The charming dining room at Matt’s in the Market. Photo by Amber Fouts.
Best. It’s such an arbitrary term, right? 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.
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 as our dining scene evolves. Got a contender you think we should consider—or reconsider? Want to berate us for neglecting your favorite? Weigh in at [email protected].
The surest, most efficient way to blow the minds of out-of-town visitors: A ferry ride to Bainbridge Island for a dinner of oysters and salmon tartare, and superlative roast chicken at Brendan McGill’s original restaurant. A recent upgrade befits the food—nice bathrooms, custom ceramics, user-friendly menu categories—and thanks to a new extruder, pasta dishes like twisty gemelli in a sauce of stinging nettles and cream are more consistent than ever. These days, McGill serves pork only from his own Shady Acres farm; the charcuterie plate might come layered with lonza, coppa, or a dollop of rillettes, made from his Mangalitsa hogs. Since Hitchcock opened in 2010, McGill’s added a whole slate of restaurants on Bainbridge and in Seattle, but Hitchcock’s evolution into a more customer-centered place might be his smartest move yet.
Former Canlis chef Greg Atkinson applies his considerable pedigree to the French bistro canon in a gently Craftsman dining room in downtown Winslow on Bainbridge Island, a walkable half mile from the ferry dock. Rather than get inventive, Atkinson’s kitchen deploys flawless execution to remind you why these dishes—brown butter trout, steak frites, spectacular pate—became classics in the first place. Cocktails and service—also lovely.
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. Even more exciting than the self-serve salsa bar: the screaming value on these high-end cuts of meat.
When we weren’t looking, Ballard’s gently Asian bistro quietly became one of the most ambitious Mexican-influenced restaurants in town. Credit to owner Jen Doak for being unafraid to shift continents when Angela Ortez-Davis replaced original chef Mike Whisenhunt. Now hibiscus tacos pack dramatic color and subtle sweetness, and a lengthy marinade renders grilled pork shoulder tender as al pastor. Ortez-Davis likes to surprise: Chicharrones are actually pork confit with delicate threads of crunch, and a Mexican take on pasta might sound dubious until you experience perfect tagliatelle coated with an achiote-spiced take on cream sauce, topped with crunchy pepitas. The charming farmhouse vibe and the insanely charming patio remain thankfully the same.
Seattle used to be full of global treasures run with care in neighborhood storefronts by home-cooking expats. Now there are only a few, one of the best being this Lebanese mom-and-pop with lovely Middle Eastern food. Prices are strikingly low for the shared hummus plates (try the one topped with lamb and pine nuts), mezze dips and spreads, meat and vegetable kebabs, and family-style platters, which one enjoys in an intimate room with arched doorways, white tablecloths, and pretty filigree light pendants. The perfect date night.
Shaun McCrain’s never cared much about Seattle’s prevailing restaurant trends. The veteran of Thomas Keller’s famed Per Se 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. Dishes are rife with classic French elements, but actual ingredients can globe-trot from Italy to Japan with plenty of Northwest stops. The Wednesday and Thursday night bar menu and Sunday dinners help Copine maintain a neighborhood restaurant persona even as special occasions abound in the main dining room (where dinner’s a remarkable value for food this exacting).
If you’d wait an hour for simple combos of carefully sourced toppings on char-bubbled New York–style crusts, the Ballard haunt Delancey is your jam. Brandon Pettit’s original pizzeria arrived in 2009 with a burst of opening buzz, and the city never stopped craving his pillowy-crackly crusted pie, a hybrid of New York and Naples topped with untempered tomato brightness and pairings of Zoe’s bacon, cremini mushrooms, basil, what have you. Gray salt bittersweet chocolate chip cookies sustain their own fan base.
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, their 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 rocking 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. New owner Dan Crookston (yes, he’s Renee Erickson’s husband) has 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.
Some people consider Ethan Stowell’s weathered brick dining room in the Kohlstrand Building his most emblematic restaurant, from its vintage charm to the lineup of Northwest-tinged Italian dishes he’s made classics in this town. But let’s be real—we love Staple for that $60 tasting menu, a recitation of family-style surprises: a flurry of appetizers, maybe some fried oysters, a pasta, a main, a dessert. If that’s not your jam, the regular menu of pastas, grilled entrees, and beautiful vegetable creations exudes Stowellian appeal.
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.
No mortal restaurant can really live up to that national hype…right? Well, Renee Erickson’s merrily 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. The tile-clad watering hole Barnacle next door makes the best waiting room in town.
