I used to live in Seattle, the wonderful maritime city that stretches along the eastern shore of Washington’s Puget Sound. I ate well, given the number of outstanding restaurants in the Pacific Northwest’s largest city — and the amazing seafood that can be locally sourced.
Today, the fare is better than ever, as my recent visit to the Seattle Wine and Food Experience showed. Taste Washington, scheduled later this month, will underscore that. So the timing seems perfect for me to share a list of favorite places to eat in Seattle.
Coincidentally, votes were just submitted for the annual James Beard Foundation choices of the nation’s (and the region’s) top restaurants. In all, 16 restaurants in Seattle and nearby suburbs were nominated for national awards.
At the top of the Beard list was Canlis, the one Puget Sound-area restaurant that should be more famous than the Space Needle. (It was no surprise that the Needle, whose view is superior to its food, did not make the list.)
Now in its third generation of family ownership, Canlis is a Seattle icon. Built in 1950 at the northern edge of Queen Anne Hill, overlooking Lake Union with an easterly view to the Cascade Range, this high-end, dress-to-impress dinner house (a four-course meal is priced at $115) has been nominated as the single most outstanding restaurant in the United States. Its chef is Jason Franey. A year ago, the Beard Foundation declared its wine program the best in the country.
This year, a similar wine nomination has gone to Wild Ginger, across the street from the Benaroya concert hall in downtown Seattle (with a satellite restaurant in Bellevue). As much as I enjoy Wild Ginger, however, I don’t think of its wine list. Rather, I drool over its wonderful, pan-Asian menu, featuring the likes of fragrant Sichuan duck, green papaya salad and Indonesian lamb at moderate prices.
The Ethan Stowell Restaurants, operated by Ethan and Angela Stowell, have been nominated for the national honor of “outstanding restaurateur.” In 15 years, the Stowells’ culinary empire has grown to 13 restaurants, of which I’ve dined at three: Staple & Fancy (in the Ballard neighborhood), How to Cook a Wolf (atop Queen Anne Hill) and Tavolàta (in Belltown). Each is casual and wonderful.
Two former Seattle-area winners of the “Best chef, Northwest” award are in consideration for the national “outstanding chef” honor. Since 2000, Holly Smith has been serving her twist on Northern Italian cuisine at Café Juanita, near Lake Washington in the eastern suburb of Kirkland. She won the best chef honor in 2008.
Renée Erickson, the 2016 winner, has six French-inspired, locally sourced Seattle restaurants, including The Whale Wins, in Wallingford, and Bateau, on First Hill. You’ll never find an oyster bar more chic than The Walrus & the Carpenter, in Ballard; it takes its name, of course, from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”
This year, Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi may be odds-on favorites to be honored as “best chef, Northwest.” Their Wallingford restaurant, Joule, has earned several previous nominations, and since its redesign as a contemporary Korean steakhouse, it has achieved national acclaim.
Five other Seattle chefs are being considered for Northwest best chef honors. I’ve dined only with one of them: Eric Connelly at RockCreek Seafood & Spirits in Fremont. RockCreek highlights fish (try the black cod) and brunch; Connelly’s new sister restaurant, the Flintcreek Cattle Co., is a steak and chop house.
Also nominated are Edouardo Jordan of Salare in Ravenna, notable for its eclectic international menu; Mark Schroder of Opus Co. in Greenwood, offering a very reasonably priced, seasonal prix-fixe menu; and two Japanese chefs, Taichi Kitamura of Sushi Kappo Tamura in Eastlake and Mutsuko Soma of Kamonegi, a Fremont neighborhood noodle house.
Being considered for rising star chef of the year (under age 30) is another Japanese, Shota Nakajima of Adana on Capitol Hill, who offers a three-course Asian comfort food menu. Also nominated as a “rising star” is Maximillian Petty of Eden Hill on Queen Anne Hill; the tiny, 24-seat restaurant offers eclectic shared plates and a seven-course menu.
These are other Seattle nominations: Best new restaurant, JuneBaby, serving Southern cuisine in the Ravenna neighborhood; outstanding baker, Evan Andres of the Columbia City Bakery in southeast Seattle; and outstanding bar program, Canon, a whiskey bar with a gourmet finger-food menu on Capitol Hill.
Tried and true
I will always have a special place in my heart for John Sundstrom, the owner and executive chef of Lark on First Hill. When my son was in high school and contemplating a restaurant career, John put Erik to work, giving him an opportunity to experience real life in a professional kitchen. My son wound up following a different path, but Sundstrom — who was “best chef Northwest” in 2007 — remained a friend. Lark’s seasonal menu is classic farm-to-table, and the restaurant includes a mezzanine shellfish bar and a lunch-hour sandwich window.
Tom Douglas remains Seattle’s best-known restaurateur. There are 16 Tom Douglas Restaurants, including his first, the Dahlia Lounge (founded in 1989), the Palace Kitchen, Etta’s and Lola. He was Northwest best chef in 1994; national restaurateur of the year in 2012; and a celebrated cookbook author. The Dahlia’s local seafood remains some of the best in the city.
Thierry Rautureau, the self-named Chef in the Hat, is the region’s best-known French chef. When he closed Rover’s, his long-standing Madison Park restaurant (and a Beard award winner), in 2008 after two decades, local foodies went into mourning. But Rautureau rebounded with two new restaurants: the intimate Luc in Madison Park and the spacious Loulay Kitchen & Bar in the heart of downtown. Both show off modern French cuisine with a Northwest twist.
I’m also a fan of Matt’s in the Market, a second-floor walk-up café overlooking the main entrance to the renowned Pike Place Market. There are no major awards here; just solid, seafood-centric lunch and dinner fare at prices that won’t break the bank.
Seattle residents looking for a very special dinner experience often head north to the suburb of Woodinville, a regional wine destination, to dine at The Herbfarm. Themed, nine-course dinners, paired with five or six wines, aren’t inexpensive — depending upon the evening, they are priced at $205 to $265 per person — but they are memorable. Planning ahead, many diners make reservations to spend the night at the adjacent Willows Lodge.
Restaurants come and go, of course. Each time I visit Seattle, I’m excited to find a great place where I had not dined before.
My new favorite is Rider, recently ensconced on the ground floor of the Hotel Theodore (the former Roosevelt Hotel). From its central wood-fired grill to its spacious, pillared dining room, this is one of the city’s best. I can only guess that it’s too new to have warranted Beard consideration this year. Chef David Nichols draws on forest and ocean in created a menu that includes a shaved kohlrabi salad with chimichurri sauce, a roasted carrot pasta with clams and Calabrian chilies, and a rockfish crudo with pear, sweet potato and pistachios.
Also Nue (get it?) on Capitol Hill is this casual brunch-and-dinner purveyor of “global street food.” You might have to wait for a seat, but at Nue, you’ll be rewarded with shared plates like Puerto Rican mofongo (mashed plantain), Burmese laphet toke (tea-leaf salad), Brazilian acarajé (prawn-and-cashew fritters), Barbadian goat tails and South African “bunny chow.” At the end of the meal, invoices are folded into Lonely Planet travel books.
And if you’re wandering the Pioneer Square district, Seattle’s original 19th-century neighborhood, you may occasionally need a place to get out of the spring rains. Damn the Weather provides just such a respite. Oysters, burgers and spaghetti are always available, and the lunch menu offers smoked cod on toast and baked eggs with lamb sausage. For a more substantial nearby choice, Casco Antiguo is a Mexican cantina that serves gourmet tamales, enchiladas, empanadas and hearty pozole.