inspires an extra dash of Hawaii on the menu, like plate lunches and shave ice. The expansive beer garden patio offers umbrellas, striking views, and a host of summery drinks. If you can’t steal away, a counter at Sixth and Virginia is an office lunch game changer.
Back in 2012, Mark Fuller transformed his high-end Spring Hill Restaurant into Ma’ono—more casual, more affordable, way more Hawaiian. Now it’s hard to imagine Seattle’s dining scene before his fried chicken took center stage: all-natural birds brined, soaked in buttermilk, then thrice fried. But don’t discount non-chicken opportunities, like miso-buttered corn or saimin. The invention of the Spring Hill days remains; Fuller recently added huli-yaki, teriyaki chicken cooked gyro-style on a vertical rotisserie.
It's easy to take Ba Bar for granted because it’s always there for you: Three locations serving reliable high-quality pho at 10am on a Tuesday, slushy cocktails at happy hour, and a menu built on Saigon street food: vermicelli bowls, crispy imperial rolls, five-spice rotisserie duck. Sophie Banh ensures the food remains great, while brother Eric keeps things of the moment, from adding stylish covered and heated patios to installing a formidable pastry program.
It’s not exactly Korean fried chicken, but owner Brian O’Connor definitely takes his cues from this detail-oriented approach to deliver tender bird in a delicate, shattering crust, akin to a Pringle in the best possible way. It’s chicken that deserves to stand alone, but then you’re missing out on the other best part of Bok a Bok, its upbeat remixes of three titanic fried chicken cultures: Japan, Korea, and the American south. Like sandwiches garnished with yuzu and charred pasilla pepper, the kimchi mac and cheese, or a caesar salad that packs bonito. There’s a certain perverse pride in ordering the Bowl O’Shame, an artery-seizing pileup of tots, mac and cheese, fried chicken, egg, and cheese sauce.
It’s almost as much fun to debate who makes the town’s best xiao long bao as it is to eat them. But our vote is this Eastside-born chainlet, known for soup dumplings, crispy-bottomed Q bao, and satisfying dan dan noodles. Now Dough Zone is closing in on 10 locations in the Puget Sound and even California; these include a minimalist, light-filled space in the Publix Hotel and a prominent spot at Ninth and Pine. Both of which dispense xiao long bao filled with pork, crab, or chicken to your table seemingly seconds after you order.
When Roberto Salmerón launched a taco shop in 2011, he looked to the Mexican street tacos he grew up on, not to duplicate, but to harness their flavors and affordability. He’s since built four counter-service hangouts on those perfect tacos: two lightly griddled corn tortillas filled with impressive adobada pork (sheared off a vertical spit and topped with a square of grilled pineapple) or carne asada, pollo asado, prickly pear cactus leaf. Those fillings are just as good in mulitas, tortas, even diminutive burritos.