Seattle is a jewel of the Pacific Northwest, known for picturesque mountains, scenic lakes, and greenery everywhere the eye can see — and the depth of the culinary scene is truly awe-inspiring. Though the pandemic has taken a huge toll on restaurants, bars, and cafes, many dining destinations have shown resiliency over the past year, and are hopeful for better days ahead now that Washington has lifted most COVID-related restrictions. Here’s an introduction on where to eat and drink in the Emerald City right now.
Local food rules
Washington is an agriculturally rich state, and Seattle restaurants benefit from an abundance of fantastic farms, fishmongers, wineries, and other purveyors in the area.
In particular, this city takes its seafood seriously. Salmon is such a part of the area’s culinary identity that Sea-Tac airport throws a mini ceremony each year for the special Copper River salmon flown in from Alaska. Tourists are also fond of dodging flying fish at Pike Place Market. Shellfish is a Seattle staple, and there are many places to eat fantastically briny oysters as well as those that serve up geoduck (pronounced “gooey duck”), an enormous, coveted clam that sometimes catches newcomers off guard with its odd appearance.
But Seattle features a variety of different cuisines, and is perhaps known best for its incredible Asian restaurants. Pho is ubiquitous around town, and teriyaki — that sticky-sweet comfort food dish — is a Seattle specialty. Korean food continues to thrive all across the area, from north of the city center to further south around Tacoma. Meanwhile, the excellent Chinese restaurant scene includes an influx of notable Sichuan entries of late, and there’s no shortage of hot pot.
Where to start on Eater Seattle’s top maps
Eater publishes plenty of maps detailing the top places and things to eat and drink in Seattle. Below, we cherry pick the top points on our most popular maps to help time-starved diners prioritize which spots to visit.
New Restaurants: This list changes monthly, and is an attempt to identify the hottest places in the city. Right now, Taku from Top Chef: Portland finalist Shota Nakajima is drawing long lines on Capitol Hill for its well-seasoned Japanese fried chicken, available in large quantities known as “the fuck-it bucket.” For vegans, popular food truck Cycle Dogs recently opened its first-ever restaurant in Ballard, serving up meat-free versions of local fast-food classics.
Essential Restaurants: Every three months, Eater Seattle updates the 38 essential dining destinations in the city, an attempt to identify restaurants that best exemplify the thriving culinary scene and answer the question, “Where do you recommend I eat?” Among the newest additions is Meesha, a modern Indian restaurant in Fremont with expertly prepared dishes such as rarah keema pao, fried Amritsari fish, and paneer in cardamom tomato fenugreek sauce. Further south, Musang — the cozy Filipinx restaurant in Beacon Hill from star chef Melissa Miranda — is a great bet as well. And if one wants to sample a classic, Phnom Penh Noodle House in the Chinatown International District, with its Cambodian dishes, doesn’t disappoint.
Bars: Seattle loves a well-crafted cocktail, and recent relaxed booze laws with to-go drinks have helped some haunts stay afloat. There are a few newer dens, such as Fremont’s funky Dreamland Bar & Diner, Capitol Hill’s the Doctor’s Office, and Pioneer Square’s Bad Bishop. Longer standing options include Capitol Hill’s Knee High Stocking Company, which slings potent spiked shrub concoctions. Seattle also boasts wine bars and bottleshops galore, like the playful La Dive (focused on natural wine offerings), and hopheads will want to geek out at the city’s top beer bars, including Chuck’s Hop Shop.
Breweries: There’s been an exciting proliferation of strong breweries throughout Seattle in recent years. Holy Mountain has a constantly changing menu of off-beat, barrel-aged beers, all impeccable; Stoup and Georgetown Brewing are local legends; and Cloudburst, just north of Pike Place Market, is a masterful maker of dank IPAs.
Coffee: Experience Seattle’s top shops, or hit up the hottest additions to the city’s famed scene, which has been exemplary for decades and is part of a rich Pacific Northwest coffee culture. Recently, a young generation of coffee lovers have brought renewed appreciation for Vietnamese roasts, including Hello Em and Phin in the International District, and Coffeeholic House down in Columbia City. Boba tea is also ubiquitous and one can find some fun options in Greenwood’s Hangry Panda, which also serves terrific snacks.
Views: In this fetching city, taking in the sparkling scenery is a must. Trek across Elliott Bay to dine on Hawaiian-Korean creations at Marination Ma Kai or nab an Adirondack chair on the north end of Lake Union for Mediterranean-inspired fare with a skyline view at Westward. Now that Seattle has made it a little easier to get a street plaza permit, outdoor seating is more prevalent than it’s been in the past. Here are some of the best patios around town for al fresco dining.
A few Seattle neighborhoods to know
These are the key areas of the city every self-proclaimed food-lover has got to survey — complete with what to eat and drink in each.
Capitol Hill is Seattle’s proud LGBTQIA+ neighborhood and is traditionally a beacon of late-night revelry. See some of the finest options in our neighborhood guide. For Mexican food, don’t miss Carmelo’s Tacos (now with two locations), and for a trendy, newer place, the Laotian restaurant Taurus Ox fits the bill with its amazing pork jowl smash burger. Those visiting the city may want to sample the boozy ginger beer purveyor Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and the ever-popular Malaysian spot Kedai Makan is bustling after hours.
Chinatown International District
As diverse a neighborhood as you’ll find in the city, this is the home to Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon, with all the wonderful cuisines those represent and more; see our neighborhood dining guide for tons of great options. In particular, there are great finds at the lunch-, weekday-, cash-only favorite Thai Curry Simple, terrific dumplings in soup at Mike’s Noodle House, and spicy wontons at Gourmet Noodle Bowl. Meanwhile, Tai Tung and Maneki are Seattle classics, and Saigon Deli is the place to go for a quick bite.
