The original Thaiku -- and its apothecary-themed bar Fu Kun Wu, which Esquire called one of the best bars in America -- was a Ballard mainstay that was forced to shutter in 2012, only to reopen a year later in a new ("Mai") much smaller space, where it now manages to slip almost totally under the radar, but where you can still down traditional, brightly flavored Southeast Asian eats, and creative cocktails, which are just as Fu Kuning good as they were at the old place.
So you want to open a "farm to neighborhood" restaurant? Here’s how it’s done: first pick an out of the way corner of a 'hood already packed with great spots, preferably one that doubles as the city's best drinking 'hood if possible, then move into a building that already houses some of the city's most beloved spots (Delancey, anyone?), so that no matter how much good press you get when you open you won't quite turn into the kind of place people cross the city for, even though said trip would be worth it for classic American eats that promise to be like pretty much everyone from Seattle... "nice without being fancy."
So this place isn't technically underrated, as anyone you ask about it will only have great things to say about it. It's more like this venerable Mexican joint in the shadow of Fremont's iconic rocket is seriously overlooked. Maybe because it's on an odd block behind one of the 'hood's most popular bars. Or because the aforementioned Revel is just a couple of blocks in one direction, while one of Iron Chef-winner Maria Hines' spots is a block in the other. Or perhaps it's been around so long that it's somehow faded into the background of Seattle's constantly changing food scene. Whatever the reason, it's too bad, 'cause not only is El Camino's bar the best place in the city to celebrate your birthday, the restaurant is perfect for anything and everything else... first dates, day drinking on the back patio, or just eating delicious Oaxacan food made with Northwest Ingredients.
LM is the quintessential Seattle neighborhood restaurant: it's a little hard to get to; it's helmed by an accomplished and innovative chef who allows seasonal, local ingredients to inspire his constantly changing menu; and you get decidedly upscale food for way less than it’d cost Downtown or in Capitol Hill. Sounds great, right? So how does it manage to fly under the radar? Well, since this is Seattle, Ethan Stowell has a popular restaurant not too far away, not to mention one of the best new restaurants in the city last year is two blocks away, and a seriously beloved Mexican establishment is just a block or so further. And that's just for starters.
It is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. It is utterly charming thanks to a recent rustic makeover. And it literally serves family recipes made by actual members of the family as often as not. And you've never been there. Hell, you may not have even heard of it, thanks to its remote location in the middle of Magnolia Village... but now you know, so there's no excuse not to try the ravioli Marsala, or the Carbonara, etc., like, today.
One of a handful of bars/restaurants hidden away on a strip there's no way you'd even come across by accident, and no doubt overshadowed as a destination for outsiders by the nearby Elysian outpost -- as well as the Burgundian's breakfast and beer operation down the street, and the Seattle Dog-slinger around the corner -- this underrated raw seafood joint is worth finding, even though you’ll run the very real risk of getting lost and winding up wandering the oddly curving streets between Green Lake and the freeway forever.
So far away in the northern end of Ballard it's basically in Blue Ridge, or maybe Crown Hill (who knows?!), this magical little Lebanese restaurants serves up elegant but surprisingly affordable small plates featuring mainstays like hummus and chicken skewers, plus unique dishes (slow-roasted beets in tahini, and ground lamb with herbs & bulgur wheat) you probably didn't even know you could get in Seattle -- since we're betting you never even knew about this place... despite the fact that it's serving one of the 50 things in Seattle you need to eat before you die, and pouring over 100 whiskeys from behind the bar.
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1. Mai Thaiku6705 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle
2. Brunswick & Hunt1480 NW 70th St, Seattle
3. El Camino607 N 35th St, Seattle
4. Lloyd Martin1525 Queen Anne Ave N, Seattle
5. Mondello Ristorante Italiano2435 33rd Ave W #3, Seattle
6. Kisaku Sushi2101 N 55th St, Green Lake
7. Cafe Munir2408 NW 80th St, Seattle
Unlike many of Seattle's Thai restaurants that are overrun with curries and coconut milk, Mai Thaiku is a neighborhood favorite for its interesting take on Thai appetizers, salads, and satays. Go for the pickled freshwater crab and papaya salad, or the goong che nam pla (a Gulf prawn ceviche), which aren't complete without a side of sticky rice. There are Thai takes on classic cocktails inside this homey, wood-laden space, too, like a rum/lime/mint mojito spiked with yohimbe and ginseng, punnily known as a Yohito.
Ballard’s Brunswick and Hunt is the newest addition to the 70th St. echelon (Delancey, Honore, Fat Hen). This all-American spot holds to its motto of being “nice without being fancy”. The must-try items are the Brunswick Stew and Hunter Burger.
El Camino has been serving some of the best traditional Mexican food around for more than 15 years. Making regular trips across the border and sourcing ingredients from local, independent farms, its owners deliver a double roundhouse of flavor and freshness on a daily basis.
Although the menu at Lloyd Martin is constantly rotating every day, the main focus of the restaurant is on game meats and wine. The wine list is curated to include selections that pair well with the food menu, and you can also order one of Lloyd Martin's signature handcrafted cocktails.
It's only fitting that a restaurant so quintessentially old-school Italian is located in the heart of Magnolia, Seattle's oldest neighborhood. Generous portions of creamy, ricotta-laden gnocchi, classic spaghetti carbonara, and pan-fried mussels and clams are all made in-house by hand from imported ingredients -- basically, this is the real deal with it comes to Italian, as made evident by its reustic wooden tables and flaked, pastel-painted walls that make it feel like you've beens served that Limoncello on the Tuscan coast.
Kisaku means easy going, which is the ambiance you will have at this raw fish joint. Be sure to grab the Green Lake roll made of which has salmon, flying fish eggs, asparagus, avocado, and marinated seaweed.
This elegant but surprisingly affordable Lebanese spot in Ballard serves Middle Eastern favorites like hummus and chicken skewers, plus more unique dishes: slow roasted beets in tahini and ground lamb with herbs & bulgur wheat. An impressive menu of globally-inspired small plates and whiskey from around the world is also available.