Food & Culture
These Are the Best Restaurants in Seattle That Keep Us Coming Back
The restaurants we return to again and again, not just for the excellent food, but for the way they make us feel: good.
By Chelsea Lin, Naomi Tomky, Amy Pennington, Callie Little August 22, 2017
Where is your happy place? This is the question that launched our discussion on how to approach this year’s best restaurants issue. In years past, we’ve covered the city’s very best restaurants, the best new eateries, the trends that are shaping the way Seattle eats. (Don’t worry, that’s all here, too.)
In our best restaurants package, you’ll find our happy-place bars and restaurants—the neighborhood spots with everything from sushi and tacos to pastries—that we return to again and again because they provide the whole package: great food, warm service, lovely ambiance and an overall je ne sais quoi that ensures every meal ends with a smile. Sometimes we can attribute this quality to the chef’s comfort food, sometimes it’s the stellar service provided by hardworking servers and bartenders. Occasionally, we feel pretty great just because we’ve been let in on the secrets of the hippest new joints and food trends.
We can’t fix your anxiety. But we can make sure you forget about it for a couple of hours, surrounded by good friends—or strangers who feel like friends—sharing a meal and a drink at one of these spots that we wholeheartedly recommend.
Photograph by Andrea Coan. Revel’s food, like this seasonal crispy paneer rice bowl, is as bright and poppy as the restaurant’s interiors.
A Sure Thing
Chef/owners Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi are the sort of people you want to see succeed: grounded, gracious, extraordinarily talented. It helps that their restaurants—the lovely Joule, the quirky Trove quartet, and this reliable, comfortable-cool, pop-arty Fremont hit that lies somewhere in the middle—are among the best in the city. We’d go so far as to say we’ve never had a bad dish on Revel’s seasonal, Korean-influenced menu, and that’s a major feat for seven years of brunches, dinners and (too many) cocktails.
While You’re There: Check out their bar next door to Revel, Quoin, particularly for happy hour, 4–6 p.m., when ramen with house-made noodles is only $8 (although only 10 bowls are available daily). Fremont, 403 N 36th St.; 206.547.2040
Photograph by Andrea Coan. Happiness is a slice of red velvet cake from The Wandering Goose.
Let Them Eat Cake
The Wandering Goose
Some days—good days, bad days—simply need cake. And for those days, no slice compares to a hunk from one of Heather Earnhardt’s 12-inch layer cakes ($8 slice, $100 whole) at her petite, rustically charming Capitol Hill café, The Wandering Goose. Earnhardt’s Southern hospitality runs deep, stemming from her North Carolina upbringing. You can taste the love in all her baked goods, from the biscuits (get the Aunt Annie’s breakfast sandwich, $11.50, with fried chicken, bread-and-butter pickles, mustard and the chef’s own honey) to the cookies.
If You Like This: Visit Young Bros., a smoked fish company (opening soon; smokedfishshop.com) owned by Earnhardt’s husband in Hillman City, where she’s supplying the baked goods. Capitol Hill, 403 15th Ave. E; 206.323.9938
A meal of truly great sushi is an experience that is almost regal in its elegance. And yet Wataru owner-chef Kotaro Kumita delivers the goods—the freshest spot prawns, premium salmon belly, subtly smoked mackerel—while still making you feel like you’re a friend at his table. The best experience at this Ravenna spot is the counter omakase (a chef’s choice parade of bites, market price in the ballpark of $100, available at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. seatings), where Kumita hands you each expertly crafted Edo-style nigiri with a story and a smile.
