How to Seattle: Food & Drink

The best side of Seattle is waiting for you at the hot dog cart.

by Stranger Staff

It’s true that Seattleites can come off as shy at best and emotionally unavailable to a clinical degree at worst. The Cascadia subduction zone has taunted us all our lives, reminding us that our time on Earth is finite. Is it any wonder we haven’t bothered with human connection? But there is one surefire way to soften our stiff exteriors: Food. Something happens when we convene in the waiting area of a favorite brunch spot or stand in line to buy a hot dog slathered with cream cheese at 2 am. We talk to one another. We bond over steaming bowls of pho and burritos the size of babies and slices of cakes that are so expertly crafted, they’re worth the 30-plus-minute wait. If you want to find the best version of Seattle, start with really good food. 

Deep-Throat a Seattle Dog at 2 am (or Anytime, Really)

Various locations

One might pause before deep-throating a hot dog slathered in cream cheese and onions at 2 am, but if you haven’t had a Seattle Dog then you’re truly missing out on the best food option for your drunken night out. Concentrated along the curbs of popular nightlife areas like Capitol Hill, these hot dog stands feed the masses in both vegetarian and carnivorous forms. (A couple favorites include Monster Dogs and Dante’s Inferno Dogs.) I can’t guarantee our Northwestern ways won’t upset your stomach, but if we’re all going to die in a giant earthquake, it’s worth checking this delicacy off your bucket list despite any aftershocks. (NICO SWENSON)

Devour a Burrito as Big as a Baby at Gorditos Healthy Mexican

Greenwood

Steve weissman

I am a lifelong vegetarian, which means that my diet consists primarily of burritos. So, believe me when I say that trying a new burrito place is risky. For one, you never know how big your meal is going to be—I won’t name any names, but I’ve been disappointed by a meek six-inch-tortilla burrito before. That’s why I appreciate the genius marketing that is Gorditos’s “baby burrito.” No, it’s not a burrito made for a baby, but rather a burrito that is the size of an actual infant (see for yourself—the restaurant is plastered in photos of newborns beside their foil-wrapped counterparts). Plus, there are so many vegetarian fillings beyond the standard fajita veggies—tofu, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, avocado, steamed vegetables… the list goes on! There’s also meat—your choice of chicken, steak, and pork—if you’re into that kind of thing. (AUDREY VANN)

Dine at the Bar at Canlis

North Queen Anne

Contrary to conventional belief, you don’t have to drop $400 to enjoy this stunning and historic Seattle institution. Turns out, you can just show up and sit at the bar. Established in 1950, Peter Canlis and his family created a restaurant that’s known across time and space for its hospitality, creativity, quality, and sheer voluptuousness, and they have a whole swimming pool of James Beard awards to show for it. Anyway, the lounge is right next to the entrance, totally separate from dining, and you can just go. Canlis has loosened the dress code since the dotcom boom, when all the millionaires were 22 and couldn’t be pried from their gravy-stained Linux T-shirts, but you should make an effort. Put on some decent shoes and maybe a jacket, tell the host you’d like to be seated in the bar, and order a drink and the emblematic Canlis salad. A nod to the Canlis family’s Mediterranean roots, it comprises romaine, preposterously high-quality bacon, cherry toms, scallions, fresh mint and oregano, shredded Romano, an eggy-lemony Caesarean dressing, and the most incredible mind-bending croutons that’ve been fried in the acorn-fed, shade-grown bacon fat. Eat yer salad, nurse your drink, and listen to the pianist, who was playing “Poker Face” the last time I was there. Damn, look at you. You eat at Canlis. (MEG VAN HUYGEN)

Chomp on Grasshoppers at a Mariners Game

SoDo

There are Mariners fans and then there are Mariners fans who eat grasshoppers. I’m not telling you which one to be, but I’m telling you that when your ballpark is one of two ballparks in the country (the Oakland Coliseum is the other) that sells chili-lime grasshoppers, you take pride in that weirdness. Toasted grasshoppers, or chapulines, are a common and beloved dish in parts of Mexico—especially Oaxaca. Edgar’s Cantina in T-Mobile Park, named after Seattle Mariners Hall of Famer Edgar Martínez, sells chapulines and many games sell out of these delicious little bugs before the first pitch is even thrown. (RACHEL STEVENS)

Taste the Original Teriyaki at Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill

