Seattle’s quirkiest neighborhood now swells with tech workers, but this bastion of clean eating across from Waiting for the Interurban adapts the neighborhood’s roots to a modern landscape of egg-crowned grain bowls and bone broth. The dining room—airy by day, homespun elegant by night—earned its lunchtime destination status thanks to its signature hot bowl, bright veggie spreads, a bison burger brilliantly topped with pickled apple and sweet onion jam, and a transcendent kale-with-olives-and-currants salad.
This Pioneer Square hangout goes heavy on housemade ingredients and doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Common dishes get brainy upgrades, like a giant sheet of chicharron that ripples like a Frank Gehry building and arrives at the table still crackling. The generously fried chicken sandwich and PNW Lager tallboy, a $12 combo, appeal to the pregame pit stop crowd, though the kitchen uses the pasta machine inherited from the previous owner to crank out spaghetti in creamy spinach sauce, and tosses perfectly spiced cauliflower atop pooled feta—dishes equally suited to dates and business lunches.
Don’t get Bryn Lumsden twisted: His all-day restaurant in Interbay isn’t the hipsterification of the classic American diner, though the long, marble-esque bar, modern light fixtures, and list of natural wines could suggest otherwise. The man whose Damn the Weather bar in Pioneer Square is one of the city’s coolest watering holes has preserved the romantic elements that make diners great—proletarian menu mainstays like burgers, melts, meatloaf, even rib eye steak—and folded in a contemporary drink program with funky Spanish ciders, a calvados old-fashioned, and, yes, bubbles, too.
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 dishes like harissa-spiced chicken for the whitewashed, warehouse-like dining room, where diners sit in gaily colored chairs beneath a folkloric Stacey Rozich mural. The lunch lineup—flatbread sandwiches, roasted sunchokes, seared halloumi—defies easy descriptors, and that’s part of the charm.
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 marinated 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, especially since it serves lunch.
From the meat-loving folks behind Bitterroot BBQ comes a sandwiches-and-beer-taps destination in Eastlake, on the way to everywhere. The place, all right angles and white tile and international beers lined up inside the fridge case, is a monument to precision, but the sandwiches, 16 of them, are a little bit wild. We favor the warm ones. Try the Predator: a french roll slicked with caper aioli, then overstuffed with warm fried chicken leg, hunks of pork belly, swiss cheese, roasted red peppers, and a fistful of arugula—best enjoyed with a Porter or Belgian from the taps. Kids welcome; ice cream sandwiches for dessert.
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 grilled figs. Always investigate the specials.
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 at dinner, but lunch translates Murphy’s global ethos into terrific salads, sandwiches alongside a pork chop and steak frites.
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-sandwich-salad 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.
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. That surely extends to lunch, with its man’oushe wraps and a marvelous Lebanese take on a caesar salad.
American/New American, Vegan, Vegetarian
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 weekday menu is equal parts breakfast (did we mention the biscuits and gravy?) and savory dishes like the portobello mushroom french dip.
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 SoDo 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.
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 well could a kitchen possibly execute all this? That concern fades 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.
Seattle’s love affair with xiao long bao began right around the time this Taiwanese chain opened in Bellevue Square; now it folds those tender, soup-filled dumplings in U Village, Southcenter, and downtown Seattle’s Pacific Place—always with attentive service and extreme consistency. You might think that multiple locations would reduce the waits, but you’d be wrong.
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.
A bare-bones counter in Ballard delivers something rare in its 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.
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. The menu’s huge at this busy dining room in the heart of Chinatown–International District, and just about every dish is fabulous.
American/New American, French, Northwest
Hitchcock’s Brendan McGill runs this all-day cafe in the art deco Exchange Building, a culinary bright spot on a barren stretch of First Avenue downtown. Mornings mean espresso, pastries, and biscuits—great ones made with lard from his own Mangalitsa hogs. At lunch, the kitchen flexes to its full reach with layered salads and sandwiches in the vein of favorites from Hitchcock Deli; come afternoon, people who work in nearby offices linger in clean-lined booths with wine and charcuterie from those same hogs. (McGill’s new Roman-style pizzeria Bar Taglio across the hall: Also an excellent lunch option.)
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 urbane 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.