Here the great potable export of Italy—gin, vermouth rosso, Campari—reigns as the presumptive dinner cocktail: “Negronis for the whole table?” the servers are known to ask, unbidden. That’s one reason crowds arrive well before opening for seats at Jerry Corso’s no-reservation dining room on Beacon Hill. Another is that after those negronis there comes a mosaic of wood-fired pizzas, Roman street food like fried risotto balls, grilled octopus, Italian regional antipasti, and luminous seasonal salads. The menu is short, the dining room and back patio packed, but Bar del Corso remains one of our city’s most indispensable Italian restaurants because everything is done with such precision, such warmth, the answer to every question is inevitably yes.
Thirty-one floors above downtown Bellevue, this steak-meets-sushi restaurant could coast on views and clubby vibes, but Ascend’s sky-high prices feel far more justified once you experience the luxe crudos, appetizers, steaks, and sides flawlessly executed to be greater than the sum of their (many) parts. The six-tier steak menu is the big draw, but the sushi bar is equally impressive with traditional nigiri or modern roll concoctions of spicy tuna and prosciutto. Servers are intensely, impeccably trained to support and advise, from the iPad wine list to the theatrics of the dessert menu.
When it comes to island flavors, Trey Lamont doesn’t play around. The Seattle-born chef knows how to coax them into a crock of mac and cheese, say, or a rack of smoked ribs. Six years ago, he and his partners started peddling Caribbean soul food out of a roving truck, Papa Bois. Now Lamont, who’s joined forces with the owners of Black Bottle and Bar Vacilando, throws down Caribbean-inspired dishes in Belltown, where sunshine-yellow walls and turquoise seating feel more tropical getaway than Northwest dining. A half chicken, fried and spiced with a secret jerk rub, arrives on a cutting board, knife protruding from its center—a definitive step away from portable food truck fare. Solid margaritas and a rotating mojito double down on the vacation vibes.
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.
Anchored by an overpopulated bar and dripping with chandeliers, the Palace is the Tom Douglas restaurant locals—and other chefs—like best. The huge menu encompasses Americana comfort food in a globe’s worth of forms, from carbonara to a duck liver s’more to the justly famous half-pound burger royale. Palace had a wood grill long before they became a thing, as evidenced by the perfectly crispy chicken. But the place’s inimitable energy may be the even bigger draw, from the fleet of hospitable servers and patrons who can’t believe they’ve found a scene still roaring—and serving—at 1am.
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.
In 2017 chef Shota Nakajima heeded the city’s cry for more casual fare and recast his more formal and classically Japanese kaiseki restaurant from Naka to Adana. He retained the aspects most important to him, namely the choose-your-own coursed menu (now abbreviated down to three or eight rounds) and a reverence for Pacific Northwest ingredients and seasons. But the new dash of Japanese comfort food, much of it based on recipes from his mom, layers personal connection atop Nakajima’s already-formidable culinary skills. At the front bar, a street food–inspired bar menu skews even more relaxed—order the katsu sando, homey bites of panko-crust pork between slices of Japanese white bread.
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. While much has changed at this North Broadway destination, 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 the cows raised by Erickson’s Sea Creatures restaurant group yields beefy and beautiful creativity like a Reuben-inspired mille feuille alongside 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. Our 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), and intelligent cocktails. Come solo, in twos, or bring the whole crew.
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. The pastas all achieve density and delicacy, but meat dishes, from rabbit to angelic heritage pork, can also be extraordinary. Think earthy, long stewed, rough cut, boldly flavored—and careful. Chef Stuart Lane carries on the legacy and the quality of one of the city’s most impressive Italian restaurants.
Once a popular Malaysian walkup window, now a proper restaurant just off Olive Way, Kedai Makan’s cacophonous energy recalls the Southeast Asian night markets that first inspired chef and co-owner Kevin Burzell. Bowls of chile pan mee, lacy roti, and the country’s signature rice dish, nasi lemak, reflect Malaysia’s perch at the crossroads of so many cultures. One upside to this brick-and-mortar iteration (besides seats and walls): Burzell’s food is even better with a beer shandy.
When Seattle culinary statesman John Sundstrom relocated his restaurant from smaller quarters to this sophisticated, starlit space, Lark leveled up. The long menu remains studded with old faves (eel with saba, farro-mascarpone skillet), and everything from service to wine to kitchen execution exudes the confidence of a place that’s been at this for a while. Even better than the plush blue banquettes and dedicated cocktail bar, the new Lark also encloses a full-on stunning sandwich takeout, Slab.
Wassef and Racha Haroun’s urbane low-lit Syrian/Lebanese dining room still stuns, consistently, with food that tastes like it was made by a Syrian grandmother. Flavors we don’t see nearly enough—pomegranate molasses in the bright muhammara dip, fenugreek in the heartbreakingly tender braised lamb—coupled with the kitchen’s mastery (particularly with breads and pastries), make this one of Seattle’s legitimately exhilarating dining experiences.
