Food & Culture
The Top 16 Quintessential Seattle Things to Eat
Want to know what Seattle tastes like? These 16 dishes—ranked in order of cultural significance—are the best place to start
By Chelsea Lin & Naomi Tomky February 4, 2019
The Walrus and the Carpenter
If there’s a single, precious food pulled from our nearby waters that epitomizes Pacific Northwest flavor, it’s the oyster. And this tucked-away bar is, quite simply, the greatest place to enjoy them (market price).
“What can I say, it’s just the best. I send everyone there. There are lots of places to get oysters in town, but they do them right: beautifully shucked in just a magical little place. While you’re there, you might as well get the tartare, sardines and fried oysters, too!” Zoi Antonitsas, chef at soon-to-open Pike Place Market restaurant Little Fish
2. Chicken teriyaki
Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill
Alongside pho, teriyaki is Seattle’s comfort food, and many foodies credit its origin story to Toshi Kasahara, who opened the first Toshi’s Teriyaki on Lower Queen Anne in 1976. Now, the Toshi’s restaurants throughout the region are owned and operated by others, except at this unassuming strip mall location. There, you’ll find master Kasahara himself grilling tender chicken thighs and slathering them with his proprietary marinade. The beauty of the chicken teriyaki ($7.95) here is in the details: juicy meat, just enough sauce, a pile of rice and the coleslaw that ties it all together.
Short rib pho from Pho Bac Súp Shop
3. Short rib pho
Pho Bac Súp Shop
The long-standing, family-run Pho Bac business has changed guards with the opening of Pho Bac Súp Shop, a passion project of the owners’ kids. With the revamp, they added a few new items to Pho Bac’s notoriously short menu, including this excellent meat-filled bowl.
4. Triple coconut cream pie
If there’s a testament to the power of a homespun dessert, it’s this little slice of legend from Tom Douglas. In 1989, when the coconut cream pie debuted on the menu at Dahlia Lounge, the restaurant made a single pie each day. Now, Douglas’ production bakery in South Lake Union churns out more than 13,000 a year. With a coconut crust, coconut custard and whipped cream sprinkled with toasted coconut, it is the ultimate pie for coconut lovers—and anyone who revels in a little piece of Seattle history. Pick up assorted sizes from bite-size ($3) to whole pies ($47) at Dahlia Bakery.
5. Hot dog
South Lake Union
Local rumor has it that the Seattle dog—a culinary twist that involves a smear of cream cheese and grilled onions—emerged as king of the late-night foods in the late ’80s. While a dog from one of the after-hours carts is still a rite of passage, you must also partake in the most extravagant version of the dog to date. Called simply the hot dog ($18), it’s on the menu of this breathtaking new bar inside the Amazon Spheres. To cut the richness of the requisite cream cheese, chef Renee Erickson adds pickled jalapeños and red onions, plus salty pops of salmon caviar. It’s cheekily over the top—in the best way.
6. Canlis salad
It’s perhaps the most dated dish on this impressive 68-year-old restaurant’s menu: a simple house salad, tossed tableside and easy to overlook if you don’t know better. But the Canlis salad (available as part of the $135 prix fixe menu) is the very definition of something being greater than the sum of its parts, which are little more than lettuce, herbs, Romano, bacon and a zingy dressing of lemon juice and olive oil. It’s been a favorite of Canlis regulars for decades, and co-owner Mark Canlis says it’s still the most coveted dish at Canlis family gatherings, too: “It’s all my wife craved during her pregnancies. It’s the only salad my kids will eat.”
Passionfruit yogurt from Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt
7. Passionfruit yogurt
Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt
Pike Place Market and other locations
When you turn the corner from Pike Street onto Pike Place, the gleaming, jewel-like case of Ellenos’ yogurt stands out, even from the visual cacophony of Pike Place Market. The yogurt, rich, creamy, thick and bearing little resemblance to traditional supermarket yogurts, wins fans easily. But while the yogurt is Greek style, the family that makes it came here from Australia, and they brought with them the best flavor from there: passionfruit. Brilliantly yellow, sweet and tart, naturally crunchy with seeds, this flavor beats even the local marionberry and the creative, crumble-topped pie flavors on Ellenos’ menu ($4 for a “walkaround” size).
8. Dick’s Deluxe
Some things have changed at Seattle’s iconic burger outlet: There are now seven locations, it’s recently started accepting credit cards and customers are allowed to order a plain hamburger. But the Deluxe ($3.40)—two eighth-pound grilled patties, cheese, lettuce, mayo and relish—hasn’t changed one bit. There will always be some who say this isn’t their ideal burger, but for true Seattleites, a Dick’s Deluxe tastes perfect—like nostalgia for late nights in high school and the kind of dates that stretch into the wee hours.
