Food & Drink

50 Things to Eat Before You Die: The Seattle Food Bucket List

You have to eat, because otherwise you die. And you have to eat the 50 things on our Seattle food bucket list before you die, because... um, we said so. We’re sure you can see where this is going...

1. Curry Beef Hom Bow

Mee Sum Pastry (address and info)
Pike Place Market
Seattle’s central market has long welcomed locals, tourists, and immigrants alike, and the result is this slightly bastardized version of the kind of bao that you’d find in China, in which sweet dough wraps around a savory curry. Much like the market itself, the bun is inspired by a diverse population -- and tastes great.

2. Fried chicken

Heaven Sent Fried Chicken (address and info)
Various locations
Ezell’s might still have his name, but Ezell Stephens kept the recipe -- and his magic touch with the deep fryer -- after a lawsuit over fried chicken so good, Oprah used to sing its praises.

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

3. Any daily special

Il Corvo (address and info)
Pioneer Square
It’s hard to specify a dish to try at Il Corvo, since there are only three or four on the menu each day and they’re constantly changing, but it hardly matters because all the options are the best pasta in the city, and none cost more than $10.

4. Chicken teriyaki

Nasai Teriyaki (address and info)
University District
Pho may have taken over as Seattle’s cheap eat du jour, but the city will never forget its teriyaki sauce-stained history. The sweet, tangy sauce, dumped over grilled chicken thighs is a staple of budget eaters all over the city and unlike any teriyaki you’ll find around the world.

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

5. Fresh-shucked oysters

The Walrus and the Carpenter (address and info)
It’s been five years since this tiny hallway of an oyster bar opened and four years since it received glowing praise in the New York Times, and finally the lines have died down to manageable levels (often under an hour!), meaning that the carefully curated, immaculately shucked shellfish that earned this place its reputation can be yours in record time.

6. Grilled cheese

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (address and info)
Various locations
It’s one of the simplest foods, which is why getting a grilled cheese sandwich so right is of the utmost importance, and Beecher’s does it by employing its own nutty Flagship and creamy Just Jack cheeses.

7. Bittersweet chocolate chip cookie with gray salt

Delancey (address and info)
Yes, it has some of the best pizza in town (and order that, too), but also, it has the cookie to end all cookies. It’s soft and it has crunch; it’s sweet, but not cloyingly so, and the salt makes it more complex. And if you’re the kind of person who’d rather lick the beaters than eat the cake, you can even order it raw as dough, to eat.

8. Tokyo Classic

Katsu Burger (address and info)
Various locations
From the twisted mind of original Chef Hajime Sato comes the deep-fried burger: the panko crusting (in the Japanese katsu style) keeps the local, natural meat juicy while providing a crunchy outside. Slipped inside a bun with Japanese mayo and tonkatsu sauce, it’s a massive burger, and an instant classic.

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

9. Ice cream

Kurt Farm Shop (address and info)
Capitol Hill
Forget plain ol’ vanilla: this field-to-freezer ice cream shop offers rich, Jersey cream as its base flavor. The luxurious scoops and incredible flavor stem from the thick, fatty milk produced by the cows (milked daily) at the shop’s own Vashon farm.

10. Steamed mussels

Maximilien (address and info)
Pike Place Market
Eating the happy hour mussels (bathed in white wine, garlic, and parsley) on the deck of the Pike Place French restaurant is what the rest of the country imagines living in Seattle to be like.

11. Fried chicken dinner

Ma’ono (address and info)
West Seattle
Once upon a time, Ma’Ono was Springhill and the twice-fried chicken dinner was a once-weekly thing. Luckily, Tom Douglas protégé Mark Fuller realized his mistake and transformed his restaurant into this temple of Korean-/Hawaiian-style fried chicken where the dinner -- which seems portioned for an army, and includes kimchi, rice, and chili sauce -- is always available.

12. Deluxe

Dick’s Drive-In (address and info)
Various locations
While it’s never clear if the greasy bundles of joy you unwrap on your lap at midnight are actually good or if it’s just like that after a few beers, nothing tastes better than what you’ll find under that big orange sign. But, either way, any real Seattleite will tell you that the Deluxe is essential Seattle eating: two small patties on a bun with cheese, lettuce, mayo, and relish. Remember, ketchup is 5 cents extra.

