Seafood in Seattle: Where to Find the Best Fish and Shellfish
Few Seattle restaurants bill themselves as 'seafood restaurants', for much the same reason that few restaurants elsewhere categorise themselves as 'meat restaurants'. Great fish and shellfish are so embedded in the fabric of the city that diners can assume it will show up on nearly any type of menu, rather than seeking out a special spot. Some places specialise further, like oyster houses, sushi bars, and fish and chips shacks, while others simply serve some of the city’s best sea creatures as part of their Vietnamese, Chinese, Italian, or local Pacific Northwestern menu.
For chefs in Seattle, slicing up salmon sits alongside Frenching ribs or dicing onions as a basic and necessary kitchen skill. Fishing fleets stream down from Alaska filled with flash-frozen fillets and nearby Puget Sound brims with the kind of cold, clean saltwater that produces a plentiful pipeline of wild and farm-raised shellfish. It all adds up to a restaurant scene with an endless parade of fantastic fish, and this list of a few favourites represents only a starting point for exploring Seattle’s sparkling seafood scene.
Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar
Photo courtesy of Taylor Shellfish
Nobody in the area knows better how to glorify the local seafood than this fifth-generation family-owned shellfish farm. Beyond growing some of the best and best-known oysters – kumamoto, Shigoku, and native Olympias – they pride themselves on pairing them with the wine that best shows off the seafood. At their Seattle locations - and in this Melrose Ave. one in particular - cool marble and blue décor evoke the oceanic origins of the food: all kinds of oysters, cracked crab, and even the iconic giant clam known as geoduck. The Salish Sea Sampler, a platter of that day’s freshest fish and best bivalves, served raw and unadorned (or only lightly so) makes for a big, briny introduction to the stars of Seattle seafood.
Seattle Fish Guys
Photo courtesy of Seattle Fish Guys
Part poke bar, part seafood shop, all full of local spirit and a touch of aloha – this Central District café and counter keeps the fish fresh with their hybrid model. Despite actually being a fish market, the space exudes warmth, drawing on the family-owned feel – it’s co-owned by the grandson of legendary local fishing store owners and a longtime fishmonger at some of the city’s best seafood markets. The restaurant menu focuses on dishes that prioritise the quality of the seafood, like Hawaiian-style poke, shrimp cocktails, and a sashimi plate, with chowders, sandwiches and desserts from local bakeries rounding it out, but the most interesting item always comes from the specials board – usually something fresh and in-season, like stunning local sea urchin.
Photo courtesy of Ba Bar
These all-day cafes from sibling restaurateurs Eric and Sophie Banh shines at the intersection of two of Seattle’s greatest culinary assets – Vietnamese and seafood. Swanky, modern spaces feature dark wood and sharp corners, while the trendy cocktail bar belies the traditional hew of the food. The menu brings classic Vietnamese dishes like bún chả cá lã vọng to the Northwest by incorporating rockfish and shows off the region’s Dungeness crab in garlic noodles. Not all the seafood comes from nearby, as in their bánh tôm hồ tây – fried shrimp fritters – but it all comes filtered through the local mindset of using high-quality products and letting the seafood shine.
White Swan Public House
Photo courtesy of White Swan Public House
While sibling restaurant Matt’s in the Market gets much of the glory from its iconic Pike Place location, this South Lake Union spot gives diners a stellar view of the Space Needle and the seaplanes taking off as they dig into the city’s best seafood chowder: fresh fish and shellfish mingle in a creamy broth with all the classics – potato, bacon, and celery. For a heartier portion, White Swan also turns it into a gravy with steamed clams and pours it over French fries, something they call 'Poutine of the Sea'. The pub-style menu of slight tweaks on classic seafood – steamed mussels, crab mac and cheese, and smoked salmon salad – lives up to the locals’ high expectations while also appealing to the less seafood savvy. In summer, the giant outdoor patio opens for service from a seafood shack that serves a similar but slightly smaller menu.
Photo courtesy of Mashiko
The first existing sushi restaurant in the U.S. to convert to only sustainable seafood, then-owner Hajime Soto took a risk by standing up for what he felt was right. He wove an ethos of care for people and animal into his long-established reputation as a sushi restaurant with a strong sense of fun. Now owned by his protégés, it continues to operate with the same thoughtful, creative style and sky-high standards, serving dishes like catfish cooked like eel, sake-poached oysters, and even a mackerel roll with blue cheese and beets – still served with a side of sass.
Photo courtesy of Crawfish House
Nominally nautical décor like fishing nets hangs all over the walls, peppered with sayings about crawfish or alluding to its Louisiana roots and giving off an old-school seafood shack feel. Combining Vietnamese flavours and Louisiana-style crawfish boils may not seem like something worth seeking out in Seattle, but this spot brings seafood spirit inspired by all over into a truly special place, and is one of the few places serving the native local crawfish – bigger and cleaner-tasting than their Southern siblings. Ignore the menu of classic but ordinary New Orleans fare and focus on the customisable crawfish boils - which can include Dungeness, king, or snow crab, as well as clams and mussels. The choice of sauces varies from classic Cajun to the tamarind-spiked tango, and come in a near-infinite spice range, though the five-star version slays even the most heat-tolerant eaters.