Being a transplant in Seattle is exhausting. Every other weekend, college buddies just “happen to be in town,” someone from high school is “looking to possibly move here,” or the anomaly, you actually plan well in advance for a friend to come visit.
Whether you mocked up Excel spreadsheets to prep like a lunatic or simply woke up to a rogue knock on the door, the debilitating pressure is on you to show your guests a great time, even if it’s just one meal with a cousin who’s passing through on the way to Vancouver. It has to be an essential “Seattle” spot with food you can’t find anywhere else, and if things get awkward, plenty of booze. Here’s where to go to make your friends jealous that you live here every single time.
If for some reason you prefer your pasta after dark, try Spinasse. They’re only open for dinner, and they serve the best Italian food in Seattle, period. From the table breadsticks to the perfect thin egg noodles with butter and sage, an extravagant meal here is exactly how to get your friends to see past the rain and the fact that doing a “wardrobe refresh” in this city means a trip to REI. After your lemon zabaglione, you’ll ask for the check - and your friend will ask for a lease.
If it’s nice out, Marination Ma Kai is mandatory. It can be a schlep to West Seattle, but the skyline waterfront view and the food that falls somewhere between Hawaiian, Korean, and Mexican are worth the drive or water taxi, and make for the perfect dinner or lunch. Plus, the “sexy tofu” is delicious whether or not you decided to go vegan for the week. Stake out a picnic table on the patio under the twinkly lights and grab a round of lychee margaritas, kalbi beef tacos, and some mac salads. Add a basket of fries with the “nunya sauce” and your friends will probably never want to leave.
If you don’t take your friends to Fremont Brewing Company, they’re not really your friends. FBC is a hoppy Disneyland whether you’re a craft beer nerd or you don’t know (or care) what a gose is. Spend a few hours hanging here for the long picnic tables, free pretzels, massive patio, and two seasonal Randalls (infused beers) that rotate so quickly you’ll never have the same one twice (we miss you, lemon thyme peppercorn). The key here is that you can bring your own food, making pizzas from The Masonry and flights of local beer one of our favorite Fremont combinations.
Chances are, your guests decide to visit during the summer, because they heard the entire city looks like that tsunami scene from The Day After Tomorrow unless it’s June or July. That’s not true, of course. You’d never see Jake Gyllenhaal in Seattle. Regardless, your guests are here, and it’s hot and sunny, so you should make a reservation at The Nest. It’s a rooftop bar at the top of the Thompson Hotel Downtown, and the view of the waterfront might make someone gasp emphatically. It’s also a good excuse to dress up a little in a city that otherwise wears beanies year-round. Order a few cocktails and take in the sun while you can.
When you have visitors in town, time is usually limited - so they might get confused/extremely annoyed when you suggest Kedai Makan, a Malaysian restaurant on Capitol Hill that has a notorious multi-hour wait at peak times. But after they actually eat the food here, they’ll get it. Once you’re in the bright, teal space, the plates of spiced fried chicken, mushroom pan mee noodles, and beef ribs stewed in black vinegar will get your people on board immediately. Just hearing your friend muffle “I understand now” with a mouth full of lamb curry is satisfaction enough.
Someone needs to show your friends that Seattle isn’t just about king salmon and passive-aggressive people, and it might as well be you. Seattle is also about waterfront decks, frozen margaritas, and coconut beer-battered fish tacos (get them). Agua Verde Cafe saves the day when you’ve had it with sucking down oysters and chowder, but still want your guests to feel like they’re getting their miles’ worth. Catch up outside with Lake Union as your backdrop, eat awesome Mexican food on bright floral tablecloths, and keep the frozen margaritas coming.
Ba Bar is where to go when your out-of-town friends want Seattle pho, but also want to party. There’s this dark, kind of sexy vibe, jazzy music, and a bar that’s so tall it requires a ladder to get to the Maker’s Mark. Show up early to avoid the crowds, knock back a few rounds of Nguyen Nasties (gin, rhubarb syrup, lemon, prosecco), and eat pho - or don’t. The appetizers here (like lemongrass beef skewers and caramel chicken wings) are so good you could make a full meal out of them. Afterwards, don’t miss a $2 pastry from the sweets window.