13. Seattle dog

Stands around Seattle
Various locations
Nothing gets you laughed away from a hot dog stand outside of Seattle like asking for a schmear of cream cheese, but when in Seattle, it’s a must. Spread on a toasted bun, sweetened with caramelized onions, and perhaps fired up with a bit of hot sauce, it’s a local tradition that’s only knocked until it’s tried.

14. Canlis Salad

Canlis (address and info)
A sort of upscale Caesar, this salad has been on the menu since the Lake Union adjacent-spot first opened in 1950. As the years go by, the classic only gains fame: recipes have been printed in Saveur and the New York Times. But the only way to try the real version is by dressing up in your finest togs and ordering it.

15. Cretzel

Coyle’s Bakeshop (address and info)
The Cronut might have taken Manhattan by storm, but savory treat lovers in Seattle have something better: this croissant-pretzel hybrid. Flaky and crisp, oozing with butter flavor and pops of salt, it marries two nearly perfect baked goods into one beautiful pastry.

16. Smoked paprika and cheddar croissant

Crumble & Flake (address and info)
Capitol Hill
Great baked goods start with impeccable technique, which former Canlis pastry chef Neil Robertson has in spades. But he’s also got a bit of creativity, which is best displayed in this lightly spiced, super-cheesy, signature baked good.

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

17. Zaru soba

Miyabi 45th (address and info)
While ramen takes over the world as the trendy Japanese noodle of the moment, handmade buckwheat noodles humbly show off their stuff every night in this kitchen. Cool and clean, they make an essential complement to Seattle’s long summer evenings.

18. Porchetta

Salumi Artisan Cured Meats (address and info)
Pioneer Square
Though the retirement project of Armandino Batali (Mario’s dad) is best known for its cured meat, smart diners take that to-go and order the beastly porchetta -- with huge chunks of rich, juicy pork bathed in a garlic-y sauce -- for lunch.

19. The Farmer pizza

The Independent Pizzeria (address and info)
Madison Park
Nestled in a tiny space by the beach, this comfy little corner turns out pies that should be shouted from the rooftops, not hidden away, and The Farmer is the star -- it's the best at showing off the fresh ingredients used in all the pizzas. It oozes farm egg into all the cheesy crevasses created by the mozzarella, getting all over the porky speck, and just flecking the perfectly charred crust.

20. Meat Combination II

Jebena Cafe (address and info)
Seattle is full of excellent Ethiopian food, but Jebena is a cut above in both style (it’s adorable) and substance (the food is top notch). But the best part is it is one of the few Ethiopian places to offer a combination plate that not only includes meat dishes, but also kitfo, the Ethiopian version of steak tartare.

21. Caribbean roast

Un Bien (address and info) or Paseo (address and info)
Who's to say which is the best or which is even the original? It’s the battle for sandwich supremacy in the form of pork shoulder, marinated and roasted, served on Macrina bread with those famous caramelized onions and a garlicky smattering of aioli. Maybe try both and decide?

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

22. Spam sliders

Marination (address and info)
Various locations
Forget your previously held feelings about Spam. The canned lunchmeat takes on a new personality when grilled and served inside sweet Hawaiian rolls with cabbage and the patented Nunya sauce.

23. Fancy menu

Staple & Fancy (address and info)
Give in to the regular menu, which, in no uncertain words, directs all diners to order the four-course Fancy menu. Give in to the fallacy of four courses, which is a total lie, since the first course is a parade of six or more small plates that could include fried oysters, fish crudos, or blistered peppers. Give in to the chefs, who will parade out the best of what they have in the kitchen, and to the bargain of a price for such a great meal.

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

24. Yogurt

Ellenos Real Greek Yogurt (address and info)
Various locations
With the texture of sour cream and the sweetness of pie, Ellenos’ yogurt could be dessert as easily as it could be breakfast. With a flagship store at the main corner of Pike Place Market, it took little more than a few sample spoonfuls handed out to hungry shoppers to convert the city into devotees of this Australian-style Greek yogurt.

