Where to Eat in Seattle
From its perch on the West Coast, Seattle looks as often to Asia for inspiration as it does to anywhere else: many of the city’s best restaurants boast Filipino, Japanese, or Chinese food. But whether featuring the food of southern Italy or the American south, local chefs draw on ingredients that show off the crisp, cool merroir of Salish Sea seafood, the hauntingly deep forest flavour of mushrooms raised by the region’s famous rains, and the sweet fruits (literal and figurative) of the long summer days.
Seattle cuisine – aside from a few unique local quirks like cream cheese on hot dogs – comes less from a particular dish and more from how the best chefs weave their own culinary heritage into the Pacific Northwest’s flavourful abundance.
Photo courtesy of Kamonegi
When Mutsuko Soma learned that her adopted home state grew enormous amounts of buckwheat, she found her culinary calling: while back in Japan, she learned the art of soba. At her Fremont restaurant, she and her staff make the buckwheat noodles by hand each afternoon, then serve them with the traditional pairing of tempura, using local ingredients such as matsutake mushrooms, sockeye salmon, and kabocha squash. She balances traditional dishes, like the duck and leek soba from which the restaurant takes its name, with her own creations, like shrimp tempura bisque. Her flights of fancy – think duck fat mochi and tempura Oreos – meet their match only in the flights of sake from sibling spot Hannyatou, next door.
Photo courtesy of Archipelago
Filtering his Filipino heritage through solely Northwest ingredients requires chef Aaron Verzosa to channel his fine-dining training, experience at Modernist Cuisine, and all of his creativity. Through a prix-fixe tasting menu at their tiny eight-seat counter, he and wife Amber Manuguid weave a complex tale of identity and history into every element, evoking the flavours of their shared island ancestry starting from the house-fermented shrimp paste. Green plums add the sour flavour traditionally brought by tamarind, and turmeric leaves stand in place of banana leaves as the pair find ways to recreate and reinterpret the tropical dishes they grew up on using only foods grown here.
Photo courtesy of Sushi Kashiba
Seattle’s most famous sushi chef holds court in a kitchen befittingly overlooking the city’s iconic Pike Place Market. The man who brought sushi to Seattle a half-century ago still brings in the best fish from around the world and around the region, slicing it expertly for the lucky few to snag a seat at the sushi bar. From the elegant surrounds of the light wood bar and windows out to Puget Sound, Shiro Kashiba presents the most fitting setting to get introduced to geoduck (the Northwest’s favourite giant clam), succulent scallops, or many varieties of salmon.
Photo courtesy of Altura
Chef Nathan Lockwood uses Italian techniques and Northwest ingredients, but not staunchly so in either case, leaving himself the option to add Tasmanian black truffle to his wild mushroom, veal, and lovage tortelli, or blood orange to his fennel spot prawns. Lobster knuckles come from elsewhere, but the sea urchin from nearby. The brodo, sorbetto, and panna cotta draw on traditional Italian techniques, the bourbon caramel in the semifreddo and the chicory soil around it less so. Though Altura began its life with à la carte options, the menu shines with the freedom from catering to individual desires, even if the ambiance and open kitchen recalls its slightly more casual previous life.
Photo courtesy of Skalka
A Russian pastry wizard, Georgian chef, and smart restaurateur come together in this sunny café space downtown. While the towering honey cakes and bread boats brimming with cheese, eggs, and butter catch eyeballs, the savory walnut sauce, delightfully green tarragon soda, and simple salad make it worth visiting on more than just Instagram. Morning coffee and tea service gives way to a menu of cheesy khachapuri filled with stroganoff, mushrooms, and more, as well as the soupy oversized khinkali dumplings, while the slate of apple desserts take advantage of Washington’s prized fruit crop.
Photo courtesy of Pasta Casalinga
In a corner of the Pike Place Market far from the crowds at the fish counters, Michela Tartaglia pumps out the kind of homemade pasta she grew up on at home in Torino, Italy. But in place of the olives plucked from her grandmother’s farm where she spent summers, she laces her menu of rotating dishes with local vegetables, meat, and seafood sourced from other market vendors or directly from producers. The small menu pairs one pasta each with something 'from the ocean' like rockfish and kale with ziti, 'from the farm,' like gnochetti with pork sausage, and 'from the garden,' like fusilli with pumpkin puree and smoked cheese – plus a baked pasta, like a lasagna.
Photo courtesy of Xi'an Noodles Seattle
After finding success solely on the strength of the tender, ropy handmade noodles and accompanying big blasts of Western Chinese flavour, owner Lily Wu doubled down, adding a location in Downtown’s Westlake Center and remodelling the large University District location to accommodate the legions of fans. Wu’s hand-ripped noodles, made by slapping them against the counter, come out silky smooth, with the rippled edges providing just the texture to carry hot oil sauce straight from bowl to mouth. But while the noodles star in the show, the starters, including spicy cumin lamb chops and lamb salad, equally deserve a spot on the table.
Photo courtesy of Cafe Munir
Tucked away in a far corner of Ballard, the quiet charm of this Lebanese café evokes an understated elegance. The menu similarly presents the impeccably executed, vegetable-focused mezze in a sleepy, humble fashion. Many a guest gets happily startled to their senses by their first sip of the owner’s whiskey of the week from his extensive collection or the sizzle of lamb and pine nuts in butter as they arrive atop a creamy bowl of hummus. Green beans in tomato sauce, local pears in tahini, and roasted pumpkin with crispy caramelised onions rotate through the seasons, while the skewered meats – including the subtly spiced chicken with sumac onions and fragrant, smooth whipped garlic sauce – stay steady as main dishes.
Photo courtesy of Junebaby
With this, his second restaurant, transplanted Southerner Edouardo Jordan hit his stride. Though his training at places like The French Laundry led him to first open the Italian-Northwest Salare, at Junebaby he serves the purest expression of his culinary talent: honing restaurant-style versions of favourite dishes from home, like his mom’s oxtails, boiled peanuts, and fried catfish. Momma Jordan’s oxtails come with local wild mushrooms now, the charred okra with a sorghum-chilli vinaigrette, and house-made saltines ferry the pimento cheese around, but Jordan’s brilliant executions don’t need fancy ingredients – as shown by his hog maw and chitlin stew. Warm, Southern-style service in a casual, no-reservations space make it as easy and welcoming as Jordan’s own wide grin.
Canlis, the iconic family-owned and run fine-dining restaurant in the Queen Anne neighbourhood of Seattle, has been hitting the high notes since 1950. Brothers Brian and Mark Canalis are at the helm and are not afraid to do things differently, leading the way when it comes to staff welfare, as well as being among the first to re-invent themselves with creative pivots when the pandemic hit.
Chef Aisha Ibrahim, the former sous chef at California’s three-Michelin-star restaurant Manresa, heads up the kitchen with a focus on seafood, fermentation and bright flavours. A four-course menu includes dishes like eggplant zuriat, buckwheat, miso, and garlic scape, and shaved wagyu, oyster emulsion and ogo powder.