Food is near and dear to my heart. I often keep track of my favorite cities and airports by the food I can find there, not necessarily by any traditional measure like hotels, architecture, or museums. Fortunately, Seattle is a great place to get a bite to eat at a reasonable price. I have decided to publish this post before tomorrow’s post on what to actually do in Seattle. Why? There’s always stuff to do wherever I go, so it just depends on my appetite. 😀
To accommodate this decision, I’ve organized restaurants by neighborhood. I could have added many more, but eventually I got tired of writing.
Before we get much further, let me say I’m not a big seafood fan. I can get it whenever I want, so it holds no special attraction. Sorry if I disappoint you by not rattling off a list of seafood restaurants. They cost more, and I think I can get equally good food for less. Snazzy places like Canlis are supposed to be good, but when people wait in a line a block long for a Cuban sandwich, white tablecloth dinners seem silly. I go to restaurants with table service only because of the food, not because I want to be waited on. Some places I suggest for very specific dishes, or perhaps for the view only since the food and drink are nothing special.
Or, ignore my suggestions entirely. You will be pretty safe if you use Yelp and stick to restaurants that have four stars or more. You can go as low as 3.5 stars, but that’s danger territory. I have never knowingly eaten at a place with three stars or fewer.
- La Carta de Oaxaca — I saw a sign at one place (not here) advertising itself as one of the ten best Mexican restaurants in Seattle. That’s because there are only nine. I joke, but there are some sorry contenders. Not La Carta de Oaxaca. You can get a big (and strong) margarita for under eight bucks, a basket of fresh chips, and some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had. Customers begin lining up 30 minutes before they open for dinner service. My order: Two Cadillac margaritas and the halibut fish tacos.
- Bastille — I often compare Bastille to my favorite French restaurant in Seattle, Cafe Campagne, which I consider near flawless. I am occasionally disappointed by an individual waiter or dish at Bastille, but I come back because they are creative. It’s French food with a twist, and they have features like old railroad beams built into the ceiling. The Back Bar is a cool setting, but it is often full of middle-aged Eastsiders pretending to be cool. My order: Lavender French toast and grapefruit juice.
- D’Ambrosio — This Italian gelateria has the best ice cream in Seattle, and I say that as a long-time fan of Molly Moon. Besides just tasting better, the line is often shorter, there are also more options, and it costs less, too. I’ll often come here after dinner somewhere else on Ballard Ave because it would just be so wrong to leave without some gelato. My order: A large Fichi Caramellati (figs and caramel) in a sugar cone.
- The Hi-Life — I like the Hi-Life because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. During the Ballard SeafoodFest last year, they were roasting a whole pig on a spit, imploring passersby to “save the salmon.” The bar and food are good, but what I really enjoy are the Sunday Chicken Dinners. It is all-you-can-eat with limited quantities. Whenever we have guests staying past Sunday, I recommend we head here for dinner.
- Royal Grinders — One of my favorite sandwich shops, this place offers an excellent view of Fremont’s statue of Lenin while you enjoy your meal. If it’s a holiday, he’ll probably be dressed in some festive garb. Food can take a while since it’s made to order. I know people who prefer Homegrown around the corner, but frankly Royal Grinders has more character.
- Paseo — Pretty much the only Cuban food I’ve ever had, but it’s damn good. Show up early because they do sell out of some items, and be prepared to wait in a long line. Bring cash. If you happen to be in Ballard, there is another location near Golden Gardens that often has a shorter line. My order: Grilled pork sandwich and a can of Squirt.
- Red Mill — The best burger in Seattle, period. Red Mill gets a good char on their burgers and heaps on the toppings without making a mess like some other places. Check out the stack of bacon by the grill. My only complaint? Their staff act like they’d rather die than crack a smile. My order: Try the Verde Burger, with a roasted Anaheim pepper.
- Taste of India — I avoided this restaurant until I met Megan. It has the most bizzarre decor with brilliant neon lights. I am convinced they set aside $1,000 each year for “renovations and improvements” and buy whatever’s on clearance at Home Depot. But the food is delicious, and portions are generous. Every time I go, I pass on appetizers and dessert yet get them anyway “compliments of the house.” Look for a coupon on their website or download one using Pirq to save 10-40%. My order: Chai tea, garlic naan, and chicken tikka masala or lamb vindaloo.
