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A patty melt sandwich Meg van Huygen

19 Terrific Restaurants in Tacoma

Seattle’s southern neighbor has a wide selection of excellent dining options, from elk sliders to bison melts to incredible bagels

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Tacoma’s dining scene has been thriving in recent years, with a diverse mix of wonderful restaurants. Some of that growth has been stymied by the pandemic (longtime favorites Pacific Grill and the Swiss Restaurant & Pub shuttered for good). But there are still plenty of great places hanging tough including hole-in-the-walls, fine dining spots, dumpling stands, taquerias, soup emporiums, and top-notch soul food for omnivores and vegans alike. While this list generally sticks to Tacoma, it makes a few detours to Lakewood’s Korean dining district, because it’s one of Pierce County’s best food destinations.

Know of a spot that should be on our radar? Send us a tip by emailing seattle@eater.com. As usual, this list is not ranked; it’s organized geographically.

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Tatanka Take-Out

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Just up the road from Point Defiance Park, this little drive-in specializes in fast food made from bison meat. (Tatanka means “bison” in Lakota.) Despite the name, Tatanka Take-Out has dine-in options as well (the decor is classic 1950s and bison-themed). The unmissable classic here is the bison melt, piled with Swiss and caramelized onions on dill rye; the bean and bison burrito with garlicky hot sauce is a solid second place. There are plenty of veggie options on this menu, like a tofu-crimini burrito, and owner Nathan Thomas also sells bison jerky, ground bison, and even take-and-bake bison lasagnas. 

A patty melt sandwich
The bison melt at Tatanka Take-Out
Meg van Huygen

Cuerno Bravo Steakhouse

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California-born, Mexico-raised chef David Orozco grew up in Guadalajara, where everything’s grilled over mesquite, and that’s the name of the game at his trio of Mexican steakhouses, along with just impeccably high-quality beef. The newest branch, Cuerno Bravo, is perhaps the swankiest of the three — less of a tavern feel than his Asadero locations in Seattle and Kent, and more geared toward a big birthday night. Ordering anything but a steak here is advised against. The eight-ounce Japanese wagyu A5 ribeye is a clever balance between size, quality, and price, and it comes with its own screamingly hot stone upon which diners interactively sizzle the wagyu themselves, morsel by morsel.

The Rusty Goat

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Downtown Tac’s Opera Alley has a rep for funky, artsy shops and restaurants, and the Rusty Goat fits in seamlessly. Open since February 2022, this Black-owned bar/cafe has a super-chill third-place vibe, espresso by local roasters, and one of Tacoma’s most diverse tap lists. Another fun bonus is its menu of okazu pan, warm Japanese buns filled with savory meat and veggies, made by Seattle’s Umami Kushi.

Da Tiki Hut

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It’s the Hawaiian restaurant of your dreams. Inside a former Taco Time on Sixth Avenue, this family restaurant-slash-tiki bar feels like it was preserved in amber in about 1961. (It actually opened in 2014.) The campy rattan hut-booths, all decorated with carved masks and potted palms, are fun for dinner, but the real party is in the secret bar in the back, where cocktails come loaded with tropical fruit, orchids, and tons of rum. Don’t miss the short rib combo, the various mocos and musubis — including a Spam katsu musubi — or anything that comes with mac salad (like the bacon cheeseburger, heh). Top it all off with a Dole whip because you gotta.

Busy Body

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Brought to you by the crew behind Belltown’s Screwdriver Bar, this swingin’ restobar’s theme is “garage rock bands from Tacoma.” Weirdly specific, but sure! With a couple obscure exceptions, this pretty much means the Sonics, the Ventures, and the Fabulous Wailers, all on Tacoma-based Etiquette Records. (“Busy Body!” is a Sonics song, for what it’s worth.) Anyway, the result came out stunning, with a custom illuminated jukebox-like bar surrounded by LPs, velvet paintings, and band memorabilia. The craft cocktails are lovely, like the Witch (named for another Sonics single, with gin, Suze, Zucca Rabarbaro, and orange bitters), while the food is by Musangtino’s, created by Melissa Miranda of Seattle’s Musang and Kilig. It’s Filipino street food like adobo wings, a shrimp-pork lumpia burger, and spaghetti mang — that’s a pile of sweet pork, banana ketchup, spaghetti, and tomato sauce served with American cheese over fries, poutine style.  

A bartender standing behind a bar. Meg van Huygen

Sushi Tama

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This mom-and-pop sushi restaurant has operated in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood for more than 20 years. No flaming rolls or splashy sauces here — just sushi with a simple aesthetic that showcases the freshest fish. And the menu features some of the best agedashi tofu in the city.

