The 10 Best New Restaurants In and Around Seattle
Our list of 10 knockout restaurants you absolutely cannot miss starts right here
By Seattle Mag April 13, 2015
Poor us. We spent the year eating delicious things at new restaurants, and there were more than a few. We encountered a wealth of barbecue, green juices and kale, mammoth sandwiches, wood smoke and Middle Eastern spices. And now, more than ever, we found that the buzziest restaurants do double duty as some of the city’s finest cocktail bars. Read on for the best spots in town at which to dine and drink. For more food, glorious food, read about the 9 New Restaurant Trends We Love.
1. Damn The Weather
A toasted brioche Caesar salad sandwich with a runny egg from Damn the Weather—so, so good
Midway through the first of two remarkably, almost shockingly good meals at Pioneer Square’s Damn the Weather, I turned on my barstool to scan the largely unadorned room: a long expanse of old brick, a mirror hung high, wood tables and chairs on wonderfully worn wood floors, except under the barstools, where there’s a pretty stretch of marble subway tile.
I had just finished a plate of zucchini carbonara, the deep richness of the ham and egg yolk playing off the lightness of the vegetable “noodle,” and was sipping a Bamboo cocktail, in which amontillado sherry softens the edges of dry vermouth, the whole fragrant with orange peel and bitters.
Is Damn the Weather a bar or a restaurant, I wondered.
Seattle’s fairly recent cocktail craze has given birth to a handful of such spots (see also Single Shot on page 84) where the bar program, overseen by owner and bartending star Bryn Lumsden, is every bit the equal of the food. Chef Eli Dahlin oversees the kitchen, and the Walrus and the Carpenter alum is taking the free reign he’s been given and doing excellent things: ballsy dishes such as beef heart tartare with sea beans, a FG & J—that’s foie gras and jelly, of course—and what’s quickly become the iconic dish of the place, a Caesar salad sandwich on brioche. It’s bar food that’s totally original and totally delicious. Barstaurant? OK, sure. Whatever you call it, it’s terrific.
What to order: Every dish on the menu. We’ve been impressed with everything we’ve tasted, from the house-made pappardelle with pork sugo and Parmesan to the escargot sandwich (available irregularly) to a wildly good, butterscotchy brioche ice cream. But you must order the Caesar salad sandwich. And you must order a dish that scares you a little bit, like that beef heart tartare; that’s where Dahlin really shines. Sharable plates average around $10.
What we love: Whether the bartender on duty is Lumsden or one of his bar-star friends (including Jay Kuehner of the late, great Sambar), this is an ideal bar for you to offer up a favorite liquor, give an idea of the direction you’d like to go in—fruity, herbal, punchy, bubbly—and then watch the magic happen. You might even luck into an impromptu tasting if you stop by when it’s not too busy. FYI, Damn the Weather is 21 and older only.
2. Single Shot
Farewell, Danish minimalism. The nautical look is a steadfast trend here, and new restaurants like Manolin in Fremont (manolinseattle.com) keep adding fresh perspectives on it. But the latest page in Seattle’s restaurant design book leans toward darker, sultrier tones, with smoked-glass sconces, brass and gold accents, and flattering amber light. We’re seeing deep midnight blues and charcoals, plush fabrics, a little more glitter and glitz, a little more luxury at restaurants like Summit Avenue’s excellent Single Shot, at downtown’s Loulay (thechefinthehat.com) and at the dazzling new Lark on Capitol Hill (larkseattle.com), which feels more sumptuous than it did in its former incarnation.
As first impressions go, Capitol Hill’s Single Shot couldn’t have been more surprising. Named for a single-shot shotgun (not, as one might assume, a single shot of booze) and hidden on Summit Avenue in a slim space that, pre-renovation, housed local photographer Spike Mafford’s gallery, it’s the sort of tucked-away neighborhood place where you’d expect the cocktails to be good (they are), but the food, maybe not so much.
You’d be wrong. Chef James Sherrill has cooked his way around town, at Crush, Restaurant Zoë and most recently, at Re:public, where he revamped the already good menu. Here, he’s edited the selection to just the most thoughtful plates. Like Damn the Weather, Single Shot hits home runs equally on the plate and in the cocktail coup, but earns extra points for its sublime interior, with a glowing mirrored back bar, Carrara marble bar top, leather stools and smoky light fixtures that cast the room in sexy, dim light.
What to order: The seaweed butter with caviar, chopped radishes and toast, a smart and unexpectedly functional take on the traditional radish-and-butter routine; a sublime pork chop over spaghetti squash with a sweet-and-sour pomegranate glaze; luxurious black rice with mussels, pork belly, fennel and uni. Entrées average about $25.
What we love: The look and feel; it’s a tony joint, and is for adults only—literally. The entire restaurant is limited to patrons 21 and older. And we love that we can eat as well as we drink here.
