The First Timer’s Guide To Eating & Drinking In Seattle
Seattle’s on your mind. Maybe because of the millionth cup of bad coffee you had this morning. Maybe because you just graduated with a computer science degree and realized that the tech companies here blast out job offers like confetti on New Year’s Eve. Or maybe because you want a big-city weekend that still involves things like hiking and possibly seeing a whale.
Whatever the reason, you’re visiting Seattle, and there are plenty of great restaurants and bars you should prioritize here (many of which are not, in fact, at Pike Place Market). Put on some comfortable sneakers, pack a few layers, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not allowed to carry an umbrella.
Breakfast, Brunch, & Lunch
If you must have a $10 whiskey barrel-aged cold brew that tastes like farm dirt at the Starbucks Reserve we can’t stop you. But afterwards, follow it up with a mimosa brunch on the rooftop herb garden at Terra Plata across the street. We’ve always had pleasant breakfasts here, starting with a toasty homemade manchego biscuit with butter and jam, and ending with some aloe vera—the roof is a UV inferno during the summer.
Saint Bread helps you achieve two things at once: eat excellent breakfast food and take in the Lake Union views. This renovated boathouse with stained glass windows is located on the University District side of Portage Bay, so it works well as a launchpad if you plan to explore UW for the rest of the day. Here you’ll find some standout za’atar-dusted avocado toast on grain bread, Norwegian-style school buns filled with raspberry preserves and creamy custard, and their pièce de résistance: a BEC on Japanese melonpan. The experience of swiping a bit of crisp sugared dough through the mess of jammy yolk, bacon grease, and American cheese is reason enough to book a flight out.
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Sometimes you need a morning pick-me-up, but the bread and pastries at Sea Wolf really act more like a morning pick-me-up-and-throw-me-across-the-galaxy-so-I-can-be-among-the-stars. They specialize in various types of outstanding sourdoughs, from crusty white bread to rye infused with coffee and caraway. The best thing here, however, is their chocolate chip cookie. The way Sea Wolf balances nutty brown butter, dark chocolate, oats, and a heavy hand of sea salt makes us want to host a cookie convention and invite them as the keynote speakers. A flaky croissant for breakfast is pretty much mandatory, but you’ll want a lye roll or hunk of olive-dotted focaccia to snack on later.
For something Downtown with more sit-and-linger potential, Cafe Campagne is a classic that has stood the test of time. This staple is perfect for a special occasion or solo brunch at the bar—both scenarios that could benefit from an order of quiche Lorraine and a bottle of bubbles. Sure, you’re in Seattle and not Paris, but Cafe Campagne—with its white-tableclothed sidewalk seating and abundance of French posters—feels pretty damn close to a European adventure.
This is a Seattle institution, and from its vantage point on the second floor of one of the market buildings, it overlooks the entire scene that plays out at Pike Place from morning until 4pm. Come for lunch (be sure to make a reservation), start with homemade potato chips swiped in hot bacon dip, and then move on to the fried catfish sandwich that’s been on the menu for over 20 years. And, no need to resort to an apple slice from the produce people downstairs who cut free fruit samples. For dessert, you’ll want to order the candy bar square, which tastes like a pinky-up Snickers.
The 30 Best Restaurants & Bars At Pike Place Market
Local Tide is the newest seafood spot on this list, but it has quickly proved that it deserves to be among the mainstays. Their lineup of sandwiches involve simple preparations of high-quality fish, like a medium-rare salmon BLT on toasted Macrina sourdough, or crunchy fried Dover sole with American cheese and tartar that should rightfully make McDonald’s jealous. It’s pretty easy to secure a table even on a weekend, but you could also grab takeout and head to Gasworks Park. An order of each of the house potato chips with smoky salmon belly dip and pork fat-spiked shrimp toast is not optional.
Getting your eyeballs on a great Pacific Northwest view should be an important part of your trip. Marination Ma Kai at Alki Beach is the best place to look at the waterfront skyline and tear through Hawaiian and Korean street food like kimchi fried rice and kalbi beef tacos. This place is an ideal spot to drink some lychee margaritas in the summer, but the views (and the crispy fish sandwiches with american cheese and miso slaw) are just as good in the winter, too.
We’ll admit that Beecher’s is a stressful tourist trap congested with folks looking to sample free cubes of Flagship and promptly hightail it on out of there. But it’s worth it—Beecher’s didn’t name it the “World’s Best Mac And Cheese” just for kicks. Their crumbly, nutty cheddar is sharp, melts beautifully, and occupies our daily thoughts, so embrace your cup of creamy chili-spiked penne and anatomically-pristine grilled cheese with smoked turkey.