Field Bar & Bottle Shop

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On trendy Sixth Avenue, Field Bar is holding down a balance between upscale bistro and chill-ass spot for cocktails and snackity bar bites. The hyper-seasonal menu is always a masterwork of creative composition — a recent edition included a corn risotto with pickled onions, fennel, and chili crisp along with a dry-aged prosciutto plate with candied melon, za’atar, and some kind of god-tier sourdough crostini. The Wes Andersonian details in the decor and the cocktail list are cute too.

en Rama

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Barkeep-owner Chris Keil blurs the lines between kitchen and bar with his expertly composed cocktails, including saffron-cardamom whiskey old fashioneds and margaritas goosed with pear brandy. The food menu features excellent burgers for vegans or omnivores, handmade pastas, an ever-changing menu of house pickles, and the best pimento cheese in Tacoma.

Bob's Bar-B-Q Pit

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Bob and Elizabeth Littles founded Bob’s downtown in 1948. Their daughter Carolyn Littles moved the restaurant to the Hilltop 30 years ago and now runs it with her sons, who still cook with granddad’s Texas pit recipes. Sloppy sandwiches, tender ribs, supple pulled pork, hot wings, and chopped beef are served with a choice of three sauces carrying varying levels of heat. Diners should save room for Tacoma’s best peach cobbler.

Several large hunks of meat roasting on a barbecue
Bob’s Bar-B-Q has been around for decades, slinging excellent Texas pit dishes.
Bob’s Bar-B-Q/Facebook

Dusty’s Hideaway

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Set up in an old Craftsman in the up-and-coming McKinley neighborhood, Dusty’s has big Santa Fe energy: all mission-style furniture, pastel desert colors, a fascinating collection of vintage knickknacks, plus a tiny bar in the back (with boozy slushies!). Outside, there’s picnic tables and a big yard for alfresco dining and kids to run around in. The menu is Southwest-tinged brunch, burgers, and sandwiches with a handful of creative items, both food and cocktails. Their hot honey fried chicken sandwich is a serious contender for best fried chicken in the whole Puget Sound area, and the snacky chickaronnes — deep-fried chicken skins, in the style of pork chicharrones — are a rich little treat. 

Melon Seed Deli & Frozen Yogurt

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At this Oakland deli, owner Mario Charles boasts a robust sandwich list, which includes a fantastic tuna melt with a three-cheese blend and a slider menu for vegetarians. Diners shouldn’t forget about the frozen yogurt, which is topped with fresh fruit. It’s availalble for takeout, but the deli doesn’t always answer the phone, so it’s best to just stop by.

A vegetable-stuffed sandwich on two buns, with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and yellow pepper
Melon Seed Deli has built a reputation for excellent sandwiches.
Melon Seed Deli & Frozen Yogurt/Instagram

Lunar's Pho

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Lunar’s is on a street with several other pho joints, but this is the one you want. Why? It’s their luscious beef rib pho, which comes with two massive, meaty dinosaur bones stuck defiantly in the middle of your bowl. It’s a spectacle to behold, and especially once you see the tender meat slide into the soup the second you touch the bones. Steak and ginger pho, served with a Chinese doughnut and cilantro in place of basil, is another unique item — the steak in the soup is rolled around superfine matchsticks of ginger that gradually gingembrify the whole bowl. Don’t forget a buttery slice of housemade banana cake for dessert.

Vien Dong

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Tacoma’s Lincoln neighborhood is the city’s epicenter for Vietnamese dining, and this long-tenured spot is a great example why, serving steaming hot bowls of pho that travel well, plus abundant bún noodle bowls, stir fry, and more. Phnom Penh noodles topped with a raft of cilantro are a must.

Spring rolls on a platter spread out like a bouquet with dipping sauce at the center
Spring rolls at Vien Dong
Vien Dong/Facebook

The Church Cantina

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Nicole De La Paz pays homage to her family’s roots with Cuban and Latin American bar food, including messy Cuban sandwiches, chimichurri churrasco, mojo pork bowls, and a decadent chicken mole boosted with cherries. There’s also an all-day brunch menu that includes an ethereal fried egg biscuit sandwich with chorizo gravy.