Rachel Yang’s Trove on Capitol Hill
What do you mean Trove hasn’t been around for years? Owners and chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, the couple behind Joule and Revel, have a knack for creating restaurants that just feel right, as though they’ve been a part of the Seattle dining fabric even when they’re brand new. And so it is with Trove, a vibrant, colorful and just plain fun Capitol Hill destination for the couple’s version of Korean-inspired flavors.
We find ourselves at the airy noodle bar most often in this large space, which is divided into four sections. But the main attraction is the Korean barbecue in back, where friends gather around grill tables, wielding tongs to tend their dinner, sending savory smoke into the air. In another section, there’s a bar with really good drinks, especially if you favor scintillating tart and carbonated sippers. What’s best? The parfait “food truck” window in front, the cutest restaurant design idea of the year (a tip of the hat to designers Heliotrope and Electric Coffin; pictured on Table of Contents, page 8), where layered frozen custard sundaes are served with sesame caramel sauce and fried peanuts. Yang and Chirchi sure had a good time dreaming up Trove, and you’ll have a good time, too.
What to order: Wide rice noodles in a rich beef ragout with rapini (or, really, any of the noodle dishes, $12) at Trove Noodle; chicken gizzard confit with nam prik, salt and pepper squid, smoked brisket, miso cumin eggplant and maple-mustard short ribs at Trove BBQ (barbecue dishes, $6–$12); the “new school” Snickers parfait ($6) at Parfait; and a Pike Street Sour ($11) at the bar to wash it all down.
What we love: The Sriracha-hued ceiling, the thrum and hum of the place, the no-nonsense efficiency of the noodle bar, where the clever combos—round, bouncy-chewy “rice cake” noodles with lamb curry and kale—arrive in compostable bowls on aluminum quarter sheet pans. And we love that, no matter what we’re craving or what time of day it is, there’s something good to eat at Trove.
4. Taylor Shellfish
The airy, modern Lower Queen Anne Taylor Shellfish outpost, just steps from the Seattle Center
In the three short years since opening its flagship Taylor Oyster Bar (and market) in Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market, the family-owned, Shelton-based Taylor Shellfish Farms (the largest farmed shellfish company in the U.S.) has perfected the formula—and along the way has opened oyster bars in Lower Queen Anne (April 2014) and Pioneer Square (July 2014). We love the tweaks Taylor has made: less retail, more wine by the glass, shorter wait times for oysters to be shucked and more cooked offerings, including perfectly steamed mussels and clams. And it has greatly improved the customer experience: Polished silver steamers sit near the bar seats, making the quick cooking process a part of the show; and smartly stocked bars and cocktail lists were added, because nothing goes quite as well with oysters as a proper gin (or vodka, if you must) martini. Is a meal at Taylor Shellfish the Seattle experience on an oyster shell? Absolutely.
What to order: One of each of the many varieties of oysters on the half shell listed (yes, you really can taste the difference depending on variety, and where and how they were grown); mussels steamed in tomato butter, fennel, jalapeño and basil—sublime; and Xinh’s oyster stew, made famous at Xinh’s Clam and Oyster House in Shelton. Entrées average $13; oysters average about $2.50 each.
What we love: Excellent-quality seafood; a great list of crisp white wines; casual but smart service; and a real Seattle sense of place with an eye toward the neighborhood aesthetic: Taylor’s Lower Queen Anne oyster bar is sleek and silvery, while the Pioneer Square version leans toward warmer lighting, with exposed brick and dark wood.
The “nautical mafia” is what crew members who work at chef Renee Erickson’s The Walrus and the Carpenter sometimes (jokingly) call themselves. At Manolin in Fremont, opened last December by former Walrus general manager Joe Sundberg and his Whale Wins alumna girlfriend, Rachel Johnson, the “mob” influence is undeniable: Happy turquoise subway tile and the type of weathered pendant lights that would feel at home on an old Chris Craft boat—along with pops of sunny orange and a massive semicircular bar decked out in honeyed wood—transport diners to easy, breezy afternoons at a beachside eatery, the sort with sand for floors. There’s a huge patio that promises to be the ideal setting for summertime cocktails, a winning cocktail list dominated by rum punches and spritzy tequila sippers. The Geisha—with reposado tequila, Heering cherry liqueur, blood orange juice, bitters and sparkling wine—goes down particularly easy. And for the food, it’s a ceviche lover’s paradise (there are three versions on the list), where the steak is perfection, too. It just might be your new favorite.
What to order: Fried plantain chips; and scallop ceviche with coconut, nori and cashews. Pay special attention to foods cooked on the wood-fired grill, especially the absolutely stellar beef with potato, lardo and colatura, an Italian anchovy sauce that, when cooked down, tastes like caramel. On the cocktail list, the Everspring (pisco, black rum, pineapple, mango, orgeat syrup and nutmeg) is just waiting to quench your thirst on a hot afternoon. Entrées are, on average, $10.
