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Lunchtime biang biang at Xi'an Noodles in the University District.

Image: Sarah Flotard

Best Lunch in North Seattle

Xi’an Noodles

University District

During the shutdown, Lily Wu overhauled her University District noodle shop; now the dining room is done up in serene shades of white, and a covered sidewalk seating area is downright quaint. What hasn’t changed: 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. (A second location in Westlake Center offers these great noodles in a food court setting.)

The Whale Wins

Wallingford

When Renee Erickson gave her Stone Way restaurant a more pandemic-compliant persona, she also restored lunch service. Now the Whale Wins operates as an all-day cafe, where you order at the counter and dine on fried duck egg tartines, chicken liver pate, or a pristine seasonal salad. The dining room and small, semi-covered patio, shielded from Stone Way traffic, feel equally serene and a Renee Erickson restaurant will never judge you for ordering a little wine with lunch.

Crumby

Fremont

This new sandwich shop also exudes art gallery vibes—white walls, tall windows, framed black-and-white photos. Each of Brandon Marie’s enormous creations subvert expectations, like a vegetarian sloppy joe (vegan by request), or a salumi sandwich that hides pesto pasta salad in between layers of cured meat and smoked gouda. A small, plant-fringed bar in the back puts out lighthearted drinks (both alcoholic and non) and a little patio up front offers outdoor seating on dry days. The non-sandwich offerings pack just as much charm.

Asadero Ballard

Ballard

It’s a steakhouse lunch minus the Succession overtones: David Orozco’s house of mesquite-grilled meats translates Mexico’s beef traditions in a darkly festive dining room on Leary Avenue. Good luck choosing from the huge array of wagyu tacos, ribeye tortas, and the signature platters of grilled Wagyu (American, Japanese, or Australian) with sides of your choice. The baked potato is a carne asada–sprinkled legend.

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Consisder blocking off your calendar for a post-steak nap after lunch at Asadero Ballard.

Pestle Rock

Ballard

This many-textured 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. The lunch menu adds a few combos; the house Thai iced tea helps balance a warming bowl of khao soi.

Best Lunch in Central Seattle

A+ Hong Kong Kitchen

Chinatown–International District

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 is huge at this busy dining room in the heart of Chinatown–International District, and just about every dish is fabulous.

A+ Hong Kong kitchen's lunch menu overwhelms you with great choices.

Cafe Hitchcock

Downtown

Brendan McGill recently reopened his all-day cafe in the art deco Exchange Building, restoring a culinary bright spot on a barren stretch of First Avenue downtown. Mornings kick off with coffee and pastries and breakfast sandwiches, but by 11am the clean-lined space (small booths, lots of light, even more marble) serves salads with crunch and personality, plus meaty sandwiches in the vein of favorites from Hitchcock Deli.

London Plane

Pioneer Square

You won’t find a more charming backdrop than this white-on-white lofted country house, complete with a flower shop plunked into the urbane realities of Pioneer Square. The menu packs just as much appeal: bold salads with grains and vegetables, lots of cultured dairy, quiche and pork rillettes and baked eggs that manage to be beautiful. Just try to leave without a visit to the pastry counter—and a kouign-amann to go.

Nue

Capitol Hill

Ghanaian stew. Sichuan-spiced chicken and waffles. Burmese tea leaf salad. All these dishes (and practically every continent) appear on a single menu at this casual Capitol Hill dining room, its decor as high-energy as its sense of geography. To cull dishes from across cultures is ambitious; to present them all with such finesse is a straight-up marvel. The covered streatery out front doesn’t hurt, either.

Cafe Campagne

Pike Place Market

Year after year, chef Daisley Gordon does right by essential dishes of Paris cafe culture—quiche, pan-roasted chicken, oeufs en meurette—and instills in his kitchen the sort of perfectionism that renders even the simplest asparagus salad or steak frites memorable. The patio hits the sweet spot for another hallmark of Parisian cafe culture: watching all the people go by.

Fat’s Chicken and Waffles

Central District

Every weekend, the shrimp and grits, biscuit sandwiches, pimento BLT, and old-school small-square waffles draw lines for brunch. But most of these favorites surface during the weekday lunch hour, when the vibe inside the midcentury-toned dining room is way more relaxed. The deep-fried dessert waffle is both simple and brilliant.

Fat's Chicken and Waffles: not just for weekend brunch.

Image: Amber Fouts

Fogon Cocina Mexicana

Capitol Hill

The family-run neighborhood restaurant of your dreams stays open all day with a broad menu of tacos, enchiladas, soups, and so many margaritas. Lunchtime portions (a half plate of nachos, a single enchilada with rice and beans) might help you justify one of those aforementioned margaritas.

Serious Pie

Denny Regrade

Tom Douglas’s former Dahlia Lounge, as influential a restaurant as any in this town, saw a pandemic rescripting; it’s now HQ for 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.

Damn the Weather

Pioneer Square

Bryn Lumsden’s classic old-brick bar extends its food and cocktail charms into daylight hours. The menu reads like upscale bar fare—sandwiches, wraps, duck fat frites—but a pasta in pesto, draped with squash blossoms, or perfectly cooked halibut atop seasonal vegetables hints that the kitchen knows its stuff. And did we mention the cocktails?

