Harmon Tap Room | Laura R Jones Photography
Food & Drink

The Definitive Guide to Tacoma's Best Bars and Restaurants

Updated On 10/18/2017 at 04:14PM EST
Flickr/Orin Blomberg

Best burger and nostalgia pairing: Frisko Freeze

1201 Division Avenue
This cheap and messy drive-in burger shack has been around forever and never bothered to add any frills, but no one cares ‘cause it’s serving the kind of hot, tasty burgers and fries -- along with a killer chocolate malted milkshake -- that have been keeping people happy for half-a-century (it's even on the local register of historic places). Whether stopping in for a high-school date night or passing through for a drive-through snack, the fact that $6 can still buy you a burger and fries will instill pangs of nostalgia in even those who didn't grow up eating under the iconic red and white sign.

Best Chinese food: Tacoma Szechuan

9601 S Tacoma Way, Lakewood
From Chinese-American standards like General Tso’s to regional specialties like sautéed rabbit, this spot serves up a menu of more than 100 different dishes without shying away from the necessary spices. As a Tacoma classic (previously known as Three Sisters, before the titular siblings sold to an employee) waits can be long, but discerning diners will have forgotten that by the time they sit down among the usual Chinese-American restaurant decor trappings and the steamed dumplings (a must-order) hit the table.

Laura R Jones Photography

Best brew pub: Harmon Tap Room

204 St Helens Avenue
Tacoma’s best-known brewer has a number of spots, but this is the one to hit for serious beer drinking and bar snacking -- plus it’s where the beer is actually brewed. In addition to their own beers, Harmon fills its 20 taps with other awesome ales, and does a menu where one half is made up entirely of nachos. Harmon is pretty much the Platonic ideal of the Northwest brewery: wild salmon on the menu, big wooden beams in the ceiling, and plenty of hoppy IPAs.

Best fish & chips: The Spar

2121 N 30th Street
"You know that one place with the great fish & chips?" That's Spar. Just a few steps from the waterfront, the Spar has everything a saltwater-adjacent pub should have: a warm welcome, plenty of beer on tap, a great view, and, again, a killer fish & chips.

Flickr/George Wesley & Bonita Dannells

Best comfort food: Southern Kitchen

1716 6th Avenue
Start your day with grits and eggs, finish it with a fried pork chop, and maybe stop in between for a catfish sandwich. Anything you’re craving from south of the Mason-Dixon line is better here than anywhere else in the area. The down-home feel extends from the bacon-fat-happy kitchen out to the warm, welcoming attitude of the servers moving between the checked-tablecloth-covered tables laden with cornbread dressing, gravy, and sweet potato pie.

Best bar for pretending you’re on vacation: Tacoma Cabana

728 Pacific Avenue
Classic tiki drinks are the star, but the whole place is warmed to beach-vacation temperatures by the love of all things faux-Polynesian. The surfboard décor, pu-pu platters, and island-themed soundtrack are beautifully absurd without being overly kitschy. The owner -- renowned bartender Jason Alexander -- has managed to marry his serious bartending and rum collection with the endless fun of tiki, resulting in an assortment of delicious mai tais to choose from.

Terry Rishel

Best tavern: The Swiss

1904 Jefferson Avenue
You could pay good money to hit up the Museum of Glass and the Washington State History Museum (both also in Tacoma). Or you could come here, get some food, hang out in a nearly century-old building decorated with Chihuly glass on the bar, and kill three birds with one stone. Like any good PNW bar, the tap list is longer than the bill you'll get if you break any of that fancy glass, so drink carefully whilst enjoying the live music or playing some Skee-Ball.

Jack Saffle

Best beer bar: The Red Hot

2914 6th Avenue
How do you improve on a bar with such a huge list of great craft beers? You add a hot dog menu, obviously. Because whether you're sipping a local oatmeal stout at 9 in the morning for the weekly "beer breakfast" or exploring the intricacies of various IPAS -- from Stonehenge Tangerine on cask to those from tiny local brewers like Northish Beer Co.-- the intriguing tap list always has something new and interesting (Horchata milk stout, anyone?) and a comforting classic (Scuttlebutt's Amber Ale).

