When people say Seattle has everything, they usually mean the mountains and the water, but it also extends to the endless dining options. So where should a newcomer short on time begin? Given the sprawl of the city and its increasingly intractable traffic, a truly efficient 24 hours of eating and drinking in Seattle should center around public transportation, specifically the comfortable, efficient Link light rail. Here’s a one-day itinerary to help visitors get the most out of their time.
8 a.m. – Cafe Red and Bang Bang Kitchen
The most affordable lodging lies south of the city, so we recommend looking around the charming hamlets of Othello or Columbia City. Of course, a day in Seattle can’t begin without coffee. Start at Cafe Red, a cozy little cafe that focuses on relationships with eco-minded and fair trade-focused coffee roasters (like Seattle’s own Fulcrum). After sipping your perfect brew, walk around the corner on South Othello St to Bang Bang Kitchen for breakfast. You’ll find traditional egg dishes with an exciting New Mexico-inspired twist; red chile braised brisket and chipotle hollandaise on the eggs benedict, cornbread pancakes with hatch green chile butter, breakfast burritos, and huevos rancheros done with both green and red chile sauces.
10 a.m. – Panama Hotel
Six stops north is the International District/Chinatown station, just a few blocks from the historic Panama Hotel, built in 1910. The hotel and cafe were the center of life for Seattle’s old Japantown, and they play a starring role in Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a touching look at residents’ efforts to rebuild and reconnect after the devastation of World War II internment camps. The hotel is still operational, and the cafe provides a lovely atmosphere for tea — if diners want to linger, they can resteep a pot of Japanese green tea for hours — with free tours of the sento (Japanese bathhouse). There are also vintage photographs and unclaimed personal belongings of residents forced to flee during World War II, a necessary reminder of what happens when xenophobia and racism are unchecked.
11 a.m. – Dough Zone Dumpling House
Dough Zone is a stellar local Chinese chain born east of Lake Washington; this location, just across the street from the light rail station, is the company’s most modern restaurant (there is also a newer location downtown, across the street from the Paramount Theater). Diners should assemble a quick, casual meal full of the city’s best xiao long bao soup dumplings, delightfully tangy pickled string beans, Dough Zone’s signature crispy and juicy jian buns, and, for the heat-seekers, spicy dan dan noodles. Quench the flames with a smoky sour plum juice.
1 p.m. – Cafe Hitchcock and Bad Bishop
Before swinging north to get lost in the extensive warrens of the famed Pike Place Market when you swing by for souvenirs and a quick photo-op at the infamous gum wall, take some time to hang in Pioneer Square, Seattle’s oldest neighborhood. Just a few blocks closer to the waterfront from the Pioneer Square station is Bad Bishop, a cocktail bar that feels right at home in Seattle’s oldest neighborhood, meaning plenty of exposed brick with wide plank floors, moody intricate wallpaper, and a welcoming, curved bar buffeted by avocado-green bar stools. Opened by veteran bartenders Keaton Cooper and Jesse Spring, this spot is the perfect place to have an exquisitely-made classic cocktail. You can also check the menu for quirkier items, as there’s always something intriguing (like a Chai daiquiri or a mezcal margarita with coconut oolong-infused agave) on the list.
Just a few blocks further north is Cafe Hitchcock, a casual affair from acclaimed chef Brendan McGill. His Bainbridge Island restaurant, Hitchcock, and pizzeria, Bruciato, are worth a ferry ride from downtown on any longer visit, while this cafe is a nice, quick alternative for a sense of McGill’s local focus. Drinks, like shots of ginger to help with digestion, bright vegetable-centric smoothies, and lattes spiked with turmeric go well with hearty sandwiches, rice bowls stocked with in-season ingredients, tartines topped with cashew cream cheese, and a plate of country pate accompanied by pickles and fermented mustard, all made on-site.
5 p.m. Life on Mars
From nearby Westlake Station, ride one stop east to the Capitol Hill Station. Welcome to Seattle’s hippest neighborhood and its proud LGBTQ center. Major parallel streets form the Pike/Pine corridor, which is packed with renowned restaurants, bars, and dance clubs. Walk down Pike to Harvard and Life on Mars, a sleek music-focused bar that has nearly 6,000 records on shelves in the den-like main seating area. Opened by longtime KEXP DJ John Richards, his partner Amy Richards, Leigh Sims (from Wake Up Productions, a music and arts events company), and Steven Severin (co-owner of a handful of Seattle venues including Barboza and Neumos), there’s always a DJ on hand to play requests, vinyl for sale, a vegan food menu, and a large cocktail menu.
7 p.m. – Kedai Makan
This no-frills restaurant got its start as a food stall, and throughout its various iterations people have lined up for the best Malaysian food in the city. The menu here feels familiar yet exciting, with such highlights as fiery fried frog legs, roti jala bread with lamb curry, and the signature tofu fried rice.
9 p.m. Homer
To set yourself up for a successful crash at the end of the night, return to the Capitol Hill light rail station and head back south, stopping off at Mount Baker. Even if you’re tapped out on savory food, swing by Homer — about a 15-minute walk from the station in the burgeoning Beacon Hill neighborhood — for soft serve. Flavors change daily but there’s always a swirl option (anise and pineapple pair surprisingly well). There’s a take-out window, or grab a seat inside for soft serve as a sundae with a shot of booze.
10 p.m. - The Royal Room
End the night in Columbia City. If you’re into the action and the drinks but not the dessert, Royal Room has live music every night of the week, usually something jazzy from the grand piano or world beat with plenty of soul. The cocktail and mocktail list features classics made with fresh juice and an attention to detail, a fitting end to a full day.