Much like a teenager full of secrets and Frappuccinos, there’s a lot going on in Ballard. Some of this neighborhood is an earthy-crunchy suburbia, some is an industrial wasteland of crates and shipping equipment, and some belong to the locks that let boats through as tourists watch in pure awe, because they came all the way from Cincinnati and that’s all these locks do?
The center of Ballard is where all of the action happens (with a few other spots sprinkled throughout the neighborhood), and it’s a landmine of choice restaurants and bars - but only if you know where to go. So we’ve put together a guide to our favorite places to consume calories in liquid and solid form.
This guide is presented in partnership with Delta Air Lines, which flies to over 50 nonstop international and domestic destinations from Seattle.
You can’t call yourself a Seattleite unless you’ve slurped down a few oysters chased with champagne at The Walrus and The Carpenter come 4pm on a Saturday. It’s the perfect power move for a casual date or impressing out of town friends (assure them you’re doing them a favor by skipping Pike Place and coming here instead). Grab a seat at the pretty marble bar overlooking wire baskets of raw oysters and share some of the best small plates in the city. Also, a cocktail at The Barnacle Bar next door is mandatory with every visit.
Barnacle is one of the coolest places in Ballard to have a cocktail. The entire establishment is just one long wooden bar, you get a bowl of Lay’s potato chips to snack on, and the mixed drinks the bartenders whip up put that French 75 you once spent hours researching and perfecting to shame. It’s the sister bar to The Walrus and the Carpenter, and while we usually find ourselves sipping a stiff amaro while waiting for a table next door, Barnacle is worth a trip on its own. They serve oysters along with cured meats and cheeses, so it’s your new go-to for drinks and a light bite with someone you’d probably want a second date with.
Porkchop & Co. serves the kind of brunch you’d never be able to pull off at home. Which doesn’t mean it’s fancy - it has a great neighborhood feel, but happens to make benedicts, hashes, and breakfast bowls better than just about anyone else. Come here on a weekday morning to catch up with a friend over coffee and a homemade biscuit with jam, or round up the gang and make a reservation for a weekend mimosa brunch. However you do Porkchop & Co., order the poached eggs, which are slow-cooked for an hour and which alone are worth putting on pants and leaving the house for.
You spent all day craving a beer and a burger, but then your phone rings and it’s your parents - they want to go out to a nice dinner. Make moves for Bramling Cross, the fancy gastropub where you can inhale some of the best bar food in the city (get the pickle fries), and your mom can have a nice piece of fish or a fresh pasta. Hanging lights, exposed brick, and bookcases make the place feel like a library (but with less shushing and more booze), and the burger is so good that your parents might even forget to bring up why it is that you’re not dating, haven’t gotten a promotion, and still haven’t called your doctor about that mole. Call your doctor about that mole.
San Fermo is a romantic little white house with the best Italian food in Ballard and the charm of an indie rom-com scene. When it’s cold, get a bowl of carbonara and a brown liquor cocktail, and when it’s warm, sip glasses of wine on the porch with a caesar salad. No matter what season you’re in, make San Fermo your date night or special occassion secret weapon.
You might be familiar with Paseo, which means you might be familiar with the story of how a family-owned sandwich empire was bought by an investor at an auction, and never was the same. Un Bien is the new-ish sandwich shop run by the family who started Paseo. It’s an exact replica of the original Caribbean menu, and after one bite, you’ll realize you never need to eat at Paseo again. Get the roast pork sandwich, the fire-roasted corn, and don’t wear a shirt that you care about, because you will spill on it (this food is worth every oxiclean spot treatment).
The logo for Mean Sandwich is a giant open mouth, and it’s an accurate representation of how we look while eating here. This new sandwich joint f*cking rocks. The space is small and has that old school deli-counter feel, but the ingredients and flavor combinations are modern - try housemade thick-sliced corned beef with mustard, pickled cabbage, and a fistful of mint, or the chicken cutlet (our favorite thing here). Everything is housemade, down to their bread pudding for dessert (made with day-old buns), and there’s a patio for warm-weather sandwiching.
Some of Seattle’s best barbecue can be found inside a room with logs of firewood stacked on shelves and a chain-link fence dangling from the ceiling. Bitterroot is perfect for when you need some smoked brisket in your mouth, but maybe you’re on a date, and want to keep things a bit more upscale or you don’t feel like sharing a paper towel-lined picnic table with a family and their screaming children. Always start with the jalapeño hushpuppies (covered with mustard sauce), get the hot links, and note that the mac and cheese serves six humans as a side dish, or one masochist as an entree.