What we love: Attentive, well-informed service; the drop-in, welcoming appeal—it feels like the kind of place you’d head to after a boat ride on Lake Union; the promise of dinner on what we expect will be the hot new patio scene this summer.
6. Bourbon and Bones
The man, the myth, the meat: Mike Law of Bourbon & Bones, outside his Fremont restaurant
It’s mostly men hunching over plates of tender, smoky-pink pork ribs at Frelard’s no-frills Bourbon and Bones, almost all of them with draft beers within arm’s reach. It’s a small affair, and North Carolina–born owner Mike Law does whatever needs doing: He greets diners behind a cash register at the front of the place, takes orders, preps dishes and delivers the food to your table. (Order your drink at the bar, ma’am, and the silverware is over there.) And so you’ll order a Kentucky mule—bourbon, ginger beer and lime on ice served in a canning jar—and wonder, in the few minutes that it takes for your outstanding fried oysters to arrive, why you’ve been drinking Moscow’s version. Those oysters are a revelation, too: crisp on the outside, just warm and still wiggly inside, and so what if they’re served in a paper hot-dog tray.
What to order: Smart folks snag the “sweet heat” ribs (which are mildly spicy, nothing to be afraid of), along with the insanely good mac and cheese and long-cooked collard greens. Also, don’t skip the perfect old fashioned; the mashed potatoes and gravy, which you could never make as well at home (because you’d never use enough butter); the house-made andouille sausage, and it’d be a waste to leave without tasting Law’s fried chicken. Plus, we mean it about the oysters!
What we love: Design-wise, there is nothing to the place—it’s the bachelor pad of restaurants, including the soundtrack—which means you can and should show up in whatever you have on. Plus, it’s compact and the seating is tight, so if you stay awhile to sip a second drink, you’ll likely make a new friend.
Soaring ceilings and chic midnight blue velvet banquettes at Lark’s new locale; Bitter Raw, a raw bar, is tucked away in the loft overlooking the space
After 11 years in what felt like a luxurious barn loft, all warm wood and amber lighting, Lark chef/owner John Sundstrom relocated his iconic Capitol Hill restaurant to a renovated 1917 warehouse called the Central Agency Building, tucked off of the busy Pike/Pine corridor, in December. And it’s as if Lark shrugged off its old persona, never to look back: The place is more invigorated, with two-story windows that put diners on display. Velvet upholstery dresses banquettes beneath lights hung on long chords from the soaring ceiling, giving the impression of raindrops falling. And while we miss the warm hug of the old interior, Lark 2.0 feels younger. There’s a new focus on cocktails, not to mention an open mezzanine dubbed Bitter Raw, where precise, original takes on crudo, such as Lummi Island uni with ginger ponzu, thin strips of cucumber and crispy garlic, are a revelation.
What to order: Go rich and luxurious at Lark: steak tartare; seared foie gras with seasonal accompaniments; agnolotti with smoked ricotta and brown butter. (Prices average between $15 and $22.) At Bitter Raw, every raw plate is delicious, but the scallop with mint, habanero and persimmon is otherworldly. Also part of the new Lark is Slab Sandwich and Pie, where slow-roasted pork confit, ham, grilled scallion aioli, smoked pickles and Comte cheese combine for a messy, perfectly harmonious play on the Cuban. Don’t miss the chocolate and smoked marshmallow “slab” pie—it’s buttery beyond belief, and a totally worthwhile splurge.
What we love: The lighting; the excellent, professional service; and a real wine lover’s wine list, strong in Oregon Pinot Noir, and with several excellent French whites as well as a few Washington labels rarely seen in restaurants. And in a city already blessed with invigorating raw seafood dishes, Bitter Raw ups the game.
8. Dough Zone
Tender steamed and pan-fried jian buns (center) at Bellevue’s irresistible Dough Zone
After the insanely popular Chinese Din Tai Fung outposts opened in Bellevue and University Village, it didn’t take long for local foodies to become xiao long bao (xlb, or soup dumplings) know-it-alls, weighing in on the pinching technique of the dumpling makers, on whether the dumpling skin was thin enough or had the right amount of sag. If these matters are of urgent importance to you, too, reader, I urge you to make the pilgrimage to East Bellevue’s Dough Zone, near Crossroads Mall, where the xiao long bao are small and delicate, the soup and meat inside deeply porky, the pinching…well, you tell me. Equally worth seeking out: jian buns, an absolutely crave-inducing steamed pork-filled bun with a pan-seared bottom, and slippery, fine-skinned wontons in a lightly spicy Szechuan sauce. There are sweet-and-sour cucumbers, fried pork ears, and jianbing guozi, the green onion crepes with Chinese doughnuts inside, which, I’m told, are a common breakfast in Shanghai. There is much to like at Dough Zone.
