Eater Awards are back, having taken a hiatus in 2020 as the restaurant industry weathered the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 Seattle Eater Awards recognize the city’s best new restaurant, pop-up, coffee roaster, and theme bar to emerge out of the pandemic moment. These winners serve up food, drinks, or coffee that reflect the resilience of Seattleites and the city they live in. Even more, these establishments used last year’s challenges to care for their communities in deeper ways. It’s no surprise that three of these awardees were involved with the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective, a group of like-minded chefs who provided regular free meals to whoever needed them early in the pandemic.
Without further ado, check out the five Eater Seattle Awards winners for 2021.
Best New Restaurant
Communion Restaurant & Bar
It’s been a year since chef Kristi Brown and her son and business partner Damon Bomar opened Communion in the Liberty Bank Building, a mixed-use affordable housing, retail, and resource hub for the Black community in the Central District. Brown has been working in the restaurant industry since the 1990s, perfecting her “Seattle Soul” dishes, a style that reflects the close proximity of the Chinatown International District to the historically Black Central District in Seattle. Catfish po'boys, “Hood Sushi,” and smokey berbere chicken are stand-outs on the menu, as well as comfort favorites like catfish and grits, mac and cheese, and local greens.
Shortly after the onset of the pandemic, Brown’s catering business That Brown Girl Cooks! joined forces with other chefs and restaurants as the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective, offering weekly free meals to the community, no questions asked.
Communion’s opening in the Liberty Bank Building was part of what Africatown President and CEO K. Wyking Garrett called a “Black business renaissance.” Reservations book out quickly at the restaurant, which features plush leather booths, a long communal table, and outdoor patio seating. Since opening, Communion has been one of the most-awarded Seattle restaurants, including recognition as one of the world’s best new restaurants by Conde Nast Traveler, and on the New York Times 2021 favorite restaurant list.
Best Community-Focused Restaurant
The community-minded Beacon Hill restaurant Musang had only been open for a few months when the pandemic hit, forcing a temporary closure. Owner and chef Melissa Miranda instinctively transitioned to a community kitchen, becoming a pickup site for free meals as part of the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective. Aside from feeding community members during a global crisis, Miranda’s cuisine reflects traditional Filipinx dishes like lumpia, pancit, and pork belly, with her own family recipes and Pacific Northwest ingredients like oysters and seasonal greens.
Musang continues its free meal program, and also hosts kids cooking classes that inspire greater connections to Filipinx culture and language. Musang is part of a close-knit circle of several other restaurants and chefs that have expanded Filipinx cuisine in Seattle’s dining scene in recent years. With a heated outdoor patio, the restaurant’s location on north Beacon Hill is fittingly only a few blocks away from where Miranda grew up.
Feed the People
Feed the People is a Black-led community initiative and pop-up from chef Tarik “Cooka T” Abdullah; in 2020, it also became a member of the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective. As the chef behind Midnight Mecca pop-ups, cooking classes for youth, and most recently a regular concession stand at Lumen Field, Abdullah focuses on putting community and food justice first.
Last summer, Abdullah partnered with local artists to create Feed the People Plaza, a Beacon Hill mural that paid homage to the South End’s BIPOC community, with special references to Kusina Filipina, a family legacy restaurant that was forced to shutter due to rising rent costs in 2017. The plaza has been a grassroots gathering space for formal and informal gatherings, vendors, and movie nights. Feed the People’s offerings at Lumen Field feature specials like vegan nachos made with jackfruit meat, lamb burgers, and harissa mac and cheese. Keep up with Feed the People and Abdullah at the official Instagram account.
Best Coffee Roaster
Fulcrum Coffee Roasters
It’s not surprising that Seattle is home to almost 20 independent coffee roasters (and maybe more), but when it comes to overall quality and expertise, Fulcrum stands apart. Vice president and head of Fulcrum’s coffee program Blas Alfaro hails from five generations of Costa Rican coffee farmers. In addition to bringing a wealth of boots-on-the-ground knowledge to coffee sourcing and roasting, Alfaro also focuses on sustainability through trusted relationships with coffee farmers — an especially important aspect when coffee-producing regions are the most affected by climate change.
Fulcrum has quietly developed its brand (including Silver Cup and Urban City, two imprints under the Fulcrum umbrella) out of its SoDo hub for almost a decade, but the company opened its flagship cafe in Belltown in late 2018.
Most Innovative Theme Bar
Maybe it’s the pandemic fatigue, but Seattle has earned itself the right to a bit of fantasy, and the extravagant oceanic camp of Inside Passage takes the cake for theme bars. A sibling to Capitol Hill’s Rumba bar, Inside Passage opened this summer, featuring a one-of-a-kind interior designed by Notch Gonzales, complete with a giant floating octopus (named Kiki) over the bar. Each of Kiki’s tentacles is 18 feet long, in case you were wondering. Each Inside Passage cocktail is a mini experience, like the Little Mermaid-themed Dinglehopper; a Japanese rum drink served in an Angler fish mug; a cheeky reference to a certain tech giant (The Amazombie 2.0); and more.