Know Before You Go: If you can’t get a reservation for the sushi bar, know that you can order an abbreviated omakase in the dining room. Our favorite features seven pieces of sushi and sashimi, a few small appetizer bites and miso soup ($56). Ravenna, 2400 NE 65th St.; 206.525.2073
Ballard love triangle
The Fat Hen, Rosellini’s, Delancey/Essex
Oh, to live near the corner of Alonzo Avenue NW and NW 70th Street. There, some of our very favorite spots sit just steps apart: The Fat Hen serving baked eggs ($10.50) and great coffee from Fonte; Rosellini’s (formerly Honoré Bakery) baking salty-sweet kouign-amann ($3.25), now alongside slices of cake; Delancey turning out wait-worthy pizzas ($14–$20); and Essex wrapping it all up with a killer cocktail list (and tacos on Tuesdays). Perhaps the greatest off-the-beaten-path block of culinary real estate in Seattle.
Know Before You Go: Skip Mondays, as only one of these restaurants, The Fat Hen, is open on that day.
Photograph by Andrea Coan. Old-school steak dinners are priced by the ounce at the Wedgwood Broiler.
There are cheez-its on the salad and martinis at 8 a.m. on the weekends. Still, this windowless neighborhood icon’s brand of retro (not much has changed since its current iteration opened in 1969) is as endearing as eating Sunday dinner at grandma’s. Old-school steak dinners priced by the ounce ($18.50–$34) are the specialty, but they actually make a really decent diner-style burger ($10.50) as well, ground in house.
If You Like Wedgwood Broiler: Try the delightfully grandmotherly Bay Cafe in Fishermen’s Terminal in Magnolia, which does for breakfast what the Broiler does for dinner. Wedgwood, 8230 35th Ave. NE; 206.523.1115
Photograph by Andrea Coan. Bright and cheery Brimmer & Heeltap’s cozy-chic interior looks out to a secret-garden patio.
Like a Good Neighbor
Brimmer & Heeltap
In a building on a Ballard corner full of substantial culinary history—it housed Le Gourmand for more than 25 years—this dreamy neighborhood spot has created a following all its own, thanks in no small part to owner (and hospitality industry vet) Jen Doak. You’ll almost always see her megawatt smile in the creatively decorated dining room (check out the penny floor and the assembly of light fixtures turned into art), making every customer feel like they’re walking into Cheers. The creative Asian-meets–Pacific Northwest menu (think steak tartare with nori rice crackers, $16, from the snack menu) and the twinkly garden patio are just icing on the cake.
Owner Jen Doak’s Happy Place: Manolin (Wallingford): “The crew, menu and ambiance have my shoulders drop upon entry!” Ballard, 425 NW Market St.; 206.420.2534
The Italian Job
Cafe Lago and Little Lago
Where the normal lifespan of a restaurant is little more than that of a goldfish, this Montlake Italian staple has a first-rate reputation 27 years in the making. The lasagna ($22) is ethereal yet substantial and universally appealing—the sort of dish that symbolizes the heart (and pasta) of this place. Last year, it added an offshoot sib in Portage Bay, Little Lago, which is equal parts takeout café (rotisserie chickens, $17 whole, $10 half; pizzas, $12; and yes, slices of lasagna, $13) and neighborhood bodega (fresh produce, cheese, good baguettes).
Owner Carla Leonardi’s Happy Place: Harvest Vine (Madison Valley). “I’m always charmed and well fed there.” Cafe Lago – Montlake, 2305 24th Ave. E; 206.329.8005; Little Lago – Portage Bay, 2919 Fuhrman Ave. E; 206.922.3324
Ballard’s Non-Nordic Secret
Were it more centrally located, this Lebanese restaurant, tucked into the Loyal Heights neighborhood, would be packed to capacity every night. Instead, by hiding in a sleepy residential corner of the city, it maintains a slower pace, welcoming gentle crowds of families early in the evening, quieting under lowered lights to a sweetly romantic setting for a date as the night moves on. But both groups of people—and many others—share a love for the hummus served under a mountain of sizzling lamb ($7), the chicken skewers with garlic-laden sauce ($14) and the endless parade of creative vegetable-heavy small plates.
