Where to Eat in the University District
The environs around the University of Washington obviously cater to students with an abundance of classic pubs and ubercasual food joints. But you'll also find biscuit haunts, hand-ripped noodles, one worldly bakery—certainly some great pizza and ice cream. Of course, nearby University Village is always a reliable spot for non-collegiate options. But these U District restaurants offer great food minus the retail vibes.
Mark Thai Food Box
No big deal, one of the town's most mind-blowing bakeries just happens to occupy a former motor boatyard in Portage Bay. The owners combine their particular backgrounds (Scandinavian, Japanese, and exceptionally skilled bread baker) with gleeful influence from other bakers on staff. Results include cardamom knots, cookies, okonomiyaki tortillas, a sophisticated avocado toast, and a fried egg sandwich on melonpan that has to be one of the town’s best breakfast sandwiches.
Agua Verde Cafe
This warmly haphazard cafe on the Portage Bay shoreline is Seattle’s best impression of Baja California: water views, an all-day menu of tacos and burritos, not to mention a three-fold patio situation. Travis Rosenthal (the owner of Rumba and Inside Passage) bought this place a few years back and seriously upgraded the cocktail situation.
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 standard-bearer, whether they’re dressed in cumin lamb or tingly beef, or just some chile-infused oil. Her dining room on the Ave recently got a much-needed makeover.
For a decade, Lois Ko operated the Häagen-Dazs across from her alma mater, the University of Washington. Now she runs her ice cream shop out of that same space, making her own products from start to finish using organic, mostly hyperlocal ingredients and no emulsifiers (she even had the shop state-certified as a creamery). Her rotating lineup, 70-odd flavors in total, offer a refined sort of comfort—london fog, Persian rose, banana Nutella crunch, or cookie explosion, a rich chocolate chunked with chocolate and a mind-bending four different types of cookie.
Portage Bay Cafe
The original location of Seattle’s eminent breakfast restaurant established the formula that’s proved so popular: tall ceilings, a topping bar for pancakes and French toast, plus warm flexibility for large groups or unruly little kids. Not to mention a massive lineup of benedicts, scrambles, hash bowls, and other morning classics, all made with careful ingredients.
This frill-free coffee shop nails two vital skill sets: biscuits tall as a beehive and rippling with butter, and fillings sandwiched inside that are clever enough to hold their own amid all those fluffy carbs. The Spanish Fly—manchego cheese, arugula, peppery aioli, and egg yolk drizzling down folds of prosciutto—will impress you with its nuance, but also slay that hangover.
Off the Rez Cafe
Seattle’s first Native American food truck spun off a casual, counter-service restaurant attached to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Off the Rez specializes in the fry bread that evolved into a staple of Indigenous American culture. These fried rounds of dough form the basis for tacos filled with chili, bison, or pulled pork—not to mention sweet versions with jam or honey.
The site of Seattle’s very first Pagliacci still slings pizza. But these days the well-worn bar serves Mark Fuller’s New York–style pies. Toppings don’t feel cheffy, exactly, but a slice of swiss chard, ricotta, Italian sausage, and peppers packs a little more intrigue than your typical pepperoni (which is also great). The ace garlic knots and preponderance of frozen slushy drinks was part of the original West Seattle formula, but feels even more at home in the U District.
Rooftop bars are a rarity in Seattle—especially in a low-key neighborhood like this one. But the Graduate hotel (geared toward students and others visiting campus) also harbors a cool cocktail hangout on top of the 16-story building. A mix of indoor and outdoor seating gives decent atmosphere and even better views, while food embraces the faux campsite aesthetic with fancy bacon sandwiches, a seafood-corn-and-sausage boil, even DIY s’mores. Mountaineering Club is all age until 6pm and requires reservations.