Back in 1985, Bruce Naftaly opened Le Gourmand and edged the term Northwest cuisine into our lexicon. All these years later, you’ll find him in Chophouse Row, serving brunch, lunch, and dinner dishes far more casual, if no less careful than in the era of Le Gourmand. The lunchtime soup menu unites Bruce’s knack for deep flavors and wife Sara’s elegantly sturdy bread; roasted root vegetables with creme fraiche or chicken with cabbage, pork belly, and ham likewise make a midday appearance. Dinner, however, more closely resembles the menu at Le Gourmand. Some dishes echo old favorites, and Bruce’s famed French sauces are, as ever, an infinity loop of savory flavor notes.
The blanched, lofted space splashed with Santorini blue and pulsing with noisy Pike/Pine energy is home to the Greek flavors of owner-host Thomas Soukakos’s youth, plated beautifully. Salads bursting with ripe tomatoes and fresh herbs, smoked cod fritters, vivid tzatziki—all can be assembled into winning meals, punctuated with ouzo, quite affordably during happy hour. Larger plates might include grilled octopus or a za’atar-crusted rack of lamb.
The nocturnal uproar of Pike/Pine rages outside the door, but within the 1910-era auto row holdout dwells Capitol Hill at its best: preserved vintage charms like clerestory windows and a cozy mezzanine, now the backdrop for a gastropub menu of unapologetic decadence—roasted bone marrow, foie-topped fries, and a sloppy joe so rich you can’t quite believe it’s boar. Not to mention a beer list that somehow manages to be cerebral but not snobby.
The restaurant that clued Seattle into Matt Dillon’s staggering talents evolves with every new chef, but the space in Melrose Market remains forever atmospheric, with its vintage glass panes and pastoral open kitchen. Current steward Danny Conkling carries the torch of a restaurant whose brunch menu should get way more acclaim.
Eric Johnson’s dining room doesn’t look like anything in Seattle—a balmy subtropical paradise of palm-fronded wallpaper and minty accents. His 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, from master stock crispy chicken to 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, too.
Vancouver exported a wisp of its rocking izakaya culture to Pike/Pine, where chef Makoto Kimoto—a veteran of the original to the north—cross-pollinates exuberant Japanese drinking food with Seattle’s penchant for the spicy. Pressed Osaka-style sushi and smoked tuna tataki are staples, but Kimoto’s rotating fresh sheet is full of riffs like a carpaccio of smoked beef tenderloin and Asian-inflected poutine.
Tamara Murphy made a name (and a James Beard Award) for herself at the former Brasa. Her current restaurant, open since 2012, has more of a neighborhood vibe, though the rooftop patio is a citywide destination. But Terra Plata also feels perfectly attuned to the chef’s personal passions—robust proteins and genuine connections with farmers. Small plates of spot prawns in chimichurri or velvety charcuterie kick off a menu also divided into meat, seafood, or veggie plates. The classic roast pig with clams and housemade chorizo from the Brasa days lives on.
North Capitol Hill’s longstanding corner cafe-slash-bakery can pain even its hardiest loyalist with forever-long lines and cramped quarters. Then you bite into ricotta-stuffed caramelized banana brioche french toast, or arugula-ruffled prosciutto pepper pizza, or a butter-rich chocolate cherry cookie, or vegetable quiche in perfect flaky pastry—and you’re making plans to come back.
Pastries fill the antique case up by the register—towering layer cakes, triple chocolate chip cookies, biscuits filled with raspberry freezer jam—and yes, they taste as good as they look. Owner-baker Heather Earnhardt channeled her Southern heritage into this breakfast and lunch spot on 15th, where biscuits are a fluffy and buttery vehicle for soft egg and cheese and Benton’s bacon, or chunks of expert fried chicken, sharpened with aged cheddar and flooded over with fiery sausage gravy. The room’s not quite as comfort-driven as the food, but these are plates worth squeezing into the old church pews repurposed as close-quartered banquettes.
Parisian bistros inspired this den of wood wainscoting and curved brass chairs at 14th and Jefferson, but chef JJ Proville recasts classic French dishes with inherently Northwest players—dungeness, lingcod, coonstripe prawns—much like Netflix might reboot a great European TV series, but with more creme fraiche. The arctic char tartare would land L’Oursin among the city’s best restaurants even before you factor in the bar program. His business partner, Zac Overman, and the luminous wine brain of Kathryn Olson fill the marquee-lit bar with surprising cocktails and natural wines with the most entertaining tasting notes in town.
