In our workaday lives, lunch is often relegated to leftovers from a brown bag or downing greasy fast 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 really take in the taste of a city -- literally and figuratively.
In Seattle that means immersing yourself in numerous Asian cuisines while on a treasure hunting trek in Seattle’s International District, where import and gift shops are interspersed with Japanese sushi joints, Korean barbecue houses and Vietnamese eateries. Even beyond the International District sushi and teriyaki spots are ubiquitous and make for a tasty, affordable lunch.
If something on the gourmet tip is in order at lunchtime, it’s a great chance to check out ultra-chic, celebrity chef eateries at a discount: Tom Douglas’s Lola, Ethan Stowell’s Tavolata and both John Howie Steak and Seastar by John Howie all offer lunch menus. 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. Lunch standbys in the city are any of numerous brewpubs, where chefs tend to keep things interesting to keep up with local inventive brewers.
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 crème, a signature dessert that's a perfect ending to the fantastic cuisine. (206-467-7909)
Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club
This colorful waterside facility has widespread appeal. Focusing on organic ingredients, the cafe concocts flavorful Mexican eats like quesadillas, enchiladas and burritos, and it's also a popular happy hour spot. One of the specialties of the house is a spicy mole sauce served with various chicken and pork preparations, all of which are delectable. Live Latin music draws a crowd on Monday nights, when a $5 food / drink minimum is required. The adjoining paddle club offers the rental of single or two-person kayaks plus paddleboards for scenic excursions on Lake Union or Lake Washington. Come for the tacos and the margaritas, and stay for a whole lot more. (206-545-8570)
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, and 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)
Pyramid Alehouse, Brewery and Restaurant
Pyramid is now one of the largest West Coast breweries to arise from the early microbrew pioneers of the Pacific Northwest. Located in the city's stadium district, this huge brewing facility and brewpub is housed in a vintage brick warehouse and features an expansive patio out front for fair-weather imbibing. Inside is classic Pacific Northwest interior decor with concrete floors, dark wood and exposed beams. Rows of long, stand-up height tables cross the center of the voluminous space, with low tables and booths around the perimeter. With so many years in the brewery biz, Pyramid boasts a broad range of very high quality beer known for its assertiveness and consistency. Try the Pyramid Hefeweizen, Discord Dark IPA or Outburst Imperial IPA. Food ranges from pub fare such as gourmet burgers to regional specialties like wild Alaskan salmon and fish and chips plates, even a pot roast braised in Snow Cap. ((206) 682-3377)
Red Mill Burgers
When the original Red Mill closed in 1967 after 30 years of great diner fare and ice cream, Seattle was left with but a few places to get really good burgers, crispy onion rings, or butterscotch malts. Fortunately, John and Babe Shepherd saw this need and opened this Interbay gem in 1994. It was an immediate success. In fact, so popular is this burger joint that the lunch line tends to stretch outside, and the likes of Al Bundy and Darth Vader (actors Ed O'Neil and James Earl Jones, respectively) have been seen enjoying a burger or two here. A word to the wise: the Red Mill is not cell phone tolerant, so make sure your ringer is off. An additional location is at Phinney Ridge. (206-284-6363)
Thai for "banana leaf," Bai-Tong offers intrepid palates one of the Seattle area's more top-notch forays into traditional Thai cuisine. Originally opened east of here, in Burien near Seatac Airport, this authentic eatery was founded by Thai airline pilots, stewardesses, and their families to create the food of their homeland. This friendly little restaurant has enjoyed a loyal following since opening its doors back in the early 90s and its subsequent move to a larger, more accessible location. Regular patrons grant high marks to such sensory delights as marinated chicken wrapped in a herb-enriched toey leaf, stir-fried vegetables served in oyster sauce, and vegetarian-friendly tofu curries whose seasonings are imported annually from Thailand. (206-431-0893, 206-575-3366)
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)
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 for $24.95. 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. (206-443-1233)
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)
John Howie Steak
Living up to its tony digs in Bellevue's Bravern complex, John Howie Steak lets diners sink into supple, red or cream-colored leather on banquettes in cozy booths. The suppleness continues with the steaks, making it well worth the drive from Seattle for a pan-seared slice of melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef. The restaurant's creator and namesake, chef John Howie, was first known regionally for his phenomenal seafood preparations at Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar in Seattle and Bellevue. Turning his focus to beef for this venture, Howie was the first restaurateur in the region to continually source and serve top-grade beef from Japanese Wagyu cattle. Also on the menu are prime rib, custom-aged USDA Prime steaks and cuts from domestic Wagyu-Angus crossbreed beef. The wine list features over 60 wines by the glass and more than 600 bottle selections. Live music from the piano lounge is piped through the dining room nightly. (425-440-0880)
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.
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