When you think of Seattle food, the first thing that comes to mind is... um, seafood? Or maybe Asian cuisine… no, it’s the local produce… err, OMFGosh, it’s impossible to pick the most important thing! That’s why we picked the 17 most important restaurants (technically 16, plus one great bar) instead: hit these places and you’ll know what it means to eat/drink in Seattle...
Seattle's 17 Most Important Restaurants
What you’re getting: Oysters, steak tartare
The bar is cool marble, the shellfish are on ice, and the best dishes haven’t seen heat: it’s hard to take a wrong turn at this tiny oyster bar thanks to a menu that quickly leads you to the wide assortment of the season’s tastiest oysters, and then onto a section of fish and shellfish that might feature lesser-known seafoods/preparations, but into which you should dive like it’s the cool ocean on a hot summer day.
What you’re getting: Xiao long bao; noodles with minced pork sauce
By opening some of its first stateside locations in the Seattle area, this world-renowned Chinese chain signified that Seattle was about to be a whole different market for Chinese food. While we’re still aiming envious glances northward to Vancouver, Din Tai Fung and the places that have opened in its wake have let Seattle focus a bit more on the dumplings in front of us, rather than those we pine for from far away.
What you’re getting: Spam Sliders
One of Seattle’s first and best-loved food trucks opened this stationary location in an accessible, iconic location and it serves affordable, quirky grub. It’s like some sort of strange, hazy dream. But grab the water taxi from Downtown, order up as many Spam Sliders as you can imagine eating, and admire the panoramic view of the city while gorging yourself on canned luncheon meat transformed into a tasty sandwich.
What you’re getting: The five-course, constantly changing tasting menu
The Italian-inspired tasting menu -- which is presented as a list of ingredients ranging from luxury (Royal Belgium oscietra caviar) to obscure (finger lime) -- is a parade of plates, carried to your table by some of the few servers in town who seem truly focused on perfecting the customer experience. The chef and sommelier cook and curate a meal that is worthy of every celebration: birthday, anniversary, or maybe just the fact that Seattle has a truly world-class restaurant.
What you’re getting: Toshi’s Original Chicken
This is the chicken that started it all, and launched what The New York Times called the city’s specialty. After starting his original teriyaki spot in 1976, Toshi Kasahara’s chicken recipe gained a kind of iconic status throughout the city. In 2013, he opened this flagship shop, where he is still the man behind the chicken.
What you’re getting: The Fancy menu
Ethan Stowell has a growing empire of nearly a dozen restaurant around the city, but here you’ll find Stowell doing the kind of food that made him famous: simple, local ingredients prepared with Italian techniques, at incredible-value prices. The supposedly four-course “Fancy” menu stretches out an evening: the first course is really a parade of appetizers, and it segues into a feast of pastas, main courses, and desserts at the whim of whatever ingredients and ideas the chef has that day. Look forward to house favorites such as fried oysters, padrón peppers, bucatini with clams, steak, whole-roasted fish, and cheesecake.
What you’re getting: Smoked Manila Clam Dip; Whole Roasted Mediterranean Branzino
The name, the location, the boat-shaped bar: everything here screams “nautical,” so the take the hint and order seafood. Designed as nearly an extension of Lake Union, the space invites diners for a slow, beachy stroll through the menu, with low-alcohol cocktails and small plates that extend dinner beyond the usual starter, entrée, and dessert. Start with oysters at the adjoining Little Gull, finish with cocktails around the outdoor fire pit.
What you’re getting: Bành xéo
The yellow, omelet lookalike arriving at nearly every table is bành xéo, described on the menu as a Vietnamese crêpe. The yellow comes from turmeric, the name from the words for “sizzling cake,” and the flavor from the shrimp and pork tucked inside. The fame comes from the expert version served here: crispy on the outside, stuffed to near-bursting, and served alongside a platter mounded with the freshest herbs. It is where Seattle fell in love with the dish, and where Vietnamese food started its push into the everyday diet of Seattle.
What you’re getting: The Canlis Salad; Peter Canlis Prawns
It could have made this list for longevity (it opened in 1950), for the view (overlooking Lake Union and Gasworks Park), or for dragging young chefs out of New York’s top restaurants to create groundbreaking tasting menus. But the best reason is a few snacks at the bar -- including the founder’s classic shrimp dish -- and an evening of listening to the live pianist jam out everything from classical music to Lady Gaga.
What you’re getting: Whiskey (in the form of your choice); the Shrouded Roulette
Welcome to a drinker’s paradise, where 155 pages of beverages -- mostly in the form of whiskey -- await your choice. If you can’t make a decision, that’s where the Shrouded Roulette comes in -- the bartender will make the choice for you. And with the world-class staff mixing your drinks, you’re all but guaranteed to love it.