The rows of tiny shark maws affixed to the wall should be the first hint that this rustic dining room is more than a perfectly nice neighborhood restaurant on Jackson Street. Name aside, the Vietnamese-leaning dishes erupt with herbs and fiery spices in precisely the way chef Kenny Lee—formerly of Jerry Traunfeld’s Chinese-inspired Lionhead restaurant and Din Tai Fung—intends. From a scorching wok, Lee builds heat in dishes like braised beef cheek noodle with sharp pickled mustard greens in Sichuan chile oil, but even the green papaya salad with bird’s eye chiles packs a punch that could make you flush bright pink. The cocktail list, courtesy of co-owners Bryce Sweeney and Mario Eckert, also exceeds expectations.
The popular barbecue food truck begat an equally popular restaurant in the Central District, with a bar full of local beer, cocktails with house-smoked ingredients, and a covered patio. Both deliver an ever-so-slightly upgraded take on great barbecue. Unabashed barbecue geek Matt Davis, a former furniture maker with a degree in wood technology, does right by the classics (pulled pork, brisket, ribs) and fashions bowls of his smoked and spicy mac and cheese topped with your meat of choice. Some great bar snacks (double drop fries, fried mac and cheese balls) snuck in on the sides menu.
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: Sandwiches are still $4.50 each. Baker Mon Tat spent decades making the baguettes at his family’s banh mi shop in Saigon.
A wall of steamy warmth comes in a rush when you first squeeze in the door to await a table. In the kitchen, ladies (always ladies) lift noodles from enormous vats of boiling water. 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. Noodle bowls and the smoothest of congee are worth hassling with the cash-only policy.
With each year, Seattle’s restaurant landscape sees more of the fiery flavors of China’s Sichuan province. Through it all this stalwart remains reliable in matters of deeply spiced cumin lamb, chile-laced chongqing chicken, lip-numbing hot pots, and anything that involves hand-shaved noodles. Like many restaurants in Chinatown–International District, Seven Stars Pepper has embraced the world of food delivery apps, but a visit to the dining room on the second floor of the Ding How Center lets you appreciate the friendly service, too.
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 quality. 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 careful food.
This elegant restaurant, tucked in the back of a Little Saigon parking lot, has the sort of long, ranging menu that provokes unease. 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. How could a kitchen execute all this and keep its ingredients fresh? That concern will fade as soon as you taste those squid—the right sort of chewy and every shade of savory—or the ecstatically herbally fresh green mango salad.
The apotheosis of the neighborhood restaurant, La Medusa was the first to mark Columbia City a culinary destination and has kept it so since 1997 with consistent bowls of squid ink spaghetti vongole or the original owner’s grandmother’s recipe for flavor-packed wilted greens. The restaurant’s been through a few proprietors since then, and the chalkboard menu changes on the regular, but sardine pasta, with pine nuts, olives, fennel, and saffron, is forever the standard-bearer in this cozy room.
Senegalese expat Mamadou Diakhate greets, cooks, serves, and cleans in this skinny four-table restaurant in Columbia City with the biggest smile and warmest welcome in four counties. Marinated lamb in a creamy peanut sauce (lamb mafe) and tilapia stuffed with garlic and herbs in a tomato-based vegetable stew over broken jasmine rice—the Senegalese national dish, thiebou djeun—are musts in here, as are rarely seen drinks like bissap juice (a fruity concoction made with Senegalese sorrel) and bouye (a milkshakey product of the baobab tree). Things may take a while, and in this enchanted place you won’t care.
The folks behind Marination turned a former auto body shop in Columbia City into an all-day destination that’s part Americana—diner counter with bar stools, TVs with the game on, even free parking—part Asian comfort fusion: sriracha kimchi salmon poke, kalbi ribs, garlic fried rice, and oh, man—fries topped with kalua pork, kimchi mayo, and a fried egg.
Soaring, lushly appointed, luxuriously open day and night, pinned to a prime corner of downtown—Thierry Rautureau’s three-level showpiece with the vivid walls and white booths and the buzzing bar is one of a very few dining destinations in the downtown microclimate around Sixth and Union. Which is why it will surprise some that in addition to the prettily composed French plates, it’s mostly down to earth, with locavore priorities, a meaty $18 burger, and a come-as-you-are welcome from the restaurateur who invented it. Seattle Met’s 2014 Restaurant of the Year.
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.
