Which Restaurants are Leading Seattle’s Culinary Scene?
Seattle has been dubbed the “Region of Boom”. This recent nickname—a riff on the Seahawks’ Superbowl-winning defensive line, the Legion of Boom–reflects the skyrocketing growth of the city. Google and Facebook have joined ever-expanding Amazon. Gleaming, modern buildings are sprouting up at rapidly, as if the rain is fertilizing their growth.
Yet, while Seattleites fret this new prosperity is causing the city to lose its soul, there is one industry that has weathered it well. Restaurants are embracing the influx of money and construction while staying true to Seattle’s ingredient-focused, hyper-regional food.
Dining stalwarts are adapting rather than rejecting the new Seattle. Chef John Sundstrom moved his 11-year-old Lark from a cramped building to a gorgeously restored warehouse. Canlis owners Mark and Brian Canlis hired a savvy 29-year old to shake up their 65-year-old restaurant.
Seattle has long been a food-centric city, thanks to its perch along a seafood-laden coast, mushroom packed mountains, and abundant farms. Chefs have had an endless larder of fresh-plucked ingredients like Dabob Bay oysters, Gravenstein apples, and lobster mushrooms.
This locavorism has kept the restaurant industry grounded as Seattle flourishes. Many chefs keep in close contact with farmers, fisherman, and artisans, contributing to the intimate vibe of menus and dining rooms. Seattle is still a place where a new chef, a Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2016 Eduardo Jordan, can serve stellar food in a homey neighborhood spot, Salare, which would be twice the price in another city.
Design is a central ingredient to the modern Seattle restaurant. Whether they are an anchor to a new construction or a revitalized neighborhood, these eateries are shaping Seattle’s look and feel. More than ever, restaurants are community hubs providing a welcoming space for residents old and new as the city changes around them.
To choose our gastronomic greats for our line up of best restaurant list, we scoured local writers, publications, and chefs. We weighed each contender’s style, substance, creativity, ambiance, and service. Our choices celebrate Seattle’s evolution from a foodie frontier to a culinary capital.
For 65 years, Canlis has been the doyenne of Seattle’s fine dining scene. It is hard for restaurants to grow old without becoming tired. Canlis is the opposite—aging as well as the wine in its world-renowned cellar thanks to co-owners Mark and Brian Canlis. The enthusiastic brothers, grandsons of original owner Peter Canlis, look forward while celebrating Canlis’ past.
Recent innovations—the young, new Brooklyn chef, Brady Williams, and bar remodel—have seamlessly merged with the impeccable service and quality for which Canlis is known. Williams’ menu spotlights the best of Pacific NW ingredients with Japanese precision; the iconic dishes—a stellar steak tartare and Canlis salad—are as delicious as they were decades ago. An architectural stunner, Canlis offers diners a chance to dress up—a rare treat in the land of fleece and flannel. This is one for the bucket list.
Renee Erickson’s culinary collective, Sea Creatures, comes ashore with this stellar new steakhouse. Named for the French word for boat, Bateau’s name evokes the James Beard Award-winning chef’s French culinary influence and roots—Boat Street Kitchen was her first restaurant.
At Bateau, heritage cows from Erickson’s Whidbey Island farm and other grass-fed farms are butchered and aged in house—the latter you can view through the meat locker window in the dining room. Order your steaks with bone marrow butter and scrumptious thrice-fried fries. With white wainscoting, pretty china plates, and airy light fixtures, Bateau breathes feminine chic into a normally masculine restaurant genre.
This buzzy spot was born from Chef Eric Johnson’s experience abroad and Seattle’s love for Vietnamese food. Vietnamese cuisine intersects at the culinary crossroads between China and France, two countries where the peripatetic Johnson worked. While his experience is in fine dining, Stateside is more casual, a place to pop into a few times a week.
Taste Johnson’s culinary savvy with crispy duck fresh rolls, Cha Ca La Vong, turmeric marinated black cod, and finger-lickin-good cumin chili ribs. Designed by Johnson’s girlfriend, Callie Meyer, Stateside’s minty palm tree wallpaper, smoky mirrors, and ceiling fans will whisk you away to a sultry night in Hanoi.
In spite of culinary influences from across the globe, Salare feels right at home in Seattle. It is here where chef/owner Eduardo Jordan honed his culinary chops, working at other Best 2016 spots (Herbfarm and Bar Sajor) and embraced the Pacific NW love of local purveyors.
Chef Jordan’s style incorporates flavors from the American South, Europe and Africa—think roast pork with Puy lentils and deep-fried duck leg confit with grilled apricots. Each bite embodies the restaurant’s name, the Italian verb “to season.” Located in quiet Ravenna allows Salare to serve sophisticated food in a laid-back, comfortable setting—the brunch and kids menu reinforces Jordan’s desire to be a neighborhood joint. Which happens to be one of Seattle’s best.
Walrus & Carpenter
When a suspender-clad waiter toting a tray of raw oysters graced the cover of the New York Times Travel section in 2011, the Walrus & Carpenter went from busy to bonkers. Chef Renee Erickson began the trend that oysters could be slurped at chummy bars instead of just expensive restaurants.
Grab a seat at the ample zinc bar or a white washed table to taste a rotating selection of Washington’s finest like Hama Hama or Baywater Sweets. The menu of small plates bursts with seasonal delights: grilled sardines, scallop crudo, shaved beet salad, and local cheeses. Wash the goodness down with white wines, bubbles, beers, and cocktails. Arrive early to avoid a wait or head next door to Barnacle for a pre-dinner drink or nibble.