Located in a quiet corner of the market, this Filipino counter serves the best lunch Downtown, let alone some of the best Filipino food in the city. Everything here is prepared by a woman who is quite kind despite some brash signage (such as, “IF U DON’T KNOW HOW TO EAT OUR SALMON SINIGANG DON’T ORDER IT”) and the food is so good that it's worth braving the yogurt-gulping Ellenos fanatics around the bend. Oriental Mart serves excellent tart pork adobo over rice seeped in braising liquid, lumpia wands whose crunch reminds us of a Butterfinger bar, and shiny red longanisa sausage that deserves its own long-form documentary. There’s a reason why this place has been going strong since 1987, and it’s in part thanks to that link of meat.
If someone tells you to go to Paseo during your trip, you should kindly (but firmly) suggest Un Bien instead. The menus are nearly identical, but Un Bien is where the original Paseo owners work, and you should be eating an original Caribbean roast pork-filled baguette—not a lackluster stunt double. Even though Un Bien’s drippy sandwiches here are massive, grab some fire-roasted corn as a side, and eat it all on a beach picnic at Golden Gardens Park. Note that you may end up with tender pork bits, zesty aioli, and charred onions all over your (formerly) clean t-shirt, but that Tide Pen in your rental car’s glove compartment has been waiting for this moment.
There are more than a few restaurants in Seattle that serve a wide variety of dumplings, and Dough Zone is our favorite. They run a speedy operation, and the large windows make people-watching a breeze. Dough Zone is especially excellent after a blustery morning walking around the International District, because nothing warms us up much better than steamy sesame dan dan noodles, pork jian buns, chicken wontons in hot and sour broth, and potstickers with a brittle cornstarch skirt.
The Best Restaurants In the International District
You’ll learn quickly that Pike Place Market can be a bit much. On your left, there’s a person who just shoved a sample of dried chocolate-infused pasta in your face. On your right, a lotion artisan from Mukilteo is yelling, “Hey, you never have to speak to me again if you just take a sniff of this hand cream!” But you’re not here for any of that (we mean it—the aforementioned chocolate pasta is not good). You’re here for seafood. Head to Market Grill, a counter located at the epicenter of the swirling chaos around you. Grab a barstool and enjoy one of Seattle’s great treasures: the blackened salmon sandwich. Stuffed with tasty spiced fish, rosemary mayo, grilled onions, and romaine on a baguette, it’s the perfect reprieve from the crowds.
Between the Fremont Troll, MoPop, and the anticlimactic Ballard Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, you might need to grab a quick lunch. Enter Tacos Chukis—Seattle’s standard for tacos. You needn’t concern yourself with anything else but the house taco, filled with adobada pork, avocado salsa, and a sweet square of caramelized pineapple.
Dr. Frasier Crane would approve of Vivace’s espresso. That is, if he were a real person and Cafe Nervosa went out of business. Vivace’s ristretto shots are less bitter than a lot of others you’ll find in the city, and they’re serious about porcelain drinkware here. And on a hot day, an iced mocha (layered with homemade vegan chocolate sauce) sips like a pile of melted Fudgesicles.
If you want an unmatched Seattle coffee experience, but don’t really want to make a big deal about it, slip into this plant shop in Ballard that casually has a sleek espresso counter in the back. The abundance of ferns and cacti will increase your serotonin levels if it’s drizzly out, and Root’s coffee creations (like herby rosemary lattes and iced orange cream shaken espressos) will...also increase your serotonin levels.
Boon Boona sources their coffee beans exclusively from Africa and roasts them in-house—the result is a rich, bold cup that you should gulp before leaving the Pacific Northwest. While their espresso is terrific as is, they’ll often have a berbere-kicked mocha available. It’s earthy, a little spicy, and the perfect thing to sip all morning as you walk around Capitol Hill.
Anchorhead is not only a superb spot to visit if you’re moseying around Downtown, but they also happen to serve our favorite homemade cold brew. You can choose between black, nitro, splashed with chocolate milk, or the best way to do it: the “Honey Bunches Of Cold Brew.” It’s stirred with burnt honey, cinnamon, maple syrup, and oat milk, and has that refreshing zazz to cool you off on a hot day while simultaneously dripping with winter cheer if it’s chilly outside. And if you aren’t a coffee fan, you’ll still be happy here—Anchorhead’s pistachio milk matcha latte is a grassy, nutty drink that’s just as gulpable as the espresso-based ones.