Various locations and Mill Creek

Comprised of sticky-sweet glazed chicken thighs, mounds of steamed white rice, and that little cup of crunchy iceberg salad in a creamy sesame sauce, Seattle-style teriyaki is the city’s unofficial comfort food. In 2010, The New York Times declared the local dish the Emerald City equivalent of a Chicago dog. We can thank Toshi Kasahara, who founded Seattle’s first teriyaki restaurant in 1976, for that—Kasahara popularized a sweeter, more syrupy style of the Japanese specialty. Find the ubiquitous staple at any of the teriyaki shops dotting the region—a few favorites include Mikou Teriyaki in Georgetown, Choice Deli & Grocery in Ballard, Nasai Teriyaki in the University District, and Teriyaki Madness, which has multiple locations—or make a pilgrimage to Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill in Mill Creek to try the original. (JULIANNE BELL) 

Order Literally Anything at Fuji Bakery

Interbay and Chinatown–International District 

The cream cheese croissant at Fuji Bakery. MS

Fuji Bakery is the place where any order is right. Their spread is dazzling: sugar-dusted malasadas overflowing with sweet gobs of matcha or ube cream, crispy chicken katsu or egg salad sandwiches made with fat slices of fresh-baked milk bread, deep golden croissants, custardy canelés, and more. I found Fuji (or Fuji found me) shortly after moving to Seattle three years ago, and in that time, I’ve tried nearly everything without disappointment, but the unassuming milk stick, a plain-looking chewy loaf sliced down the middle and slathered with a pillowy sweet cream filling, has emerged as my favorite. At no fault of Fuji’s, parking at its main bakery in Interbay is unwieldy, but worth braving. If you’re in the Chinatown–International District, check out the walk-up storefront on King Street. (VIVIAN MCCALL)

Sip Seattle History at Monorail Espresso

Various locations downtown

Monorail Espresso has a plucky Old Seattle vibe and likes to remind people that it was slinging coffee in Seattle “since 1980 B.S. [before Starbucks].” Their origin story is slightly debatable—Charred-bucks actually opened a few blocks away from the first Monorail Espresso cart in 1971. Fuck Starbucks, though—many locals avoid the chain, partly due to their anti-worker and union-busting ways. What Monorail Espresso undoubtedly DID coin first is their signature burnt cream latte, and you absolutely must try one if ever you find yourself in the downtown grid before closing time. (They have five locations scattered throughout, but they all close by 5 pm, sometimes sooner). The recipe for this smooth, custardy, not-too-sweet confection is an ancient Seattle mystery, so we can only guess what elixirs are in there. Suffice it to say that Monorail’s Arabica house roast is strong but never bitter, the foam is like cashmere, and the deep, rich flavors of slightly scorched brown sugar, butter, and toffee will envelop your orbitofrontal cortex like a jaunty scarf for the rest of the day. Uh, a cashmere one. (MEG VAN HUYGEN)

Tuck into Tacos Inside an Old Bus at Tacos El Asadero

Columbia City

Sure, you’ve heard of a taco truck, but have you ever eaten tacos inside a revamped vintage bus? That’s exactly what you’ll find at this hidden Columbia City gem, which has been around since 2006. Park yourself on a seat at the cramped but cozy bus’s metal counter and tuck into tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tortas, mulitas, or sopitos, stuffed with succulent lengua, birria, carnitas, asada, or adobada. (Outdoor covered seating is also available for the claustrophobic.) This experience, paired with an afternoon viewing at the Beacon Cinema (just a short 15-minute walk away), is my idea of a perfect solo date. (JULIANNE BELL)

Pretend You’re in France at Le Pichet

Pike Place Market

As I was thinking about my favorite things to do in Seattle, a lot of the activities ended up being some form of “pretend to be French.” Carry around a freshly baked baguette at the farmers market! Buy flowers and smell them cartoonishly while looking at a body of water! Wear ballet flats in very bad weather! The Frenchest possible thing to do, however, is go to Le Pichet, just a whisper away from Pike Place Market (the ideal location for all above behaviors). Le Pichet, a staple since 2000 by a former chef at Campagne, is the closest Pacific Northwest equivalent to sipping rosé at lunch in the Luberon. Everything about the cafe is classic, from the daily charcuterie and fromage specials on the blackboard to the herbaceous salads and unctuous onion soup to the multiple sizes of pichets (pitchers) of wine to the sturdy little coupes you’ll probably spill a little bit anyway, as you people watch on a sunny afternoon. (KATHLEEN TARRANT)

Cozy Up with a Cuppa at the Historic Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House

Chinatown–International District 

Founded in 1910 (and built by Japanese American architect Sabro Ozasa), the Panama Hotel was once home to many of the city’s original Japanese immigrants, and the woman-owned Chinatown–International District institution still houses the belongings of formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans. (Just ask an employee about the old luggage stored beneath the Plexiglas floor.) Panama Hotel also contains the last remaining Japanese bathhouse, or sento, in the United States—it’s nonoperational but still has its original tiling and pre-war advertisements. These days, the hotel’s sweet little teahouse is lined with historical photos of Nihonmachi (Japantown), and you can still book an old-school room overnight to travel back in time. Don’t pass up a chance to pet the resident kitty, Miu-Miu. (LINDSAY COSTELLO) 

