Remember when there were barely any good restaurants in South Lake Union? And when there was a giant, beautiful empty space at Greenwood's main intersection? What about when you had to drive to Kent to get amazing Mexican steak, and Sea Wolf's giant loaves were hard to get your hands on outside of restaurants? Lucky for you, that was last year. Thankfully, 2016 has saved us from these culinary hardships of yore, as well as so many others. Here are the restaurants that really turned around some of Seattle's misfortunes (like having to go to the suburbs to find biangbiang noodles!).
Meat may be the focus of the menu at Eric Donnelly's sophomore effort, but every vegetable in the house seems to be treated with the same tender care as Kobe beef. From grilled kuri squash with burrata and roasted pistachio oil to the blue cheese-tahini sauce on the pickles, the fauna comes in bold and brash, ready to match the meat flavor-for-flavor. Which doesn't mean the lamb tartare with rose petal harissa or fennel-braised wild boar shoulder should be skipped as much as it means you should come extremely hungry.
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South Lake Union
Joshua Henderson is fast becoming the restaurant king of the city and Vestal is his crown jewel: an ode to the Northwest and its food. Both the menu and the chef's counter are centered around the open hearth, where cauliflower and steak share space, fighting over the licking flames. Dishes like Dungeness crab and bone marrow tortelloni with wilted greens bring together Henderson's culinary creativity and the Northwest's impressive ingredients.
Anyone who'd sampled Sea Wolf bread while they ate at Vestal, The Whale Wins, or Preserve and Gather already knew it was the best bread in town. It just took it opening its own shop next door to Manolin for everyone to learn Sea Wolf also has killer pastries.
Because serving the best pizza in town wasn't quite enough for Delancey's dough-obsessive Brandon Pettit, he needed to one-up himself by making the best two pies in town. The caramelized corners of Dino's square pie make for pizza-flavored candy and the hearty slices soak up the playful, affordable cocktails from the bar -- like Dino's hard lemonade or the Sext Machine.
Gone are the days of driving to the suburbs for a decent hand-slapped biangbiang noodle (the long, ropey strands are made by hitting the dough repeatedly on the counter). This instant classic brought the kind of regional Chinese cuisine that had -- as of yet -- stayed in the outskirts to the center of Seattle and found a big, enthusiastic audience for its fiery flavors.
Though the hardcore fans of Northern Mexican cuisine were already driving to the Kent outlet of this Sinaloan wood-fired grill, it's time to introduce the rest of the city to the supple, thin house-made flour tortillas and the meats they wrap around. Also, did we mention the salsa bar? There’s a salsa bar.
Pike Place Market
Seattleites who mourned the 2014 closing of Dot's Delicatessen started celebrating again this summer with the opening of Miles James' new, beefed-up version. At his new spot in the basement of the market, James makes good on his reputation for excellence in all things meaty. The sandwich menu reads like a best-of list of meats between bread and James’ fine-dining training ensures that flavors and technique carry as much weight as the quantity and quality of the ingredients.
Nearly everything about this bar (and the owners are adamant it is a bar, not a restaurant) is done with a sly, smart eye. The name comes from a previous business in the same space, a divey Chinese-American restaurant. Co-owners Mark Fuller and Patric Gabre-Kidan -- both refugees from the local fine-dining scene -- are paying homage to the old resident while creating the kind of place they want to hang out in: one filled with strong slushee drinks, crisp fried chunks of General Tso’s chicken, and plenty of Tsingtao beer to down under the red lantern ceiling.
South Lake Union
Despite an ownership well-known and well-respected (Matt's in the Market, Radiator Whiskey), a prime waterfront-view location in Seattle's hottest restaurant neighborhood, and a menu that reads like the Platonic ideal of on-trend Seattle cuisine, White Swan received shockingly little fanfare. This is ridiculous, because the seafood chowder here should be an instant classic and is one of the best things to eat in the city right now, and also there's Poutine o' the Sea (clams, fries, chowder, bacon, and scallions) and crispy fried Brussels sprouts.
