This guide is the latest in our series of dining and conviviality guides geared around the traveling United States Barista Championship circuit. It is in no way the end all be all to how you should approach Seattle’s food and fun scene, and we highly, highly recommend that you avail yourself of further information from any number of fine Seattle-based publications.
Here’s some of our favorite bars, restaurants, cafes and more from the Emerald City. This is a personal list ours, and certainly not authoritative. If you’re looking for the au courant in Seattle fine dining, and lord knows there is one, nobody does it better than Eater Seattle and their regularly updated Heatmaps.
Walrus And The Carpenter (4743 Ballard Avenue Northwest) After Frank Bruni & Bon Appetit blew this place up beyond into the foodie stratosphere in 2011, things at Walrus And The Carpenter are finally settling down. Wait times are far more humane these days, the tourist hordes have thinned for the season, and Renee Erickson’s small modern dining room in Ballard can finally return to its true nature: a humble, uncomplicated locavore’s shared table of oysters, local cheeses, meats, and fresh seasonal veggies. Pacific Northwestern regional cuisine is actually very simple cooking – fresh things from the sea, patience in the smokehouse – and they do it with a gratifying generosity at Walrus & The Carpenter. Oh, and it’s totally oyster season right now, so if that’s your thing, find your bliss.
Georgetown Liquor Company (5501 Airport Way S) This bar and restaurant is close to the event space, located right off the train tracks in Seattle’s historic Georgetown neighborhood. We’re recommending GLC for those in need of a quick, inexpensive, excellent meal at a low-key and well-stocked bar. The kicker is, it’s a vegetarian place, but wait wait, don’t walk away…they make pretty much the best veggie tacos ever, and some of the sandwiches and salads are better-than-really-good. Super fresh veggies, fresh salsas, good ingredients, and totes within your weekend budget. Plus sweet pinball and free NES and SNES gameplay with lotsa games to choose from. A favorite!
Dick’s Drive In (Multiple Locations) Talk to a Seattleite-in-exile about Dick’s cheeseburgers, and watch their eyes glaze over. Get a Dick’s Special (a burger with lettuce, mayo, chopped pickles), a hand dipped vanilla shake and fresh-cut fries with a single 5¢ side of ketchup. Open late, always a scene outside, and Sir-Mix-A-Lot rapped about it – what more do you need?
El Camión (Multiple Locations) - There are three Camión trucks in Seattle, including one at 1021 Occidental that’s close to the venue. El Camión is kind of the perfect taco truck, in a city that has just a fraction of these eateries compared to say, Los Angeles, where the taco truck is woven into the very fabric of urban life, and available on seemingly every street corner (Seattle’s corollary to this phenomenon is the strip mall teriyaki joint). Really really good mole chicken plate, great fish tacos, great burritos, great fresh pickled veggies and salsas on the side. They take plastic! You will only miss like 1.5 competitors if you go on a lunch run here!
Paseo (4225 Fremont Avenue North) A humble institution with a line out the door every night, Paseo serves wonderful Caribbean food and makes one of the best sandwiches on the planet, the Caribbean Roast, with marinated pork shoulder on Cuban roll with lettuce, pickles, aioli, and caramelized onions. Great full plates available as well, and be sure to ask for grilled corn.
Our own Jordan Michelman wrote a guide to the city’s best coffee for Eater Seattle a few months back, and it’s a great road map for your weekend in town. For a long read, check out our Sprudge Guides entry for Seattle: “Chief Sealth, Tiny Mummies, And The Coffee City Of Yesterday… Today!“
Athenian Inn (1517 Pike Place) Completely bliss out on how unbelievably Seattle one moment can possibly be at the Athenian Cafe. Sit at their front coffee counter, and having an espresso. Their house coffee is Millstone; the espresso is Tully’s – but look to your left, and you can watch the ferries coming and going on the port. Look to your right, and it’s the hustle and bustle of the market. The coffee counter feels transported out of mid-century, preserved and protected, thank God, like so little else in Seattle’s historic coffee culture. They filmed “Sleepless In Seattle” here. You could not get any more Seattle-y if you tried.
Milstead & Co. (770 North 34th Street) The complete inverse of the Athenian is Milstead & Co. – chances are if you’re in town for the NWRCB, this place is already high on your list. If you’re unfamiliar with Misltead & Co., our own Jordan Michelman wrote like 2269 words on them for Seattle Met Magazine. You coffee will taste really good, and you should go here.
Stumptown Coffee On Pine (616 E Pine Street) Wild, guileful days of grey skies and calypso. Gloomy, brooding evenings of doom drone. The presence of music and ambiance at this cafe is more captivating, more wholly transformative than most any cafe we’ve ever known. Our website started here, and this cafe is very special to us.
Analog Coffee (235 Summit Avenue East) Seattle’s dreamiest cafe, a little vision down in the bottom pocket slope of Capitol Hill. Serving Herkimer, beautiful interior design, antique reel-to-reel in the restroom. Go here!