Take a Hit of Cristal at La Dive

Capitol Hill

For stoners who want a drink but can’t get the hang of consuming substances from a traditional glass, never fear—the champagne bong is here. At the cool Capitol Hill wine bar La Dive, you can sip champagne from a flute with a stem that looks sort of melted and works as a gravity-activated straw, of sorts, allowing you to suck up your bubbly faster and smoother, like smoke through ice. Careful, though—the champagne still makes you drunk, not high. (ASHLEY NERBOVIG)

Sit at Bruce Lee’s Table at Tai Tung Chinese Restaurant

Chinatown–International District 

Before he was an internationally renowned martial arts superstar, Bruce Lee was just a college kid in Seattle, and his favorite dish was the beef in oyster sauce from Tai Tung—today the city’s oldest Chinese restaurant, founded in 1935. Reportedly, Lee was such a devoted regular that he didn’t even have to order—he’d just sit down at his favorite corner table and the servers would bring him his food. Pay a visit to the local treasure to dine like the “Little Dragon” himself. Charismatic third-generation owner Harry Chan will greet you with a smile, and you’ll see that Lee’s entree of choice is still a banger, swimming in savory-sweet sauce. (He was also a fan of the garlic shrimp, so order that for extra credit.) Follow up your pilgrimage with a visit to the Be Water, My Friend exhibit at Wing Luke Museum—it’s just a block away—to learn more about Lee’s life. (JULIANNE BELL)

Split a Slice of Cake at Deep Sea Sugar & Salt

Georgetown

Just a few of Deep Sea Sugar & Salt’s cake slices. MS

The line for Deep Sea Sugar & Salt cake shop can stretch down the street on sunny weekends. Go there anyway. Charlie Dunmire’s cake empire lives up to the hype, with a rotating menu of about a dozen different cakes and cupcakes on any given day, and there’s not a single dud in the bunch. You’d be wise to take a friend and split some slices for maximum menu sampling. The lemon layer cake has a tart citrus bite that will tickle your parotids; the s’mores and key lime cakes wear caps of puffy, fluffy meringue with peaks reaching out and just begging to be plucked with a finger. One surprising mainstay is the London Fog. With Earl Grey cake, honey and Earl Grey syrup, bergamot mascarpone cream, and tangy cream cheese frosting, it sounds like it would be flowery and herbal, right? Somehow, thanks to Dumire’s wizardry, the combination of flavors surpasses the expectations of the individual parts, and it tastes like sophisticated Froot Loops. (MEGAN SELING)

Dominate the 12-Egg Omelette at Beth’s Cafe

Green Lake

If you think you’ve got what it takes to go toe to toe with a truly formidable food challenge, say hello to the famous 12-egg omelette at one of Seattle’s most iconic haunts, Beth’s Cafe. This mountain of a meal is served with all-you-can-eat hashbrowns and your choice of toast, and it’s so intense that back in 2009, Man v. Food host Adam Richman couldn’t finish the damn thing. Thankfully, they also serve up a more manageable six-egg version, and their late-night weekend hours (they’re open til 4 am Friday and Saturday) provide a perfect end to a night of hard partying. The city’s breakfast options looked bleak when Beth’s was forced to close for more than a year during the pandemic, but Seattleites rejoiced when the greasy spoon reopened in 2023, bringing their massive meals with them. (KEVIN DIERS) 

Enjoy Eggs That Bleed Without All the Cruelty at Life on Mars 

Capitol Hill

The Benny & the Jets at Life on Mars. COURTESY OF LIFE ON MARS

Don’t forget your cell phone, because this is one of those dishes where the camera eats first. Life on Mars is a plant-based, music-themed bar and restaurant located on the corner of East Pike Street and Harvard Avenue, and their Benny & the Jets dish—available during Saturday and Sunday brunch—is a completely vegan eggs benedict. And they’re not cheating with some half-assed turmeric-covered tofu patty. No, Life on Mars uses Yo Egg, made of chickpea and soybean protein, to very successfully mimic the photogenic bleeding yolk of a poached egg. As a vegetarian, I do have to warn you that it’s not an exact dupe, but it reaches an itch that vegans otherwise cannot scratch. (HANNAH KRIEG) 