Two plates side by side: chorizo chili and cheesy jalapeño corn bread in honey butter
Chorizo chili and cheesy jalapeño corn bread in honey butter
The Church Cantina/Facebook

Howdy Bagel

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Who knew that one of Tacoma’s most happening queer spaces would turn out to be a bagel shop? During the COVID-19 lockdown, co-owners and husbands Daniel Blagovich and Jake Carter learned to make bagels when everyone else was learning sourdough, and after a couple years on the farmers’ market circuit, they decided to put down roots in Tacoma. Their DARLING bakery is festooned in Western kitsch with an LGBTQ undercurrent — notably their sexy cowpoke pinup logo, with one thigh slung through a giant bagel. Howdy’s bagels are chewy with a tight crumb and a glossy carapace, and their sandwiches are both delicious and highly Instagrammable, like the gooey pastrami egg and cheese and the Grit City (that’s Tacoma!) Lox. 

The cross-section of a bagel with salmon and cream cheese. Meg van Huygen

Los Tamales

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Some of the city’s best tamales can be found at this East Tacoma spot, from the same family that operates El Jalapeno grocery store next door. In addition to the rotating tamale list (which typically includes chicken and pork), there’s also a long list of antojitos, plus barbacoa tacos with consomme, pizza-coas, and quesabirria. Corn tortillas are made fresh on site.

A tray of enchiladas, next to tacos and sauces in containers at Los Tamales in Tacoma
In addition to its namesake dish, Los Tamales has a wide selection of excellent tacos and other Mexican specialties.
Los Tamales/Facebook

Tacoma Szechuan

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Super spiced cuisine is the specialty at this Lakewood restaurant. Diners can assemble a full meal just from the appetizer menu, which includes wontons in chile oil, Chongqing slobbering chicken, tofu, and cold noodles. Other standouts are the braised beef noodle soup, and hand shaved dan dan noodles.

A shredded Chinese pork dish with spices and vegetables atop a bed of rice
Tacoma Szechuan has a menu full of tongue-numbing dishes.
Joe McDonald/Google Maps

Cho Dang Tofu

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Pillowy clouds of soft tofu give this spicy Korean soondubu soup its signature silken texture. From the list of 14 soondubu, first-timers should order the bacon tofu soup and ask for extra yellow croaker banchan if available. There’s limited dine-in service, but the soups are also packaged to travel well for those who prefer takeout.

BAR BISTRO

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The Tacoma News Tribune’s dearly departed food critic Sue Kidd hyped this place long before it was cool. Although it’s actually hard to know if the word’s out on Bar Bistro, because it’s way out in rural Midland. That means the restaurant’s tiny parking lot is rarely full, and prices have stayed super reasonable. (Maybe it’s poppin’ by Midland standards!) With a menu full of well-styled comfort food like paella made with local seafood and elk sliders dressed with lingonberries and pimento cheese, as well as innovative craft cocktails — e.g., the Red Cloud with whiskey, green chartreuse, honey, smoke, and a Native American chokecherry compote called wajopi — it’s worth the drive.

A plate of paella
Seafood paella at Bar Bistro
Meg Van Huygen

Tatanka Take-Out

Just up the road from Point Defiance Park, this little drive-in specializes in fast food made from bison meat. (Tatanka means “bison” in Lakota.) Despite the name, Tatanka Take-Out has dine-in options as well (the decor is classic 1950s and bison-themed). The unmissable classic here is the bison melt, piled with Swiss and caramelized onions on dill rye; the bean and bison burrito with garlicky hot sauce is a solid second place. There are plenty of veggie options on this menu, like a tofu-crimini burrito, and owner Nathan Thomas also sells bison jerky, ground bison, and even take-and-bake bison lasagnas. 

A patty melt sandwich
The bison melt at Tatanka Take-Out
Meg van Huygen

Cuerno Bravo Steakhouse

California-born, Mexico-raised chef David Orozco grew up in Guadalajara, where everything’s grilled over mesquite, and that’s the name of the game at his trio of Mexican steakhouses, along with just impeccably high-quality beef. The newest branch, Cuerno Bravo, is perhaps the swankiest of the three — less of a tavern feel than his Asadero locations in Seattle and Kent, and more geared toward a big birthday night. Ordering anything but a steak here is advised against. The eight-ounce Japanese wagyu A5 ribeye is a clever balance between size, quality, and price, and it comes with its own screamingly hot stone upon which diners interactively sizzle the wagyu themselves, morsel by morsel.

The Rusty Goat

Downtown Tac’s Opera Alley has a rep for funky, artsy shops and restaurants, and the Rusty Goat fits in seamlessly. Open since February 2022, this Black-owned bar/cafe has a super-chill third-place vibe, espresso by local roasters, and one of Tacoma’s most diverse tap lists. Another fun bonus is its menu of okazu pan, warm Japanese buns filled with savory meat and veggies, made by Seattle’s Umami Kushi.

