As COVID-19 devastated the food and beverage industry in 2020, it should be considered an accomplishment just to have hung on this long. But Seattle’s food scene finds ways not just to survive but thrive, even in the most difficult circumstances. Despite all the challenges, there were many significant openings that proved to be bright spots in an otherwise dreary year, from pop-ups coming into their own as full-fledged restaurants to popular chains setting up their first Pacific Northwest locations to a food hall supporting women-led immigrant businesses. As we look ahead to a hopefully calmer 2021, here are 20 of Seattle’s most exciting new restaurants, cafes, bars, and bakeries, arranged in rough chronological order of opening.
One of the year’s first major restaurant openings was among the best. Chef Melissa Miranda and her team specialize in comforting Filipino dishes, such as succulent beef mechado and adobong pusit pancit using squid caught by Miranda’s dad at the local docks. Musang also launched a community kitchen to feed those in need — and the spirit of charity continues to be an integral part of the restaurant’s ethos.
Meet Korean BBQ
Capitol Hill’s slick new Korean barbecue spot comes from acclaimed chef Heong Soon Park of Pike Place popular restaurant Chan. While the pandemic put a crimp on the communal nature of the spot, the shift to takeout didn’t disappoint, with chicken wings and bulgogi sliders appearing alongside premium cuts of raw meat for home grilling and a selection of excellent to-go cocktails.
The Doctor’s Office
It may be a little on the nose for one of the year’s buzziest new bars to be co-owned by a health care professional, but this tiny Capitol Hill lounge offered plenty of welcome elixirs, rare spirits, and classic cocktails to take the edge off a stressful 2020. In addition to the ice cold martinis, there are peated whiskey and rare rum flights, as well as a selection of full bottles for sale. And the food is no afterthought, with snacks such as za’atar meatballs and tamales among the eclectic offerings.
Phnom Penh Noodle House
Here’s a familiar name in a brand new location. After a couple of starts and stops, this revered Cambodian restaurant in the International District that closed for two years got its long-planned revival. Fan favorites, including the honey-black pepper chicken wings and the prawn, sliced pork, and fish cake sou, are still lovely and amazing.
Famed chef Jason Stoneburner opened this Sunset Hill pizzeria after Washington’s stay-at-home order was first implemented, so having a robust takeout menu was vital. The restaurant focuses on both Detroit-style square and 12-inch round pies, but there are also some excellent smash burgers, as well as breakfast sandwiches on the newer brunch menu, covering a lot of fast-casual favorites.
Making its debut during the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t easy, but Columbia City’s newest cafe was the first of several coffee shops to open in 2020 focusing on Vietnamese drinks, using a slow brewing method that draws out rich flavor. Its iced ube lattes were a hit in the summer, and the shop has added seasonal offerings in the colder months, such as a campfire latte with oat milk.
Dreamland Bar & Diner
The owners of Stampede Cocktail Club opened this playful all-day diner in Fremont with a disco ball-packed hallway, a selection of solid drinks, and a happy hour menu that features sausage waffle corndogs. It also has a pretty sizable patio that came in handy when indoor dining was closed throughout most of 2020.
The owners of celebrated Beacon Hill restaurant Homer opened a more takeout-friendly spot down the block this summer, highlighting double-fried chicken sandwiches and frozen desserts. Those who sampled Homer’s popular soft serve no doubt were familiar with many inventive ice cream flavors here, including fig-leaf coconut with Rainier cherry and buttermilk lavender with black plum-orange blossom.
This new Fremont spot started as a pop-up in Pike Place Market three years ago, and drew lines in 2020 for its shrimp toasts, crab rolls, fried dover sole nuggets, and other decadent seafood snacks. Dungeness crabs are cracked onsite, while the rockfish and pork sandwich topped with fresno chili on a baguette is a surprisingly delightful treat.
The snug new restaurant on Rainier Avenue in Columbia City gained attention for expertly crafted tasting menus that celebrate whole animal butchery. It soon turned into more of a fancy deli and market, featuring a fried rabbit sandwich that may be the best under-the-radar lunch item in Seattle right now. Diners should make sure to check out the ice cream selection, too, which usually includes terrific flavor combos.
Tukwila’s food hall — from the Food Innovation Network’s incubator program — focuses on women-led immigrant and refugee businesses, and offers some wonderful international dishes that are rare for the Seattle area. That includes Congolese fare from Taste of Congo, Somali-Kenyan-Tanzanian cuisine at Moyo Kitchen, and Afghan-American fusion at Jazze’s.
The wildly popular Chinese hot pot chain known for luxurious tableside attractions — including noodle dancers — opened at Pacific Place downtown and Bellevue’s Pacific Center, serving boiling broths, flavorful dipping sauces, and a wide selection of meats. Certain amenities (like massages for waiting diners) are not available, but there are takeout offerings for those who want a lavish meal at home.
When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to bake great bagels. This former Instagram operation opened its first fixed location in Ballard for delivery only, allowing it to expand capacity. But it was one of several new businesses that added to Seattle’s growing bagel scene during the pandemic, including the excellent Rubinstein’s downtown and the recently-opened breakfast-focused pop-up at Manolin.
The Flour Box
Hillman City’s highly anticipated new doughnut bakery opened in the fall, and lived up to the hype. Owner Pamela Vuong often sells out her popular creations within minutes, with diners racing online to order creme brulee treats, everything bagel doughnuts filled with whipped chive cream cheese, and cinnamon rolls. Demand was so high that the shop is closed until 2021, with backorders from a Kickstarter campaign still being fulfilled.
The celebrated Sichuan chain from Southern California opened its first Seattle location in October, featuring popular items such as toothpick lamb with cumin, mung bean jelly noodles drenched in chilis, and a cold spring onion chicken in pepper sauce that Eater LA has praised for its “citrusy-grassy numb taste that deepens with each bite.”
Known for its thoughtful use of local ingredients, the beloved pop-up recently opened its first fixed location in the Central District, with a selection of savory and sweet baked goods. Cardamom almond brioche, sugared cruffins, and pistachio schneckens are among some of the more the sought-after items, paired with roasts from partner Broadcast Coffee.
Black Coffee Northwest
Shoreline’s new Black-owned cafe is a youth-driven nonprofit with ambitions to be not just a spot to grab a great cup of coffee, but also an uplifting community center as well, with a barista training program and a series of Zoom conversations centered around social justice. It also supports other local businesses, including roasts from Boona Boona, pastries from Salmonberry, and treats from Zuri’s Donutz in Lynnwood.
The underground pizza scene in Seattle has grown during the pandemic, mainly through the pop-up route. But there are some intriguing new permanent entries as well, such as this fermented dough specialist on Capitol Hill, whose pies have drawn lines on Summit Ave E. Other items on the menu — such as the fantastic veal and pork meatballs and the strozzapreti in celery root cream sauce — are worth checking out as well.
After over a year building a strong following as a pop-up, the Indian tasting menu specialist Meesha became a full-fledged restaurant in 2020, as chef and owner Preeti Agarwal makes the switch from her stewardship of Fremont French spot Pomerol. Among some of the can’t-miss dishes are ram ladoo (crispy lentil fritters with radish slaw) and the handi paneer in tomato fenugreek sauce.
Chef Kristi Brown has opened her long-awaited new restaurant in the Central District after four years of planning. Southern flavors blend with Asian and Ethiopian influences in creative dishes such as fried oyster mushroom po’ mi (a banh mi-po boy hybrid), smoky berbere chicken, and fried catfish sushi. Brown’s son, Damon Bomar, has also developed a robust cocktail list heavy on rum punches and bourbon.