The new, larger quarters on Stone Way offer the same setup as its sun-streaked Fremont predecessor: tasting menu dinners (seven to nine courses) Fridays and Saturdays—you can choose a la carte on other nights—but that $125-ish menu is a deal, given chef-owner Dustin Ronspies’s gifts. A committed seasonalist, a salad maestro (perhaps microgreens over roasted eggplant over heirloom tomatoes over salted zucchini shingles over chevre mousse), a lover of braised meats, a textural artist. These are memorable dinners, in an under-the-radar treasure.
The dream of the ’70s is alive in Fremont, at this “elevated hippie food” restaurant across from Waiting for the Interurban. For a spot that’s become a daily haunt for families and people carrying yoga mats, Eve offers an airily romantic sense of place at moderate prices. As for the food—starters, spreads, salads, veggies, and mains—it nails “hippie” more consistently than it does “elevated,” but that’s not a deal breaker for a town that doesn’t offer much else for clean-eating destinations. Look for egg-crowned grain bowls, bright veggie spreads, a bison burger brilliantly topped with pickled apple and sweet onion jam, and a kale-with-olives-and-currants salad for the ages. Don’t miss lunch and brunch.
There’s so much backstory to the delicate noodles that chef Mutsuko Soma makes by hand, via centuries-old methods, at her Fremont soba restaurant, it’s easy to overlook the basic fact of eating here: The food is really flipping fun. The lineup of eight-ish soba dishes takes the occasional culinary liberty with classic combinations; Japanese chefs weren’t making soba with duck meatballs or curry with gooey mozzarella centuries ago, but in Soma’s hands it all makes sense. Same goes for the tempura menu, which might dress up fried satsuma yam with honey and gorgonzola. Dismiss the tempura Oreos as a mere gimmick and you’ll miss out on a surprisingly legitimate dessert. Our 2018 Restaurant of the Year makes unlikely magic in a tiny, awkwardly shaped space. No wonder it’s always hopping.
This Fremont restaurant departs the schools of other wood-fired, seafood Pacific Northwest spots with a simple measure of focus: South and Central American flavors. Citrus splashes everywhere—ceviches, a bitter-bright endive and orange salad—punctuated by rich flourishes, like mussels mounted in aji amarillo on top of ideally buttery squares of Seawolf sourdough toast. All of it’s an excellent match for the tiny space’s sparkling blue tile and ample flames, a grill inside and a firepit outside.
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 finfish entrees where every bite is symphonic, every execution perfect. That’s achievement enough, but RockCreek doubles down with a sunny patio, smart cocktails, and one of the town’s best brunch menus.
A few years back, Perfecte Rocher replaced his dining room tables with one long, curving black counter that reflects both candlelight and the desire to reimagine dinner as a one-on-one experience. Now, just 10 people assemble here at a time, in a semicircular arrangement that casts Rocher’s open kitchen as the stage, his progression of Valencian-Northwest flavors the players. Dinner as theater isn’t for everyone, but if you’re into it, these modernist Catalonian riffs make for a pretty astounding meal. Sunday five-course paella dinners offer a more relaxed entry point.
Scott Staples built his burger bona fides at Quinn’s, then turned an old Fremont auto garage into a casual burger joint. Here, all-natural patties might be topped with gruyere and two kinds of mushrooms, or watercress, blue cheese, and caramelized onions. Customers might be budget-conscious food geeks or the sort of families who try to avoid family-geared restaurants. Both camps love the covered patio.
In Georgetown, 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. Meanwhile, just around the corner is sibling spot Bar Ciudad, home of cocktails, drafts, wine, and rotisserie chicken: whole or half birds that come with one or two sides and sauce. Both spots defy easy descriptors and that’s part of the charm.
This color-splashed Georgetown cantina with the faintly industrial vibe and the courtyard patio might appear too enchanting and fun to be this precise—but orange-kissed cochinita pibil and grass-fed bistec tacos testify otherwise, along with the rest of the massive Mexican menu. Excellent $5 margaritas, from 3–6pm daily, remain the salt-rimmed deal of the century.
Food snobs long scoffed that Seattle has no good barbecue. Except that’s not really true since Texan Jack Timmons set up a custom-built offset smoker outside his laid-back Georgetown roadhouse. The brisket is the star, the breakfast tacos a bonus, and Jack’s penchant for smart expansion (so far to South Lake Union and Columbia Tower) a blessing for the city’s smoked meat devotees.
Seattle Met’s 2017 Restaurant of the Year: A game meat destination with cattle in the name, from a chef previously defined by fish. Here Eric Donnelly, the chef who also gives us innovative seafood at 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) designed to win over diners iffy on these proteins, but a menu of beautiful steaks ensures diehard beef eaters won’t go hungry.