The old fashioned cake donuts at Top Pot are good enough, but so are the ones at QFC. Instead, you need to know about the filled brioche beauties at General Porpoise. Aesthetically, this coffee shop that sources beans from Oregon to Arkansas, is the setting of a TikTok waiting to happen: blue striped paper straws, a big marble bar, the plump donuts mentioned before (get one of each filling like vanilla custard and lemon curd), and great lattes with symmetrical froth art.
Next to the brick wall spackled with strangers’ used chewing gum is a wonderful cafe called Ghost Alley Espresso. Go ahead and skip the lines at the “original Starbucks” and grab a cappuccino at this literal hole-in-the-wall. You’ll find classic coffee drinks and more thrilling ones, like the “salty nut” latte with caramel, hazelnut, and applewood-smoked salt. After drinking a stiff cup, then by all means, snap your obligatory selfie with several thousand wads of expelled Trident.
This Filipino bakery and coffee shop serves great pastries and lattes featuring purple sweet potato. So if taking attractive photos of your food and beverages is important to you, you’ll want their iced ube latte. The colors melt from violet to white to chocolate-brown in a visually-stunning gradient that always makes us sad to shove a straw in and ruin that ombre. The good news: it’s also sweet and creamy, especially with a mini homemade cheesecake on the side (the best flavors are guava-swirled white chocolate, and, of course, ube).
Rachel’s Ginger Beer is a good option if you’re not a coffee person, or if you’ve far surpassed your caffeine limit since arriving here. All of the fantastic soda flavors on tap (from caramelized pineapple to cucumber tarragon) have a bracing bitter bite tempered by just enough sweetness. Have one straight up, in float form crowned with soft serve custard, or make the very most of your trip to Pike Place and drink it as a spiked mule.
photo credit: Suzi Pratt
Sure, you can learn a lot about Seattle by shooting oysters at the waterfront or enjoying a cream cheese-slathered hot dog at 2am—and then there’s Communion in the Central District. In a city not exactly known for Southern food, Communion serves “Seattle soul.”. Yes, you’ll find cornbread and mac and cheese, but they also have a house salad sprinkled with injera croutons and a self-proclaimed hood sushi bowl with crispy catfish, seaweed, and pickled vegetables. Taking influence from the Ethiopian and Vietnamese dishes that you’ll find all over the city, Communion creates a soul food experience that can only happen in the Pacific Northwest. Spend some time celebrating with friends in the plush blue booths, and you'll find that it's all too easy to tack on another round of shrimp toast and brown liquor cocktails instead of grabbing the check.
photo credit: Nate Watters
Good seafood and a waterfront view may be a priority, but we urge you to step away from the salmon and step into Blotto, especially if you’re planning a night out on Capitol Hill. In a city that’s overwhelmed with naturally leavened pizza options, this tiny, charming, walk-in-only spot is best-in-show. Huge charred pies and bottles of natural wine grace every table, and seemingly basic toppings like pepperoni and mushrooms take on new form when paired with Cloud Cap cheese, lemon cream, or hot honey. If you're traveling alone, choose a counter seat to drizzle calabrian chili vinaigrette on your slice in privacy—or arrive earlier in the evening to shove tables together and go in on multiple pies (and bottles of pét-nat) with a group. No matter how you use Blotto, it is the best pizzeria to prime for your obligatory Capitol Hill bar crawl.
The Walrus And The Carpenter is the holy grail of oysters, and should be on your list if you’re seeking fresh shellfish in Seattle. And whether you eat them at a table or while seated at the big, majestic marble bar, raw or cornmeal-crusted, they will more than fulfill your obligation to eat ocean-flavored mollusks. Get some sparkling rosé and seasonal small plates on the table, too. Just be prepared for a substantial wait.
The Best Seafood In Seattle
Spinasse serves the best Italian food in Seattle. There’s something special about sitting in their gorgeous dining room decorated with a marble bar, rustic tables, and ambient noodle sheets hanging from the open kitchen that gets you excited to eat some pasta. Come here for forkfuls of fresh cavatelli with decadent braised beef and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, fried zucchini blossoms piped with ricotta and lemon, and the tajarin with butter and sage that both a toddler and a grown adult would find revelatory.