What to order: Xiao long bao (juicy pork buns), jian buns, sweet-and-sour cucumbers, crispy pork ears and spicy beef pancake rolls. (Most dishes are less than $10.)
What we love: It’s fast-paced and busy, with just enough effort in the decor to make it feel comfortable. And it’s in a strip mall in the Bellevue ’burbs, which makes parking a breeze.
9. Pizzeria Gabbiano
Have you met a person with strong pizza convictions? Who believes that anything but the most basic toppings are akin to blasphemy? If this is you or your lunch date, run—don’t walk!—away from chef Mike Easton’s Roman-style Pizzeria Gabbiano. Otherwise, get in line early. Pioneer Square’s Pizzeria Gabbiano is an efficiently configured lunch place where folks stand in a quick-moving line to order by the finger-width slice and pay by the pound, which means you can try several at a time. About eight 2-foot-long pizzas, with thick, slightly sour-tasting crusts, are topped with the chef’s whim o’ the day—squash blossoms, pistachios, smashed Yukon golds, roasted kale, cured duck eggs and/or green olives, all fair game. Often, these combos are out-of-this-world delicious, especially the moan-inducing mortadella with oozing pecorino béchamel and pistachio pesto. There are salads, too, usually a well-dressed bean option and a seasonal mashup that’s clever and tasty. But you’re here for the pizza, believe me.
What to order: There is a vast array of choices, and the toppings are heavily influenced by seasonal produce, but the aforementioned mortadella is a regular on the menu, as is the potato with rosemary, béchamel and Parmesan. Even the four-cheese is wonderful. Just go.
What we love: That we can get a taste of three pizzas (a two-finger-width slice of each) for around $10. And pizza with roasted broccoli on top counts as eating your vegetables, right?
10. Mammoth Sandwich
The new meaning of going “big” from top to bottom: The Predator, Herbavore, Mastadon, and Sabertooth
Sun pours through south-facing windows at Eastlake’s Mammoth, where the humongous and awesome sandwiches vie for top billing against a most impressive 40-plus beers on tap (growlers available; for more on that trend, see page 104). The big, open space is owned by Grant and Hannah Carter of Ballard’s Bitterroot barbecue, and they’ve smartly brought some of their smoked pork over to make my favorite sandwich on the menu: the Saber Tooth, which piles ham, smoked pork, Swiss, Dijon mustard, aioli and pickles for one mean twist on a Cuban sandwich. Or opt for the Cro-Magnon, with salami, mortadella, ham, coppa and fixin’s set off with a dynamite house-made giardiniera (finely chopped pickled veggies). There’s a big TV in the back, making it a great choice for game day. But we’re just as excited for takeout sammies and brews, come picnic season.
What to order: It’s a close-your-eyes-and-point menu; you can’t really go wrong. But the hits are the aforementioned sandwiches, and the Caveman, with meatballs, salami and provolone, is nothing to sniff at, either. Vegetarians should opt for the Gatherer, with Field Roast grain meat, sautéed mushrooms, onions and peppers, and provolone cheese. (Sandwiches are $10–$11).
What we love: In the former Hiroshi’s space, Mammoth became a neighborhood meeting spot the week it opened, especially with groups of guys, who hunch over their messy sandwiches and down a pint at lunchtime. We also love the house-made potato chips, which are free with every sandwich. We just wish there was something to dip them into.
[in the running]
The Stateside Report
We love the look and feel of Capitol Hill’s Stateside
There was a lot of fawning going on prior to the opening of the upscale French-Vietnamese Stateside, and in particular about its chef, Eric Johnson, who headed the kitchen at two Jean-Georges Vongerichten–owned fusion spots in Shanghai and Paris prior to his move to Seattle. Expectations were high—too high. And while the food at Stateside, which I’ve visited twice so far, is actually very good, it’s also a bit too tame.
Seattle is thick with good (and a few great) Vietnamese restaurants, and that’s the catch: You can’t expect to open a pizza joint in Brooklyn and not hear all about your flaws, and you can’t come to the Vietnamese food capital of the Lower 48 and open a Vietnamese restaurant that’s soft around the edges—leaning perhaps farther toward French than Vietnamese. At Stateside, which is pretty seductive inside—with palm frond wallpaper, soft turquoises and pops of green, brass accents and antique mirrors—it’s what one imagines a chic boutique hotel bar in Hanoi might look like. But I found the dishes lacked the fishy, stinky, tart, funky, spicy punch—the fireworks—that I love about Vietnamese food.
The crème fraîche cheesecake with lychee “snow” for dessert, however, was a playful, texturally wacky surprise. And so while Stateside’s promise earns it a spot in this discussion, we hope to see more adventurous dishes soon.