Food & Drink

We Need to Talk About Tivoli

How is there not a line out the door?

By Naomi Tomky June 11, 2024

A close-up of a pizza with greens baking in a wood-fired oven on the left, and a plate of garlic knots topped with grated cheese and herbs on the right, reminiscent of the flavors you'd find in Tivoli.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

The first time I ate at the pizza-centric Fremont restaurant Tivoli, the Caesar salad haunted me for months: crisp romaine lettuce, a hint of bitterness from chicories, a creamy coating of dressing, generous crunch of seasoned panko, and, for those who want it, plenty of anchovies. I dreamed of it until I went back for another round. Each time I return, for the mortadella sandwich with whipped ricotta and “pistachio jazz” at lunch or the black garlic knots at dinner, I marvel that the massive crowds of Seattle dining scenesters have yet to find it.

A bowl of salad topped with grated cheese and breadcrumbs at Tivoli restaurant

The Caesar salad at Tivoli is made with fresh romaine and chicories, seasoned panko, anchovies, and creamy dressing.

Photo courtesy of Tivoli

They still mob co-owner Yasuaki Saito’s next-most-recent spot, Saint Bread. Saito is a veteran of the industry, as a partner in the former London Plane and in collaboration with Andrew Gregory at Post Alley Pizza. But each time I never wait in line for a slice of pepperoni for lunch or for a table on which to set my full white pie with kale and garlic for dinner, I wonder if I’m the only one in town with tastebuds.

“We opened at a tough time,” Saito says. “By the time we hit our stride, it was past when we were considered a new place.” Almost a year later, it nails every detail — except the hype.

The concept ties Northwest ingredients to Chef Jim McGurk and Saito’s shared midwestern roots, peddling precise pizzas, served with a generous helping of nostalgia and a garnish of Saito’s Japanese heritage. Water comes in the classic pebbled red pizza house plastic cups, and empty Bianco DiNapoli tomato cans lift pizzas off the table and hold napkins. Ed Villareal manages the drinks list and embodies what Saito calls the restaurant’s “Come as you are” hospitality from behind the counter. The wine list reflects the general attitude here: Nothing is taken too seriously, other than quality.

Side-by-side image of two pizza pies at Tivoli

A slice of pizza topped with salad

Order your favorite slice of pie with a small Caesar salad on top.

Photos courtesy of Tivoli

“We’re hopeful that this summer brings more good weather, more people onto the Burke-Gilman,” says Saito. The walls open up onto North 34th Street, between the bridges in the heart of Fremont, and they will have a ton of outdoor seating. Saito’s decades of experience in the industry shows in his patience, his willingness to keep doing what he does so well, and in how he continues telling the restaurant’s story. I’m confident that eventually the crowds will find Tivoli, just as they found Saint Bread. Until then, I will happily continue washing down local smoked trout dip with a Teatro spritz all by myself.

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