What you’re getting: Meatball sandwich; cured meats plate
Everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Mario Batali (okay, it’s his family’s restaurant) has raved about this tiny meat shop. The cured meats plate will get you the best assortment of sausage this side of the Atlantic, and the hot sandwiches are the gluttonous, messy products of the American dream filtered through Italian cooking.
What you’re getting: Assorted raw oysters; half a Dungeness crab; fried oysters
Since Taylor Shellfish was already growing the oysters, clams, mussels, and crab for most of the city’s chefs, it only made sense for it to open up a shop where diners could find it at its freshest. With an almost overeducated staff (you could even ask your dishwasher about geoduck -- everyone here knows their stuff), and the simplest preparations, this oyster bar is all about all seafood in its purest form.
What you’re getting: The Brooklyn
Ordering a pizza at Delancey means never again having to listen to your New Yorker friend complain about a lack of decent pizza in this town. Ordering it with a little extra kale or local, house-pickled peppers, or any other of the slightly twee seasonal specials on it means twisting the knife a little bit deeper -- and improving upon a genre of food the East thought it had locked down.
What you’re getting: Nigiri
When the restaurant is older than your grandparents and the slices of fish on your nigiri are bigger than the sole of your shoe, you’ve chosen wisely. It’s hard to go wrong at this ancient classic (where even the prices don’t seem like they’ve changed in decades)... unless you forgot to make a reservation, because then you’re probably not getting in.
What you’re getting: Phở
Nobody else was serving phở back when these guys started. Now, it’s hard to find a street corner in the city without a phở shop on it. But sometimes the original is the best, though to quote its own sign, this stuff may, or may not, be: "The best phở in town... Maybe, don't know, really, who cares, just eat it."
What you’re getting: Dungeness crab cakes; made to order donuts
While today Dahlia seems a bit dated, a bit stodgier than even star Chef Tom Douglas’s other restaurants; in its day, it was a trendsetter. Subtle nods to Asian flavors, using local Northwest seafood, and making everything from scratch: all groundbreaking ideas. Not to mention the focus on quality and fresh ingredients. We can all thank Dahlia Lounge for making these priorities in our city’s restaurants.
What you’re getting: All three of that day’s pastas, if possible
Each day, Mike Easton’s team creates three unique dishes combining whatever produce is season, whatever meat they can bring in, and the pasta shape and sauce appropriate to make it taste best. Sort of like how your Italian grandmother might cook, if you had one, and she had access to the city’s top produce vendors, and she only made lunch. It means you’ll rarely see the same thing twice, but you’ll keep coming back because each one is better than the last.
Sign up here for our daily Seattle email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
1. The Walrus and the Carpenter4743 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle
2. Din Tai Fung700 Bellevue Way NE #280, Bellevue
3. Marination Ma Kai1660 Harbor Ave SW, Seattle
4. Altura Restaurant617 Broadway E, Seattle
5. Toshi's Teriyaki Grill16212 Bothell Everett Hwy, Mill Creek
6. Staple & Fancy4739 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle
7. Westward2501 N Northlake Way, Seattle
8. Green Leaf Vietnamese Restaurant418 8th Ave S, Seattle
9. Canlis2576 Aurora Ave N, Seattle
10. Canon928 12th Ave, Seattle
11. Salumi309 3rd Ave S, Seattle
12. Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar410 Occidental Ave S, Seattle
13. Delancey1415 NW 70th St, Seattle
14. Maneki304 6th Ave S, Seattle
15. Phở Bắc1314 S Jackson St, Seattle
16. Dahlia Lounge2001 4th Ave, Seattle
17. Il Corvo217 James St, Seattle
This chic oyster bar serves neither walrus nor houses carpenters (that we know of) but it does dish out mounds of delicious shellfish in a comfortable atmosphere. Additionally, this cozy, neighborhood spot -- which has been recognized by The New York Times also serves incredible desserts, with highlights being maple bread pudding and roasted Medjool dates.
Brought to the NW with help from a former techie who grew up eating DTF (ha!) in Taiwan, the second American outpost of the famed Pacific Rim dumpling house (the Hong Kong spot has a Michelin star) boasts a glass-walled, second-story eat space full of pol
"Ma Kai" means "by the sea," and that's exactly where this waterfront establishment is located. Serving up tasty tacos made from fresh ingredients, this Hawaiian-Korean fusion restaurant is all about finding the best of both worlds and melting them together. There's also a killer beer selection, and you can purchase "Nunya", the secret sauce used by the restaurant on many of its dishes, receiving a free slider or taco with each jar purchase.