Da Tiki Hut

It’s the Hawaiian restaurant of your dreams. Inside a former Taco Time on Sixth Avenue, this family restaurant-slash-tiki bar feels like it was preserved in amber in about 1961. (It actually opened in 2014.) The campy rattan hut-booths, all decorated with carved masks and potted palms, are fun for dinner, but the real party is in the secret bar in the back, where cocktails come loaded with tropical fruit, orchids, and tons of rum. Don’t miss the short rib combo, the various mocos and musubis — including a Spam katsu musubi — or anything that comes with mac salad (like the bacon cheeseburger, heh). Top it all off with a Dole whip because you gotta.

Busy Body

Brought to you by the crew behind Belltown’s Screwdriver Bar, this swingin’ restobar’s theme is “garage rock bands from Tacoma.” Weirdly specific, but sure! With a couple obscure exceptions, this pretty much means the Sonics, the Ventures, and the Fabulous Wailers, all on Tacoma-based Etiquette Records. (“Busy Body!” is a Sonics song, for what it’s worth.) Anyway, the result came out stunning, with a custom illuminated jukebox-like bar surrounded by LPs, velvet paintings, and band memorabilia. The craft cocktails are lovely, like the Witch (named for another Sonics single, with gin, Suze, Zucca Rabarbaro, and orange bitters), while the food is by Musangtino’s, created by Melissa Miranda of Seattle’s Musang and Kilig. It’s Filipino street food like adobo wings, a shrimp-pork lumpia burger, and spaghetti mang — that’s a pile of sweet pork, banana ketchup, spaghetti, and tomato sauce served with American cheese over fries, poutine style.  

A bartender standing behind a bar. Meg van Huygen

Sushi Tama

This mom-and-pop sushi restaurant has operated in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood for more than 20 years. No flaming rolls or splashy sauces here — just sushi with a simple aesthetic that showcases the freshest fish. And the menu features some of the best agedashi tofu in the city.

Field Bar & Bottle Shop

On trendy Sixth Avenue, Field Bar is holding down a balance between upscale bistro and chill-ass spot for cocktails and snackity bar bites. The hyper-seasonal menu is always a masterwork of creative composition — a recent edition included a corn risotto with pickled onions, fennel, and chili crisp along with a dry-aged prosciutto plate with candied melon, za’atar, and some kind of god-tier sourdough crostini. The Wes Andersonian details in the decor and the cocktail list are cute too.

en Rama

Barkeep-owner Chris Keil blurs the lines between kitchen and bar with his expertly composed cocktails, including saffron-cardamom whiskey old fashioneds and margaritas goosed with pear brandy. The food menu features excellent burgers for vegans or omnivores, handmade pastas, an ever-changing menu of house pickles, and the best pimento cheese in Tacoma.

Bob's Bar-B-Q Pit

Bob and Elizabeth Littles founded Bob’s downtown in 1948. Their daughter Carolyn Littles moved the restaurant to the Hilltop 30 years ago and now runs it with her sons, who still cook with granddad’s Texas pit recipes. Sloppy sandwiches, tender ribs, supple pulled pork, hot wings, and chopped beef are served with a choice of three sauces carrying varying levels of heat. Diners should save room for Tacoma’s best peach cobbler.

Several large hunks of meat roasting on a barbecue
Bob’s Bar-B-Q has been around for decades, slinging excellent Texas pit dishes.
Bob’s Bar-B-Q/Facebook

Dusty’s Hideaway

Set up in an old Craftsman in the up-and-coming McKinley neighborhood, Dusty’s has big Santa Fe energy: all mission-style furniture, pastel desert colors, a fascinating collection of vintage knickknacks, plus a tiny bar in the back (with boozy slushies!). Outside, there’s picnic tables and a big yard for alfresco dining and kids to run around in. The menu is Southwest-tinged brunch, burgers, and sandwiches with a handful of creative items, both food and cocktails. Their hot honey fried chicken sandwich is a serious contender for best fried chicken in the whole Puget Sound area, and the snacky chickaronnes — deep-fried chicken skins, in the style of pork chicharrones — are a rich little treat. 

Melon Seed Deli & Frozen Yogurt

At this Oakland deli, owner Mario Charles boasts a robust sandwich list, which includes a fantastic tuna melt with a three-cheese blend and a slider menu for vegetarians. Diners shouldn’t forget about the frozen yogurt, which is topped with fresh fruit. It’s availalble for takeout, but the deli doesn’t always answer the phone, so it’s best to just stop by.

