Seattle's Talented Chefs Keep Food Local, Sustainable, Fresh and Fun
By Corinne Whiting
Seattle Local Expert
Seattle sits at the forefront of foodie culture, so options here are endless when it comes to finding local flavor. This proves excellent news for residents and visitors alike, especially those who are particularly fond of seafood. In order to direct travelers toward sure-bet eateries, 10Best narrows the options to those places with the most appeal and the best reputations. Our selections allow you to explore Seattle dining on your own. However, just in case time is of the essence, we also present our Seattle Best Restaurants list, a special selection of 10 places that promise a stellar experience and a stellar taste of the city that represents the essence of Seattle dining.
While some venues showcase the region's local bounty of seafood, meats, cheeses, produce, wines and more, others bring exotic ethnic cuisines to this corner of the States. Whether you are an adventurous diner or one who likes to stick within your comfort zone, you will find options that suit your fancy. Master chefs here introduce us to flavors ranging from sushi and curries to barbecue and jambalaya, and restaurants offer ambiences that run the gamut from casual and chill to fancy and fine. Wherever you land or whatever the occasion, just be sure to bring your appetite!
10 Aqua by El Gaucho
Seattle is a seafood-centric city, and in the ultra-casual Northwest, restaurateur Paul Mackay (El Gaucho) has bucked the trend, elevating fine fish dining to a level of refined sophistication with Aqua. The space itself is grand, a sweeping open dining room surrounded by glass, one of the few fine restaurants in Seattle directly on the water. Outside, an expansive deck is open seasonally, and beyond its railing are perfect views of Elliot Bay and the Olympic Mountains on a clear day. Back inside, copper artichoke chandeliers and leather club chairs provide plush comfort for diners enjoying unique Northwest takes on salmon, halibut, Dungeness crab and the finest local clams and mussels. Entrée selections feature lobster risotto, Thai seafood stew and sesame-seared sea bass. Aqua also boasts a vast and deep wine list, and live piano music entertains diners each evening. (206-956-9171)
9 The Whale Wins
The Whale Wins is the latest restaurant from award-winning chef Renee Erickson and partners Jeremy Price and Chad Dale (renowned throughout Seattle, thanks to their other masterpiece, Ballard's acclaimed The Walrus and the Carpenter). At this welcoming Fremont venue, the culinary team draws inspiration from the cuisine of some of Erickson's favorite places in southern Europe and England, and they promise their "wood-fired, vegetable focused menu will feature the very best foods from local beaches, gardens and farms prepared simply and served casually in a lively, light filled, cottage-like space." Diners should expect ripe, seasonal vegetables, wood-oven fired meats and fish, and pickled treats in a bright, beautiful setting. ((206) 632-9425)
8 Etta's Seafood
One of the original restaurants in the culinary empire (Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen) of Seattle chef Tom Douglas, Etta's is quintessential Northwest seafood. That's partly due to its location, just north of Pike Place Market. But mostly it's because Douglas was long ahead of the curve when it came to whole farm-to-table concept, so all of the salads and sides served with the ingenious and ultra-fresh seafood dishes are equal to their main-course pairings. Because of Douglas' reputation, the spot is popular with locals and tourists alike, and a wait isn't uncommon. A little downtime with a cocktail is certainly in order while waiting for innovative dishes such as deep-fried tilapia with scallions and black beans, seared halibut, tuna sashimi, or spice rubbed salmon. (206-443-6000)
7 Shiro's Sushi
If the crowd it draws is a measure of a restaurant's standing, Shiro's reputation is assured. While not much to look at, the unadorned space is one of Seattle's premier sushi spots, and it is often filled with loyal local patrons, including sports stars, business executives, and the rest of the city's ravenous raw-fish fans. White tablecloths drape the tables, but the prime spot is at the sushi bar, where the blade-wielding Shiro Kashiba or one of his partners slice fresh fish with utmost skill. Sitting here, you never know what kind of extra treats might come your way. The understated restaurant also features an extensive and well-chosen sake list. Kashiba, who decades ago helped introduce Seattleites to sushi with his original restaurant, Nikko, still sets the bar for fresh fish and friendly hospitality, even in a town overflowing with top-notch sushi places. (206-443-9844)
6 Matt's in the Market
This once-tiny restaurant, greatly expanded in 2007, offers incredible views of the Market and the Puget Sound, courtesy of huge, semicircular windows. Flawless seafood is the name of the game, and it's collected fresh from vendors below. Oyster sandwiches, often eaten at the counter, are much-coveted at lunch, and dinner calls forth such delicacies as tortilla-crusted Alaskan halibut, pan-roasted wild salmon, and mussels steamed with chorizo, charmoula, and cava. In the evenings, the atmosphere is candlelit and romantic, although tables are at a premium. Don't leave without treating yourself to the chocolate pot de creme, a signature dessert that's a perfect ending to the fantastic cuisine. (206-467-7909)