Chef and owner Mark Schroder wedged a custom wood-fired grill into a tiny space to make food that flits between his Midwestern upbringing and Korean-inflected training. Those flames deliver shareable plates of pork belly in fermented molasses, or a kale salad that will stand out in memory against the thousand other kale salads in town. The menu’s tiny, but most diners wisely go for the Opus Feast, a $55 deal of a tasting menu that summons its inspirations everywhere from banchan to lamb spam, and benefits from Schroder’s whole animal program.
James Beard Award–winning chef Holly Smith produces the most elegant Northern Italian innovations on the Eastside, in sleek midcentury quarters worthy of her food. Smith has a gift for conception, so an Anderson Valley rack of lamb might be paired with green beans in a swell idea of a bagna cauda sauce and studded with thyme-roasted blackberries. Classics are sure-handed, like housemade pastas or heirloom tomato-burrata salads; desserts approach perfection.
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. The Floret spinoff at Sea-Tac is an essential stop for pre-flight coffee.
Over two decades, Madison Valley’s 11-seat tapas bar added a downstairs dining room and installed chef Joey Serquinia after his Basque-leaning mentor, Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez, split with his wife, Carolin Messier, now Harvest Vine’s sole owner. 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 a brain equally devoted to culinary technique and the prosaics of cost management. This formula explains why his original and best restaurant, Vendemmia, remains reliably busy. It’s a little Italian, a little Northwest; equally game for birthday dinners or spontaneous Tuesday nights.
Excellent pastas, including the city’s best lasagna, and wood-fired pizzas with carefully sourced toppings have pleased Italian food cognoscenti since 1990 in this destination restaurant posing as a Montlake neighborhood cafe. If you think prices are too high when you walk in, you won’t after you’ve eaten. Market/deli sibling Little Lago serves up espresso, gelato, and groceries in a bright storefront on the other side of the neighborhood.
The brick-and-mortar restaurant on Phinney Ridge may be new, but Dave Lichterman’s deep dish pies are assuredly members of Seattle’s pizza pantheon. The former tech worker now applies his precision mind to the sort of dough-rising and cheese-browning chemical reactions that hurl thunderbolts at the brain’s pleasure center, and makes converts out of people who don’t really get the appeal of Chicago-style pizza. Given the cook times required to expel moisture from these behemoth pies, it’s still a good idea to order online, even if you plan to eat in.
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.
Owners 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.
Dan Bugge’s restaurant on the second floor of Pike Place Market is the closest thing Seattle has to an essential restaurant. 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) has taken the globally inflected menu in a subtly Italian direction. Dinner isn’t a cheap endeavor—thank all those perfect ingredients—but sandwiches on the lunch menu (particularly, and surprisingly, the catfish) deliver the same level of care.
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 across the hall at Matt’s. Meanwhile, a 14-foot decorative whiskey barrel behind the bar dispenses aged manhattans, negronis, and other rotating libations.
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 dining room. The dining room takes reservations, and serves various hot and cold starters nearly as special as the Edomae-style sushi. But diners jockey for a spot at the long sushi bar and a peerless omakase meal. Shiro himself is still known to hold court for diners at the far end.
The lines cannot be overestimated. Neither can the pasta that prompts them. Mike Easton’s order-at-the-counter, lunch-only joint delivers pasta that’s legitimately transcendent, quantum leaps ahead of the field in creativity, and usually less than $10 a bowl. These days, the menu gets announced on Instagram each morning, and Mike’s wife Victoria Diaz Easton runs the show, ensuring service is smooth and gracious, even as they process an astounding number of Pioneer Square office workers in the course of a lunch hour.
Nothing trendy about this timeless Pioneer Square landmark, where the family of Carmine Smeraldo has been serving Italian classics for over three decades. The establishment regulars love the peerless osso buco and the garlicky rack of lamb, and pasta preparations are flawless enough to win over new customers unimpressed with bygone lore. Up front, newer spin-off bar Intermezzo Carmine serves small-plate risotto, buttery lamb chops, and a lovely collection of amari.
It’s a white-on-white lofted country house, complete with a flower shop, borrowed off Jane Austen’s Pinterest page and plunked into the somewhat grittier realities of Pioneer Square. Breakfasts and lunches reflect owner Matt Dillon’s signature passions: bold salads with grains and vegetables, lots of cultured dairy, extraordinary brown bread for spreading, and plenty of vinegar counterpoints. Don’t miss a slice of strawberry cake or gateau Basque—this bakery is outstanding.
