Seattle Restaurants Serving Up a Taste of Home

Seattle is a city of transplants. No wonder we have such a selection of regional delights

By Amy Pennington


May 20, 2015

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Manhattan Clam Chowder at Ballard Annex Oyster House   

Walking into this Ballard Avenue seafood diner, you’re greeted by a large oyster bar complete with shaved ice, fresh oysters, steaming silver kettles, and fish tanks full of live Dungeness crabs and Maine lobsters. While the menu centers around New England favorites (lobster rolls!), it’s the fish soups and different types of chowders that make the menu truly shine. Grab a seat at one of the many swiveling counter stools, wrapped in brown leather, and order a bowl of tomato-broth-based Manhattan clam chowder. Here, they keep it traditional: A tomato broth thickened with potatoes has a strong peppery note, and holds cubes of potato, chunks of celery, and bite-size pieces of clam and squid. Subway-tile flooring, honey-colored wooden booths for two and nautical decor lend to the overall seafood-house feel. Ballard, 5410 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.783.5410;

New England Clam Chowder at Etta’s
Tom Douglas grew up picking crab meat from shells and shucking clams at the Hotel du Pont in Delaware—seafood is in his blood. He opened Etta’s near Pike Place Market in 1995, and 20 years later, the Etta’s creamy clam chowder ($8/$10) recipe hasn’t changed much. Why mess with perfection? Generous pieces of clams, along with small, soft cubes of potato and crispy, smoked bacon bits, swim in a rich broth made of cream and clam stock and spiked with fennel fronds, which lift the palate and lighten the bowl. Downtown, 2020 Western Ave.; 206.443.6000;

New York–style Pizza at Ballard Pizza Company    
For Big Apple transplants, Ethan Stowell’s narrow pizzeria in Ballard is a gift. Charred, thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizza may be the rage in these parts, but folding your cheesy slice in half while pulling apart the chewy, crispy crust sparks the passion of New York pizza lovers. A long, stainless steel counter displays pizza by the slice, ranging from classic cheese and the meat-heavy Whole Hog (baked with spicy coppa, guanciale, speck and prosciutto) to more fanciful toppings, such as the pepperoni, fresh pineapple and jalapeño on the Staple & Fancy. Enjoy a slice ($3) at the tall standing-room-only bars facing Ballard Avenue, or devour a whole pie ($15–$23) at one of only eight tables. (A quieter back room holds 36 and can be reserved in advance for parties.) The menu also includes Italian-focused salads and desserts. Pies can be ordered for delivery ($20 minimum), and Stowell plans to open a second location this summer in Frelard. Ballard, 5107 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.659.6033;

Philly Cheesesteak at Tat’s Delicatessen     

Long a neighborhood gem, Tat’s has achieved far-flung foodie cred for its huge, messy sub sandwiches. The 8- or 12-inch Philly cheese steak ($9.50/$13) is served on a soft but crispy-crusted hoagie bun (made in an Asian bakery in Tukwila) and is a deliciously messy hero (just like you’d find at Geno’s in Philly) with thinly sliced beef falling out the edges. Cheesesteaks are loaded up and topped with a choice of cheese, although “Whiz” is the only way to go for melty American cheese flavor. Ordering your sub to go, eat at one of the deli’s cafeteria-style tables or pick up lunch on the run from Tat’s new food truck, which makes weekly rounds to South Lake Union, downtown and the Eastside. Pioneer Square, 159 Yesler Way; 206.264.8287;

Lobster Roll at Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor   
Having spent time as a child on Cape Cod, co-owner Sarah Penn knows a thing or two about New England seafood and works alongside her chef/husband, Felix, to serve those dishes at their quaint neighborhood destination in Ravenna. The lobster roll here is authentic. Hunks of lobster are lightly dressed and stuffed into a house-made white bread roll that’s been slathered in butter and toasted to a golden brown on their flat-top griddle. You won’t find overambitious rolls here; it’s all about the lobster, just like you’d find at stands around the cape. A warmly lit room with wood-paneled walls and booths greets diners, while the adjacent bar offers counter seating at modern, white swivel stools or short tables meant for the enjoyment of cocktails and nibbles. Ravenna, 2616 NE 55th St.; 206.525.0220;

