In our workday lives, lunch is often relegated to leftovers from a brown bag or downing quick food out of convenience. So while traveling, one of the luxuries becomes mapping out enough time in your itinerary to track down and enjoy a leisurely lunch, which provides just one more chance during the day to truly take in the flavors of a city.
In Seattle that means immersing yourself in numerous Asian cuisines while on a treasure hunt in Seattle’s International District, where import and gift shops neighbor Japanese sushi joints, Korean barbecue houses and Vietnamese eateries. Even beyond the International District, sushi and teriyaki spots abound and make for a tasty, affordable lunch.
If something on the gourmet circuit is in order, lunchtime proves a great time to check out ultra-chic, celebrity chef eateries at a discount; try lunch menus at spots like Tom Douglas’s Lola, for example. Some Seattle lunch icons have become celebrities in their own right, with Red Mill Burgers and Fare Start having received treatment on the Food Network and Travel Channel. Guaranteed go-to meals can be found at numerous brewpubs, where chefs tend to keep things interesting to keep up with the creativity of local brewers.
This upscale dining room serves inventive Greek cuisine in the heart of downtown Seattle. Making an excellent starter, pita bread is served with your choice of spread, like roasted sweet red pepper, barrel-aged minty feta or skordalia. Meze, such as grilled octopus and dolmades with rice plus a variety of kabobs appear on the menu, and Lola doesn't skimp on main courses either. Offerings vary but may include a tagine of stuffed artichokes, avgolemono and saffron couscous or a whole fish with pickled green garlic and herbs. This is a great spot for lunch any day of the week, but be warned that the weekend brunch menu often leads to queues on Saturdays and Sundays. (206-441-1430)
Breakfast available all day, from every region in America, as well as lunch and dinnertime offerings, too. How excellent is that? Scan the menu at this fun and funky American eatery, and you'll likely find your favorite region of the States soundly represented, from Southern-style Tasso ham and honey-stung fried chicken to Northwestern salmon cakes and Southwestern shrimp enchilada con queso. Indeed, 5 Spot is nothing if not dynamic, even changing its artwork and decor every so often to transport patrons to various seasonal locales. Early-risers (and late-risers, too!) take heed: their breakfast menu, available until midnight, features the likes of red flannel hash, smoked salmon scramble and homestyle biscuits and gravy. (206-285-7768)
Marination Ma Kai
In West Seattle, Marination Ma Kai brings the delectable flavors and happy vibes of Hawaii to a stunning beachside setting (near Alki). The venue's Hawaiian-Korean cuisine "melts delicate heat and the flavors of aloha together in [diners'] mouths," while the expansive patio offers to-die-for skyline and water views. As the owners put it, "it started with a truck, some exquisite marinades and a lotta love," and now, more than one million tacos and five years later, Marination has expanded to three separate venues and "one big aloha family." Loyal fans rave about the Kimchi Fried Rice Bowl, spicy pork tacos, award-winning Pork Katsu Sandwich, the boozy shave ice bowls, hibiscus-tinged cocktails, the special tangy "NUNYA" sauce and so much more. At Marination, life is good! ((206) 328-8226)
A quintessential Seattle experience consists of having a meal at Ray's. (At lunchtime, head upstairs to Ray's Cafe.) Views of the mountains and the water, especially in sunset's glow, thrill diners almost as much as the cuisine. Located close to Golden Gardens, this venue makes the perfect dining spot before or after a windswept or sun-tinged day at the beach. While many dishes have Asian flair (like pan-seared scallops in green curry or kasu-marinated black cod), others revel in simple preparations, like oysters on the half-shell, crab cakes and grilled wild salmon. The downstairs venue offers upscale dining; the cafe upstairs is a bit more casual. A wonderful wine list ensures that you'll have a terrific vintage to complement the food. (206-789-3770)
It won't take much time here in Seattle before you hear about this popular Pioneer Square outpost (open on weekdays). For great Italian sausages, salamis, meatballs or pork, try Salumi, whose name means "dry-cured meat" in Italian. Meats can be purchased individually as an entree or by the pound as deli take-away. If you prefer a lighter, less meat-intensive meal, order a salad, vegetable dish or one of their pastas. A comfortable interior with tin ceilings and wooden floors makes guests feel at home, as does a large communal table where guests can share conversation with their meals. Wine is available by the glass or bottle. (206-621-8772)
Enjoy a great meal while helping others when you patronize this local restaurant. Their inspiring motto: "Great food. Better lives." Founded as a training ground for homeless people and other disadvantaged groups, FareStart allows its most promising students to prepare gourmet meals as a preface to a career in the culinary arts. The "cheap eats" lunch menu features soups, salads and sandwiches. There's also a selection of hot entrées and desserts. On Thursday, take advantage of a special deal: a guest chef leads the enterprise, serving a three-course dinner. Reservations are a must for this weekly event. FareStart has provided opportunities for nearly 7,000 people, while also serving over 6 million meals to disadvantaged men, women and children. (206-267-7601)
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)
With the tagline "We celebrate sport," Quality Athletics proves that it's the perfect addition to Pioneer Square. Located near Seattle's stadiums loved by enthusiasts of football, baseball and soccer, this full-service sports bar and restaurant proves a swankier twist on the traditional pub. The vibe is bright, festive and fun, and flat screens abound. Chef Seth Richardson and his talented team have developed a menu around rich world flavors, introudcing surprising takes on expected sports bar fare. Think jerk spice duck wings, tuna salad tartine, New England clam chowder, pork broth ramen, burgers, grilled sausages, steak frites and more. Guests emjoy features like a large wood-fired grill, a slushy and sno-cone machine, a rooftop garden, an AstroTurf back bar, outdoor fire pits, a private event space plus indoor and outdoor seating. (206-420-3015)
What was formerly known as Bimbo's Bitchin' Burrito Kitchen has toned down its name, gained a little more space and become a 21+ only establishment. What hasn't changed, however, are well-proportioned tacos and quesadillas, not to mention unbeatable guacamole and a famous herb-roasted chicken burrito; the addition of cumin-lime sour cream makes everything even tastier. The eatery also features an array of hot sauces for your burrito (from mild to smoking' hot), and the funky hangings on the wall will keep you entertained while you await your food. Add a housemade margarita or a Negra Modelo, and you've got a great meal. However, if you get a little grief from the servers, don't be put off. It's part of the restaurant's signature attitude. (206-322-9950)
This Fremont gem is owned by husband and wife chef duo Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, who met while cooking at New York's Alain Ducasse at the Essex House. According to their website, even though "both chefs have a distinctly different point of view, their tastes blend together to create modern, creative and seamless cuisine in their restaurants." (They also own nearby Joule.) The successful result of their merged talents? Urban-style Korean comfort food (small plates perfect for sharing) that ranges from dumplings and pancakes with pork belly, kimchi and bean sprouts to scrumptious dishes of noodles (think Dungeness crab, seaweed noodle, creme fraiche, spicy red curry) and rice (try the short rib, sambal daikon and mustard greens). Diners delight in the charming ambience, too; walls are covered with funky art in this re-imagined former industrial building, transformed thanks to the innovative use of glass, metal, wood and other unexpected materials. ((206) 547-2040)
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.
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