Don’t Miss: The kitchen crew makes its own searingly spicy hot sauce, available only upon request. Just a dab’ll do ya! Ballard, 2408 NW 80th St.; 206.783.4190
Photograph by Andrea Coan. At Eden Hill, the food is almost too pretty to eat. Whipped smoked salmon cream and beetroot cured salmon tartlet with white sturgeon caviar, smoked salmon pate, roasted asparagus, cucumber and mizuna.
The Thrill On The Hill
Chef maximillian petty’s enthusiasm for all things edible escapes from the kitchen and onto the plates, bringing the dining scene on Queen Anne—and in all of Seattle—a much-needed infusion of adventure. While he hits all the trendy talking points—local, sustainable, foraged—his creativity sets this spot apart. From the signature crispy pig-head “candy bar” to the cauliflower “chilaquiles,” Petty’s sense of adventure and willingness to experiment keep patrons on their toes, whether they cede to his culinary whims with the tasting menu ($95–$115, six–nine courses) or order from the dozen or so constantly rotating shareable plates on the à la carte menu.
Don’t Miss: The “Lick the Bowl” dessert brings everyone back to one of the great joys of childhood—but this time, with foie gras cake batter. Served with fresh strawberries, brandy, olive oil cake, sprinkles and—of course—a spatula as the utensil. Queen Anne, 2209 Queen Anne Ave. N; 206.708.6836
Photograph by Andrea Coan. It doesn’t get much happier than this: Spaghetti Alla Chitarra (square spaghetti, made on a tool resembling a guitar) with a fiery Sardella sauce of anchovies, Calabrian chilies, fresh garlic and tomato paste, from Il Corvo in Pioneer Square.
There is little to be said about Il Corvo’s bright, sparsely decorated hallway of a weekday-lunch bistro that hasn’t been said before: The daily menu of handmade pastas ($9.95) is, simply, what everybody wants to eat for lunch every day. The rotating selection of shapes (such as gigli, conchiglini and creste di galli) and sauces incorporates what’s in season (nettles, octopus, shishito peppers) and what’s on sale to keep the prices low enough that one, theoretically, could eat dishes like the baked cannelloni or cavatelli with pancetta and peas every day.
While You’re There: Pick up a package of the daily selection of handmade pasta to take home. Pioneer Square, 217 James St.; 206.538.0999
Everyday Prices, Special-Occasion Desserts
This tiny Phinney Ridge spot is the restaurant that you wish were on your block: The simple menu of appetizers, sushi and udon noodle soups ($10) is priced to keep you coming back to the two indoor tables and the handful out back on the super secret (but covered and heated) patio. But the desserts are what makes this spot more than just an above-average casual spot. Japanese confections from Modern’s Setsuko Pastry range from mango mousse with yuzu jelly ($4.50) to strawberry shortcake ($5).
While You’re There: At the front, near the cash register, Modern sells a collection of small food-related bits of art—baby bibs, aprons, tea cups and more—made by the local community. Phinney Ridge, 6108 Phinney Ave. N; 206.420.4088
Proof That Fine Dining Can Prevail
Even as a number of ambitious high-end restaurants are shuttering or revamping to more affordable models, this Italian-inspired Capitol Hill restaurant went the other way, committing to a multicourse tasting-menu-only format for which the base price is $137 per person. Fine dining isn’t dead, it says with its winding, formal pace, it just needs to be left to the experts—such as chef Nathan Lockwood (who previously helmed the kitchen at Seattle’s private dining club, The Ruins). Pristine Northwest ingredients, expert Italian techniques and luxury touches justify the price tag, and diners in the know trust Lockwood to guide them from sea urchin cannoli to wood sorrel sorbetto and onto king salmon with crispy artichokes.
Watch For: Lockwood’s truffle-tasting menus run tandem with the regular menu when the heady tuber comes into season in fall, taking indulgence—and flavor—to an unprecedented level. Capitol Hill, 617 Broadway E; 206.402.6749