Chicago Deep-dish Pizza at Benito’s Chicago Eatery 

Deep-dish pizza from Benito’s Chicago Eatery in Ballard; courtesy of benito’s Chicago eatery
The pizza crust is buttery and crackly at this Chicago-centric restaurant in Ballard. Chef, owner and Chicago native Benjamin Kulikowski bakes and serves his pizza in deep, straight-sided stainless steel pans, which allow for the bottom and edges of the pizza to turn deep brown and crispy. This browning takes time, so plan to wait at least 30 minutes for a pie; while service can feel slow, the staff is always affable and accommodating. (While you wait, order a signature Chicago-style dog—$9, with mustard, relish, peppers and, in a departure from authenticity, fresh cucumber slices.) The cheese pizza is simple and delicious ($20/14-inch, $24/16-inch), or go big with toppings piled high, such as the Benito’s Special ($30/14-inch, $32.50/16-inch), layered with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, and topped with a sprinkling of pecorino cheese. Ballard, 6201 15th Ave. NW; 206.420.7032;

Any call-out for Chicago deep-dish in Seattle would not be complete without mentioning Patxi’s pizza, a small (and California-based) chain of Chicago-style pizza joints that opened an outpost in Seattle last year. Ballard, 5323 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.946.1512.

Kansas-style Barbecue at Stan’s Bar-B-Q       
Kansas-style barbecue demands that the meat be dry-rubbed and smoked over slow-burning hickory wood for hours before it is served, with sauce—typically a thick, sweet sauce of tomato and molasses—on the side. Sticking to this tradition is Kansas City transplant Stan Phillips, who owns and cooks at his sports-bar-like digs on the Eastside in Issaquah. Barbecued meats can be ordered by the pound: sliced beef brisket, baby back ribs and even a whole turkey, with traditional sides that include baked beans, creamed corn and coleslaw. What you won’t find is any cornbread here—this ain’t Southern barbecue! Issaquah, 58 Front St.; 425.392.4551;

Tater Tot Casserole at Zayda Buddy’s        
The Midwest is all about belly-filling comfort food, and few do it better than this Ballard café. This casual dining experience features plenty of family-friendly seating in small booths and tall tables with stools, and a full bar with TVs accommodates sports fans. An homage to owner Joel Radin’s (Bauhaus, Top Pot Doughnuts) grandfather, who grew up just outside Duluth, Minnesota, and to potluck-style eating, Zayda offers a handful of rich casseroles alongside plenty of Minnesota-style pizza (thin crust, toppings to the edge and cut into small squares instead of wedge shapes) and burger options. Not to be missed is the Tater Tot Hot Dish ($11.99), which pairs a creamy, stroganoff-like beef dish with a baked layer of crisp Tater Tots and melted cheddar. Ballard, 5405 Leary Ave. NW; 206.783.7777;

Gumbo at Steelhead diner and blueacre seafood   
A Creole dish originating in Louisiana, gumbo is a thick, stew-like soup made of sausage, poultry and shellfish and served over rice. While several Southern cuisine–focused restaurants around town serve gumbo, few make it as authentically as chef Kevin Davis at Steelhead Diner, in Pike Place Market. Following the recipe his grandmother taught him when he was a child in New Orleans, Davis makes gumbo in large batches with a traditional brown roux, chicken and sausage ($8/cup, $10/bowl). At his more upscale downtown sister restaurant, Blueacre Seafood, Davis updates tradition with the addition of smoked duck paired with andouille sausage, making a richer, smokier bowl served over long-grain rice ($8/cup, $10/bowl). It’s a mainstay at this upscale seafood diner. Steelhead Diner, Pike Place Market, 95 Pike St.; 206.625.0129; Blueacre Seafood, downtown, 1700 Seventh Ave.; 206.659.0737;