Tucked in a mini mall in well-to-do Madison Park, Nishino is an understated oasis of Japanese cuisine. Nobu alum chef Tatsu Nishino fuses tradition and innovation on each artful plate. Order the omakase to experience his gastronomic greatness. Sushi, naturally, is superb, but it is in the Japanese dishes: ika sugatayaki, flame broiled whole squid, curried seared halibut cheek, and fried tofu in mushroom sauce where Nishino truly shines.
The courteous staff will graciously guide you through the extensive sake menu and Pacific Northwest-focused wine list. Located near the idyllic Japanese garden in the Arboretum, pair your meal with a meditative pre-dinner stroll.
Inside this lovely little bistro, you’ll feel as if you’ve teleported to France. Le Pichet looks, feels, and tastes Parisian—French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy is a fan—thanks to its dedicated co-owners. Chef Jim Drohman studied cooking in the City of Lights while Joanne Herron has tasted her way through France’s boutique wineries. Regulars and newbies alike adore the Gallic fare: brandade, pâté campagne, and one of the best roast chickens in town. Like a classic French café, Le Pichet is open all day from 8 a.m.-midnight.
Behind lace-curtained windows, Seattle’s best Italian ristorante beckons. The Piedmontese fare is equally rustic and exquisite. Tucked into homemade pastas are indulgent fillings such as the beloved butter and sage Tajarin, succulent meats, and braised pork belly. The $100 tasting menu of antipasti, primi, and secondi is worth the splurge.
Trained in Italy and at local Italian stalwart Café Juanita, Chef Stuart Lane infuses each bite with skilled authenticity. The candlelit room oozes romance especially when paired with a bottle from the well-curated wine list. Make like an Italian and have an apertivo at the adjacent bar, Artusi.
With the bonhomie of a booze cruise and the caliber of a luxury yacht, Westward is waterfront dining at its best. Chef Jack Rogers cooks up Mediterranean-infused Northwest cuisine, with avgolemo and za’atar spicing up the oceanic menu. Inside the James Beard Design Award-nominated space, nautical details and a whimsical Electric Coffin boat bar get you in the seafaring spirit. Outside, the stellar patio offers killer views of the Seattle skyline and Lake Union from Adirondack chairs.
At this cozy, neighborhood charmer, locals line up for chef Brandon Pettit’s toothsome pizzas that have rightly earned their place atop “Best Of” lists. Salads and wood-fire roasted sides are plucked from the farmers market. Finish with a salted chocolate chip cookie inspired by Pettit’s wife, and co-owner, food writer Molly Wizenberg, who penned a delightful book—also Delancey—detailing how their labor of love came to be. Whittle away the wait with a handcrafted cocktail from their adjoining bar, Essex.
Though Lark changed locations at the end of 2014, its appeal remains constant. Now housed in a gorgeous, restored 1917 warehouse—complete with an open kitchen, handsome bar, and 150 Edison bulbs twinkling from the lofty ceiling—Lark 2.0 has a fitting space for its beautiful food.
Chef John Sundstrom crafts artisan focused fare in which each ingredient is thoughtfully chosen from respected purveyors like Vashon Island’s Kurtwood Farms cheese and Lummi Island Wild halibut. The 2007 James Beard Northwest Chef’s travels in Japan and sushi training inspire his harmonious plating. To encourage communal dining and sharing, most of the menu features small plates. This trend continues upstairs at Bitter/Raw, a charcuterie, crudo, and cocktail bar, which offers Lark’s full menu as well.
Packed since opening in 2011, Revel lives up to its name. Conviviality abounds at this Asian street food joint, the casual cousin to Rachel Yang’s and Seif Churchi’s Joule. Fans go gaga over Yang’s comfort Korean—pork belly & kimchi pancakes, short rib dumplings, and Dungeness crab noodles.
Inside, Revel hums with chatter and the clamor of the open kitchen-watch the culinary show from a kitchen-side stool. The back deck outside offers a twinkle-light patio warmed by a roaring bonfire. Next door, Quoin shakes up craft cocktails in a cozy, dimly lit space.
In 27 years, chef Tom Douglas’ culinary circle has expanded to include eighteen restaurants; his first, the James Beard Award-nominated Dahlia Lounge, is still one of his most adored. At this “quintessential Seattle restaurant experience”, enjoy the trifecta that makes Pacific Northwest cuisine shine: local, organic, and sustainable.
Current chef Brock Johnson’s menu is a who’s who of regional ingredients like Neah Bay salmon and Collins Family Orchard fruit; there is even a forager’s bowl brimming with thoughtfully gathered fiddleheads, sea beans, and porcinis. The triple cream coconut cream pie is legendary; grab one to go at adjacent
Dahlia Bakery. The dining room’s lipstick red walls, upholstered booths, and Asian lanterns add festive flair to this upscale spot, which is located steps away from the landmark Pike’s Place market.
More than a mere restaurant, The Herbfarm is a dining experience. The farm-to-table dinner theater began 30 years ago as one of the pioneers of the Slow Food movement (see: Alice Waters). Chock full of ingredients grown on the farm or by regional purveyors, Herbfarm’s menu is so fresh it does not get finalized until just before dinner service.
Guests work up an appetite on a garden tour before savoring the nine-course thematic feast—think 100-Mile Meal or Nine Songs Of Summer. Only one seating per night makes for a memorable meal, as does the 26,000-bottle wine cellar. Current chef Chris Weber was born the same year as Herbfarm’s opening; his youthfulness has imbued the menu with fresh flavors. Herbfarm is located in Woodinville across from the famed Willows Lodge; make a night of your meal by staying in an Herbfarm Suite overlooking the garden.
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