In food-literate Seattle, top chefs keep things local, sustainable, fresh — and fun

Seattle is a city on the forefront of foodie culture, so options are endless for finding local flavor. In order to direct travelers only to sure-thing 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 present our Seattle Best Restaurants list, a special selection of ten places that promise a stellar experience and a taste of the city that is the essence of Seattle dining.

10 Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar
The second Seastar restaurant opened by star chef John Howie, this fine-dining seafood house features muted wooden tones and bright glass accents that create a modern, buoyant tone. Locally sourced, freshly prepared seafood is immaculately presented, and the prepared dishes are joined by an extensive raw menu. Diners can expect dishes like reggiano parmigiano crusted halibut, cedar-plank roasted Alaskan king crab legs and mahi-mahi with a cucumber macadamia nut relish. As at his other establishments, this John Howie spot features a superb wine list and an extensive craft cocktail menu. (206-462-4364)

9 Katsu Burger
This is one of those, "Why didn't someone think of this sooner?" concepts, and it makes sense that the tempura-fried hamburger was created in sushi-crazed Seattle by one of the city's celebrated Japanese chefs. Katsu Burger -- so named because the popular, panko-coated pork cutlet dish tonkatsu was the inspiration -- is tucked into the corner of a strip mall. Unassuming inside, as well, a handful of tables make up the tidy, minimalist dining room. The squeeze is worth it to sample Hajime Sato's 12-burger menu, each available in beef, pork, chicken or tofu. Basic versions are topped with shredded cabbage, tomato, red onion and pickle � or create your own concoction. Can't decide? Go for the belly busting Mt. Fuji, assembled with one each of the meat patties, cheese, bacon, wasabi mayo, spicy mayo and tonkatsu sauce. (206-762-0752)

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 El Gaucho
Seattle restaurateur Paul Mackay's contemporary revival of the 1950s-era steakhouse El Gaucho revolves around the concept of dining as an orchestrated experience, not just a meal. The focus is on the finest ingredients prepared and presented with exquisite attention to detail -- either from the open-concept kitchen or tableside -- the whims of diners catered to at every turn. This pampering is known as "the full Gaucho treatment." The menu is straightforward, simple quality, featuring prime, dry-aged beef simply prepared over a bed of live coals, the cooking method favored by the Argentinean cowboys from which the restaurant takes its name. This cooking style delivers prime cuts with a perfect smoky flavor, and the meat is served with basic but perfectly prepared potato and vegetable sides served a la care. As streamlined as the menu is, much of the experience is the show, so be sure to order a tableside preparation such as the tangy Caesar salad or the decadent Baked Alaska flamed with cherry brandy. Also check out El Gaucho in Bellevue and Tacoma. (206-728-1337)

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 Canlis
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)

3 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)

2 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)

1 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. One starter, for example, is fresh oysters with grapefruit-tequila sorbet. Entrée selections feature lobster risotto, Thai seafood stew, and sesame-seared sea bass. As the owner of one of Seattle's best steakhouses, Mackay here offers a fine choice of turf to go along with your surf: rack of lamb, pork tenderloin, charcoal-grilled steaks. Plank-roasted vegetables will satisfy the vegetarian crowd. Aqua also boasts a vast and deep wine list, and live piano music entertains diners each evening. (206-956-9171)

A native of Tacoma, Washington - Seattle’s smaller sibling to the south - journalist John Ferri has lived everywhere in and around the Pacific Northwest. He started college in Bellingham, lived in the San Juan Islands, and finished college in Pullman, Washington, before living and working for a time in Spokane. He then moved to Florida, where he lived and worked in Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale before returning to the Puget Sound area. When not working full time as a writer and editor, including stints for The Tama Tribune and New Times, John spent years in the hospitality industry as a fine-dining restaurant server and manager. He counts himself lucky to have worked under some of the most awarded (and even celebrity) chefs and sommeliers in the entire Pacific Northwest.  Although he never obtained his certificate through testing, John has studied wines extensively.  And as a former home brewer, he's a student of craft beer and is immersed in the region’s industry-leading microbrewery movement. Having grown up amid the natural wonders of the Seattle area, John is an accomplished hiker. Another result of a Northwest rearing is his penchant for strong, dark-roast coffee, which he slavishly grinds and brews at home or enjoys at any Internet café that has great espresso.  You'll only find him there, however, when he’s not in search of the next best deli, wine bar, hiking trail, book shop or brewery . . . or revisiting an old favorite.    

Read more about John Ferri here.

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Maps and Directions

Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Seafood
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Bar Dining
Neighborhood: BELLTOWN
COST: $$
Katsu Burger 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: Burger
Dining Options: Family Friendly
Etta's Seafood 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Asian, Seafood
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Bar Dining, Counter Seating, Disabled Accessible, Family Friendly, Group Friendly, Non-Smoking, Parties / Private Rooms, Take Out
Neighborhood: Waterfront
COST: $$
Shiro's Sushi 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: Asian, Japanese, Sushi
Dining Options: Bar Dining, Disabled Accessible, Non-Smoking
COST: $$
El Gaucho 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Steakhouse
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Dancing, Disabled Accessible, Live Music, Non-Smoking, Parties / Private Rooms, Sommelier, Wine Cellar
Neighborhood: Waterfront
COST: $$$$
Herbfarm Restaurant 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Continental, Regional
Dining Options: Disabled Accessible, Non-Smoking, Parties / Private Rooms, Sommelier, Wine Cellar
COST: $$$$
Canlis 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Local Specialty, Regional
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Bar Dining, Live Music, Non-Smoking, Parties / Private Rooms, Sommelier
COST: $$$
How to Cook a Wolf 10Best List Arrow
Dining Options: Counter Seating
Cuisine: European, Italian
Neighborhood: QUEEN ANNE
Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge 10Best List Arrow
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Bar Dining, Counter Seating, Non-Smoking, Take Out
Cuisine: Creole, French
Neighborhood: QUEEN ANNE
COST: $$$
Aqua by El Gaucho 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Seafood
Dining Options: Bar / Lounge, Bar Dining, Disabled Accessible, Live Music, Non-Smoking, Parties / Private Rooms
COST: $$$$