If you live in Seattle, Tacoma probably only comes to mind when you’re wondering why the airport is called Sea-Tac. Or never. But from old-school drive-ins to craft cocktail-slingers, our neighbor to the south actually has some sweet places to eat and drink. So the next time you accidentally get on the wrong train, or need something to eat before seeing monster trucks at the Tacoma Dome, be sure to hit one (or more) of the city’s 10 essential bars and restaurants...
Best burger and nostalgia pairing: Frisko Freeze
1201 Division Ave
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.
Best brew pub: Harmon Tap Room
204 St Helens Ave
Tacoma’s best-known brewer has a number spots, but this is the one to hit for serious beer drinkin’ and bar snackin’ -- plus it’s where the beer is actually brewed. In addition to its own beers, Harmon fills its 20 taps with other tasty ales, and does a menu where one half is made up entirely of nachos.
Best Chinese food: Tacoma Szechuan
9601 S Tacoma Way, Lakewood
From Chinese-American standards like General Tso’s to regional specialties like sautéed rabbit with Szechuan sauce, this spot serves up a menu of more than 100 different dishes without shying away from the necessary spices.
Best comfort food: Southern Kitchen
1716 6th Ave
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.
Best tavern: The Swiss
1904 Jefferson Ave
The food menu is pretty standard bar fare, but the building dates back nearly a century; there’s Chihuly glass on the bar, and the tap list is longer than the bill you get if you break any of that glass.
Best fish & chips: The Spar
2121 N 30th St
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 a killer fish & chips.
Best bar for pretending you’re on vacation: Tacoma Cabana
728 Pacific Ave
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, pupu platters, and island-themed soundtrack are beautifully absurd without being overly kitschy.
Best restaurant for vegetarians: Marrow
2717 6th Ave
It’s awkward to suggest a place named after the meatiest of dishes is a sweet spot for vegetarians (no, it’s not named for the British word for squash), but the fact is it's turning out multiple hand-made pasta dishes, herbed barley, and bulgur succotash good enough that even the wild boar tenderloin and namesake bone marrow pale in comparison.
Best cocktail bar: Hilltop Kitchen
913 M.L.K. Jr Way
The vast majority of places in Tacoma would feel completely out of place if dropped down in the middle of say, Manhattan, but Hilltop’s elegance, excellent craft cocktails, incredible list of mezcal and tequila, and Latin-inspired food would fit in just as well anywhere. Tacoma’s just lucky that’s where it ended up.
Best beer bar: The Red Hot
2914 6th Ave
How do you improve on a bar with such a huge list of great craft beers? You add a hot dog menu, obviously.
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