The University District Guide
The University District isn’t just for UW undergrads. Here are the best bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.
The University District has a lot going on. It’s home to a huge outdoor mall, a bit of Lake Union coast and the Burke-Gilman Trail, Seattle’s NPR affiliate, and possibly most importantly: The University Of Washington. If you’re a UW student, you’re going to find this guide helpful (except for the fact that it doesn’t have the answers to your Microeconomics midterm). But the U-District isn’t just for the kids. There are plenty of great restaurants and bars to explore no matter your age. Just don’t forget your ID, because it’s going to be checked.
Agua Verde Cafe
Agua Verde is a Mexican restaurant that doubles as a paddle club, so it’s useful before or after a nice kayak ride around Lake Union. A prickly pear margarita and some tempura fish tacos always do the trick, and when it’s nice out, sitting on the patio to soak up whatever fleeting sun we get is non-negotiable.
Blink, and you might miss Little Duck. It’s a casual Chinese restaurant in a small building that shares space with a dry cleaner. The specialty here is Northeastern Chinese food, so you’ll find dishes like dry fried chicken and pork dumplings, but the chicken is covered in tingly peppercorn, and the pork dumplings are filled with pickled cabbage and stand alone without any dipping sauce. Even the stir-fried green beans are excellent. Come with a group, wait for a table, and order a bunch of things.
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Rachel's Ginger Beer
In the middle of the University Village shopping insanity is Rachel’s Ginger Beer, where you’ll find housemade sodas and soft serve custard floats. Pop in for a pick me up after spending your rent money on new Nikes. Or, grab a fried chicken sandwich from the Ma’ono takeout window if you need a cheap dinner to balance whatever unnecessary purchases you just made. They also have spiked mules (on the rocks and frozen) if you want something a little stronger.
There’s always a line down the block at Thai Tom around lunch time, they only take cash, and sometimes the staff will open the restaurant 15 minutes late just because they feel like it. Normally, these things would be kind of a turn-off, but not here. The noodles are always perfectly saucy with some added char marks from the wok. You’re in good hands ordering anything, and while a lot of the hype has to do with their pad thai, no need to order it. The pad see ew is way better.
Naming your restaurant Amazing Thai is a ballsy choice. Luckily, the food at this tiny sit-down spot lives up to the name. Sue us (please don’t actually), but we prefer it over Thai Tom. The curries are flavorful, the rice is fluffy, and even the simple chicken-and-vegetable dish is outrageously good. The pad thai, which is tossed in something thicker and tangier than the usual fish sauce, is a must-order.
This place used to be a flower shop, but is now a cool place to drink on The Ave. The ceiling is all mirrors so you can see yourself how the birds see you, and you want the $5 margaritas, mojitos, and mint juleps. They taste great despite sounding like watery Happy Hour specials for finals week.
Filled with vinyls and instruments, Village Sushi looks more like a recording studio than a sushi spot. The quality of fish here is so good that we’re surprised this place isn’t packed all the time. We’re guessing it might have something to do with the fact that Ku Sushi just across the street has a giant banner advertising 50% off rolls all day, every day, and this is a neighborhood full of college kids.
Cedars In University District
Cedar’s is a big Indian restaurant that looks like a house (with a porch and all), and serves reliably great classics, like saag paneer and samosas. The naan is practically the size of a hubcap, which should be the standard for all naans moving forward.
Based on how good the ice cream is at Sweet Alchemy, we wouldn’t be surprised if more University of Washington students decided to never graduate and leave. They have some flavors you won’t see everywhere else, like makgeolli (Korean rice wine) and Persian rose, plus others with housemade cakes and cookie dough mixed in. Our favorite is the Jitter Bars, which is folded with caramel and espresso shortbread.
Mr. Lu's Seafood & Burgers
There’s only one burger you need on The Ave, and it’s Mr. Lu’s. Show up drunk at 4pm after a Huskies game, show up with a group of friends for lunch, show up by yourself looking for takeout. The cheeseburgers, loaded waffle fries, and milkshakes hit the spot, especially if you just did a big hike and the thought of eating a salad makes you want to dropkick a display of iceberg lettuce balls at the supermarket.
Mark Thai Food Box
Wann Yen is our #1 choice in the U District for a quick, healthy solo meal. The food menu is a condensed version of what you’d see at other Thai places in town, but we love the khao mun gai, which is poached chicken served over coconut rice with a side of broth and garlicky hot sauce. Give us that and an iced rose milk tea (they make the best in the neighborhood), and we’re set.
Schultzy’s is a German pub that’s a little all over the place. There are sausage plates that come with creole gumbo, Philly-style cheesesteaks, and an atrociously strong drink known as “slamminade,” which tastes like life handed somebody lemons and a handle of cheap vodka. But after a night of drinking, there’s not much better than stumbling in for a big brat sandwich, and covering it with beer cheese and ranch. Wash it down with a slamminade.