Seattle takes pride in its seafood as well as its contributions to the grunge movement. But a lesser known source of pride is the Seattle dog - a hot mess of a late night snack. It’s a polish sausage on a fluffy toasted bun with pickled jalapeno, grilled onions, and (hear us out) cream cheese. It’s beautiful, and the one from the Monster Dogs cart on Capitol Hill is the only Seattle dog your out-of-town visitors need after a night of drinking.
So, you greet your long-lost college friends who just arrived after their road trip up the coast and something’s weird. They’re all dressed in Vineyard Vines and speaking like robots. Yep, your friends got fratty. Don’t panic, just head to Elliott’s Oyster House. Yes, it’s a tourist move, but the view of the water is excellent, it crosses oysters off the list, and you can spend a few hours on the patio day-drinking and catching up. If oysters aren’t your thing, the salmon pesto sliders could be your thing.
You knew this was coming the second your high school buddies landed on the tarmac and your phone blew up with “We here! Paseo?” texts. Pick them up and don’t even ask how their flight was. There’s no time. Drive right past Paseo (yes, drive past it) and head to Un Bien instead for baguette sandwiches that the Earl himself would be proud of. The Caribbean roast in all of its pulled pork glory is the crowd-pleaser, but the marinated chicken sandwich is the unsung hero. Un Bien is basically a tiny shack - order to go, hop in your car, and eat your gift to mankind at Gasworks Park or Fremont Brewing Company. Just make sure you bring a tide pen. This sandwich will mess you up.
Cap Cider is a solid coordinate on any Capitol Hill bar crawl, no matter where you start or end. When you have 20 ciders on draught to choose from (plus cocktails and beer), board games/hand-shuffleboard in the basement, and fried cheese curds, everyone learns that apples are way more fun than they’re cracked up to be.
Ray’s Cafe could feasibly be renamed A TRULY EXCELLENT PLACE TO IMPRESS SOME PEOPLE AND EAT SOME SEAFOOD, BUT ONLY IF YOU GET A SEAT ON THE PATIO. Ray’s is a classic Ballard institution, has some of the best patio views of the Puget Sound, and serves some great crab cakes and fish and chips. Perfect for the first night to start your out-of-towners off on the right foot, or for a final look at how darn attractive Washington is. No matter how you end up at Ray’s, one thing is crucial at sunset: get a table perpendicular to the water, or else some unlucky fool is going to get a sunburn that will be ridiculed by your crew the entire trip. Nobody wants to be called a lobsterface.
Unless your friends are from California or Texas where tacos are superior, Tacos Chukis is a great quick lunch option before launching into other out-of-towner activities, like more eating. The house tacos are filled with juicy marinated pork, cheese, avocado salsa, and pineapple, and we could eat them on repeat for hours. Even though you can smell nail polish from the salon across the hall, it’s worth it to sit at the little counter facing the window with some hot tacos and a cold Tecate. Always.
Rachel's Ginger Beer
When you just spent two hours with your tourist family at Pike Place Market walking up and down the same aisle looking at homemade potholders and feel like you’re ready to kick over a display of artisanal plum jam, take a breather. Rachel’s Ginger Beer is a funky soda shop in the middle of Pike Place, but also the perfect escape from it. And, if forgoing the traditional ginger beer for a boozy spiked mule will help you get through waiting 25 minutes for your siblings to finish taking photos of themselves posing with strangers’ chewed gum, then so be it.
So your East Coast friends are in town and they refuse to believe real pizza exists outside of New York. Dino’s Tomato Pie is where to go to make them eat their words in the form of perfectly charred sicilian pies. The crust is chewy and crisp to the point of being nearly-carcinogenic - exactly how we all know it’s supposed to be. If you can brave the stupidly anarchic line, grab a huge booth in the weird casino-like darkness. A hot salami sicilian pie with some Long Island iced teas on tap is the perfect kickoff to a Cap Hill night out.
The Walrus and The Carpenter is like the Olympic Games of impressing out of towners. This is the place where you’re going to want to get in while the sun’s out, sit at the bar overlooking the wire baskets of oysters, pound flutes of sparkling rose (with dignity), and share some of Seattle’s best small plates. If you’re new to oysters, this is where to try your first. If you’re a wimp, they also come fried with cilantro aioli. Don’t feel the need to rush to get here at 4:00 when they open - just plan to grab a cocktail at Barnacle Bar next door while you wait for your seat.