SEAGuide

The Best Restaurants In Tacoma

Where to find the freshest PNW seafood, incredible Cambodian noodles, and the best fancy pizza.
The Best Restaurants In Tacoma image

photo credit: Nate Watters

To most Seattleites, Tacoma is just a dome-shaped landmark off I-5. But if you think that’s all there is to this city, you’d be dead wrong—especially because there are more excellent restaurants open now than ever before. It was no simple task to choose the best of the best, but we’ve narrowed it down to 13 must-visit places. You’ll find Vietnamese barbecue in the city center, crispy-chewy bagels that are worth the hype in South Tacoma, Italian food near Point Defiance Park, and much more.


THE SPOTS


photo credit: Nate Watters

American

Tacoma

$$$$Perfect For:Drinking Good CocktailsGetting Out Of TownDate NightSpecial Occasions
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Bar Bistro is the best place in town for creative New American dishes and cocktails that also happen to be really affordable. The menu changes often, but you’ll find cool, innovative stuff like elk sliders with pimento cheese and lingonberry jam on pretzel buns, or a super-saffrony Portuguese stew with sea scallops, sausage, and mussels. It definitely works for date night, although we love to sit at the bar to watch deep-cut house music videos while we quiz the bartender on their rare liquor collection. Speaking of, the rotating cocktail menu is great, too—we like the Red Cloud with whiskey, chartreuse, smoke, and wojapi, a berry compote from Plains Indian cuisine.


In Tacoma’s Stadium District, Le Sel does French-inspired food in a shabby-chic farmers market kinda way. The space is pretty cozy and low-key, and although they do a nice brunch, dinner is really when you want to be here. Go for the lamb chops with grits and a sunny-side-up egg or the seared duck breast over green lentils, as well as a Bloody Mary with a big slab of seared pork belly on a skewer. There’s also so much beautiful bread here: salmon avocado toast on artisan wheat, a luxurious brie en croûte with half a baguette, and burrata and brown butter mushrooms accompanied by the same. Soak it all up from the heated balcony overlooking Commencement Bay.


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The Lobster Shop’s been an upscale dinner staple for 40 years, and it has an incredible view of Commencement Bay. There’s one plot twist, though: the best thing here isn’t actually lobster. It’s local, Pacific Northwestern oysters that we’re willing to say are the best on Earth (and the rest of the universe while we’re at it). Get a dozen briny-creamy Eagle Rocks and buttery Eld Inlets, then go to town on the PNW scallops, served with pork belly and brown butter farro, and the Dungeness crab cakes with lemon-pepper aioli that are somehow twice as good as any other crab cake we’ve ever tried. And if you’re a vegan who suddenly woke up in a seafood palace, the maple-glazed vegan scallops, made from king oyster mushrooms, are as delicious as anything else on the menu.


Yes, this is a fast-food counter in a strip mall, but the Cambodian dishes off the long menu are some of the best you’ll find in the area. Our go-tos are the stir-fried student noodles, to which we like to add prawns, as well as the banh chao, an eggy yellow crepe folded around stir-fried vegetables. The fish sauce-loaded lot cha is another star: a plate of rice noodles, green onions, fried garlic, and chili sauce that’s sprinkled with chili powder, bean sprouts, and toasted crushed peanuts and crowned with a runny fried egg. And the fragrant Khmer beef stew, served with a crusty baguette for dipping, is exactly what we want on a rainy day.


Balcon is a newer spot on Sixth Avenue doing Mexican and Salvadoran dishes out of a tiny corner shop. The pupusas here are what you want, as they’re enormous and loaded with mozzarella, but they also have something called a “putaco,” which is basically a taco built inside a pupusa shell. Make sure to try everything in the salsa bar: the pickled curtido is so good, you’ll find yourself eating the leftovers with a fork long after your pupusas are gone. Also, nothing on the menu is over $12, the portions are huge, they’re always playing bachata music, and the staff are absolute sweeties.


Cuerno Bravo is from the team behind the Ballard steakhouse Asadero, and the Tacoma outpost is more of the same, except a little sexier with an old-world Guadalajara style that’s perfect for birthdays. You should order a steak, of course—they have lots of options, but we always go for the eight-ounce A5 Japanese wagyu ribeye, sizzled tableside on a hot stone. This place is also good if you just want to post up at the bar for fun cocktails (served in smoking skull glasses) and split the papa loca, a massive baked potato heaped with butter, crema, smoked bacon, and wagyu bits.


