Ask any local what neighborhood shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Seattle, and the answer will always be Pioneer Square. Not only does it have plenty of history (with picturesque old buildings, Smith Tower, and the underground tour), but there are also lots of restaurants and bars that are worth your time, whether you’re just visiting or you actually live here. Oh, and exposed brick. Get ready for a lot of that.
If Pioneer Square were a medieval kingdom, all other restaurants would tremble and bow down to Il Corvo, its great ruler that reigns weekdays during lunch only. Here’s the drill: you show up at 10:30am to be first in line, walk through the door at 11, order surprisingly inexpensive bowls of homemade pasta, sit down, and then get your hot carbs a few minutes later. There are always three different types of pasta available, and they change every day (except for the bolognese, which you can get all the time). We’ve seen things like black pepper tagliatelle with porcini cream, fusilli with hazelnut-mint pesto, and many an incredible Friday lasagna. Two mandatory other things to order: the housemade focaccia and a salted caramel sandwich cookie.
Another example of how unfair it is that the best Pioneer Square spots are only open on weekdays for lunch. Manu’s serves excellent Cuban, Caribbean, and Dominican food in a super casual space accented by bright walls and coffee can utensil holders. We’ve heard that money can’t buy you happiness, but the Cuban dip sandwich (complete with a side of salty pork jus for dunking) makes us pretty f*cking happy, and we paid for that. Add a couple picadillo or yam/smoked gouda empanadas, which are made with yucca dough and served with a highly addictive olive oil chimichurri. We don’t blame you if you decide to not show up for work afterwards, or even just quit your job altogether.
Because the best things come in groups of three, here’s another amazing weekday-lunch-only spot. Salumi is your go-to for Italian sandwiches, hot or cold, filled with homemade cured meats, also-homemade fresh mozzarella, and a delicious olive oil spread made with capers and garlic that does bad things to our breath but good things to ciabatta bread. There are rotating pasta and sandwich specials, too.
Some choices in life are made for you, like the hospital you’re born in or getting recruited by the CIA. The same goes for expensive tasting menu restaurants, where the menu’s already decided before you walk in the door. Bisato is the exception to the rule. They have three different preset menus, and yet, it’s not mandatory to participate in any of them. When you make a mix-and-match dinner from the a la carte items instead, you get one of the most outstanding special-occasion meals in Seattle. The best things here are only available a la carte, like a single ricotta gnocchi with spicy ‘nduja, truffled pasta sheets with fonduta, and housemade charcuterie topped with parmesan ice cream. The space feels classy enough for your parents’ anniversary dinner but would also work for a first date.
A tame indoor bierhall with German beer, homemade Radlers, a great pretzel with beer cheese fondue, and friendly bartenders. Grab a big picnic table and go for a round of boots with friends while passing around fries and sausages and spaetzle mac and cheese. It’s going to be a good time, unless you’re not a fun person.
At Damn The Weather, you can have a glass of natural wine and a hot bowl of pasta with a date. But you can also have a beer and a burger and a paper cone full of fries cooked in chicken fat all by yourself. Or drink a cocktail and share some oysters with your parents. The overall versatility of this spot makes it one of our favorite places to drink in Pioneer Square. Plus, the name is a solid conversation starter.
Dead Line is a sleek, dark bar with a bottle collection so extensive that a massive ladder is necessary to get to the top-shelf stuff. Not only is it a fantastic place to go for fancy cocktails, but the South American small plate menu is also strong, with a queso fresco-topped burger so good we’d wait in a DMV line for one. Take advantage of Happy Hour, when you can get a lychee daiquiri and a plate of tostones for $11 total.
Nirmal’s is an upscale Indian restaurant that works for many situations - dinner with the parents, Happy Hour, a date, an awkward meetup with your aunt’s boyfriend’s coworker’s son, etc. We like the tandoori grilled paneer and spicy chicken pakoras, not to mention the delicious cocktails ranging from curry margaritas to coffee martinis. And if you were wondering where to find all the exposed brick we were talking about earlier, some of it is in here.