Espresso Vivace Sidewalk Bar (321 Broadway East) From our original Sprudge Guide to Seattle: “The Vivace cart on Broadway inarguably offers the best view of any coffee shop in Seattle, and the last time we visited, we sat and made a little list of what we saw. From a randomly sampled 15 minute interlude: overheard conversation snippets, auditory delights, funny looks, repeated requests for change, classic Seattle chilly glances (this passes for flirting in the Seattleite id/ego/super ego), assorted comings and goings at the Casa Del Ray apartments, the endless gray-scale rush of Broadway drama, diatribe and detritus, fashion plates in kitten heels and grandma tights, couples holding hands, ear gauges that would make a Maori warrior blink, incongruous joggers, someone that you used to know, scarves, caps, hooded sweatshirts (no matter the month or time of day), endless leather booty boots, blue jeans, more blue jeans, the beautiful and the hideous and the mundane, the fabulous, the befuddled, and the far too busy to care. We could sit there forever, and have.”
Because Seattle is bonkers bananas chockablock with amazing Asian food, from a diverse set of distinct ethnic backgrounds (each seemingly more delicious than the last).
Maneki (304 6th Avenue South) This is the oldest continually operated Japanese restaurant on the West Coast, and still one of its best. Maneki is special; family owned for generations, you must play by its rules and within its established hierarchies in order to score a table, but your reverence and patience will be greatly rewarded. Determine how many guests will be in your party ahead of time, and call the restaurant an hour before you plan to be seated. Be very, very polite on the phone; you are most likely speaking to the matriarch of the family that owns this restaurant, and she sets the seating plan throughout the evening. This is her show, not yours. Once you have your reservation, be sure to show up on time! Arriving even 10 minutes late can cause a serious delay in your seating time. But once you’re seated…get ready for a menu of serious rural Japanese pub and homestyle foods, alongside astonishingly fresh (and very affordable) sushi options. The miso cod collar is a must, as is the monkfish liver, which tastes like like foie gras of the sea. Their spicy tuna roll is unstoppable. If you’re seated at the front bar, consider ordering omakase, and if you’re seated at the back bar doing anything else is unthinkable. Groups of 5 or more can reserve a tatami room for more intimate service. Have fun!
Saigon Deli (1237 South Jackson Street) Like an entire night market crammed into one stall, so goes Saigon Deli, home to Seattle’s very best collection of Vietnamese favorites. The banh mi sandwich situation here is otherworldly, and costs like $4; get whichever you prefer, but the xiu mai meatball iteration especially does not suck. The space is crammed full of technicolor Vietnamese desserts, bubble tea, baked goods, and a steam tray hot counter that can be equal parts mind-blowing (get the tofu & green beans, the head-on whole shrimp with pineapple, and anything that looks like short ribs) and maddening (no, we aren’t sure what kind of fish that is either). Local rappers rap about it, local bloggers blog about it, and local Vietnamese people eat lunch here on the regular – what could possibly be more Seattle than that?
Kau Kau BBQ (656 King Street) An International District favorite for close to 40 years, Kau Kau is accidental fusion: their specialty is Cantonese bbq; the family has deep Hawaiian roots, so their pig work is impeccable; and it’s in Seattle, which means a sneaky deep menu full of awesome veggies. Your perfect Kau Kau lunch looks like this: 1 pound (to share!) of pretty much the best Cantonese BBQ pork ever, a nice order of fresh bok choy, and bottomless cheap hot tea. Bliss.
Tamarind Tree (1036 S Jackson Street) The inverse of Saigon Deli, located just up the block on Jackson, this restaurant is definitely recommended for a sit-down dinner during NWRBC. They’ve got high-end, nuanced versions of all your Vietnamese favorites, plus specialties like a tamarind and honey quail, or a 7 course “Flavors of Beef” tasting menu. The dining room is really elegant, which belies its location in the back of a series of increasingly ramshackle produce markets. Plus they have great cocktails and this red bean & coconut milk baguette dessert thing that is kind of a game-changer. Brave the weird parking lot and go here!
Just Go Eat Teriyaki Somewhere – Seattle’s teriyaki culture is not even remotely a joke. Seattle-style teriyaki takes grilled chicken, pairs it with sticky rice, douses it in a sweet-soy glaze, and piles it high next to a rudimentary salad of frankly not-that-fresh lettuce and poppyseed dressing. If you think this sounds gross, you have never tried it before. If you are drooling right now, you are from Seattle. Our favorite spots are U District’s University Teriyaki (4108 University Way), SODO’s Seattle’s Best Teriyaki (2445 Fourth Ave South), Capitol Hill’s Kyoto Teriyaki (803 East Pike Street), Georgetown’s Mikou Teriyaki (6519 4th Ave South), and Queen Anne’s Yummy Teriyaki (622 1st Avenue North). There are many, many more.
Befitting its latent passive-aggressive tendencies and Scandinavian cultural complexion, Seattle is full of great bars! Here’s some of our favorites, chosen for a wide variety of reasons elucidated below.