25. Salmon nigiri

Maneki (address and info)
International District
Usually, freshness is the most desirable trait for a sushi restaurant, but at more than a century old, Maneki is still spanking the fish-loving pants off any other place in town. The salmon nigiri highlight the best of this old-school restaurant: giant blankets of gleaming orange fish draped over perfectly shaped, cohesive balls of rice.

26. Geoduck

Mashiko (address and info)
West Seattle
When the Northwest’s most absurd and phallic-looking giant clam is in season, Mashiko is the place to find it. Sustainable sushi evangelist and chef Hajime Sato sometimes has it as nigiri and other times will offer it sautéed with local mushrooms. However you eat it, though, you’ll get a true bite of local flavor.

27. French toast

Geraldine’s Counter (address and info)
Columbia City
Thick and custardy, crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, this is the platonic ideal of a brunch stalwart. The giant mountain of toast comes with a daily fruit topping and maple syrup, and is available in half portions (but why would you want less of such a good thing?).

28. Peacemaker po-boy

Where Ya at Matt (address and info)
Various locations
Seattle’s about as far from the bayou as you can get in the continental United States, but a stop at Matt’s makes it taste like it’s right next door. The truck’s sandwich of fried oysters, bacon, pickled hot peppers, and Crystal hot sauce shoved into a soft bun give you all of the flavors of Louisiana... (*sigh*), if only it were legal to sip an Abita on the street as you ate it.

29. Pretzel

Columbia City Bakery (address and info)
Columbia City
They are serious about their soft pretzels here: they come in the standard form (an impeccable study in the genre), as well as mini-knot and bun form (yes, you want to put your sandwiches, hot dogs, and burgers on these).

30. Bánh xèo

Tamarind Tree Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant (address and info)
International District
Also called the Tamarind Tree Crepe, this omelet-looking folded pancake hides treasures inside: scallops, shrimp, pork, and mushrooms are all buried in the crisp rice flour and coconut milk wrapper.

31. Bánh mì

Q Bakery (address and info)
Hillman City
There are hundreds of places to buy great bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches) in Seattle, but Q Bakery bakes the bread that makes most of them, so why not go straight to the source?

32. Short rib dumplings

Revel (address and info)
The fried and filled dough here is not in the style of any particular cuisine, though the restaurant does claim some inspiration from Korean food. Instead, it’s all about what tastes best, which is why thick wrappers are fried to a crisp, filled with rich short ribs, and topped with scallions and pickled shallots.

33. Dungeness crab

Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar (address and info)
Various locations
Oversized and bright red, this crustacean is practically a symbol of the bountiful seafood of the Northwest. As shellfish farmers, the Taylor folks know exactly how to serve it best: cooked, chilled, cracked, and most importantly, unadulterated.

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

34. Smoked half pig head

Radiator Whiskey (address and info)
Pike Place Market
Grab a few friends and call ahead for this one, ‘cause you’re going to be busy all night taking down this cutting board full of meat. Aside from the title character, which is presented as bluntly as the name implies, this porcine bacchanal comes with crispy fried ear, braised tongue, and roasted loin, plus hot peppers, aioli, and stone-ground mustard for dressing.

35. Salade verte

Le Pichet (address and info)
Pike Place Market
Despite the fancy French name, this is a simple dish -- it translates to “green salad” --  but until you try it, you don’t know how good a green salad can be: it features fresh, soft Bibb lettuce, crunchy-sweet candied hazelnuts, and a tangy mustard vinaigrette.

36. New England clam chowder

Pike Place Chowder (address and info)
Pike Place Market
Sorry, New England. You might get the name and the glory, but we here in the Northwest have the clams and flavor and oh, yeah, the actually great chowder.

37. Pad Thai

Thai Tom (address and info)
University District
It’s inconsistent and crowded, the wait is often long, and the seating uncomfortable. But the intricate dance of the cook and his flying ladles as he works magic on the woks turns out flame-kissed noodles at fire-sale prices.

