The Best Restaurants In The Central District
photo credit: Nate Watters
The Central District is so much more than just the neighborhood directly south of Capitol Hill—it's home to Seattle University, the Northwest African American Museum, and a ton of great restaurants and bars. Use our guide to find the best around the area.
Communion was the last important restaurant opening of 2020, but most certainly not least. Owner and chef Kristi Brown (of That Brown Girl Cooks fame) had spent most of that year feeding those in need during the pandemic while preparing for the restaurant’s grand opening with her son, Damon Bomar. We’re glad to see a Black-owned business back in the Liberty Bank Building again, serving comforting soul food influenced by Ethiopian and Vietnamese cuisines. The cornmeal-battered catfish po’mi is an ideal cross between a remoulade-laced po’boy and salty, pork pate-slathered bánh mì, the lemony lentils that come with their (also delicious) berbere grilled chicken are legendary legumes, and their nutmeg-forward peach cobbler would delight anyone from the south. Communion is a fantastic addition to the entire city (let alone the Central District) for a truly exciting dinner out.
Catfish Corner’s return to the Central District after a 12-year hiatus is a huge deal. Talk to anybody who lived or worked in the area in the ’90s and you’ll likely hear stories of post-workday fried seafood or lunchtime Southern sides. It’s clear that the new Jackson location is here to achieve the same goal as before: to serve the neighborhood delicious comfort food. The nine-piece, half-pound catfish meal is the first thing to order if you want to see what made folks so heartbroken when they originally closed in 2009. The dredge has a light dusting of cornmeal, which really lets the tender catfish shine, unlike puffier beer-battered versions elsewhere. To top it off, there’s plenty of table and booth seating. Put this counter-service spot on your list to bring large groups, like your fantasy basketball league or your cousins and their six screaming children.
You could make a whole meal out of just the beef cheek noodles and Moscow mules at Reckless Noodle House. The heat is balanced, the beef is tender, and you may be tempted to come back tomorrow and eat it all over again. Also, the walls here are covered in murals, fish jaws, and coffee sacks, so the whole space feels like a refurbished pirate ship.
There are few things we have very few complaints about, if any—crewneck sweatshirts, a walk around Green Lake on a crisp fall day, and the entirety of Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave (especially the “Chunky” sketch). Poke from Seattle Fish Guys is also on that list. Between the soy-marinated tuna, spicy salmon, furikake rice, and smoky macaroni salad, this is a bowl that’s better than the sum of its parts—even though each part is excellent.
This is a bakery that serves pastries that are so beautiful, you almost feel bad to take a bite and destroy the artful creations. To be clear, we said almost. If you’re looking for some protein, their breakfast sandwich is made with bacon, cheddar, and chives (or poblano, swiss, and mushroom) baked right into an egg patty and placed between halves of a tender wheat bun. We’d order that wheat bun by itself to eat simply with a pat of salted butter. And in terms of baked goods, it’s hard to go wrong with their jammy caramelized shallot croissant with nutty gruyere, an also-nutty pistachio schnecken, or just a handful of macarons.
If you walked into Wood Shop, polished off an order of jalapeño mac and cheese balls, and walked out, it would be a wholesome night in our book. But you should extend your stay for the smoked ribs, kale caesar, and pulled pork, too. This is one of our favorite places to hang out in the CD, and you should make it “your place” immediately—especially because they have live music and lawn games on summer Fridays.
Ba Bar has excellent Vietnamese food in a dark space that’s always a party waiting to happen. We’d be happy with just a pile of the caramel fish sauce wings, but we suggest the noodle soups and pastries, too.
You can easily spend an entire afternoon at East African Imports perusing their spices, groceries, homewares, and other goods imported directly from Ethiopia. But you should stay for lunch, because there’s a restaurant hidden in the back past the store aisles. It’s one of the few Ethiopian spots where you can get incredible dipping sauces like awaze, a spicy berbere paste thinned out with areke liquor, and senafitch which is a mustard sort of similar to horseradish. These dips are traditionally served with tre siga, a.k.a. tender cuts of raw beef, but you can (and should) ask for them on the side of any dish. Dunk some tibs in the senafitch and wrap them in injera for a tangy, acidic bite.
Having date night at L’Oursin is like slipping on a pair of sepia-lensed sunglasses. Everything from the walls and chairs to the basket of citrus at the bar is a different shade of gold. Aside from the Wes Anderson color palette, there’s also excellent French food here, which you can enjoy with a glass of natural wine (they specialize in it). Take your time reading the creative descriptions on the cocktail menu and order some semi-frozen chocolate mousse.
If you find convenience stores enjoyable, consider Chuck’s Hop Shop the Disneyland of bodegas. It’s like your friend’s makeshift garage hangout that also has a lot of gummy candies and chips available for sale. Choose a beer on-tap or grab a six-pack from the back refrigerator case, and then drink until you’re in the mood to grab a meal from whatever food truck is parked out front.
Café Selam succeeds in a neighborhood already full of Ethiopian restaurants because it's the most reliable and comforting of the bunch. The dining room is almost always packed with regulars, which is a good sign to begin with, and the food holds up. Most of their vegetable dishes are made to order, and their tibs always nail the perfect ratio of spice to onion to garlic. Their takeout operation is also a well-oiled machine, so if the restaurant’s full, just bring the stuff home to enjoy on your couch.
Ezell’s doesn’t drizzle their fried chicken with artisanal wildflower honey harvested by yogis, nor do they use cave-aged gruyere in their mac and cheese. But we don’t need anything fancy when we can have delicious spicy drumsticks and thighs with mashed potatoes, gravy, and soft rolls that could be used as pillows at night. Even though Ezell’s is a Seattle chain, the Central District spot is their original location, so it kinda feels like you’re reliving a sacred piece of fried chicken history.
Standard is an excellent spot to get some friends together for beers, especially if it’s nice out and you can find a spot on the patio. Everything they brew is great, from IPAs to fruitier things. If you’re hungry, they also have a nice lineup of hot and cold sandwiches.
If you’re having a dumpster fire of a day, we recommend Fat’s. And even if you’re not, let’s pretend that you’re really torn up about your Roomba accidentally hurling itself down your stairs. Hennessy-infused butter is one of the better waffle toppings we’ve tried, and Fat’s is where to find it. Both the butter and a stack of waffles taste really good with the herby fried chicken here, but make sure you order at least one thing with andouille gravy.
Zagol sets itself apart by offering a traditional coffee ceremony, complete with an in-house roast, three different strengths of brew served in ceramic mugs called sini, burning incense, and popcorn for snacking. Their menu is a delicious split between vegetable and meat combos, and—if you’re up for it (and really like lentils)—we recommend ordering all three misir dishes. Between the spicy red misir wot, alicha misir in its mild turmeric sauce, and garlicky difin misir, it’s a party for legume enthusiasts. Zagol is also ideal if you’re in the mood for seafood, and with three different fish dishes on the menu, your best bet is the asa gulash, a fish stew with ginger, onions, garlic, and berbere. Whatever you choose, take the time to end your meal with the coffee ceremony, smoking beans and all.
Agelgil is an institution, and their meat-forward dishes absolutely stand the test of time—like berbere-kicked key wot and collard greens stewed with short ribs. The dining room is huge, and it usually only gets crowded later in the night, so this is a perfect group destination for an earlier dinner. And don’t be shy about taking your leftovers to work the next day—”agelgil” means lunchbox in Ethiopia's spoken language of Amharic.