Key Lime Pie at A La Mode Pies        
Throw a seashell in any direction in South Florida and you’re sure to hit a shop selling key lime pie—not so much here in the Pacific Northwest. This pie, made from small, tart key limes and regular lime zest, is an everyday treat at this cozy pie-only shop on Phinney Ridge. Anyone with a sweet tooth can belly up to the dark wooden bar and have a slice ($5.75), while watching bakers through the large picture windows. The pie ($9/5-inch, $28/10-inch) is made with a cinnamon-spiked graham cracker crust, which is filled with an airy key lime custard. Piped with big swirls of whipped cream, this pie offers a fluffy, smooth mouthful with every bite. From 7 to 9 p.m. daily, the 5-inch “petite” pies go on sale for $7 each, while whole pies can be ordered and delivered (in parts of Queen Anne, South Lake Union and downtown) during the shop’s hours of 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Phinney Ridge, 5821 Phinney Ave. N; 206.383.3796;

Savory Crawfish Beignet at Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge        
This lively restaurant on Lower Queen Anne offers a thick menu of items ranging from Southern and New Orleans–heavy classics to Northwest-influenced dishes. The dimly lit, tall-ceilinged room offers tables for two, curved booths for groups and a long bar with stools, allowing diners to pack in—and that they do, coming for happy-hour nibbles and staying for dinner. While most plates are dependable here, the crawfish beignet ($14) is a rare treat; those tiny lobster-like shellfish originate in the Gulf of Mexico and aren’t found on many menus in town. For the beignet, crawfish tail meat is folded into a soft dough and fried, resulting in an irresistibly crispy puff that is perfect for dipping into the spicy pepper jelly and garlic aioli served on the side. Lower Queen Anne, 601 Queen Anne Ave. N; 206.432.9069;

Shrimp and Grits at Restaurant Roux         
Served in a deep cast-iron tian, Restaurant Roux’s New Orleans shrimp and grits ($16) begins with a generous, velvety serving of creamy corn grits—a dense, savory porridge made from smashed cornmeal. This humble base is topped with a ladleful of rich tomato-based “red gravy” and a handful of plump shrimp, and is accompanied by a thick slab of charred farmhouse bread. Chef and owner Matthew Lewis hails from New Orleans and first introduced Creole cooking to Seattle with his popular food truck, Where Ya At Matt, in 2010. With this brick-and-mortar, rustic-meets-modern location in Fremont, Lewis expanded the menu, added a bar and now offers homey, stick-to-your-ribs Southern cooking nightly. Fremont, 4201 Fremont Ave. N; 206.547.5420;

Southern Fried Chicken at The Wandering Goose          
An antique hutch, vintage glass walls offering views into the dining room of neighboring Rione XIII, tables branded with lines from chef and owner Heather Earnhardt’s book The Wandering Goose, and closely placed seating create a casual, unpolished vibe, almost like dining in a friend’s kitchen—a friend who makes a truly killer fried chicken dinner ($22). Growing up in North Carolina, Earnhardt learned some neat cooking tricks from her grandmother. The chicken is marinated in a bath of fresh thyme, buttermilk, lemon and garlic, before being dredged in a secret spiced flour mix and then fried until it has a thick, crunchy shell. Underneath the crispy exterior, the meat is moist and flavorful. The fried chicken dinner, available Friday nights only, comes with your choice of three sides; the collard greens and mashed potatoes with gravy are standouts. Call in advance for reservations to guarantee a seat. Capitol Hill, 403 15th Ave. E; 206.323.9938;

Texas Barbecued Brisket at Jack’s BBQ   

Beef is king in Texas, and beef brisket is the crown jewel of barbecue, served with a side of vinegar-tomato sauce, not the thick, sweet sauce you find in other regions. Down in SoDo, Jack Timmons (a former student of Texas A&M Meat Science program’s Barbecue Summer Camp) smokes platters of meat over mesquite, hickory and oak woods, Texas style. The brisket ($17) is seasoned only with salt, pepper and smoke (though sauce can be requested), and served with a choice of sides, a slice of white bread, pickles, jalapeños and onions. Cornbread, mac and cheese, collard greens and more can be shared by diners sitting under a low ceiling strung with bistro lights at a series of long, wooden tables or taken out, deli-style, at lunch. SoDo, 3924 Airport Way S; 206.467.4038;