Casco Antiguo has the best Mexican food in Pioneer Square. It’s easy to get a reservation, and there’s always a lively crowd inside drinking on-tap margaritas and generally making the place feel good. Food-wise, starting with guacamole, homemade fire-roasted salsa, and a plantain/black bean empanada is a good idea, but save room for the delicious beer-battered halibut tacos and red enchiladas made with braised pork.
The London Plane is an espresso cafe, wine bar, bakery, market, flower shop, and if that wasn’t enough, also a restaurant. Use it if you want to spend a couple of hours somewhere nice with out-of-towners, but are also in the mood for a lighter meal that isn’t just a bowl of mixed greens. We like the chickpea-feta grain salad and rice-crusted halibut in harissa curry. Afterwards, undo every nutritionally-sound decision you’ve made here with a sea salt chocolate chip cookie. Or six. We’re not looking.
Underbelly is a basement bar that specializes in natural wine and raclette-topped snacks. This place doesn’t take themselves too seriously - there’s ska music in the background while nature documentaries play on a projector. Come here with anybody who likes to drink wine, and snack on some baguette nachos and hot dogs covered in melted raclette.
Biscuits are a very important food group, an indisputable fact that Biscuit Bitch understands. The ones here are very big, very fluffy, and very delicious, whether you go sweet with a Canadian Bitch (maple peanut butter, bacon, and banana) or savory in the form of a sausage/egg/cheddar Bitchwich. Don’t forget to top that thing with country gravy.
Homesick East Coasters, take note: Tat’s is a casual Philly-style deli with delicious cheesesteaks, buffalo wings, and a marvel of modern invention known as the “tatstrami” (pastrami, swiss, coleslaw, and Russian dressing on a soft baguette). If you’re having any semblance of a bad day, you’re going to want to get yourself in here immediately.
Taylor Shellfish is a Seattle oyster institution. And while you could theoretically sip sparkling wine and whisper sweet nothings (about oysters) to a date here, you could also drink local beer and watch some sports on TV with a fried prawn po’boy on the side. That’s what we’ll be doing.
Good Bar is a cocktail bar that used to be a bank (you won’t forget this, because you can still see the vault door). While it’s an excellent choice for a coworker Happy Hour, it’s equally good for a full meal consisting of some charcuterie, some cheese, an Aperol-spiked shrub, and the tomato-stout sloppy joe with roasted-onion aioli. No matter what you do, do not skip the baguette with homemade beer butter - you never knew you wanted beer in your butter until now.
This mostly-Mexican spot doesn’t have the greatest food you’re going to find in this neighborhood. But if you like cumin (a lot of it), you’ll really like the rotisserie chicken here, and the tacos and mashed avocado are good, too. If you’re here for one thing, though, it’s the strawberry-tequila-campari slushie. Give us one of those and don’t speak while we drink it. It’s a very important slushie.
Pioneer Square is really just a neighborhood full of basements that are fun to hang out in. Located at the bottom of Temple Billiards, The Pharmacy feels like one of those basements. It looks like somebody ransacked a garage sale in the late 1970s to furnish this place with sofas, coffee tables, and mismatched decorative pillows, but somehow it all works. The cocktail menu is massive, ranging from tiki drinks to different riffs on a French 75, and the bartenders will happily make you something custom on the spot.
Turns out, speakeasy drinks and pub food go together excellently. Bad Bishop is a bar with Victorian wallpaper, elegant cocktails like chai daiquiris and ginger hot toddies, and a food menu consisting of burgers, mac and cheese, corn dogs, and shoestring fries. There are plenty of board games to play if you’re with friends, and, if you’re by yourself, you can have a martini at the bar and look pensively at an old piano.
Cow Chip Cookies are always on our list of things to eat at the Washington State Fair (preferably alongside giant strawberry-vanilla soft serve cones and Krusty Pups). Luckily, you can also get these legendary cookies at the brick and mortar location in Pioneer Square. If you like crunchy cookies, get out of here, because these are gooey, underbaked, and pretty much perfect. While our favorite is the classic chocolate chip, the almond-scented double chocolate is also a winner. If this place didn’t close at 6pm, we’d probably eat dinner here a couple times a month.