Neighbors stop to catch up outside of Empire Espresso, untangling leashes as dogs sniff and weave around ankles. Saturday mornings bring lines out the door at the stellar Columbia City Bakery, and over at Bob’s Quality Meats, a staple in the heart of Columbia City that’s been open more than 100 years, baby back ribs, pig’s feet and kalbi are in equal demand by neighborhood cooks. There’s sushi, Thai food, Geraldine’s Counter for brunch, and terrific Asian and African grocers nearby. Thanks to grassroots resident activism (especially the Columbia City Revitalization Committee), the all-ages Beat Walk happens every first Friday of the month in summer: Funk, acoustic and a cappella tunes stream out of open doorways up and down the town’s historic brick street. Maybe best of all: a seasonal farmers’ market that spurs a spontaneous weekly picnic on the park lawn for dozens of kids and their parents. And don’t forget: It’s within easy walking distance of Lake Washington and the Mount Baker Boathouse.
Don’t miss: Sunny Caribbean flavor at Island Soul; game-day brewskis at family-friendly Rookies Sports Bar and Grill; toys, books and the best kid-friendly hair cutters in the city (including a red fire engine to sit in!) at Retroactive Kids and Columbia City Cuts’ shared space; and a date night at delicious La Medusa. Music-loving, moppet-free couples and singles should take in the eclectic scene at The Royal Room, a still fresh music venue with full bar and kitchen.
Go-to for out-of-town guests: Full Tilt for ice cream. Sample the purple ube, a yam ice cream that tastes like caramel, and play some pinball. (Psst: For the grown-ups, there’s beer too.)
Famous for: The oft-reported (but false) claim to be the country’s most diverse ZIP code (98118). It’s 64th, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Allison Austin Scheff is the Seattle mag food editor and Columbia City resident since 2006