Chances are, you don’t live in Seattle because it rains all the time. You probably didn’t choose to move here for all the passive aggressive people, either. You picked this city because of something else - a great job, or proximity to your family, or the fact that the summers are so gorgeous they make it easy to forget about the other seven months of rain. Sort of.
If that last reason played into your personal decision-making, you will definitely appreciate Ray’s. Ray’s is a seafood institution on the water in Ballard that’s Perfect For one specific situation: sitting on the patio in the summertime, drinking some wine, watching the sunset, and making plans to bring all your out-of-town visitors (and all your money) back so you can replicate the experience.
You shouldn’t be going out of your way to eat here in the winter, or anytime when you’d be sitting inside. The dining room feels a little like a vacation lodge at Hershey Park (without the animatronic peanut butter cups), and when you don’t have the summer views to put you in a good mood, the expensive, generally mediocre seafood is not what you need to be eating in a city with so much excellent fish to offer. (You’ll be happier at The Walrus And The Carpenter, RockCreek, or even No Anchor, if you get some seafood rolls).
And yet, we love Ray’s anyway. Why? Because the food’s good enough for the times when the sun finally comes out, you put your sunglasses on, and you think, “I remember this hot bright thing.” When this happens, Ray’s becomes a totally different restaurant. It’s a feel-good situation with a massive balcony deck, plenty of tables, an incredible water view, and string lights - in other words, Seattle summertime gold. It does get busy on nice days, but that just adds to the celebratory feeling. When it’s chilly, the servers will even hand out blankets, so you can retreat into a personal cocoon while eating some perfectly acceptable fish and chips and looking out over the water.
All of which is to say that, in the summertime, we encourage you to claim your spot on the deck at Ray’s among the crowd of happy, suddenly-not-so-passive-aggressive Seattleites. Split a bottle of wine with some friends, dodge the occasional airborne crayon or two courtesy of the child sitting behind you, and take in the view of Puget Sound right beyond your table. Just make sure to get a photo of the whole scene so that come October, when you lose your left shoe (and your dignity) to some quicksand-like mud at a Snohomish corn maze, you can remember that this is why you live in Seattle.
We’re not 100% sure if the rolls in this bread basket are actually good, or just taste good because they’re free, but either way, ask for extras and live life to the fullest. You deserve some free carbs when you’re shelling out $59 for a salmon special.
A pretty basic clam chowder - good, but we’re still wearing our socks. If eating a creamy, bacon-y soup on the balcony at night while wrapped up in a blanket is a thing you want to be doing, you’ll be happy.
The evenly-distributed dressing has a good ratio of mayo to lemon to anchovy, and the croutons are good. A perfectly fine caesar.
Avoiding swiping up pools of grease in this dip is kind of like a game - only not very fun, and too easy to lose. Skip.
The breading on the fresh cod here has the perfect crunch and the right amount of salt. Plus, the fish is usually not greasy. Ask for the fries on the crispier side, and dip them in the homemade tartar sauce.
These are good, most of the time, with the exception of an unfortunate burned crust on a recent visit. The sides rotate seasonally, but our favorite one so far has been garlic mashed potatoes with a creamy corn sauce and plantain chips sticking out of the top like bunny ears.
There will usually be a special menu insert, and these blackened salmon tacos will usually be on it. Not mindblowing, but tasty.
If you’re looking for a full meal, the well-cooked salmon (served with potatoes and a vegetable) is your best bet. But at $38, it’s not cheap.