- Thai Tom — Rumor has it this place has been shut down more than once for health code violations, and like most restaurants on the Ave (a nickname for University Way) it is a bit sketchy. Yet the customers waiting outside are a good indicator of the quality within. Usually Thai is something I eat for lunch, a short walk from lab or wherever else I am, but Thai Tom is the only place worth driving 20 minutes from home and waiting an hour outside in the cold. My order: Thai iced tea and the chicken pad thai.
- Agua Verde — People at UW love this place, especially those in the health sciences because it is the closest off-campus restaurant. I think the food is overpriced and the service is non-existent. The only thing I really like are the breakfast burritos. I come here because I can get a margarita with a view of Portage Bay. There are so few waterfront dining options in Seattle, and this is one of the more convenient and affordable options. If you just want a drink, there’s a separate deck around back. My order: One Cadillac margarita and a mole burrito.
- Ivar’s Salmon House — If you want a seafood restaurant, this is the one I’d recommend. I’m not impressed with anything on the downtown waterfront, and the choices in Ballard can be more expensive. The food at Ivar’s is not creative, but it is well-made with a selection of at least three or four varieties of salmon year-round. Because it’s also by the water, you can watch the Christmas boats go by in winter or sit on the outdoor deck in summer. My order: Anything with Copper River salmon.
- Eva — What about local fare? Eva is my favorite restaurant when I want a creative meal made with Northwest ingredients. I like this place because of it’s small, unassuming presence, but once you walk inside there is a charming open kitchen and lights around the windows. The menu is always changing, but I have never had a bad meal here. Even the wines by the glass are delicious. My order: The seasonal soup is always good, as is the steak. This is one place where you can try Columbia City Bakery bread.
- Tilth — This is the kind of restaurant you would only find in the Pacific Northwest. On my first visit, the origin of every ingredient was listed, and there was a footnote apologizing that the mushrooms were not organic because it was impossible to certify foraged produce. However, food doesn’t get much fresher than this. I typically come in summer and sit on the outdoor patio for brunch. My order: Any kind of omelette, with a French baguette and raspberry jam.
- Molly Moon’s — I recall Molly Moon’s opened right about the time I moved to Seattle, and it was an instant hit with quirks like a small child-sized window with a peak into the back mixing room. Whenever I visit with friends, we try to guess before arriving if the line will snake out to the left or right down the street. My order: I always taste the new flavors, but I always order a sundae with coffee ice cream, hot fudge and caramel, whipped cream, and walnuts. NO cherry.
- Tutta Bella — This is my favorite pizza place in Seattle. I haven’t eaten here in over a year because Flying Squirrel is so much closer and almost as good, but I have to admit this is better. Be prepared for more than a few children running around. If you are downtown, there is also a new location on Westlake. My order: Insalate mista, Ciro pizza, and a glass of Peroni or rosemary lemonade.
- Cafe Campagne — This was one of the first restaurants I tried in Seattle, and it remains a favorite because I have had everything on the menu and it is all good. Usually I come here for brunch, but it’s been too long since the last time I had dinner. Check out the seasonal and holiday prix fixe menus. My order: The croque monsieur with drip coffee is my favorite, and I’ll get a side of their house-made sausage.
- Elliott’s Oyster House — I like one place on the Seattle waterfront, and this is it. I still hate the crowds, but there is a great progressive happy hour starting at 3 PM. Oysters are priced at 75 cents each and go up an additional 50 cents every hour until 6 PM. My order: I can’t pass on Kumamoto oysters, but other than that I pick at random.
- Trace — Located in the lobby of the W Hotel, this is a popular place for after work happy hours. I appreciate that there is the entire lobby to use for seating, but it can still get crowded. Fortunately service is quick and prices are reasonable. My order: A dry Bombay martini with a side of truffle fries.
- Serafina — This is the closest I’ve come to real Italian food outside of Italy, avoiding — rather than embracing — every cliche. The bruschetta comes three ways, and none of them are made with tomatoes. In fact many of the menu items won’t be familiar to anyone who grew up with Olive Garden around the corner. And with live jazz most weekends, it’s a great place to check out the local music scene. My order: Pappardelle di portofino.