Imagine if every hole-in-the-wall with a patio offered food as impressive as chef Manu Alfau’s tribute to his Dominican heritage: yam and smoked gouda empanadas with sofrito, sloppy baguette sandwiches packed with salted green tomatoes. Even the rice and beans on his puerco asado plate could proudly stand alone. His nearby taco walk-up is one of Pioneer Square’s best lunch options.
In a high-ceilinged slot in the tech thickets of Pioneer Square, brick walls and midcentury minimalist lighting create the right worldly setting for masterful Indian food—ranging from the prawn curries of Bengal to the street food of Mumbai to the coconut seafood of the south. Subtle layerings of flavor distinguish both thalis and lunchtime sandwiches, but aim into the chef’s daily inventions for the real art. Tandoori steak anyone?
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 2018, 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.
Nearly seven decades of history, hospitality, and unstoppable 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 fine dining vanguard. That’s thanks in no small part to chef Brady Williams, who incorporates more spare, Japanese influence into the menu (currently your choice of four courses, plus a round of fancy snacks). The wine program is best in class, with the James Beard medal to prove it.
Maximalism reigns in chef Maximillian Petty’s 24-seat dining room atop Queen Anne hill. Dishes like his crispy pig head candy bar reveal a chef able to master a multitude of moving parts. Petty’s combo of cerebral wit and skill is all over the menu—which just changed to a tasting menu–only format on September 1, since he and wife Jennifer opened 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. In a restaurant this small, hospitality is a job for both front and back of house, and chef Nicole Matson’s love of vegan and pescatarian dining has proved a surprisingly inspired fit for a restaurant that finds beauty in simple, often vegetal ingredients.
Chef Edouardo Jordan cemented his fine-dining cred at Salare, then things got personal. His subsequent restaurant is a thoughtful telling of Southern food, from crowd-pleasers like biscuits and Sunday-only fried chicken to more culturally nuanced fare like chitterlings and oxtail. A few seasonal dishes hint at Jordan’s high-end training, while desserts like bourbon dark chocolate bread pudding and hummingbird cake make you want to hunt down pastry chef Margaryta Karagodina and hug her tenderly. There’s a reason JuneBaby is on the national radar.
Grilled octopus with watermelon gazpacho, salted plums, and preserved lemon. Plantains and Neah Bay black cod. Unexpectedly great things—and a few offbeat experiments—happen when chef Edouardo Jordan applies his Southern upbringing, Italian salumi training, and fine dining background to our Northwest seasons. His original restaurant presents these arresting plates in an airy room in Ravenna, complete with an Edouardo Jordan version of a kids menu (einkorn grains with ricotta, scrambled hen egg with edible flowers).
This butcher-deli took Roosevelt by storm, in part because of a beer list that corrals unexpected marvels from the state’s best breweries—the sort of list that can only be achieved by two beer industry vets (a former Whole Foods buyer and a longtime Fremont Brewing employee) calling in a lot of favors. But also because the Shambles makes expert charcuterie and memorable sandwiches stuffed with tri-tip or sausage or smoked chicken. Even the kale salad, showered with nuts and seeds, is a pleasure.
Chef Kotaro Kumita’s a minimalist, working with two glass-topped wooden boxes of fresh, raw fish and restrained Edomae sushi sensibility; somehow he knows the perfect tiny flourish—yuzu or a searing wave of the butane torch—to bring out the best in each piece of nigiri. Sushi Wataru’s tiny Ravenna dining room has all of 16 seats, but the best meals happen face to face with Kumita at the modest sushi bar (and involve his omakase).
South Lake Union
Mbar’s South Lake Union indoor/outdoor rooftop—tricked out with firepits, an arty swinging chair, and truly astonishing 360-degree views—gets a lot of attention. But let us never forget, Jason Stratton’s in the kitchen, ensuring the DJ and selfie vibe outside is always grounded in impeccable cuisine. Stratton’s own Italian and Spanish proclivities play nicely with the Middle Eastern flavors owners Racha and Wassef Haroun established at their original restaurant, Mamnoon.
Eye-popping, rule-breaking—name your over-the-top adjective and it’s probably a legit descriptor of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s Korean-fusion comfort food. Even a yearlong popup sojourn in South Lake Union hasn't diminish the quality of the food—pork belly kimchi or smoked herring chermoula pancakes, short rib and pickled shallot dumplings, seaweed noodle bowls with dungeness crab and creme fraiche—while Revel’s original home in Fremont gets rebuilt.
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, treating 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.
Xi’an Noodles doesn’t offer much in the way of ambience, but nobody in line to place an order at the cash register much cares. They’re here for one thing: Those skeins of 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, the specialty of the northwest Chinese city of Xi’an. Sampling this particular type of noodle used to require a trip to Edmonds or Redmond, but owner Lily Wu delivers the best version currently found in city limits.