At Scott Staples' third burger restaurant, he has refined the art of not just making patties between buns, but creating the optimal burger atmosphere: simple, clean lines, big booths, and hand-dipped shakes from local ice cream. The burgers themselves taste like good beef -- an odd rarity these days -- and come in classic form (just $5), as well as in various regional variations, such as the Texicana and the Bim Burger.
Welcome to the year of the fried chicken sandwich! Chef Monica Dimas and the most recent of her mini-restaurants (Tortas Condesa, Neon Taco) are ready to show you how i'’s done with the buttermilk-brined, double-dredged version she makes. Like her other restaurants, this one does one thing and does it well, while outsourcing the atmosphere and cocktails to the bigger restaurant it lives inside (in this case, Rachel's Ginger Beer).
By the time Little Uncle worked its way into the tiny window on Madison a few years ago, it was already on its second name and location -- it had begun as the Shophouse pop-up inside Lark. But that space was too small, and the next one too big, and so the only thing consistent about Little Uncle’s home was that it kept on changing. Until finally Goldilocks found the perfect location from which to serve the not-too-hot, not-too-cool khao soi (egg noodles in curry soup) and other Thai street-food specialties -- just a few blocks from where it began.
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1. Flintcreek Cattle Co., Seattle
2. Vestal, Seattle
3. Sea Wolf Bakery3621 Stone Way N, Seattle
4. Dino's Tomato Pie1524 E Olive Way, Seattle
5. Xi'an Noodles5259 University Way NE, Seattle
6. Asadero Sinaloa5405 Leary Ave NW, Seattle
7. Dot's Butcher & Deli94 Pike St, Seattle
8. New Luck Toy5905 California Ave SW, Seattle
9. The White Swan Public House1001 Fairview Ave N, Seattle
10. Feed Co. Burgers7990 Leary Way NE, Redmond
11. Sunset Fried Chicken Sandwiches1610 12th Ave, Seattle
12. Little Uncle1523 E. Madison St. #101, Seattle
FlintCreek Cattle Co. finds its inspiration in the free-range cattle and cattlemen who roamed Western Montana in days of yore, likely explaining the restaurant’s skyscraping glass walls that goad you (sort of) into thinking it’s just you, the big sky above, and the open road ahead when you sit down to eat. Fueling your pioneering fantasies are starters, small bites, entrees, chops, and sides made with premium meats sourced from well-managed small-scale farms and ranches that produce responsibly raised, grass-fed animals sans added hormones or antibiotics. Your meal might consist of the shaved matsutake mushrooms with arugula, pecorino, Calabrian chili, lemon, sea salt, and cold-pressed olive oil in addition to the Anderson Ranch lamb tartare, or some combination of the slow-braised bison short ribs and Pommes Dauphinoise with nutmeg cream and parmesan. It’ll only be once your plates have been cleared and your stomach is filled that you’ll be brought back to cold, hard 21st-century reality.
Vestal is vested in enriching relationships between its guests and the food they eat, an ethos conveyed through both the American restaurant’s vast chef’s counter and open kitchen set against a wood-fired hearth, as well as a menu that boasts regional ingredients from the Northwest. The selective menu offers hyper-local dishes, like Seattle’s Sea Wolf bread warmed on the hearth and served with house-made cultured butter, Dungeness crab and bone marrow tortellini with wilted greens and crab broth, and Pleasant View Farm duck confit with foie mousse and Starvation Alley cranberries. Make Vestal your next date spot; but it better be with someone special, because you’re going to splurge big-time.
Sea Wolf Bakers is a Seattle craft bakery founded by brothers Kit and Jesse Schumann. Though most of Sea Wolf’s energies are devoted to wholesale distribution (which we don’t mind because the more Sea Wolf sourdough in Seattle, the better, right?), their minimalist brick-and-mortar outpost doles out a rotation of breads, baguettes, and pastries, like butter and chocolate croissants, baked to crispy-on-the-outside-doughy-on-the-inside perfection in the massive oven that can do a hell of a multitasking job, firing up dozens of loaves at a time. Wash down all of the carbs with the Kuma coffee that’s on drip at Sea Wolf.