5 Herbfarm Restaurant
Dining at the Herb Farm is an event. In fact, just getting in is a process, since this culinary jewel is booked months in advance for its legendary prix fixe feast of Pacific Northwest fare. The nine-course meal plays out over four or five hours, with perfect regional wine pairings poured along with each dining selection. According to travel guides, this is diamond-level dining. With a strictly regional focus, each meal is seasonally themed, whether Copper River salmon in spring or root vegetables in winter. The greens and herbs that augment main dishes are from the restaurant's own garden, picked by one of your servers. Along with each course comes dialogue from the chef, who informs diners about the specifics of what's on their plates. Finish off with Douglas Fir sorbet, a standby standout at the Herb Farm. (425-485-5300)
4 Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge
Toulouse Petit Kitchen and Lounge has been earning accolades almost since it opened. The ornate and filigreed interior of the space is just the beginning of a dining experience built on the food, style and attitude of New Orleans' French Quarter. Offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night dining, the restaurant has a voluminous menu encompassing Italian, Spanish and French-countryside and coastal-Mediterranean cuisine, along with a full slate of affordable American-style Prime steakhouse selections, traditional Northwest seafood and a multitude of house-made charcuterie and small-plate offerings. And as you might expect from a spot that takes its cues from the French Quarter, Toulouse is renowned for its happy hour, including the one timed perfectly for a leisurely and extended brunch. (2064329069)
3 Westward & Little Gull
One of the city's newest "hot spots," Westward is a water-inspired, full-service restaurant and bar that first opened its sails in the fall of 2013 on the north shore of Lake Union. Chef Zoi Antonitsas sends out delectable, innovative dishes that balance contemporary Northwest and Mediterranean flavors with an approach called "natural and continually evolving, reflecting the simplicity of great products, fresh ingredients and the changing seasons. A wood-burning oven anchors the kitchen, and each seat in the restaurant boasts stunning views of the lake and cityscape. Outside, a large deck, fire pit and beach area provide the ideal vantage point for sipping cocktails in the warmer month or to snuggle under wool blankets (provided by the venue) in the winter. A 150-foot dock provides boat parking or a place to tie up kayaks while enjoying plates of oysters or creative cocktails. ((206) 552-8215)
2 How to Cook a Wolf
While there is no wolf being braised here, just the thought -- How would one cook a wolf, where would you start? -- gets to the core of chef-owner Ethan Stowell's philosophy for this branch of his Seattle foodie empire (Tavolata, Anchovies and Olives): Breaking things down to their base elements, deconstructing dishes to the bare essence of their perfectly chosen ingredients. Here that is done through a simple and rustic take on Italian-inspired plates, served in a sleek, urban-lodge of a space outfitted in rough-stacked stone and unfinished vertical wood paneling. Start with the simplicity of Celery Root Soup, imbued plainly but perfectly with brown butter and chive. Savor the Soft Boiled Eggs with parsley, pine nuts and crispy potato. Dinner-sized plates include Seared Scallops with roasted beet, pearl onion and balsamic; and grilled Pork Belly with honey crisp apple and Treviso, a red Italian radicchio named for its home province. (206-838-8090)
No Seattle food guide would be complete without a mention of Canlis, for generations a stalwart standby for special occasions and wowing visitors. The traditional, white-tablecloth dining room lets visitors take in serene views of beautiful and busy Lake Union below. Such stunning surroundings only enhance the phenomenal gustatory experience, which includes offerings of stuffed chicken, lamb shank with pur�ed mint and garlic, and delectable cuts of beef and fresh seafood. For diners that can't decide, a great option is the fixed price menu: Each of the five courses is paired with the appropriate glass of wine from the spectacular Canlis cellar. In fact, Canlis is one of only 85 restaurants worldwide to have received the "Grand Award" for its wine collection. (206-283-3313)
About Corinne Whiting
Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's backpacked around Australia, taught English in Argentina and explored (so far!) countries from Cambodia and Egypt to Turkey and China. Corinne served as associate editor at Where magazine for five years; as a freelancer, she now writes for publications like National Geographic Traveler and Amtrak's OnTrak. Here in the lovely Northwest, she's attempting to debunk the rain myths, up her coffee and live music quotient and find her Zen near/on the water.
Read more about Corinne Whiting here.