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

Best donuts: Original House of Donuts

766 St Helens Avenue
In the race for best fried dough in the South Sound -- a stiff competition -- the old-school, classic, and comically large maple bars and friends at Original House of Donuts take the cake (pun intended). Whether you're in the market for a dozen emoji-decorated, chocolate-filled, or just want an apple fritter to get you through the morning, this shop keeps the case filled with fresh, delicious donuts all day.

Best at being impossibly Northwest: 3uilt

2101 Jefferson Avenue
IPAs and oysters are two of the Northwest's signature items, and here at the oyster bar embedded into the Seven Seas Taproom, you can have them both -- inside the historic Heidelberg Brewery. The micro-restaurant-within-a-brewery serves up shucked-to-order oysters from local favorite Taylor Shellfish, along with premium sandwiches, and -- of course -- fresh beer on-top (which you can watch getting made while you dine).

Up Next
junebaby | Shannon Ranfroe
Food & Drink

Seattle's Best New Restaurants of 2017

Published On 11/13/2017
I t’s time to crawl out from underneath the avalanche of poke bars that opened in Seattle this year, blink your eyes into the sunshine, and gaze upon all the glorious gems that 2017 produced. Some spots found a super tiny niche and filled it with brilliant craftsmanship in the form of hummus or soba noodles, others took a tried-and-true formula, like the tiki bar or ramen shop, and found new ways to improve, while still more took risks and opened the kind of restaurants that exist nowhere else in the city -- or world. So forgo the poke for now and head out to one of 2017’s best additions to the Seattle restaurant scene.
Shannon Ranfroe

Junebaby

Ravenna

A blend of Southern cuisine and French technique with mounds of hospitality
The national food media seem to have picked up on Edouardo Jordan of Salare’s second spot far more quickly than locals, which could explain why the line is occasionally not out the door for his personal blend of homestyle Southern cuisine, French fine-dining technique, and Northwest-grown ingredients. Jordan’s food, from flips (playful Dixie cup dessert of his childhood) to composed salads with black walnuts and smoked shallots, shows off his skills and tells the story of his Florida upbringing -- and Seattle adulthood -- without sacrificing flavor. The menu includes all sorts of cuisines, from well-executed classics, like buttermilk biscuits to innovations like Georgia candy squash with clabber cheese. And all of it is served with the kind of Southern hospitality that would make Jordan’s grandmother proud. Read more about why Thrillist chose Junebaby as one of the Prime 13 best new restaurants of 2017.

Iconiq

Mount Baker

French cooking techniques marry Japanese dishes, all with local ingredients
Note: We know Iconiq is temporarily closed, but felt it was good enough to include... if only to reflect on
Within seconds of stepping into this Japanese-style room perched high above the city, any qualms over the weird portmanteau of a name (it’s a combination of iconic and unique) melt away into the panoramic view of Downtown. It’s the kind of vista that gives lesser restaurants the latitude to slack off on the food, but here the kitchen takes the refinement of French cooking and marries it to Japanese dishes and local ingredients. The small menu includes a white miso clam chowder with daikon, a salmon crepe with wasabi cream, and foie gras risotto. The dishes look like works of art, but come at a price that doesn’t require anyone to sell a Renoir, which gives it a surprisingly neighborhood feel for a place offering amuse bouches and iberico ham shabu-shabu.

Megan Swann

Opus & Co.

Phinney Ridge

Meat-focused menu that demands a reservation in advance
Barely bigger than a shoebox, this former sandwich shop took a turn for the meaty. Former Trove chef de cuisine Mark Schroder transformed the small space into a live-fire temple to all things animal (plus a few fermented or pickled). He brings over some of the East Asian influences of his former employer with a crispy rice salad, chickpea miso aioli, and kasu “risotto,” but the centerpiece to most tables -- and to the signature $50 a person tasting menu (the Opus Feast) -- is more fleshed out (pun intended). Bonito-rubbed lamb leg, a half-chicken with vinegar caramel, and even local Neah Bay salmon keep the tables turning in the tiny restaurant. While reservations are hard to come by (book way ahead if you want one), the handful of stools at the chef’s counter are the best seats in the house anyway.