If fish is important to you, and you’re interested in consuming it raw, there’s one place you should head to first: Sushi Kashiba. This Japanese spot on the outskirts of Pike Place is helmed by legendary chef Shiro Kashiba, who was taught the craft of sushi-making by the subject of a Netflix documentary. And after eating enough otoro, uni, and geoduck nigiri here, we can confirm that this carefully sourced fish makes Kashiba the best sushi spot in town. If you can’t make a reservation, do yourself one better and wait outside the restaurant at 3:30pm until they open the doors at 5:00—which is the only way to get a spot at the highly-coveted sushi counter. Your reward for standing upright for nearly two hours straight will be an outstanding omakase experience to brag about to the stranger next to you on the plane ride home.
We think it’s imperative that you should sit outside near some water as your hair blows in the wind while you’re here. Add a pint of ice-cold local pale ale in one hand, and a forkful of Dungeness crab cake in the other. That’s Ray’s, and it’s exactly the place to go when the weather is warm and you need to soak in that good PNW, sunset-at-9pm summer feeling. Does Ray’s serve the best seafood for their nearly exorbitant price point? Certainly not. You’re here for acceptable cod and chips on a balcony patio complete with a sweeping panoramic of Shilshole Bay.
New York and Chicago are not the only pizza towns in this country. Exhibit A: Delancey, a classic. Even if you just stopped in for a glass of natural bubbles and small plates like burrata in a pesto puddle served with olive oil-ed flatbread shards or a mountainous romaine salad with red cabbage and grana padano, that’d be enough. But you should prioritize the blistered pies topped with things like fennel pork sausage, caramelized Walla Walla sweet onions, kalamata olives, and more. The space is also an exciting room, with candlelit darkness and good smells coming from the wood oven.
This Lao spot on Capitol Hill serves an exceptional double smashburger layered with taro stem, cilantro, spicy jaew bong mayo, cured pork belly, and gooey sharp provolone. So if you’re trying to decide between Dick’s, Lil Woody’s, Red Mill, or Burgermaster for meat and cheese on a bun, we challenge you to reject all of those places in favor of Taurus Ox’s version. But you shouldn’t stop there—the menu has more greats like fried beef jerky, homemade pork sausage, caramelized pork belly stew with a crisp Brussels sprouts hash brown, and pad lao.
If being in Seattle excites you because you’re a Bruce Lee fan, hopefully you knew that Tai Tung was his favorite Chinese restaurant in town. That’s not the only reason this place is steeped in history—it also happens to be Seattle’s oldest Chinese restaurant. Here, you’ll find nods to Bruce around the dining room, including cardboard cutouts and a memorial booth. Bruce’s favorite dish was the beef with a rich oyster sauce, and while that’s delicious (especially spooned on top of sausage-filled fried rice), Tai Tung also has some standout potstickers, kung pao shrimp, and our personal favorite: battered almond chicken that crunches like a heap of October leaves.
After the one lap, Pike Place isn’t somewhere we’d suggest you linger. Unless you’re getting dinner at The Pink Door. Behind an unmarked rose gold door is this part burlesque circus, part Italian trattoria that’s been part of Seattle’s culture since 1981, and yet somehow feels like a dream on every visit. There’s live aerial entertainment, the city’s greatest lasagna, and a patio deck overlooking Elliott Bay. Just be sure to make a reservation a couple weeks in advance, or try your luck earlier in the evening.
Seattle functions on two liquids: coffee and phở. For the latter, Phở Bắc Sup Shop is our favorite place to hang our heads over a steamy, gingery bowl of hot Vietnamese noodle soup on a rainy night. All of their phở options are like a warm hug, from brisket to meatball, and an order of crispy fries dunked in lemongrass-y mayo is a necessary order.
Drinks & Dessert
photo credit: Nate Watters
There's a good chance you’ll be doing some exploring Downtown, and after a long day of navigating Lime bikes through one-way streets, you might want an adult beverage or two. Phởcific Standard Time is the best place to get one. Located inside Phở Bắc’s Denny Triangle location, this second-story speakeasy is close enough to the touristy action where you won’t have to call an Uber, but removed enough so you won’t see any umbrellas and selfie sticks. They have a very tasty cheesy caramelized crab and prawn dip to snack on as you drink one of their Vietnamese-inspired cocktails, like an iced coffee martini topped with pandan dust.
photo credit: Nate Watters
At one point, Ellenos Greek Yogurt would have been a mandatory stop if you were at Pike Place and snooping around for something sweet. But they closed their market shop, and you can easily pick it up at virtually any airport kiosk. Instead, we’re sending you to Hellenika Cultured Creamery. This frozen Greek yogurt shop in Pike Place is from former Ellenos co-founders, and the dessert in question has a sour tang and subtle sweetness that gets churned right in front of you. It’s the perfect ice cream-adjacent thing to eat after walking past the fish market and just barely dodging a king salmon to the head.
