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An Eater’s Guide to Dining in Seattle

Where to eat and drink in the Emerald City

Seattle is a culinary gem in the Pacific Northwest.
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Seattle is a jewel of the Pacific Northwest, known for picturesque mountains, scenic lakes, and greenery everywhere the eye can see — and the depth of the city’s diverse culinary scene is awe-inspiring. Though the pandemic continues to take a huge toll on restaurants, bars, and cafes, many dining destinations have shown resiliency over the past two years, and exciting new restaurants are popping up despite the adverse conditions. Here’s an introduction on where to eat and drink in the Emerald City right now.


Local food rules

Washington is an agriculturally rich state, and Seattle restaurants benefit from an abundance of nearby vegetable farms, fruit orchards, fisheries, shellfish farms, ranches, and wineries.

In particular, this city takes its seafood seriously. Salmon is such a part of the area’s culinary identity that Sea-Tac airport throws a mini ceremony each year for the special Copper River salmon flown in from Alaska. Tourists are also fond of dodging flying fish at Pike Place Market. Shellfish is a Seattle staple, from the many places to eat fantastically briny oysters to those that serve up geoduck (pronounced “gooey duck”), an enormous, coveted clam that sometimes catches newcomers off guard with its odd appearance (see details further below in this guide).

But Seattle features many great cuisines and is perhaps known best for its incredible Asian restaurants. The city has a rich Japanese food scene and is home to world-class sushi masters like Shiro Kashiba. Pho is ubiquitous around town, and teriyaki — that sticky-sweet Japanese-American dish — is a Seattle specialty, popularized by Toshihiro Kasahara at Toshi’s Teriyaki Restaurant in the 1970s. Korean food continues to thrive all across the area, from north of the city center to further south around Tacoma. Meanwhile, the excellent Chinese restaurant scene is diversifying to include more regional cuisines, and there’s no shortage of hot pot. But perhaps the hottest cuisine in Seattle right now is Filipino, with restaurants like Musang and Archipelago seeing national recognition during the pandemic.


Where to start on Eater Seattle’s top maps

Eater publishes plenty of maps detailing the top places and things to eat and drink in Seattle. Below, we cherry pick the top points on our most popular maps to help time-starved diners prioritize which spots to visit.

New Restaurants: This list changes monthly and includes restaurants changing Seattle’s dining scene for the better that have opened in the last six months. Right now, Pioneer Square restaurant Señor Carbon is introducing Seattleites to a cuisine forged by Nikkei, Japanese immigrants in Peru and their ancestors. The menu includes nigiri with Peruvian garnishes and sauces like aji amarillo as well as more traditional Peruvian dishes like lomo saltado. Meanwhile, Bunsoy, a nostalgic Filipino restaurant in Ballard is serving whole and half Dungeness crab with balaw sauce strewn with fresh herbs — a mix of Filipino flavors and Northwest ingredients — and The Chicken Supply is serving superlatively crunchy gluten-free Filipino fried chicken with tangy vegetable sides.

Essential Restaurants: If you need to narrow down from the 38 standout dining destinations, one might start off at Musang — the cozy Filipinx restaurant in Beacon Hill from star chef Melissa Miranda that features ingredients from local farms, ranches, and fisheries. A night at sushi master Shiro Kashiba’s Pike Place omakase counter is bound to be unforgettable. And the Sichuan dishes at Northgate’s Tian Fu will leave your tastebuds in a bewildered ecstasy.

Mapo tofu, made with cubes of soft tofu swimming in chili oil.
Tian Fu’s mapo tofu.
Tian Fu

Bars: Seattle loves a well-crafted cocktail, and relaxed booze laws for to-go drinks during the pandemic helped many haunts stay afloat. There are a few newer spots, such as Fremont’s funky Dreamland Bar & Diner, Capitol Hill’s the Doctor’s Office, and Phocific Standard Time, a Vietnamese bar above the longstanding Pho Bac Sup Shop in Little Saigon. Longer standing options include Capitol Hill’s Knee High Stocking Company, which slings potent spiked shrub concoctions. Seattle also boasts wine bars and bottleshops galore, like the playful La Dive (focused on natural wine); hopheads will want to geek out at the city’s incredible beer halls.