Marmite

Capitol Hill

Back in 1985, Bruce Naftaly opened Le Gourmand and edged the term Northwest cuisine into our lexicon. Decades later, you’ll find him in Chophouse Row, serving a lunch menu that’s far more casual, if no less careful. The seasonal soup, or house broths, unite Bruce’s knack for deep flavors and wife Sara’s elegantly sturdy bread. The rest of the menu is beautifully French and deeply vegetal—endive gratin, meatballs on a bed of cabbage and snap peas, some unmissable fried seafood crepes. The adjacent covered breezeway and sheltered streatery out front offer some outdoor seating options.

Cafe Flora

Madison Valley

The city’s vegetarian standard-bearer since 1991, Cafe Flora has also mastered the art of vegan and gluten-free indulgence. This most definitely extends to the lunch menu, which combines breakfast favorites (say, rosemary biscuits obscured by vegan gravy) and savory dishes like the portobello mushroom french dip. The plant-filled atrium dining room now has an outdoor seating counterpart, a large and surprisingly atmospheric tent behind the building.

Matt’s in the Market

Pike Place Market

It’s a local institution for a reason, a buzzing aerie tucked up on the second floor of Pike Place Market. And while chef Matt Fortner (his first name a happy coincidence) puts on a spectacular seasonal dinner, the daytime menu honors the restaurant’s lunch-counter origins. The cornmeal crusted catfish sandwich is a staple, but the elegant lamb burger, pork belly banh mi—even the housemade chips with bacon and onion dip—deliver the same level of care.

Matt’s in the Market hums at lunchtime.

Image: Amber Fouts

Tamarind Tree

Chinatown–International District

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. Tam Nguyen’s menu offers just as many thrills today as it did two decades ago, including those all-day hours.

Cafe Presse

Capitol Hill

Le Pichet’s sibling on 12th Avenue captures Parisian bar cafe culture in the form of international magazines, beautiful espresso, 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. The handful of sidewalk tables seat diners, weather permitting. 

Best Lunch in South Seattle

Ciudad

Georgetown

The town’s restaurant aficionados did backflips when Sheena Eliz arrived as the new executive chef this summer, bringing a resume that extends from butchering to pastry, and includes some of the city’s most impressive kitchens. Lunch only happens Thursday through Saturday right now, but deploys the large open grill in service of flatbread sandwiches, kofta, and tahini-marinated chicken by the half- or quarter-pound. Eliz is still building her own menu, adding strong Levantine notes to Ciudad’s Mediterranean-by-way-of-a-charcoal-grill approach. But the whitewashed Georgetown dining room, with its gaily colored chairs and folkloric mural, remains charming as ever.

Musang

Beacon Hill

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 plenty of its fetching dishes at lunchtime, in smaller versions that still invite sharing.

Favorite Musang dishes appear in smaller portions at lunchtime.

Image: Amber Fouts

Jack’s BBQ

SoDo

Jack Timmons, Seattle’s affable brisket baron, has a stable of smokers big enough to serve his ribs, brisket, and pulled pork at lunch as well as dinner. The original SoDo roadhouse rounds out all this meat with 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 the fenced-in smoker zone. Jack’s also has locations in Columbia Center, South Lake Union, and Algona. 

Best Lunch in Bellevue and the Eastside

Carmine’s

Bellevue

The facile career waiters, the dining room chandeliers and vine-shrouded patio hung with heaters. The white tablecloths and exquisite pasta, from grandma-worthy Bolognese to shrimp in pesto. Carmine’s Bellevue outpost is unabashedly old-school, which feels exciting and new in our current counter service reality. You’ll not find a more polished lunch on either side of Lake Washington (well, except maybe the original Il Terrazzo Carmine in Pioneer Square).

Dough Zone Dumpling House

Bellevue, Redmond (and Seattle)

This Eastside-born chainlet, known for soup dumplings, crispy-bottomed Q bao, and satisfying dan dan noodles, is closing in on 10 locations in the Puget Sound and even California. These include generous dining rooms in Overlake and downtown Bellevue, not to mention Redmond’s Town Center (and Seattle’s Chinatown­­–International District and downtown at Ninth and Pine). Each one is open daily for lunch, and dispenses xiao long bao filled with pork, crab, or chicken to your table seemingly seconds after you order.

As the name implies, Dough Zone excels in all things dumpling and noodle.

La Bu La

Bellevue

The striking second-floor dining room matches a menu of arresting Sichuan dishes, like chili-laced platters of fried Chongqing chicken, or the massive tureen of carmine “swimming fire fish” soup, its chili-peppercorn bouquet ready to deliver all manner of flowery, fiery sensations to your lips and tongue.

Japonessa

Bellevue (and Seattle)

It’s a scene, to be sure, all stark angles and dramatic lighting in the thick of downtown Bellevue. Those crowds come for pristine, riotously fun sushi that introduces Latin flourishes with a surprising degree of success. And because Japonessa has a superb happy hour menu that runs throughout lunchtime.

Mama’s Kitchen

Bellevue

This perennial favorite in a Factoria strip mall drapes cheese across seemingly half the menu (on the kimchi fried rice, the crisp seafood pancake, even the tteokbokki) but non-cheesed comforts spark with fresh ingredients and great marinades—like gimbap rolls filled with meats and pickled vegetables and chadol jjolmyeon, cold spicy noodles that hide under a salad’s worth of fresh greens and crunchy, shredded vegetables, not to mention a ribbon of delicate brisket.

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