Fancy pizza is having a moment in Tacoma: there are new shops like Apizza and Italy Paola Pizza Napoletana, but the best of the bunch just might be Tacoma Pie. The pizza here is intense: one slice of the thick, square, Detroit-style pies could be a full meal. The crust is fluffy, the frico is tall, and the sauce has a spicy kick. You can get it delivered, but it’s way more fun to dine in with the pinball machines and a breezy outdoor space with a bocce court. If you see their banana bread pudding in the pizza warmer, get it.


As the most old-school diner in a city known for its old-school diners, Marcia’s Silver Spoon is a place where time stands still alongside monster plates of chicken-fried steak, perfect fluffy pancakes, and huge biscuits with pepper-flecked sausage gravy. We’re not kidding about these portions—the Silver Spoon Scramble takes up a whole platter and could feed three or four people. There are a few unique menu options too, like spicy hot links, fruit-stuffed waffles, and omelets made with oysters from Hood Canal. They do close at 2:30pm, and there can be a line sometimes on the weekends, but it’s a place worth prioritizing, especially since the pancakes are the size of your face.


Out in Ruston, this trattoria is a perfect dinner stop after a day spent hanging out in nearby Point Defiance Park. Maculoso’s is an upscale-ish neighborhood Italian joint, with exposed brick and wine racks all over, that’s good for a date, a girl’s night, or a family dinner. Focus on the handmade pastas: It’s hard to pick a favorite, but we always go straight for the pappardelle with a meat sauce that’s loaded with perfectly tender beef, or the alfredo tagliatelle with chicken, sausage, and mushrooms. Seafood starters like vongole saltate and octopus carpaccio are both musts, and the osso buco and cioppino are lovely entrees, too. Just make sure you save enough space for the limoncello mascarpone cake and an espresso at the end.


This Lincoln District spot is run by a father-and-daughter duo who make some of the best barbecue crispy pork and duck around. The most expensive things max out at $16, and you can decide whether you want your meal as a soup with egg noodles, or as a lunch plate over rice. We’re perennial suckers for the luxe roast pork with the stripe of crispy skin attached. Also, if you’re not feeling the full meal deal, you can just get a box of delicious roasted meat with nothing else to distract you from it. There are no wrong choices here.


Empanadas are the bread and butter at Luis Panes, where they’re served in half a dozen flavors out of an old breakfast diner. The menu features other Colombian mainstays too, like picada, salchipapas, and arepas, as well as the rare-around-here Colombian tamal: a fat square of masa filled with a whole chicken thigh and then baked in a banana leaf. All the empanadas are available frozen for takeout, along with South American pastries like pandebonos and yucca-based buñuelos. Luis Panes is a solid place for a casual dinner or lunch, or just a giant assortment of empanadas, whatever meal that is.


photo credit: Nate Watters

This spot is Temporarily Closed.

Editor's Note: Howdy Bagel is temporarily closed. You can find their Gofundme page here.

Howdy Bagel opened in mid-2023 to a ton of hype, and the line hasn’t died down since. But it moves quickly, the buzz and excitement are infectious, and you’ll be happily devouring your bagel with the chatty new friends you made in line. The design is a big part of the charm, specifically the queer cowboy logo. The incredible bagels are the main event though: crisp and glossy, with a tight crumb and a chewy texture. Start with a Grit City Lox bagel sandwich that’s stacked with an inch of smoked salmon, along with scallion cream cheese, pickled red cabbage, red onions, sliced cucumber, fresh dill, olive oil, and cracked black pepper. Then, find yourself standing in that same line the next morning.


Da Tiki Hut is our nomination for the most Tacoma place ever: this former food truck moved into an old Taco Time building and turned it into a full-scale tiki bar and grill. It looks like a takeout spot at first, but walk through the hard-to-find hallway behind the rattan screen and you’ll find a low-lit space of tropical-themed booths. The best part, though, is the mid-century cocktail bar in the back that’s straight out of Trader Vic’s. The food also rules—there's mochiko chicken, short rib, tuna poke, kalua pig, and a whole section of mocos. They also have some interesting musubi options like karaage chicken, as well as our favorite mac salad in the city.


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