Hatch Chile Sauce at the Bang Bang Cafe          
Sisters Yuki and Miki Sodos own Bang Bang Cafe on the western edge of Belltown, where they share the New Mexican specialties they loved while growing up. The café is all Seattle—a blackboard menu, friendly staff, fabulous pastries and a fireplace—but the savory dishes are pure Southwest. At the top of the must-have list is the New Mexico–style green and red chile sauce—a secret source mails the chiles directly to the sisters, so they can have the real deal, grown in Hatch, New Mexico. This “sauce,” traditionally made with pork lard, is vegan at the café and covers several dishes, including the red chile brisket burrito ($8.50, evenings only): a fat tortilla filled with shredded beef, home fries, pinto beans, roasted vegetables, spinach and sour cream, and striped with a spoonful of red chile sauce. Both the red and green sauces can be ordered in a cup on the side ($1.25), as well. Belltown, 2460 Western Ave.; 206.448.2233; 

Hawaiian-style Plate Lunch at Kona Kitchen    
Tucked into the Maple Leaf neighborhood, this casual, family-friendly restaurant serves traditional Hawaiian dishes. The staff is friendly, Formica tabletops dot the tropics-inspired room, and kids roam free at this hole-in-the-wall spot. Owner Yuji Okumoto (an actor who famously played the villain in Karate Kid II) serves standards such as loco moco, house-made macaroni salad and the Hawaiian-style Plate Lunch to the crowds of neighbors, Hawaiians and families that pack the house. The Hawaiian Plate (starting at $9.29 at lunch, $10.29 at dinner) comes with two ice-cream-scoop portions of white rice and mac salad, spring rolls and meats, such as Mochiko chicken (heavily marinated and deep-fried), pork katsu, teriyaki beef or chicken, Spam or Portuguese sausage. The plates are nothing fancy, but smack of aloha spirit. Maple Leaf, 8501 Fifth Ave. NE; 206.517.5662;

Spam Sliders at Marination Ma Kai           
Spam rules at this Hawaiian-Korean-themed restaurant with locations on Alki and at the south end of Capitol Hill, as well as a food truck. The traditional Spam musubi ($3.50) comes with a slice of Spam, seared and placed over a dense pack of white rice and wrapped in nori seaweed, but the real star is the Spam slider ($2.75). A four-bite kind of sandwich that you can hold with one hand, the slider is made with a slab of crisp, golden brown Spam served on a soft, white Hawaiian sweet roll. Piled high with a cabbage-carrot slaw and an oozing portion of Nunya sauce (a house-made, garlic-infused Thousand Island–like dressing with secret ingredients), this slider is at once salty, sweet, crisp and delicious. West Seattle, 1660 Harbor Ave. SW; 206.328.8226; 

Saimin at Ma‘Ono          
What happens when you cross a chef of Hawaiian heritage with a serious culinary pedigree? You get the saimin bowls at this upscale West Seattle restaurant. Traditionally a casual soup made as a substantial, inexpensive meal for workers, saimin (a compound of two Chinese words that mean “thin” and “noodle”) is composed of dashi broth (a soup stock made with dried bonito flakes and kelp), egg noodles and a handful of flavorful additions. Ma‘ono chef and owner Mark Fuller, whose extended family lives on Kaua‘i, serves two versions for brunch and dinner. The Ma‘ono saimin ($14/brunch, $15/dinner) has as its base a rich broth made from smoked pork and shoyu, and includes pieces of country ham and a sliver of Spam, soft-cooked egg halves and a large fish cake, along with a heap of green onions, wilted Asian greens and a sheet of sesame-toasted nori, all served over a mass of hand-cut noodles. The fatty saimin ($14/brunch, $15/dinner) is made with smoked pork and pork-fat broth, served with pulled kalua pig, hunks of bacon and a cured egg. Hands down, the best saimin in the city. West Seattle, 4437 California Ave. SW; 206.935.1075;