Aviv Hummus Bar

Capitol Hill

Israeli restaurant serving amazing hummus and pita
America is slowly emerging from its dark ages of hummus, realizing that it can be so much more than mealy hippie food or an obligatory vegan appetizer. This Israeli-style spot, full of young tech workers chattering away in Hebrew and Jewish grandmothers doting on babies, serves up the kind of silky smooth, freshly made hummus you find in Tel Aviv: whipped up, topped, and fragrant with great olive oil. The fluffy, warm pita bread is a far cry from the dry pockets sold at grocery stores and the crisp outsides of the falafel yield to tender insides like the finest Southern hush puppies. The cute, 100% Instagram-friendly interior (the wall mural declares “hummus where the heart is”) dotted with brightly colored seating is as friendly as the servers, and the cooks happily kibbitz with customers at the bar from the open kitchen. And while the hummus may be the star, the unsung show-stopper here just might be the pickles that come with every bowl.

Tiffany Ran

Kamonegi

Wallingford

Japanese noodle spot (and more) with a heavy sake menu
When Mutsuko Soma left her chef position at Miyabi 45th, a small, in-the-know community of noodle lovers mourned the end of easy access to her handmade soba noodles. Now they can dry their tears, as her delicate buckwheat strands have reemerged, revitalized, at her own shop. Squished into the corner space previously occupied by Art of the Table, revamped with Japanese-themed décor, Soma’s new spot serves the same soba people knew and loved, along with the noodles’ usual partner, tempura. Natto-stuffed eggplant, beef tongue, and shiso leaf topped with uni all take a dip in the fryer. But the menu’s greatest gem at the cozy spot is neither noodle nor tempura, but the foie gras tofu with sake-poached shrimp on the appetizer menu. Really, though, it’s hard to go wrong -- especially when washing down dinner with something from the carefully curated sake menu.

Navy Strength

Belltown

Reimagined tiki bar with all the fun, none of the kitsch
Tiki might be inherently retro, but barmasters Chris and Anu Elford (Rob Roy, No Anchor) somehow manage to give it an elegant, updated take that includes plenty of sky blue paint and rum-soaked liquid sunshine. The sprawling space leans toward mid-century modern, but also features old trunks as tables and the same metal bar stools (in very nautical colors) found all over. The drinks menu, split between “Tiki” and “Travel” sections, offers a little more insight into what they’re doing: incorporating the fun of the genre with far less of the kitsch. That means the pupu platter on chef Jeffrey Vance’s menu has been replaced with beef heart tartare featuring yolk jam, a fish sauce Caesar studded with pretzel croutons, and passionfruit and black pepper granita garnished Kumamoto oysters. While the bar serves up “snacks and daiqs” at happy hour and mai tais into the evening, the attached coffee and juice bar serves all ages, all day, with drinks like a nitro cold brew dark & stormy and a frozen matcha, mint, pineapple, and lime juice called Roadtrip to Somewhere.

Betsutenjin

Capitol Hill

Delicious Japanese ramen spot that never uses MSG or milk in their bowls
Paper signs taped along the counter at this straight-outta-Hakata ramen-ya announce to customers that not only does the broth not use MSG (a common concern) but that it is made without milk. Once you dig into the bowl of thin noodles, sliced pork, and raw scallions, the milk comment makes sense, as the impossibly creamy broth seems as if it really must contain dairy. This aforementioned magical broth, made exclusively from pork bones, is the only base available as a traditional or a prawn miso ramen in this tiny hallway of a restaurant. Condiments like garlic, soy sauce, and chili paste sit on the table, but the only accompaniment this soup needs is cold beer from the selection of imported bottles. Open late and consistently packed, it expects diners to eat just as in Japan: sit down, slurp up, and scram.

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