Canlis (2576 Aurora Avenue North) A visit to Canlis might seem like a special treat on your NWRBC trip – and it will be – but this is also a great Wednesday night spot, or a lovely place to wind down on a Sunday. The dress code is only for parts of the dining room, while the bar is far more casual (though still gloriously classy). Live piano, a stunning selection of scotch, classic mixed drinks, plus inventive desserts and a rotating menu of specialty coffee service – a nightcap at Canlis is the best way to end any night in Seattle.
Liberty (517 15th Avenue East) Kind of the perfect cocktail bar, Liberty is too classy to be a dive, but too comfortable to be pretentious. They’ve got what you’re looking for here – perfect 3-ingredient classics, wild tequila and mezcal cocktails, ever-changing new specials, and a deep bottle selection with dozens of bourbons, ryes, and especially fine scotches and single malts. Plus sushi! And Stumptown espresso.
Vessel (624 Olive Way) Another top cocktail bar in Seattle, Vessel is spacious, with an airy modern industrial design. Home to some of Seattle’s best bartenders, and some very thought provoking drinks in a city full of them. And of course they go deep on the standards and classic, and offer some of the smartest bar dining in the city. It does kind of seem like a bar that Tom Haverford would love, but remember, Tom Haverford is secretly a genius.
The Stumbling Monk (1635 East Olive Way) It’s not just a bar, it’s the bar, offering every Belgian beer you’ve never heard of in appropriate glassware. But more than that, this place seems to have been originally built on some sort of star-aligned portal vibe dimension loam. The Stumbling Monk vibrates with the energy of Capitol Hill; Stephin Merritt called it “the hum of youth and the drone of the pretty”, and all that high-proof beer sure helps. Go here to see and see and see and be seen.
A Pike Place 3-Bar Crawl – Start out at The Can Can (94 Pike Street) for their alternative lifestyle burlesque absinthe happy hour, between 6 and 8. The Can Can is deep down in the bowels of the street directly above the Market, and the space clearly rattles around with old ghosts and a hundred-plus years of history. So totally Seattle.
Then toddle across the street, down a back driveway thing, and into the Alibi Room (85 Pike St #410), another ancient space that’s been a thousand different things over the last century of Pike Place Market history. Today the Alibi Room can be a bit of a mixed bag – the DJ dance club in its lower floor is proto-douchey – but for the most part the place is classy and loud and fun, and the room itself feels old and special.
Back out into Post Alley, and you’ll walk down a flight of stairs, across Western Avenue, then down another flight of stairs to reach the Zig Zag Cafe (1501 Western Avenue). Zig Zag is one of Seattle’s most revered cocktail bars; today’s generation of top Seattle bartenders honed their craft by observing the legendary Murray Stenson from across the rails, and some were even lucky enough to train with him directly behind the bar. Mr. Stenson is over at Canon (928 12th Avenue) these days (which, holy shit, you want to see a scotch collection!), but the Zig Zag is still one of the very best bars in the city, with a charming, intimate atmosphere and a sense of hidden secrecy. A great spot for cocktails with friends after NWRBC.
Hooverville Bar (1721 1st Ave South) As a bar itself, is Hooverville going to change your life? No. No it will not. But it is exactly 1.5 miles away from the NWRBC venue, and it totally has local beer and pinball, plus lots of tables. In a weird quirk, Hooverville does not serve food, but is totally cool with you ordering delivery and has menus on hand for you to peruse. Probably not your final destination for the night, but a great place to unwind immediately after the event gets done for the day.
Jules Maes Saloon (5919 Airport Way South) A great bar and restaurant in what was once one of Georgetown’s many historic brothels, we just love Jules Maes, and drop by here all the time when work or fun brings us to town. It’s a bar food scene here for sure, but tasty and low-key, with a large dining room plus spacious back areas for pinball, ping-pong and pool. Definitely home to local beer on tap, including the good stuff from Georgetown’s own 9LB Hammer and Manny’s Pale Ale, brewing right down the block.
Sully’s Snow Goose Saloon (6119 Phinney Ave North) You’re damn right, Sully’s Snow Goose! Seattle is lucky to have little bars like this, neighborhood joints that creak with character and just so happen to offer a super-serious lineup of local beers and traveling microbrews. Sully’s is one of Seattle’s only avowed “hockey bars”, and it’s tiny, and full of regulars. If you go here you are unlikely to see anyone else from NWRBC, which may be exactly what you need.
The Lookout (757 Bellevue Ave East) Another local’s favorite with stiff drinks and lotsa beer, plus pinball, bar food, and a gorgeous Space Needle & Olympic Mountains skyline view from the outdoor back patio. If you’ve never really explored Seattle before and want to see a cute little corner of it, The Lookout is a great choice.
Flowers (4247 University Way Northeast) A young Jordan Michelman frequently explored his palate and did college busywork here during the years 2005-2007. Classy two-tone checkered floor, mirrors on the ceiling, a storied world of bathroom graphiti, and lots of graduate students. If you bothered coming all the way up here, definitely get a shot at Trabant Coffee (1309 NE 45th Street) – open ’til 11PM. Against your better judgement, have a night cap at the college-bar-as-archetype College Inn Pub (4006 University Way NE).
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