Altura Restaurant is an Italian spot with a weekly-changing menu meant to capitalize on the freshest ingredients sourced from organic, independent farms around the Northwest. An insane list of regional wine from Italy, plus a plethora of dishes (featuring handmade pasta,)are also sure to impress. The cozy, romantic vibe of Altura makes it a perfect Capitol Hill spot for date night or an intimate gathering with friends.
Still owned and operated by the guy credited with basically inventing Seattle-style teriyaki, Toshi Kasahara, this classic eatery in Mill Creek obviously focuses on teriyaki options, but still offers departures from the standard dishes with choices like Chicken Katsu-Don and goyza for starters.
This place's name says it all. Chef Ethan Stowell offers à la carte "Staple" choices, as well as a multi-course "Fancy" chef's tasting menu. The former includes a variety of Italian-inspired eats, like gnocchi with housemade fennel sausage and braised lamb shank, while the latter includes $55 worth of the chef's choice. Either way, you can't go wrong.
Opened by the crew behind Skillet, Westward is a waterfront nautical spot with rustic decor. A wood-burning oven stands in the center of the room, the bar is boat-shaped, and the patio/beach boasts stunning views of Lake Union and Downtown. This spacious restaurant serves low-alcohol cocktails and small seafood plates that extend dinner beyond the usual starter, entrée, and dessert. Start with oysters at the adjoining Little Gull, finish with cocktails around the outdoor fire pit.
Seattle's favorite food may be great teriyaki, but pho is a solid number two and GL is a more-than-solid place to score some the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup.
The finest of Seattle's relatively few fine dining destinations, Canlis is worth it alone for its gorgeous views of Lake Union and unusual setting inside a refurbished mid century modern home. But Canlis also brings the heat with an unbeatable version of Seattle's signature Dungeness crab cakes, and possibly the city's best steak.
This snug bespoke whiskey bar and bitters emporium makes up for its cozy quarters with an astounding collection of wine and spirits (peep the 94-page menu!). If that weren't reason enough to check out this Capitol Hill spot, Canon Whiskey holds the title for having the largest selection of American whiskey in the world... score!
Everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Mario Batali (okay, it’s his family’s restaurant) has raved about this tiny meat shop. Get the meatball sandwich or the cured meats plate, it's the best assortment of sausage this side of the Atlantic
Before it opened shop, Taylor Shellfish was providing oysters, clams, mussels, and crab to most of the city’s chefs. Now with several of its own locations, this oyster bar continues to serve all seafood in its purest form. Not to mention that the selection of draft beers and wine is worth drinking your way through. It seems like it would be some sort of Seattle stereotype that people spend their pre-football-game time drinking craft beers and slurping raw oysters, but that’s why we love it here, no?
It’s no wonder Delancey has some passionate fans—this Ballard pizzeria is home to some of Seattle’s best tasting (and looking) pizzas. The wood-fired pies come with toppings ranging from the traditional, high quality (think Zoe’s pepperoni), to the quirky and seasonal (think Padrón peppers). Pro tip: follow this bacon-y and onion-y pie with some of the D’s bourbon-roasted peaches. It also has the cookie to end all cookies: a soft bittersweet chocolate chip cookie made with gray salt.
Maneki is the last surviving restaurant from Seattle’s once bustling Japantown, so you know they must be doing something right. The family-owned restaurant has established itself as a local favorite. Fun—almost unbelievable—fact: in the 1930s, one of Maneki’s dishwashers was Takeo Miki, who later served as Japan’s prime minister. What’s even more unbelievable is how good Maneki’s sushi is.
These guys were serving pho before anyone else in Seattle, but now you'd be hard put to find a street corner without a pho shop on it. Sometimes, the original is still the best.
One of super-chef Tom Douglas' signature establishments, Dahlia Lounge dishes out fresh Pacific Northwest-inspired classics, like the customer-favorite Dungeness crab cakes and coffee-braised beef short rib. Their triple coconut cream pie has made them the talk of the town -- you'd be remiss not to top off your meal with a slice. Be sure to take advantage of their happy hour, too, with deals on oysters, cocktails, and other treats.
Lunchtime is your only chance to score some of the incredible handmade pastas at Pioneer Square's Il Corvo, where the menu changes daily. Guests can expect entrees along the lines of tagliatelle with wild boar ragu, gigli with broccolini, chilies, and garlic, and other similarly sophisticated pasta dishes. Be sure to check out Il Corvo's website for daily offerings.