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Local Experts Predict Seattle Restaurant Headlines for 2021

Plus, their thoughts on when indoor dining may feel safer again, the restaurant adjustments that impressed in 2020, and notable nonprofit organizations

Diners sit in a small outdoor patio across from the iconic Pike Place Market sign covered by pink umbrellas
Outdoor dining in Seattle expanded in 2020, and the trend could continue.
Suzi Pratt

Eater usually ends December by surveying local food writers on various restaurant-related topics that sum up the previous 12 months. But 2020 wasn’t like any other year. Since the pandemic caused so much upheaval in the dining scene, it seemed appropriate to include health care professionals and a science writer on the panel this time around to get their perspectives on COVID-19 impacts.

Previous entries include the standout takeout meals of 2020, adjustments that may have staying power, what restaurants will need in 2021, and closures that hit the hardest. Here, the various experts weigh in on some final questions before the New Year.

What are your restaurant headline predictions for 2021?

Jeff Bezos does a heel face turn and donates $6 billion for restaurant relief. Bite of Seattle changes format to all local restaurants. Hawker stalls take hold in Seattle. — Frank Guanco, food and wine writer, Seattle Refined

Four vegetables you’ve totally forgotten about? A resurgence of scurvy as we collectively embrace a 100 percent carbivore diet? More likely, we’ve got four more months of heartbreaking closures, with the one-year anniversary of Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” in the middle, which will bring a heap of sad reflective pieces and data-driven industry stories on what may be the worst anniversary ever. Jill Lightner, food writer and editor

Massive uptick in dining out as soon as we have an adequate vaccination rate, leading to new restaurants and pop-up openings, continued increase in takeout. — Andrew Wright MD, general surgeon

With the pandemic finally behind us, chefs channel the creativity and ingenuity forged in 2020 into a golden era of Seattle restaurants. Diners turn out en masse support them. — Allecia Vermillion, editor-in-chief, Seattle Met

If you dined in at all at a restaurant in 2020, what was the experience like, and when would you feel safe doing so again?

I haven’t dined in at all during the pandemic. I ate twice outside at places and even that felt like running through a stress gauntlet. — Guanco

My last dine-in was a decade or so ago, on February 29, 2020: Hood Famous Cafe + Bar in the ID. There was a Sounders game (the last one with spectators), and it was slammed, and I was crabby as hell about the noise. “When can I dine out again?” is mixed in with things like when can my community pay their bills with ease, when can high-risk family members and friends get vaccinated, when can their kids return to classrooms, when can cinemas and theaters reopen ... and thinking about it, all I can do is shriek and wave my hands like an unhelpful chaos Muppet. Lightner

We haven’t dined in person since the start of the pandemic, and I won’t feel safe doing so until we’ve achieved high vaccination rates and our COVID case numbers are down. — Wright

I had very few indoor experiences and was impressed each time how much effort the restaurant put into safety measures. Which is a mighty load to carry on top of the regular effort of running a restaurant. — Vermillion

We did not dine in at all, and will not feel safe doing so again until most people in the U.S., ourselves included, have been vaccinated, as long as the vaccines proves as effective as the Phase III trials suggest. — Ellen Kuwana, freelance science writer and editor, founder of WeGotThisSeattle, an initiative that feeds frontline workers by partnering with local restaurants.

Which restaurant adjustments impressed you the most in 2020?

Those that leap to mind are The Gerald’s leaning in to Korean cuisine, Addo turning up the volume loudly with finding niches and staying nimble, and Red Arrow Coffee was a really great pivot for the Brimmer and Heeltap crew. Canlis (obi), Art of the Table (so cool how they’ve evolved through the pandemic), and JarrBar (bringing back Tako Truk and partnering with Place Pigalle was rad) also stood out to me. — Guanco

I’m sure I won’t be alone in mentioning Archipelago, with their beautiful storytelling balikbayan boxes ... I greatly appreciate Columbia City Bakery selling bags of flour, yeast and good butter for months now — great value, even though they’re no longer scarce. And, I have much admiration for Conscious Eatery for maintaining their “buy a meal, donate a meal” mission while adjusting their business in many other ways this year. Lightner

Manolin’s short-term bagel shop, Old Salt, is something totally different, and yet thematically tied to its water-facing identity. Paragon’s supper club and livestream, conversely, is a cool remote extension of its music identity. Jen Doak deserves an enormous trophy for all the ways Brimmer and Heeltap has adapted, from opening a coffee shop to her raclette dinners. And speaking of melted cheese pivots, I booked L’Oursin’s apres ski patio situation recently and it felt unreservedly joyful and fun, two emotions I’d kind of forgotten about of late. If the Brothers Canlis don’t have a restaurant pivot lecture series in the works, someone at TED Talks isn’t doing their job. — Vermillion

Which food-related nonprofit organizations stood out in 2020?

So many places need support and resources, but FareStart, Seattle Community Kitchen Collective, and Food Lifeline leap to mind in the commendable efforts they’ve made to support the community. — Guanco

I just cried my way through the Rainier Valley Food Bank newsletter. Seattle’s busiest neighborhood food bank supports around 1,800 households (up from 1,200 pre-COVID), and has shifted entirely to delivery, so they note an ongoing need for paper grocery bags, because they’re using around 3,000 each week. Bundle em if you got em, and drop them by during the week. Lightner

[My organization WeGotThisSeattle] has raised and spent $70,000 at local restaurants, many minority-owned. Additionally, more than $50,000 worth of food items have been donated to this project by Seattle Chocolate, Essentia Water, Midnight Cookie Co., Fresh Off the Boat Pokebar, Starbucks Coffee, and others. — Kuwana