Seattle is a jewel of the Pacific Northwest, known for picturesque mountains, scenic lakes, and greenery everywhere the eye can see. The depth of the city’s diverse culinary scene is awe-inspiring. While the pandemic certainly took its toll on the city’s restaurants, bars, and cafes, recent months have seen a comeback in the food scene with plenty of exciting new restaurants popping up, despite lingering adverse conditions.
Local food rules
Washington is an agriculturally rich state, and Seattle restaurants benefit from an abundance of nearby vegetable farms, fruit orchards, fisheries, shellfish farms, ranches, and wineries.
In particular, this city takes its seafood seriously. Salmon is such a part of the area’s culinary identity that Sea-Tac airport throws a mini ceremony each year for the special Copper River salmon flown in from Alaska. Tourists are also fond of dodging flying fish at Pike Place Market. Shellfish is a Seattle staple, with many places serving oysters plucked out of the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Puget sound, and others serving geoduck (pronounced “gooey duck”), an enormous, coveted clam that sometimes catches newcomers off guard with its odd appearance (see details further below in this guide).
Seattle features many great cuisines but is perhaps known best for its Asian restaurants. The city has a rich Japanese food scene and is home to world-class sushi masters like Shiro Kashiba and sustainable sushi pioneers like Taichi Kitamura. Pho is ubiquitous around town, and teriyaki — that sticky-sweet Japanese-American dish — is a Seattle specialty, popularized by Toshihiro Kasahara at Toshi’s Teriyaki Restaurant in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the Chinese restaurant scene is diversifying to include more regional cuisines, and there’s no shortage of hot pot. But perhaps the hottest cuisine in Seattle right now is Filipino, with restaurants like Musang and Archipelago seeing national recognition during the pandemic, and newcomer The Chicken Supply wowing diners with super-crispy fried chicken.
Where to start on Eater Seattle’s top maps
Eater publishes plenty of maps detailing the top places and things to eat and drink in Seattle. Below, we cherry-pick the top points on our most popular maps to help time-starved diners prioritize which spots to visit.
New Restaurants: This list changes monthly and includes restaurants changing Seattle’s dining scene for the better that have opened in the last six months. Right now, a sushi restaurant from the star apprentice of Seattle sushi godfather Shiro Kashiba is serving a nigiri-heavy 22-course omakase, paired with tea, wine, and sake, in Bellevue, which is on the Eastside, east of Lake Washington. Meanwhile, on Bainbridge Island, chef Brendan McGill is serving local oysters on the half shell, whole roasted fish, and kelp and seaweed (used in broths and in the bread) at his ambitious seafood and vegetable restaurant, Seabird. And in Fremont, a former fine-dining chef is serving gussied-up stoner munchies at a bar called Tio Baby’s — part of a larger trend of chefs in the area ditching conventional wisdom about what to serve at a restaurant to instead engage in an unfettered pursuit of deliciousness.
Essential Restaurants: If you need to narrow down the quarterly guide to Seattle’s 38 standout dining destinations even further, you might start off at Musang — the cozy Filipinx restaurant in Beacon Hill from star chef Melissa Miranda that features ingredients from local farms, ranches, and fisheries. You’re bound to have an unforgettable night at Off Alley, a 14-seat restaurant in a renovated brick alleyway in Columbia City, with its hyper-seasonal French-inflected small plates, excellent natural wines, and punk rock soundtrack. For something more casual, head to one of several locations of Pho Bac, which introduced Seattle to Vietnamese cuisine decades ago, for a deeply satisfying bowl of pho — the downtown location also has an upstairs speakeasy-style bar, Phocific Standard Time, which serves cocktails imbued with Vietnamese flavors like salted egg and pandan. Yenvy and Quynh Pham, the restaurants’ owners, were recently named semifinalists for a James Beard award in the outstanding restauranteur category.
Bars: Seattle’s bar scene is marked by countless dive bars, elegant craft cocktail lounges, and everything in between. The last several months have seen a resurgence in new bar openings, such as Queen Anne’s elegant Bar Miriam and the immersive, sci-fi-themed Carnelian Bay in Fremont, not to mention a hit from last year that’s coming into its own as a queer destination: Supernova, a fabulous night club with mirrored hallways, a ten-foot tall disco ball, go-go dancers, aerialists, and drag queens. Longer-standing options include Canon, which features the nation’s largest spirits list, and Zig Zag Café, a Pike Place Market bar and restaurant with a rich booze history and some of the best cocktails in town. Seattle also boasts wine bars and bottleshops galore, like La Dive, a playful Capitol Hill hub for natural wine, as well as incredible beer bars like Slow Boat Tavern, which pairs a divey neighborhood coziness with a tightly curated beer list.