Some of the best ice cream in Seattle doesn’t involve cream at all. Frankie & Jo’s serves outstanding coconut and cashew-based vegan ice creams (OK, “frozen dessert”) in flavors like chocolate tahini cookie dough, salty caramel ash with activated coconut charcoal, and beet strawberry rose sorbet. Grab a midday snack or after-dinner dessert here in a freshly griddled oat cone that makes the entire scoop shop smell like warm maple.
Canon is the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of cocktails. The encyclopedic menu has pages upon pages of classic mixed drinks and original ones with intricate involvements like smokes, syrups, rinses, and/or pop art printed foam floating on top. Plus, everything is served in whimsical vessels like light bulbs, Russian nesting dolls, glass hearts you wear around your neck, or IV bags that drip into your glass. Once you decide which nuanced masterpiece in mixology to order, watch the bartenders gather the ingredients from the bookshelves of liquors so massive they need their own Dewey Decimal System. Be aware that one sip may compel you to sign a lease to live in Seattle immediately. Also be aware that the cocktail prices range from $16 to $750.
There are a lot of food and drink establishments in Seattle located in retrofitted homes. Bottlehouse is one of these, and is one of the best places to drink wine in town. Spending time here feels like sharing bottles and charcuterie at your fancy friend’s colonial house, and since it’s in Madrona, it’s far away from most of the big tourist areas. The selection here changes often, but always has a great mix of local, international, conventional, and natural, and there are in-house cheesemongers who will pair your glass of Bainbridge Island piquette or Portugese castelão with a spread of delicious options you might not see at other wine bars in town, like Norwegian myost made with caramelized whey.
If you are in Seattle and you don’t wait 25 minutes for ice cream infused with blue cheese and bartlett pears, it’s time to reevaluate that choice. Salt & Straw is the evil genius of ice cream shops, and their flavors include simple, rich classics like sea salt with caramel ribbons, along with more complicated scoops like salted, malted chocolate chip cookie dough, or arbequina olive oil. Yes, you may wait anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes in line, but the friendly staff will allow you to try as many samples as you want in the meantime.
Say you find yourself in the middle of Pike Place looking for an adult beverage in a space that isn’t packed with everyone and their small children. Step into JarrBar, a small, hidden spot where you can escape the market and temporarily be transported to a dimly-lit Spanish tapas bar. Their cocktails have an impeccable lemonade-level harmony between acid and sugar, and you can snack on various types of pintxos like tinned fish, rillettes, jamón Ibérico, and Tim’s potato chips (a true local delicacy).
If we had to choose one spot to have some daytime hops in Seattle, it would easily be Fremont Brewing Company. There’s a huge patio, dependably delicious beer (Lush IPA is the gold standard), the good brand of mini pretzels in unlimited quantities, and a fun crowd including many dogs. The only wrong way to do Fremont Brewing is to not show up at all.
Speaking of beer, your trip may include a day devoted to Ballard brewery-hopping (or pedaling via Cycle Saloon). Make sure you visit Reuben’s, which might’ve been a part of your plan already. They have 25 beers on tap, plenty of long wooden tables great for big groups, and their very own food truck that’s parked outside. There isn’t much decor beyond a few big mash tuns, but their beers are so good (especially the salty gose) that it doesn’t matter.
It’s a well-known vacation dilemma—what the heck are you supposed to do in-between lunch and dinner? That’s where Flight comes in. This wine bar combines boozy grape juice and chocolate in a way that will inspire you to book your next trip here immediately. Tasting reservations are only available Friday through Sunday at either 1pm, 3pm, or 5pm, and involve enthusiastic explanations of each wine and candy from the two owners, David and Kevin. Between the lively interior, bon bons with velvety pudding-like fillings, and copious amounts of Piper Heidsieck Champagne, don’t be surprised if it becomes your new favorite place to consume wine and chocolate. Grab a box of their phenomenal bark strips, a.k.a. dark chocolate sticks studded with olive oil/salt/black pepper-toasted Rice Krispies for the road.