Brandon Pettit of Delancey is behind this casual Capitol Hill pizzeria that specializes in New Jersey-style tomato pies. While Delancey focuses on wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, Dino's is all about thick-crust square pan pies. There are round thin-crust pizzas too, as well as knockout sides like garlic knots and broccoli rabe. The space is decorated to look like a retro Garden State restaurant with neon pizza signs, a disco ball, and Formica tables.
This U District noodle spot might project a cafeteria feel, but the noodle dishes are nothing like your late night dorm take-out. Whether bathed in oil, hot meat, or sauteed vegetables, the noodles here are perfectly al dente, enough so that you'll find your generous three-fistfuls of carbs not noodles enough. The herb and spice combination in every dish is also notable, especially so in underrated hits like the pepper-spiked, hand-ripped lamb salad.
Asadero Sinaloa in Ballard is a mecca for lovers of Northern Mexican cuisine, offering up a limited menu of appetizers, tacos and asados. Wood-fired meats, stone-ground salsas, and homemade flour tortillas have become the hallmark of Asadero Sinaloa’s culinary identity, and they up the ante of dishes like the Taco Toreado with Anaheim pepper, melted Mexican cheese, and carne asada on a tortilla, Frijoles Manolin served soup-style with whole beans, carne asada, bacon, onions, and jalapeno, and Tacos de Pollo.
Dot’s Butcher & Deli is located in the Corner Market in Pike Place and serves as a whole animal butchery, offering the finest cuts of meat from local Northwest farms. Head there for all of your meat needs, whether you are looking for smoked bacon, pancetta, fresh sausage, duck confit, pâtés, terrines, or salami, or craving some hearty prepared fare, like a meatball sub, cheesesteak, or hot corned beef sandwich. Eat in at the sand-colored wood counter under the bright deli lights, or take your eats to go.
New Luck Toy combines all of the best parts of your neighborhood Chinese restaurant with the fun and games of an arcade. Pairing robust (if a little bit greasy) takeout staples like General Tso’s Chicken and Sichuan Cumin Lamb with slushy machine-churned piña coladas, New Luck Toy also espouses time-honored dive bar elements, like Skee-Ball, pinball, and karaoke. But don’t be mistaken; the red paper lanterns and cozy booths serve as somewhat flagrant reminders that you do need to maintain a bit of decorum in this adult romper room.
White Swan was destined to be a hit when it opened in 2016. It's owned by the well-respected team behind Matt's in the Market and Radiator Whiskey, it offers prime waterfront views, and its menu showcases some of the most innovative Seattle cuisine yet. The emphasis is on seafood but you'll find a fair amount of meat, so expect steamed clams and blue king prawns alongside pork belly rillons and a pimento cheese crispy chicken sandwich. The mother of all dishes here is the Poutine O' The Sea (pictured), which features a base of thick French fries with a gravy-like topping of Littleneck clams, chowder, bacon, and scallions.
Feed Co. Burgers, a modern, neighborhood burger joint from the Staples Restaurant Group, offers a variety of signature beef, turkey, and bison burgers (the Classic Feed Burger can and should come with an extra patty) as well as sandwiches, sides -- including fries, salads, and a seasonal vegetable tempura program -- and hand-dipped shakes from local vendor Snoqualmie Ice Cream. The 2,000sqft counter service spot is replete with big booths and a full bar, including craft beer on tap, cider, kombucha, and wine.
Located within Seattle staple Rachel's Ginger Beer, this store-within-a-store specializes in fried chicken sandwiches that have the ideal composition of crispy, flaky, and moist. The OG, topped with dill pickles, house-made cabbage slaw, and mayonnaise, is a fool-proof order, as is the slightly sweet General Tso's sandwich with daikon radish. Great happy hour deals make the counter-serve a popular late-afternoon haunt.
Founded by chefs Poncharee Kounpungchart and Wiley Frank, Little Uncle serves up authentic Thai food inspired by the family-run restaurants of Thailand they admire most. From a take-out window to a giant underground restaurant in Pioneer Square to its current counter-serve spot in Capitol Hill, Little Uncle has transformed over the years, but offers the same traditional and tasty dishes, from noodle bowls to pad Thai to shareable plates like crab fried rice. Their from-scratch curry pastes are still available inside this bright, bare-bones space, too, including for-purchase.