Guanaco's Tacos Pupuseria
Masa stuffed with meat and cheese is always good, but at Guanaco’s, it’s great. You can choose what fillings will go inside your pupusas, and our favorite combo is the chicken, cheese, and cactus. Don’t be shy with the green and red salsa.
The Mountaineering Club
No, we’re not sending you to some random classroom on campus where all of the kids who couldn’t get into an a cappella group sit around a fake campfire and sing folk songs and look at compasses. The Mountaineering Club is a cool rooftop bar at the Graduate Hotel. The space is designed as if an Eagle Scout troop had an interior design merit badge on the line, and the outdoor patio has one of the best skyline views in the city. The camping theme extends into the drinks - our favorites are the Banana Pancakes and the Orange Snack. If you must eat here, get the bacon sandwich.
For a quick Chinese meal, Xi’an Noodles should be on your shortlist. There’s a ton of variety here, from noodles and soups to dumplings and sandwiches. We’re fans of all of it, especially their famous cumin lamb noodles that are so spicy that they could probably kindle a bonfire. If you’re a total wimpy baby when it comes to heat (and even if you’re not), you’ll want to spend some alone time with the stewed pork burger and an order of dumplings.
Welcome to The Ave, where Finn MacCool’s is practically a mandatory nighttime stop. It’s an Irish pub with a lot going on and a mostly-collegiate clientele, which means you’re in for some strong well drinks, beer pong, karaoke, and trivia. A visit here if you attend UW (or are pretending you do) is a Seattle rite of passage.
There are a bunch of falafel spots in the University District. There are even two different places on the same street that are both called Aladdin’s. But, Aladdin’s Gyro-Cery is the only one you need.Their falafel is super crispy, flavorful, and we could drink their tahini dipping sauce by the gallon. Service is really fast too, so it works well for takeout, and if you want to add a plate of feta fries and hang out, there’s a back area with couches and tables too.
Breakfast isn’t a big deal in the U-District. Maybe because it’s a neighborhood overrun with young adults who enjoy a handful of m&ms and a spliff for breakfast. You’d think that’s the reason why Morsel is so popular, but it’s actually because they just make excellent biscuits. There’s a different selection of flavors every day (hope for smoked onion black pepper), and you can get yours as a sandwich, topped with sausage gravy, or paired with a housemade spread like chocolate hazelnut butter. It’s all worth skipping your morning m&m for, but make sure you order the Spanish Fly no matter what.
Sizzle & Crunch
This is a brilliant Vietnamese takeout scheme where the assembly line has toppings like pickled carrots, cucumbers, and jalapeno, as well as sunny side up eggs and a delicious cilantro sauce. You can order them in the form of a sandwich, salad, or bowl with fluffy broken rice. There are no wrong choices, but the beef brisket banh mi is our winner because of how the steak juice soaks into the baguette.
Sometimes you just want a banh mi without any bells, whistles, or Sriracha lime ginger aioli. Saigon Deli has been a Seattle classic for a long time, and continues to serve perfectly simple baguette sandwiches loaded with the usual fillings as well as the option of a fried egg. While you could sit at a table and have some bun cha or pho, if it’s nice out and you’re wise, grab a banh mi to-go and find a grassy knoll where you can have a personal picnic.
Supreme is one of the best New York-style slice joints in town, and at this second location you can expect pie varieties like mozzarella and basil, broccoli rabe and garlic, and even fried chicken and American cheese (trust us, it’s great). Come in with a fun group and drink alcoholic slushies while eating many scallion garlic knots with liquid cheese.
The food at Broadfork Cafe is all vegan, but nobody’s rubbing it in your face or anything. It’s just a tasty menu of breakfast and lunch things that happen to be made of plant parts. Grab a smoothie to-go or take a seat in the natural light and have an artichoke melt for a quick lunch.
Big Time Brewery & Alehouse
Big Time Brewery is a classic alehouse with posters all over the walls, a lot of wooden chairs, and the faint scent of a deep fryer. They also make their own beer, ranging from fruity IPAs to nitro stouts. It’s a solid stop on a U-District bar crawl, and it’s a lot tamer than other party bars on The Ave.
Fat Ducks Deli & Bakery
In a rickety house on University Way that goes by the name of Fat Ducks, you’ll find a woman who’s constantly baking up a storm. The house is decorated with Christmas garland and duck knick-knacks, and there are always trays of cookies cooling on couches (where customers would otherwise be able to sit). Needless to say, the pastries here would definitely be the first to sell out at a school bake sale. There are cold cut sandwiches served here, too - but don’t leave without a peanut butter death bar and a black and white cookie.