Breweries: There’s been an exciting proliferation of breweries throughout Seattle in recent years, but Holy Mountain, with its constantly changing menu of off-beat, barrel-aged beers, is a must-visit. Cloudburst, just north of Pike Place Market, is a masterful maker of award-winning IPAs. Many breweries, too, have become hosts for the excellent food pop-ups which have thrived in Seattle during the pandemic, particularly Ballard’s Fair Isle Brewing, which serves tangy saisons to pair with the likes of Central Texas-style barbecue with a Turkish twist, Singapore-style black pepper and chili crabs, and more offerings from some of the city’s hottest food pop-ups.
Coffee: Experience Seattle’s essential coffee shops, or hit up the hottest additions to the city’s famed scene. Recently, a young generation of coffee lovers has brought renewed appreciation for Vietnamese roasts, including Hello Em and Phin in the International District and Coffeeholic House in Columbia City. Meanwhile, Latin American coffee drinks are starting to enter the fray with coffee shops in Ballard tapping Mexican and Cuban traditions and Pike Place Market’s Maíz serving cafe de olla. Bubble tea is also ubiquitous, and you can find some excellent options at Greenwood’s Hangry Panda or the University District location of Taiwanese chain Don’t Yell At Me.
Views: You can’t help but notice the sparkling scenery in and around this fetching city, but some restaurants boast particularly stunning views. Trek across Elliott Bay to dine on Hawaiian-Korean creations at Marination Ma Kai or nab an Adirondack chair on the north end of Lake Union for Mediterranean-inspired fare with a skyline view at Westward. And now that Seattle has made it a little easier to get a street plaza permit, outdoor seating is more prevalent than it’s been in the past, not to mention considered by public health officials to be safer than dining in enclosed spaces. Here are the heated and covered spots to seek out during colder-weather days.
A few Seattle neighborhoods to know
These are the key areas of the city every self-proclaimed food lover has to survey — complete with what to eat and drink in each.
Capitol Hill is Seattle’s historically LGBTQ+ neighborhood, and though it’s contending with gentrification, it’s still home to many colorful queer businesses. It’s also one of Seattle’s best dining neighborhoods. See some of the finest options in our neighborhood guide. For Mexican, don’t miss Carmelo’s Tacos; for Laotian, see Taurus Ox, which serves sausages fragrant with lemongrass and satisfying pork jowl smash burgers. Those newer to the city may want to sample the boozy ginger beer purveyor Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and Eric and Sophie Banh’s Ba Bar and Monsoon are perennial favorites for top-notch pho, super-crispy imperial rolls, and Chinese-influenced haute Vietnamese cuisine.
As diverse a neighborhood as you’ll find in the city, the Chinatown-International District (also known by shortened names like the CID, the International District, or the ID) is home to Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon, with all the wonderful cuisines those represent and more. See our neighborhood dining guide for tons of great options. Sizzling Pot King draws fans for its superb Hunan-style Chinese food, the dishes loaded with sharp pickled chile peppers. Gan Bei is a perfect late-night hangout for beer, Chinese fried chicken, and sausage clay pots, while Saigon Vietnam Deli is a great spot for a quick banh mi.
Once a rough-and-tumble fishing village, Ballard has changed a lot since it was annexed into Seattle city limits in 1907. The neighborhood — mapped out for your dining convenience here — straddles the line between modern development and the preservation of its early history. There’s plenty worth eating here, including wood-fired pizza perfectionist Delancey and Lebanese restaurant Cafe Munir with its plethora of meze. Spice Waala offers deeply flavored, affordable kathi rolls and chaat. You can also work up an appetite while perusing the cases of meat at popular butcher shop Beast & Cleaver, which takes care in sourcing its cuts from sustainable ranches; it also serves meaty dishes at night when the shop turns into a tasting menu restaurant and wine bar.
Georgetown has a history of grit and brick, but has also become a thriving culinary and cultural destination over recent years, fostering a local character that draws in visitors from all over town. During the COVID-19 pandemic, local breweries, restaurants, dive bars, and cafes have made adjustments to more takeout options and outdoor seating in industrial chic spaces, some of which have remained in place even as restrictions have lifted. You can find decadent slices of cakes at Deep Sea Sugar and Salt, wonderful vegan sandwiches at the divey Georgetown Liquor Company, and intricate six-course prix fixe meals at the Corson Building. Of course, don’t forget about the beer — the breweries here, including Georgetown Brewing with its local-favorite Manny’s Pale Ale and Machine House Brewery with its British-inspired cask ales, are among the best in the city.