Once a rough-and-tumble fishing village, Ballard has changed a lot since it was annexed into Seattle city limits in 1907. The neighborhood — mapped out for your dining convenience here — straddles the line between modern development and the preservation of its early history. There’s plenty worth visiting here, including the constantly shifting Addo, which features everything from Puerto Rican tasting menus to pantry items. Other places to seek out include wood-fired pizza perfectionist Delancey, Caribbean sandwich restaurant Un Bien, and charming Lebanese restaurant Cafe Munir. One can also work up an appetite while perusing the cases of meat at popular butcher shop Beast and Cleaver, which takes great care in sourcing its cuts, and has periodic sit-down dinners.
There’s a true history of grit and brick in this neighborhood, but Georgetown has also become a thriving culinary and cultural destination in recent years, fostering a local character that draws in visitors from all over town. During the pandemic, local breweries, restaurants, dive bars, and cafes made adjustments to more takeout options and outdoor seating in industrial chic spaces, and many have now reopened for indoor service. One can find wonderful slices of cakes at Deep Sea Sugar and Salt, great vegan sandwiches at Georgetown Liquor Company, and fine dining at the Corson Building. Of course, don’t forget about the beer — the breweries here are among the best in the city.
Known as a neighborhood rich with creative spirit (and a large bridge troll), Fremont is located just north of the city, to the east of Ballard. There are many great places to choose from when deciding on dinner plans, but a few standouts include chef Mutsuko Soma’s soba destination Kamonegi, the underrated French-leaning bistro Le Coin, and the succulent crab rolls at Local Tide. James Beard Award-winning chef Rachel Yang leads the kitchen at Joule, known for its kalbi short ribs, and burger fiends should head to Uneeda for some seriously great patties.
This neighborhood has had an especially hard time due to the West Seattle bridge closure, but its dining scene is worth the traffic hassle. There’s wonderful fried chicken at Ma’ono (long considered one of Seattle’s top spots for breaded birds), fantastic pizza at Supreme, and smoked meats at Lady Jaye, which boasts a terrific backyard patio. Seafood fans should check out Mashiko for sushi that emphasizes sustainability, and for those recovering from a long night, Easy Street Records & Cafe has a chill breakfast with a killer soundtrack.
Other neighborhood guides:
Burien, Renton, Central District, U District, Near the Space Needle,Tacoma, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Glossary of Seattle food terms and celebrities
Seattle Hot Dog
It’s a hot dog or sausage slathered in — wait for it — cream cheese and grilled onions. The origin story goes back to the late-1990s, when a bagel cart in Pioneer Square went a little rogue. Though it sounds strange, these concoctions are surprisingly good, whether grabbing one at Pike Place Market or one of the many sidewalk stands around town.
Pronounced “gooey duck,” this is an enormous, coveted clam that often shocks newcomers with its odd appearance. Pre-pandemic, it was a thriving industry, but many of Washington’s geoduck merchants — particularly tribal operations — watched as business plummeted due to exporting issues over the past year. Take a deeper dive on this beloved Pacific Northwest native, and look out for it at places like Taylor Shellfish and Lam Seafood.
This sticky-sweet comfort food Japanese dish is a Seattle specialty, popularized by Toshihiro Kasahara at Toshi’s Teriyaki Restaurant in the 1970s, although many Korean immigrants opened shops in the region over the decades and made the dish their own, including John Chung, the unsung godfather of teriyaki. For the old school experience, there’s Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill (16212 Bothell Everett Hwy, Mill Creek); a quirkier spin is laundry paired with dessert and teriyaki at King Donuts and Teriyaki and Laundromat; and gluten-free options abound at West Seattle at Grillbird Teriyaki, a newer entry to the scene.
The ‘Original’ Starbucks
Even those who have never been to Seattle before probably don’t need to check out Starbucks’ faux-riginal location in Pike Place Market (the true original was nearby at the corner of Western and Virginia). But the company’s modern, copper-plated Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room on Capitol Hill (1124 Pike Street) may be worth a visit as an alternative. It’s where the company makes fresh specialty beans, and is home to a full bar and bakery. But here’s a reminder that there are plenty of great independent shops to check out and quite a few hot new arrivals.
Old-school yet relevant, Canlis is Seattle’s classic white-tablecloth, fine dining, special occasion restaurant, which has shown a great deal of versatility, adjusting as a burger drive-thru (among other experiments) during the pandemic. It’s still owned and operated by the Canlis family, and it continues to set the benchmark for quality and service in the city. One of the only permanent menu fixtures, the Canlis salad, is an icon; the rest of the offerings rotate and the restaurant is undergoing a revival from new executive chef Aisha Ibrahim, the first woman to lead the kitchen in the Queen Anne destination’s 71-year history.
This James Beard Award-winning chef channels rustic European country cooking by way of seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients in her bright, airy, elegant spaces. She runs some of the city’s most adored spots, including oyster bar the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Whale Wins and Larder (which transitioned to a hybrid market in 2020), innovative steakhouse Bateau, and even a darling doughnut shop called General Porpoise.
A legend in his own right, this beloved chef trained with Jiro Ono (of Jiro Dreams of Sushi) before defining sushi culture in Seattle over the past 50 years and counting. He spent early days at Maneki and other spots, pioneering the use of local seafood, then two decades at namesake Shiro’s. After the world’s shortest retirement, Kashiba returned to the counter in late 2015 at Pike Place Market’s Sushi Kashiba, an incredible ode to fresh fish.
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