Breweries: There’s been an exciting proliferation of breweries throughout Seattle in recent years, but Holy Mountain, with its constantly changing menu of off-beat, barrel-aged beers, is a must-visit. Cloudburst, just north of Pike Place Market, is a masterful maker of award-winning IPAs. Many breweries, too, have become meccas for the excellent food pop-ups which have thrived in Seattle during the pandemic, particularly Ballard’s Fair Isle Brewing, which serves tangy saisons to pair with Taiwanese food, whole roasted Turkish lamb, and more offerings from regular guest chefs.

Coffee: Experience Seattle’s essential coffee shops, or hit up the hottest additions to the city’s famed scene. Recently, a young generation of coffee lovers have brought renewed appreciation for Vietnamese roasts, including Hello Em and Phin in the International District, and Coffeeholic House in Columbia City. Bubble tea is also ubiquitous and one can find some excellent options in Greenwood’s Hangry Panda, or at the University District location of Taiwanese chain Don’t Yell At Me.

Views: In this fetching city, taking in the sparkling scenery is a must. Trek across Elliott Bay to dine on Hawaiian-Korean creations at Marination Ma Kai or nab an Adirondack chair on the north end of Lake Union for Mediterranean-inspired fare with a skyline view at Westward. Now that Seattle has made it a little easier to get a street plaza permit, outdoor seating is more prevalent than it’s been in the past, and — according to public health officials — considered safer than dining in enclosed spaces. Here are the heated and covered spots to seek out during colder weather days.


A few Seattle neighborhoods to know

These are the key areas of the city every self-proclaimed food-lover has got to survey — complete with what to eat and drink in each.

A plate displaying campechano tacos on a counter at Carmelo’s
Carmelo’s Tacos is located in Capitol Hill’s Hillcrest Market.
Carmelo’s Tacos/Instagram

Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill is Seattle’s historically LGBTQ+ neighborhood, and though it’s contending with gentrification, it still has excellent queer businesses. It’s also one of Seattle’s best dining neighborhoods. See some of the finest options in our neighborhood guide. For Mexican, don’t miss Carmelo’s Tacos, and the Laotian restaurant Taurus Ox serves sausages fragrant with lemongrass and satisfying pork jowl smash burgers. Those newer to the city may want to sample the boozy ginger beer purveyor Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and in a takeout-heavy world, the ever-popular Malaysian spot Kedai Makan has made some nice adjustments.

International District

As diverse a neighborhood as you’ll find in the city, this is the home to Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon, with all the wonderful cuisines those represent and more; see our neighborhood dining guide for tons of great options. In particular, there’s great finds at the lunch-, weekday-, cash-only favorite Thai Curry Simple, terrific dumplings in soup at Mike’s Noodle House, and spicy wontons at Gourmet Noodle Bowl. Meanwhile, Tai Tung and Maneki are Seattle classics, and Saigon Vietnam Deli is great for a quick bite.

Ballard

Once a rough-and-tumble fishing village, Ballard has changed a lot since it was annexed into Seattle city limits in 1907. The neighborhood — mapped out for your dining convenience here — straddles the line between modern development and the preservation of its early history. There’s plenty worth eating here, including wood-fired pizza perfectionist Delancey, Caribbean sandwich restaurant Un Bien and Lebanese restaurant Cafe Munir, with its plethora of mezzes, while Rupee Bar delivers cocktails alongside Sri Lankan snacks. One can also work up an appetite while perusing the cases of meat at popular butcher shop Beast & Cleaver, which takes care in sourcing its cuts from sustainable ranches; it also serves cooked meat at night when the shop turns into a restaurant, The Peasant.

Georgetown

Georgetown has a history of grit and brick, but has also become a thriving culinary and cultural destination over recent years, fostering a local character that draws in visitors from all over town. During the COVID-19 pandemic, local breweries, restaurants, dive bars, and cafes have made adjustments to more takeout options and outdoor seating in industrial chic spaces. One can find wonderful slices of cakes at Deep Sea Sugar and Salt, great vegan sandwiches at Georgetown Liquor Company, and intricate six-course prix fixe meals at the Corson Building. Of course, don’t forget about the beer — the breweries here are among the best in the city.

Fremont

Known as a neighborhood thriving with creative spirit (and a large bridge troll), Fremont is located just north of the city, to the east of Ballard. There are many great places to choose from when deciding on dinner plans, but a few standouts include chef Mutsuko Soma’s soba destination Kamonegi, the Indian restaurant Meesha (which gradually took over the former Pomerol), and the succulent crab rolls at Local Tide. The James Beard Award-winning chef Rachel Yang runs the kitchen at Joule, known for its kalbi short ribs, and burger fans should head to Uneeda for some seriously great patties.