38. BBQ chicken

Viengthong (address and info)
Mt. Baker
This tiny, cash-only hole-in-the-wall that closes at 8pm is hardly obvious in the sea of Thai restaurants in Seattle, but anyone who’s sampled the chicken here -- slightly sweetened by coconut milk and served with a sweet chili sauce -- has hurried back.

39. Egg bake

The Fat Hen (address and info)
Nothing will turn a rough morning around faster than eggs bubbling about with layers of cheese and sauce, and this twee place does it better than anywhere else.

40. Long-bone ribeye

Metropolitan Grill (address and info)
What with Paleo all the rage, who wouldn’t want to sit down to this caveman-esque, 36oz beast of a meat hunk? Good luck making it through that without taking home leftovers for the world’s best steak sandwich for lunch tomorrow.

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

41. Butterscotch bourbon pie

A la Mode Pies (address and info)
Phinney Ridge
It’s definitely not the prettiest pie in the pageant, but the dense butterscotch pudding means it’s more substance than style. Mounded high with whipped cream, crowned with pecans, and crusted by vanilla wafers and more pecans, it’s ready for its close up.

42. Hommous bi Lahm ou Snobar

Cafe Munir (address and info)
Hummus, that Middle Eastern chickpea dip, is hardly a food most would consider to be wow-inducing. But only because they haven’t tried it here, where ground lamb sizzles across the top, adding more flavor and texture than any version you’ve ever eaten before.

43. Dan dan hand-shaven noodles

Seven Stars Pepper (address and info)
International District
Let’s toss out the word "authentic" because, to be very clear: these are nothing like what dan dan noodles are in Sichuan, China. However, the thick, nutty sauce, dotted with pockmarks of pork, and coating ropy noodles shaved from hunks of dough, is so good that it'll make you re-think the original concept of the dish.

Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

44. Pho tai nam

Ba Bar (address and info)
First Hill
This bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup will cost more than the same dish at nearly any other restaurant in town. But here, they take Seattle’s new staple comfort food and reimagine it using techniques and ingredients chosen for flavor rather than savings.

45. Dutch baby

Tilikum Place Café (address and info)
Lower Queen Anne
With history in Seattle (it was maybe invented here?), this oversized baked pancake is right at home in the shadow of the Space Needle. Puffy and hot, jumping out of the pan it is both cooked and served in, it comes in either sweet or savory, so basically you have no reason not to order it.

46. Cheeseburger with salad

Wedgwood Broiler (address and info)
This steakhouse is so old that everything it serves has come back into fashion. like grinding all the meat for hamburgers in-house. Well, we’re not positive that salad graced by sliced salami and a handful of Cheez-It crackers was ever cool -- or will be -- but it definitely should be!

47. Falafel

Mawadda Cafe (address and info)
Hillman City
If you were to discuss your ideal foods, it’s unlikely “hard balls made of chickpeas” would top the list. And yet, when expertly fried and smothered in creamy tzatziki and zingy garlic sauce, suddenly falafel is the ultimate comfort food -- and this place knows how to make them best.

48. Triple coconut cream pie

Dahlia Bakery (address and info)
Seattle’s most famous chef’s signature dish has made appearances on the menu of more than one of his restaurants and has a long line of fans (President Obama included). Why? Perhaps it’s the heap of whipped cream with coconut and vanilla; maybe it's the way it almost melds right into the coconut custard below; or maybe it's the flaky coconut pastry on the bottom layer? Most likely, it’s the ridiculous indulgence of all three at once.

49. Tasting menu

Altura (address and info)
Capitol Hill
Though it still somehow flies under the radar, the five-course, evening-long prix fixe parade of dishes deserves to be named to any list of best eating experiences in Seattle. Considering Altura's rare ingredients, impeccable pairings, and fastidious attention to detail, there is nowhere better in the city to impress or celebrate.

50. Gray Salt Caramels

Fran’s Chocolates (address and info)
Various locations 
Long before salted caramel became the trendy ice cream flavor du jour, this local chocolatier had already sussed out the perfect pairing and was enclosing them in its signature chocolates.

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Naomi Tomky has eaten all of these dishes  -- so at least she’ll die happy -- and posted about most of ‘em on Twitter @Gastrognome and Instagram @the_gastrognome.