Bastille is the quintessential Ballard utility move. Its well-designed dining room and swanky bistro feel makes it perfect for a candlelit date, group dinner around the indoor firepit, birthday, or a casual weeknight solo meal at the bar. Everything on the menu is great, but the steak frites is one of the best plates of meat-and-potatoes in the city, and the bahn mi (with housemade lemongrass sausage and sriracha aioli) will make you wish French restaurants always had some Vietnamese stuff on the menu.
Ballard Pizza Company is essentially Bar Cotto’s answer to a slice joint, which means it’s a) awesome, and b) one of the closest things to New York pizza you’re going to get west of the Mississippi. Grab a spot at a communal table under the string lights with some friends for a casual slice and salad, or order a pie to-go and take it home. Be sure to check out the daily-rotating slices, which are typically equal parts odd and delicious, like “salumi bits,” which involves jalapenos and tiny specks of crispy salami. Add a draught cider or glass of wine and Friday night is saved.
Pestle Rock is doing Thai food differently than everyone else in Seattle.The dishes here are from the Northeast “Isan” region of Thailand, so this is where you come to try something new (like crispy marinated chicken wings coated in Thai chili and lemony noodles with garlic-steamed pork belly). Take into account the super-friendly staff and cozy red-brick interior, and you might never want to order delivery Pad Thai again.
Hotel Albatross is like a Reel Big Fish song personified as a bar. It’s wacky, has a tiki theme, and is best enjoyed with middle school friends, tater tots, and tropical drinks - all that’s missing is your black-and-white checkered Vans. Show up with your crew and order a round of puffy tacos (made with semi-fried tortillas), frozen cocktails, and if you’re immune to shame and regret, a six-pound plate of tater tot nachos is calling your name.
Having a drink at The Sexton makes us feel like we’ve found ourselves in the middle of rural North Carolina. In a good way. There’s no wifi, it’s extremely folksy, the bar top is like a cassette tape DIY project, and you can have the bartender surprise you with a custom cocktail to go with your chicken pot pie.
Gracia is an upscale Mexican spot with tacos so good that we’ll forgive the fact that the chips aren’t fresh. Come for happy hour (before 6pm) to get the best per-taco value (four dollars each as opposed to $14 for two), and be sure to include the beer-battered rockfish and lamb barbacoa in your rotation. Gracia works for a first date, group dinner, or even a solo margarita before heading home after one of those days where tequila is necessary.
Percy’s & Co. feels like that one friend you have who’s a little too much into LARP-ing successfully renovated a vintage brick building to look like an old-timey apothecary. There are plants sprouting out of test tubes secured by clamps, old tchotchkes you’d find on a deteriorating sunken ship, and cocktails that sound like chemistry experiments and have ingredients like sage-infused bourbon and benedictine. Hang out on the back covered patio, order anything off of the Southern-style menu (get the cajun popcorn), and hope that that same friend doesn’t bring up the renaissance fair again.
Ray’s needs no introduction, except that they have valet parking, which is pretty great. Come with people you like, sit outside and feast your eyes on the Puget Sound sunset views, pass around some fish and chips or crab cakes, and call it a day (or, technically, a dusk).
Stoup Brewing is a well-kept secret to anyone who doesn’t live in Ballard. Drinking here is like having a beer in your buddy’s garage where he brews his own. There’s a wall covered completely in bumper stickers, the bar shares a room with the massive beer-making tanks, and there’s a rotating food truck parked outside for when you get the drunchies. You won’t find any mango-guava weisse here - just seriously well-done classics like pilsner, IPA, and saison.
Delancey is the pizza experience that couldn’t be farther from your futon, Netflix, and six-pack ritual. It’s a cool pie place where you’ll want to call ahead and make a reservation for a celebratory dinner involving, wood-fired pizzas with super-charred crusts and fancy vegetables (get the brussels sprouts with leek vinaigrette and goat gouda). The pizzas don’t hold up well, and you’ll need to use your fork and knife, but they taste pretty damn good. The place is very minimally designed, which means you’ll actually have to come up with things to talk about. After a couple bottles of red, we think you’ll manage.
Shingletown Pub is a dive bar, but with string lights, nice people, solid bar snacks, and no sticky floor (unless you spill a pint of beer, and that’s really your fault). Order something cold and interesting on draught and share an order of pretzel-crusted cheese curds. If that didn’t convince you, on Tuesdays, everything is two dollars off. Go wild.
So, you took your random out-of-town acquaintance to the Ballard Locks and you should have known it would be astoundingly anti-climactic. Luckily, the same underwhelming experience will not happen at Red Mill across the street, where you can get a diner-style burger, a paper sack full of the best onion rings in Seattle, and a milkshake in an outrageous flavor like s’mores or truffle mint. You’re not coming here for the ambience - you’re coming here to spread out at a picnic table while blissfully unaware of how many calories you’re consuming. This burger competes on the Lil’ Woody’s level for best in Seattle.