West Seattle

This neighborhood has had an especially hard time in recent months due to the West Seattle bridge closure. But its dining scene is worth the traffic hassle. There’s wonderful fried chicken at Ma’ono (long considered one of Seattle’s best fried chicken spots), fantastic pizza at Supreme, and smoked meats at Lady Jaye, which boasts a terrific backyard patio. Seafood fans should check out Mashiko for sushi that emphasizes sustainability, and for those recovering from a long night, Easy Street Records & Cafe serves breakfast with a killer soundtrack.

Other neighborhood guides:

Burien, Renton, Central District, U District, Near the Space Needle,Tacoma, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.


Glossary of Seattle food terms and celebrities

Seattle Hot Dog:

It’s a hot dog or sausage slathered in — wait for it — cream cheese and grilled onions. The origin story goes back to the late-1990s, when a bagel cart in Pioneer Square went a little rogue. Though it sounds strange, these concoctions are surprisingly good, and are available at Pike Place Market, until late at night at the stands bumping Latin dance music and selling the hot dogs along with elotes in Capitol Hill, and other places around town.

Geoduck:

Pronounced “gooey duck,” this is an enormous, coveted clam that often shocks newcomers with its odd appearance. Pre-pandemic, it was a thriving industry, but many of Washington’s geoduck merchants — particularly tribal operations — watched as business plummeted due to exporting issues, though business is starting to pick up as restaurants recover from the pandemic. Take a deeper dive on this beloved Pacific Northwest native, and look out for it at places like Taylor Shellfish and Lam’s Seafood.

Teriyaki:

This sticky-sweet Japanese-American dish is a Seattle specialty, popularized by Toshihiro Kasahara at Toshi’s Teriyaki Restaurant in the 1970s. One can still find Kasahara north of the city at Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill (16212 Bothell Everett Hwy, Mill Creek); there’s laundry paired doughnuts and teriyaki at King Donuts and Teriyaki and Laundromat; and gluten-free options in West Seattle at Grillbird Teriyaki.

The ‘Original’ Starbucks:

Even those who have never been to Seattle before probably don’t need to check out Starbucks’ faux-riginal location in Pike Place Market (the true original was nearby at the corner of Western and Virginia). But the company’s modern, copper-plated Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room on Capitol Hill (1124 Pike Street) may be worth a visit as an alternative. It’s where the company makes fresh specialty beans, and is home to a full bar and bakery. Many Starbucks workers in the Seattle area and across the country, including at the Reserve Roastery, are attempting to unionize and demanding higher pay, while the company is pushing back aggressively. Again, here’s a reminder that there are plenty of great independent coffee shops to check out.

Canlis:

Old-school yet relevant, Canlis is Seattle’s classic white-tablecloth, fine-dining, dress-code restaurant, which has shown a great deal of versatility during the pandemic by briefly becoming a burger drive-thru, an outdoor movie theater, and by throwing a crab boil event. The restaurant hired a new chef last year, Aisha Ibrahim, whose background at Japanese kaiseki restaurants is bringing more hyper-seasonality to the menu. It’s still owned and operated by the Canlis family, and it’s still setting the benchmark for quality and service in the city. One of the only permanent fixtures, the Canlis salad, is an icon; the rest of the menu rotates.

The exterior of Canlis restaurant at night with the dining room lit up
Canlis is one of Seattle’s most iconic restaurants.
Canlis

Renee Erickson:

This James Beard Award-winning chef channels rustic European country cooking by way of seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients in her bright, airy, elegant spaces. She runs some of the city’s most adored spots, including oyster bar the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Whale Wins and Larder (which transitioned to a hybrid market in 2020), innovative steakhouse Bateau, which sells unusual cuts of grass-fed, grass-finished beef in efforts to be a sustainable steakhouse, and even a doughnut shop called General Porpoise.

Shiro Kashiba:

A legend in his own right, this beloved chef trained with Jiro Ono (of Jiro Dreams of Sushi) before bringing edomae-style sushi to Seattle and defining its scene over the past 50 years. He spent early days at Maneki and other spots, pioneering the use of local seafood, then two decades at namesake Shiro’s. Finally, after the world’s shortest retirement, Kashiba returned to the counter in late 2015 at Pike Place Market’s Sushi Kashiba, an incredible ode to fresh fish. He’s now focused on helping the next generation of Seattle sushi chefs open their own restaurants.


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