A vegetable-stuffed sandwich on two buns, with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and yellow pepper
Melon Seed Deli has built a reputation for excellent sandwiches.
Melon Seed Deli & Frozen Yogurt/Instagram

Lunar's Pho

Lunar’s is on a street with several other pho joints, but this is the one you want. Why? It’s their luscious beef rib pho, which comes with two massive, meaty dinosaur bones stuck defiantly in the middle of your bowl. It’s a spectacle to behold, and especially once you see the tender meat slide into the soup the second you touch the bones. Steak and ginger pho, served with a Chinese doughnut and cilantro in place of basil, is another unique item — the steak in the soup is rolled around superfine matchsticks of ginger that gradually gingembrify the whole bowl. Don’t forget a buttery slice of housemade banana cake for dessert.

Vien Dong

Tacoma’s Lincoln neighborhood is the city’s epicenter for Vietnamese dining, and this long-tenured spot is a great example why, serving steaming hot bowls of pho that travel well, plus abundant bún noodle bowls, stir fry, and more. Phnom Penh noodles topped with a raft of cilantro are a must.

Spring rolls on a platter spread out like a bouquet with dipping sauce at the center
Spring rolls at Vien Dong
Vien Dong/Facebook

The Church Cantina

Nicole De La Paz pays homage to her family’s roots with Cuban and Latin American bar food, including messy Cuban sandwiches, chimichurri churrasco, mojo pork bowls, and a decadent chicken mole boosted with cherries. There’s also an all-day brunch menu that includes an ethereal fried egg biscuit sandwich with chorizo gravy.

Two plates side by side: chorizo chili and cheesy jalapeño corn bread in honey butter
Chorizo chili and cheesy jalapeño corn bread in honey butter
The Church Cantina/Facebook

Howdy Bagel

Who knew that one of Tacoma’s most happening queer spaces would turn out to be a bagel shop? During the COVID-19 lockdown, co-owners and husbands Daniel Blagovich and Jake Carter learned to make bagels when everyone else was learning sourdough, and after a couple years on the farmers’ market circuit, they decided to put down roots in Tacoma. Their DARLING bakery is festooned in Western kitsch with an LGBTQ undercurrent — notably their sexy cowpoke pinup logo, with one thigh slung through a giant bagel. Howdy’s bagels are chewy with a tight crumb and a glossy carapace, and their sandwiches are both delicious and highly Instagrammable, like the gooey pastrami egg and cheese and the Grit City (that’s Tacoma!) Lox. 

The cross-section of a bagel with salmon and cream cheese. Meg van Huygen

Related Maps

Los Tamales

Some of the city’s best tamales can be found at this East Tacoma spot, from the same family that operates El Jalapeno grocery store next door. In addition to the rotating tamale list (which typically includes chicken and pork), there’s also a long list of antojitos, plus barbacoa tacos with consomme, pizza-coas, and quesabirria. Corn tortillas are made fresh on site.

A tray of enchiladas, next to tacos and sauces in containers at Los Tamales in Tacoma
In addition to its namesake dish, Los Tamales has a wide selection of excellent tacos and other Mexican specialties.
Los Tamales/Facebook

Tacoma Szechuan

Super spiced cuisine is the specialty at this Lakewood restaurant. Diners can assemble a full meal just from the appetizer menu, which includes wontons in chile oil, Chongqing slobbering chicken, tofu, and cold noodles. Other standouts are the braised beef noodle soup, and hand shaved dan dan noodles.

A shredded Chinese pork dish with spices and vegetables atop a bed of rice
Tacoma Szechuan has a menu full of tongue-numbing dishes.
Joe McDonald/Google Maps

Cho Dang Tofu

Pillowy clouds of soft tofu give this spicy Korean soondubu soup its signature silken texture. From the list of 14 soondubu, first-timers should order the bacon tofu soup and ask for extra yellow croaker banchan if available. There’s limited dine-in service, but the soups are also packaged to travel well for those who prefer takeout.

BAR BISTRO

The Tacoma News Tribune’s dearly departed food critic Sue Kidd hyped this place long before it was cool. Although it’s actually hard to know if the word’s out on Bar Bistro, because it’s way out in rural Midland. That means the restaurant’s tiny parking lot is rarely full, and prices have stayed super reasonable. (Maybe it’s poppin’ by Midland standards!) With a menu full of well-styled comfort food like paella made with local seafood and elk sliders dressed with lingonberries and pimento cheese, as well as innovative craft cocktails — e.g., the Red Cloud with whiskey, green chartreuse, honey, smoke, and a Native American chokecherry compote called wajopi — it’s worth the drive.

A plate of paella
Seafood paella at Bar Bistro
Meg Van Huygen

Related Maps