A groundbreaking leader in Seattle’s organic food scene is saying farewell. After 14 years serving wonderfully inventive and thoughtfully sourced fare in Wallingford, Tilth will close permanently after service October 30, per an official announcement on Facebook.
“Tilth had embraced the community, our local farms, local economy, had an unwavering commitment to organics, and always strived to create an experience through beautiful food and service with heart,” chef-owner Maria Hines said. “My heart goes out to every struggling individual, community, and business during this global crisis.”
Tilth debuted in 2006 with a farm-to-table focus, pushing forward a growing movement for ethical sourcing. When it opened, the restaurant — with its warm dining room inside a handsome Craftsman building on N 45th Street — was just the second certified organic restaurant in the entire country, designated by the exacting standards of the Oregon Tilth organization. Hines was among the first chefs to develop relationships with some of the area’s sustainable producers whose names are more commonly known now (such as Skagit River Ranch), and noted on the menu which items didn’t fall under the strict organic category (wild mushrooms, for instance, have no official process for such a label).
“Getting to know the farmers, fishers, and foragers in the community opened my eyes to major shifts in the food system that were under way,” the San Diego-born Hines once said of her philosophy.
With fantastic food to match its high-minded ideals, Tilth quickly drew praise from both local and national critics alike. Bethany Jean Clement at the Seattle Times wrote that the atmosphere at Tilth is “elegant without grandeur, comfortable but special, quiet enough to hear yourself think,” adding “for all its mindfulness, the food at Tilth also just makes your heart sing.” And in 2008, New York Times writer Frank Bruni noted, “Maria Hines … pays more than lip service to the adjectives local and seasonal, and has created a restaurant that’s very much of its moment, not only in its attention to food miles but also in its menu structure.” A year later, Hines earned a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest.
The chef opened two other restaurants, the Golden Beetle (a Mediterranean spot in Ballard that eventually became Young American Ale House) and the Southern Italian-influenced Agrodolce in Fremont. Hines eventually closed the restaurant-turned-pub in 2017, and sold Agrodolce in 2019, focusing all her attention on Tilth, which she has called “her baby.”
Not long after scaling back, the chef faced the daunting challenges of the pandemic. Over the past six months, Tilth attempted several different takeout menus, including family meals that featured barbecue feasts and pints of tuna pate, along with roasted cauliflower and apple soup. It also recently opened for limited dine-in service. However, it appears the effort wasn’t enough to keep the restaurant operational longterm.
Hines has kept busy with a few side projects, including consulting work and nutrition coaching (she also had a cookbook come out earlier this year). But it’s unclear whether she will pursue a future restaurant project down the line, if conditions become more favorable for the singular dine-in experience she cultivated at Tilth (Eater Seattle reached out to chef, but did not hear back before publication). In the meantime, there’s still one week left to get one last hearty meal at a Seattle icon.