Updated December 23rd, 2021
It’s not breaking news that Seattle gets a bad reputation for “the rain.” Sure, there are 152 rainy days per year on average, which is more than most U.S. cities. But hardly any of those days occur during the summer—it’s a fact that makes us appreciate everything about living here. But most of all, it makes us appreciate Ray’s.
This seafood institution on the water in Ballard is 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 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 gift shop full of plush peanut butter cups. And when you don’t have those late-July views to put you in a good mood, the expensive, generally mediocre seafood is not what you should be eating in a city with so much excellent fish to offer. You’ll be much happier at The Walrus And The Carpenter, RockCreek, or Local Tide.
photo credit: Ray's Cafe
And yet, we love Ray’s anyway. Why? Because the food is 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 of Shilshole Bay, and string lights. In other words, Seattle summertime gold. It does get busy on nice days, but that just adds to the celebratory energy. 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.
Once the rainy season ends, we encourage you to claim your spot on the deck at Ray’s among the happy crowd. Split a bottle of ice-cold Sauvignon Blanc 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. 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.
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The Bread Basket
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 around $50 for a salmon special.
Ray’s Clam Chowder
A pretty underwhelming clam chowder. 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 content.
The evenly-distributed dressing has a good ratio of mayo to lemon to anchovy, and the croutons are good. It’s a decent caesar.
Dungeness Crab Dip
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 this one.
True Cod Fish & Chips
This is your order. The breading on the fresh cod here has the perfect crunch and the right amount of salt. Ask for the fries on the crispier side, and dip them in the homemade tartar sauce.
Dungeness Crab Cakes
These are solid 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.
Blackened Salmon Tacos
There will usually be a special menu insert, and these blackened salmon tacos will usually be on it. Not earth-shattering, but tasty enough.
Grilled Wild Alaskan King Salmon
If you’re looking for a full meal, the well-cooked salmon (served with potatoes and a vegetable) is your best bet. But at $44, you’re really better off with fish and chips.