Pike Place Market
Sushi chefs around town offer omakase, a chef’s choice tasting menu of the freshest fish; many do it well. But one sushi chef in particular is a legend in these parts: Shiro Kashiba.
“I’ve said it a thousand times, Shiro is the best chef in Seattle. And his omakase market price is the perfect way to enjoy the best that the waters of the Pacific Northwest provide, prepared by the best chef in town. Ask for an uni cone!” Ethan Stowell, chef and owner of Ethan Stowell Restaurants
10. Dutch baby
Tilikum Place Café
Seattle’s adaptation of this German treat dates back to the early 20th century, but the top spot in the city today for this fluffy, custardy reimagining of a pancake is Tilikum Place Café. A classic Dutch baby ($10), on the brunch and lunch menu, will feature traditional toppings of lemon and powdered sugar, while an upgrade to the sweet Dutch baby ($12) will fetch you spiced pumpkin and cream cheese frosting. For those without a sweet tooth, Tilikum Place also offers a savory variation ($12), filled with duck sausage and goat cheese.
11. Curry beef hom bow
Mee Sum Pastry
Pike Place Market
Although the line stretches out the door at Piroshky Piroshky, the Pike Place Market holds an even better meat-in-bread treat. The hom bow, a specific-to-Seattle nomenclature for Chinese bao, is offered baked or steamed and stuffed with barbecued pork, vegetables or the unique, incredible curry beef ($3.41). At Mee Sum Pastry each morning, the hom bow is made from scratch (arrive early and you can watch); the finely chopped beef and smooth Japanese-style curry is wrapped in dough before it’s baked into a fluffy bun. The crowning touch is the sweet, crunchy top, the perfect foil to the savory stew hidden inside.
12. Old-school geoduck sashimi
The geoduck is Seattle’s greatest joke: It’s funny looking and funny sounding, but the funniest thing of all is that it’s delicious. Pronouncing the name of this giant phallic-like clam correctly (gooey-duck) serves as a de facto citizenship test for the region, but its truest test is how it brings the briny flavor of Puget Sound and a crunchy-chewy texture to the plate. The simple, thinly sliced version ($18) served at Taylor Shellfish’s Oyster Bar in Melrose Market, which serves pretty much only chilled seafood (unlike the other locations), comes with only a bit of soy sauce and a dab of wasabi.
World’s Best Mac and Cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
13. World’s Best Mac and Cheese
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
Pike Place Market and other locations
Today, you can buy frozen versions of Kurt Dammeier’s famous mac and cheese at grocery stores and even Costco, or make it yourself from a recipe that is easily found online. But nothing beats the original version of the dish ($5.99 for 8 ounces), made with penne and a combination of Beecher’s own Flagship and Just Jack cheeses, eaten at Beecher’s Pike Place Market café with a view of the cheesemaking operation. Thick, rich and as gooey as possible, spiked with a bit of garlic powder and a touch of heat from chipotle powder, the dish deserves its boastful name.
14. Seafood chowder
White Swan Public House
South Lake Union
Boston can keep its clams: This is how the Pacific Northwest does chowder, with big chunks of potato, gobs of bacon and plenty of local seafood. The chunky chowder ($15 at dinner) comes stuffed with a rotating selection of local creatures—some days it’s salmon, on other days it’s rockfish or Dungeness crab—and showered with snipped chives. The warm, bacon-scented hug of this hearty bowl of seafood, from this spot on the southeast shores of Lake Union, will be what tows the town through the dark winter months, while the stunning views of the lake and the Seattle skyline—from the restaurant or, in summer, the patio—remind us all of why we live here.
15. Salted caramel ice cream
Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream
For a climate as cool as ours, we certainly have an abundance of (really great) ice cream. But Molly Moon Neitzel was among the first to bring artisanal scoop shops to Seattle more than 10 years ago, and with it, our favorite flavor.
“My favorite treat is the salted caramel ice cream ($4.50 for a single scoop) at Molly Moon’s. Salted caramel is everywhere as a flavor now, but I’ve never tasted anything that beats this. It’s super rich and dense and amazing. So, I eat with one of the tiny spoons I keep in the silverware drawer—bit by yummy bit—and make it last as long as I can.” Mónica Guzmán, director and cofounder of The Evergrey
Salmon with kasu “risotto” from Opus Co.
16. Salmon with kasu “risotto”
For a tasty dish that you can be sure came from a sustainable source, this charming neighborhood restaurant serves a seasonal fish ($24)—usually salmon (coho, king, sockeye), but occasionally something like black cod, always from purveyor NW Bounty—with kasu “risotto” made from sake lees (a flavorful by-product of sake production) provided by Ballard-based Tahoma Fuji Sake, and a leafy garnish such as bok choy or Treviso, plus something sweet and tart, like quince or pickled cherries. It may not be iconic yet, but it should be.