The Best Restaurants & Bars In The University District

The University District isn’t just for UW undergrads. Here are the best bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.
a dining room with shelves of vinyls, a keyboard and drum set, and various posters on the walls.

photo credit: Chona Kasinger

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.



University District

$$$$Perfect For:Day DrinkingImpressing Out of TownersOutdoor/Patio Situation
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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.

Stumble across Saint Bread and you might think that you’ve been zapped via enchanted portal to a rustic boathouse with stained glass windows in a remote waterfront village. Only instead of buoys and barnacles, this little shed is filled with sandwiches and pastries ideal for a lazy Saturday breakfast. You’ll find a za'atar and olive oil-spiked avocado toast, and Norwegian-style school buns filled with raspberry jam and creamy custard, too. But what really has us worshipping Saint Bread is their breakfast sandwich on a fluffy Japanese melonpan Glory be to this creation, stuffed with jammy-but-not-messy fried eggs and sticky american cheese that fuses to the bacon grease and rogue granulated sugar on your fingertips. Embrace the sweet-and-salty McGriddle energy.

photo credit: Ryan Warner

The previously nondescript gravel patch next to Saint Bread is a summer-only destination, called Hinoki. During the warmer months, this truck is particularly great for a lazy early dinner or evening cocktail hang. Sweet vermouth spritzes flow from the Heave Ho window and Japanese snacks fly out of the truck on newspaper-lined trays as people trickle in. Equipped with a fryer, wood-fired oven, and a Traeger, Hinoki means business. Among the lineup of small plates and bowls, they make exemplary chicken karaage, roasted maitakes that taste richer than filet mignon, and a bowl of bacon candy that you can just go ahead and bury us in. 

photo credit: Nate Watters

Right off The Ave, there’s a crowded basement packed with chatty students, steamy windows, and that vague awkwardness that happens when you enter a room and nobody notices. No, this isn't a UW fraternity party. It’s Korean Tofu House. And instead of the various vices found at college keggers, there are sizzling skillets of short ribs and umami-filled pots of kimchi tofu stew while trays of banchan whizz by. Try not to fill up on the sesame bean sprouts and fish cakes before your first entree arrives.

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.

There’s always a line down the block at Thai Tom around lunchtime, 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 all-day cafe located inside the Burke Museum of Natural History serves tasty Indigenous food centered around homemade frybread. Puffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside, the fried dough is a perfect vehicle for various savory or sweet fillings. We’re talking about shredded chili verde chicken and sweet and tangy BBQ pulled pork tacos, or served simply with a generous dusting of cinnamon and sugar as dessert. Whether you’re visiting an exhibit or not, Off The Rez works well for a casual lunch.

Filled with vinyls and instruments, Village Sushi looks more like a recording studio than a sushi restaurant. 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.

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 naan 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.

There’s only one burger you need on The Ave, and it’s Mr. Lu’s. Show up 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.

Hiroshi’s is a takeout poke spot with no seating, atmosphere, or personality. And hey, that’s fine considering that the bowls here are truly sock-rocking for lunch, whether you go with melty lomi lomi salmon or lean tuna soaked in sweet soy. There are a bunch of toppings to jazz things up, like edamame, furikake, and pickled ginger, but the poke is perfect with just sushi rice and a massive scoop of mac salad.

Mark Thai Food Box is our first choice in the U District for a quick 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, 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.

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 favorite is the Whidbey Island iced tea, spiked with blackberry liqueur. 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, 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, except when it comes to the excellent biscuits at Morsel. 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. Make sure you order the Spanish Fly no matter what.

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Hinoki image

You never know what fried and wood-fired Japanese small plates you'll get at Hinoki, a truck permanently parked on the University District side of Portage Bay. But trust that they'll be great.

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