Open all day and till 4am weekends, Monsoon’s street food sibling is a go-to for great food and drinks, no matter the hour. Especially with three locations across the city. Co-owner Eric Banh likes to keep things on trend, from moscow mules and frosé to an unexpected and impressive pastry program. The food, though, remains strictly traditionalist—dumplings, five-spice rotisserie duck, noodle bowls with grilled beef sausage and sliced papaya, caramelly chicken wings, and pho heady with herbs and fork-tender sheets of flank steak.
This four-location chainlet makes unstoppable Korean-style fried chicken—its delicate shattering crust akin to a Pringle, in the best possible way—then proceeds to have a lot of fun with it. Wings, drumsticks and thighs, and even the tenders can surely stand alone, especially next to some kimchi mac and cheese or tots with chile salt. But the lineup of chicken sandwiches (like the one with yuzu aioli and charred chiles) pack major flavor and texture inside soft, toasted buns. Chef Brian O’Connor is a veteran of Skillet Diner and Roux, as evidenced by Bok a Bok’s perfect biscuits.
The Eastside chainlet known for soup dumplings, crispy-bottomed Q bao, and dan dan noodles took its time crossing Lake Washington, but Seattle could not be more excited about its pair of locations in the 206. A minimalist, light-filled space in the Publix Hotel and a prominent spot at Ninth and Pine both dispense xiao long bao filled with pork, crab, or chicken to your table seemingly seconds after you order. The wait can be bananas, but the reservation-via-text setup lets you wander the neighborhood until a table’s ready.
The cheerful Korean-Hawaiian flavors that defined Seattle’s earliest food truck scene have since cemented a brick-and-mortar empire, from tiny Marination Station on Capitol Hill to an Amazon lunch favorite, Marination, at Sixth and Virginia. But if we must pick a favorite, it’s Marination Ma Kai, just off the West Seattle water taxi, which combines all those favorites—pork katsu sandwiches, Spam sliders, fish and chips—with shave ice, great beer, one of the city’s epic patios, and a beer garden complete with sweeping skyline view.
Eric and Sophie Banh’s pair of elegant Vietnamese restaurants crackle with as much texture and finesse as they did when the first Monsoon won over denizens on Capitol Hill. 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, and 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.
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. Never mind that his restaurant upstairs in Broadway Alley was invisible from the street. The following came based on those perfect tacos: two lightly griddled corn tortillas with such proteins as adobada—marinated pork sheared off a vertical spit and topped with a square of grilled pineapple—or other fillings like carne asada, pollo asado, prickly pear cactus leaf. Now, mercifully, Tacos Chukís has four locations around town; the price per taco has gone up a bit, but even at two bucks, it’s a steal.
Sutra’s Wallingford reincarnation offers intelligently vegan conceptions like a napoleon with roasted cauliflower and truffle celeriac mousse. The earnestness won’t be everyone’s cup of kombucha (there’s a moment of silent gratitude preceding the meal), but reverence is absolutely the appropriate response to this astonishing food.
Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi’s Korean-fusion steak house remains one of Seattle’s genuinely electrifying culinary adventures—close quarters buzzing with loud music and a lively vibe—where the humblest cuts of beef (chuck steak, short ribs) get draped in chile sauces and fermented tofu and served with sides like rice cakes with greens and chorizo or Chinese broccoli with walnut pesto, all with admirable consistency. These are chefs who like to have fun, as evidenced by the playful dining room and weekend brunch, with its serve-yourself lineup of salads and pastries, built around a new theme each month.
In 2006, Maria Hines instilled the town’s most stringent organic policy in a converted Wallingford bungalow. Hines and her crew seem to rise to the occasion of those sourcing constraints, delivering elegant paeans to the season in both a la carte and tasting menu form. Vegan and vegetarian versions just might be the town’s best bet for plant-based special occasions, but brunch skews more relaxed.
If a hall of fame for restaurant pivots existed, this West Seattle storefront’s transformation back in 2012 from high-end Spring Hill into the more affordable, more Hawaiian Ma‘ono would be in there. So would the spam musubi and a burger with kimchi-imbued cheese on King’s Hawaiian sweet buns. But Ma‘ono’s calling card remains the fried chicken for which chef Mark Fuller changed the concept: Every night (reserve early!) about 30 all-natural birds are brined, soaked in buttermilk, dredged in flour, battered, floured yet again, fried in soybean oil—and, yes, fried one more time. The result is, well, perfect. As are the fried chicken sandwiches he’s spun off at two Ma‘ono counters inside Rachel’s Ginger Beer bars on Capitol Hill and U Village.