Known as a neighborhood thriving with creative spirit (and a massive troll under a bridge), Fremont is just north of Lake Union, to the east of Ballard. A few standouts among the strong selection here are chef Mutsuko Soma’s soba destination, Kamonegi; the Indian restaurant Meesha; and Local Tide, where people line up for the succulent crab rolls in particular. Meanwhile, James Beard Award-winning chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi run the kitchen at Joule, known for its kalbi short ribs, local pickled vegetables, and a fresh take on Korean cuisine.
This neighborhood was a bit tedious to reach for two and a half years while the West Seattle Bridge was closed, but it’s worth the trip, especially now that the bridge has reopened. West Seattle’s dining scene and the picturesque Alki Beach are equally impressive. You’ll find satisfying pupusas at Lillian’s Salvadorean Restaurant, fantastic pizza at Supreme, and top-notch smoked meats at Lady Jaye, which also boasts a terrific backyard patio. Seafood fans should check out Mashiko for sushi that emphasizes sustainability; those recovering from a long night can eat breakfast with a side of killer soundtrack at Easy Street Records & Cafe.
Glossary of Seattle food terms and celebrities
Seattle Hot Dog:
It’s a hot dog or sausage slathered in — wait for it — cream cheese and grilled onions. The origin story goes back to the late 1990s, when a bagel cart in Pioneer Square went a little rogue. Though it sounds strange, this combination is surprisingly good, and restaurants will sometimes riff on the concoction for specials. You can generally find a Seattle dog at Capitol Hill stands bumping Latin dance music and selling the hot dogs late into the night along with elotes, and at other hot dog-focused places around town, including the pop-up sensation Bigfoot Long’s.
Pronounced “gooey duck,” this is an enormous, coveted clam that often shocks newcomers with its odd appearance. Pre-pandemic, this was a thriving industry, but many of Washington’s geoduck merchants — particularly tribal operations — watched as business plummeted due to exporting issues, though business is starting to pick up again as restaurants recover. Take a deeper dive on this beloved Pacific Northwest native, and look out for it at places like Taylor Shellfish, Lam’s Seafood, and the newly opened Takai By Kashiba.
This sticky-sweet Japanese-American dish is a Seattle specialty, popularized by Toshihiro Kasahara at Toshi’s Teriyaki Restaurant in the 1970s. You can still find Kasahara north of the city at Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill in Mill Creek; within Seattle city limits, try gluten-free options at West Seattle’s Grillbird Teriyaki.
The ‘Original’ Starbucks:
Even those who have never been to Seattle before probably don’t need to check out Starbucks’ faux-riginal location in Pike Place Market (the true original was nearby at the corner of Western and Virginia). But the coffee behemoth’s modern, copper-plated Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room on Capitol Hill may be worth a visit as an alternative. It’s where the company roasts fresh specialty beans, and also home to a full bar and bakery. That said, Starbucks workers in the Seattle area and across the country, including at the Reserve Roastery, have been unionizing in a growing wave, demanding better conditions and pay, while the company has been accused of pushing back aggressively. Here’s a reminder that there are plenty of great independent coffee shops and small-batch coffee roasters around Seattle that make better coffee and don’t engage in union-busting behavior.
Old-school yet relevant, Canlis is Seattle’s classic white-tablecloth, dress-code, fine dining restaurant, which has shown a great deal of versatility over the years and during the pandemic by briefly becoming a burger drive-thru, an outdoor movie theater, and throwing a crab boil event. The restaurant hired a new chef last year, Aisha Ibrahim, whose background at Japanese kaiseki restaurants is bringing more hyper-seasonality to the menu. The Canlis family still owns and operates the restaurant , and it’s still setting the benchmark for quality and service in the city. One of the only permanent fixtures, the Canlis salad, is an icon; the rest of the menu rotates.
This James Beard Award-winning chef channels rustic European country cooking by way of seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients in her bright, airy, elegant spaces. She runs some of the city’s most adored spots, including oyster bar the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Whale Wins Larder and Cafe (which transitioned to a hybrid market in 2020), innovative steakhouse Bateau, which sells unusual cuts of grass-fed and -finished beef in an effort to be a sustainable steakhouse, and even a doughnut chain called General Porpoise.
A legend in his own right, this beloved chef trained with Jiro Ono (of Jiro Dreams of Sushi) before bringing edomae-style sushi to Seattle and defining the scene here over the past 50 years. He spent early days at Maneki and other spots around town, pioneering the use of local seafood, then two decades at namesake Shiro’s. Finally, after the world’s shortest retirement, Kashiba returned to the counter in late 2015 at Pike Place Market’s Sushi Kashiba, an incredible ode to fresh fish. He’s now focused on helping the next generation of Seattle sushi chefs open their own restaurants.
Source: Eater Seattle