Indulge in a Fancy AF Burger at Gainsbourg

Greenwood

The Gainsbourger at Gainsbourg. Meg van Huygen

A great burger is, of course, a core litmus test of a city’s restaurant scene, and Seattle’s got a stacked roster when it comes to burgerball. The MVP among them is in Greenwood, at French-ish bar/bistro Gainsbourg. The Gainsbourger is equal parts lamb and beef, grilled and served simply on thick brioche with caramelized onion confit, a smear of dijon mustard, and house gherkins on the side, and it is succulent. Everybody knows about this luxurious lamburger because you can get it à la carte during happy hour (all day on Mondays!) for $7, less than half price! But it’s somehow even better with Gainsbourg’s skinny, crisp duck fat frites, accompanied by housemade ketchup and aioli, so if it’s happy hour, tack those guys on. You gotta. And it doesn’t need it, but if you wanna go all out, adding a fried egg and a slice of Gruyère cheese to the Gainsbourger punts this thing into the fricking stratosphere. (MEG VAN HUYGEN) 

Then Eat the Burger Your Inner Child Craves at Loretta’s Northwesterner 

South Park

Loretta’s Tavern Burger. COURTESY OF LORETTA

Loretta’s Tavern Burger’s ingenuity lies in how simple it is: beef, melted cheese, pickles, onion, special sauce, bun. The beef is charbroiled to smoky perfection, the cheese cheeses, the alliance between the pickles and onion is holy, and the toasted bun holds it all up. It tastes exactly the way I remember burgers tasting when I was a child—slightly greasy, but refreshing and supremely filling. The burger pairs well with a beer (duh), their fries, and a hockey game played on mute at the back of the bar. (JAS KEIMIG) 

Drink Beer for Blocks in Ballard

Ballard

Are you on your way to Fremont Brewing’s local physical location, because you’ve seen their beers in local grocery stores? Get off the bus, tap your designated driver’s shoulder, or tuck and roll out of your rideshare car. Fremont cofounder Sara Nelson, who sold her controlling stake in April 2024 when she became the city council president, has since been a governance disaster and minimum-wage combatant on our city council, so we don’t condone supporting anything affiliated with her, and you can do better beer-wise, anyway. Seattle’s edge-of-Ballard stumble-block is legit, stretching from Northwest 54th Street and 17th Avenue Northwest to Northwest 49th Street and 8th Avenue Northwest, with roughly a dozen breweries to choose from—and most of these encourage dining at neighboring food trucks during prime hours. Reuben’s Brews and Stoup Brewing are the neighborhood’s gold standards in terms of award-winning concoctions, drinking variety (from sticky-icky IPAs to smooth pilsners), and cozy indoor and outdoor seating, while Urban Family Brewing Company is Seattle’s utmost sour beer source. The rest are also worth the hit to your liver: Lucky Envelope Brewing for hop-forward delights, Obec Brewing for creative takes on European standards like the English Bitter, and Old Stove Brewing Company’s new Ballard location for a substantial beer garden and a solid BBQ food menu. (SAM MACHKOVECH)

Experience Seattle’s Best Salmon Sandwich at Local Tide 

Fremont

The Salmon Sando at Local Tide. Nathan To

There is no question of the Indigenous cultures that have flourished in close friendship with salmon, and the marvel of frothing river tops in seasons of migration. From the Tulalip to the Chinook, the tribes along the Pacific Coast have over millennia echoed in resplendent communion with their natural collaborators. The team at Local Tide approaches their salmon cuts—cured, slow-poached, and dissected into filets by tracing the natural grain of the fish—almost like artisans approaching a virgin piece of uncarved wood. Topped with pickled onions and placed in between toasted slices of brioche, there is simply nothing bad I could say about the Salmon Sando at the elevated Fremont fish counter. (ANN GUO) 

Crunch into a Ruffles Potato Chip Treat at Little Jaye

South Park

Little Jaye’s pastries are also available at Lady Jaye in West Seattle every Sunday morning. MS

One of Seattle’s best bakeries is tucked away in a quiet area of South Park, off the beaten path and easy to overlook. Do not. Chef and baker Charlie Garrison makes some of the best baked goods you’ll ever put in your mouth. There are trays of golden biscuits wearing crowns of raspberry, strawberry, and apricot jam, and tender Shokupan doughnuts overstuffed with chocolate and vanilla cream. Next to rows of big-ass cookies dotted with M&Ms, peanut butter chips, and Heath candy bits sit stacks of marshmallowy crispy treats. And we’re not talking about your basic back-of-the-box recipe to please picky kids. Garrison’s crispy treats are the size of bricks and loaded with a rainbow of cereals and stir-ins—Cocoa Krispies, Fruity Pebbles, Golden Grahams, freeze-dried marshmallows, chocolate chunks, and pretzels. The star of the show is the crispy treat made entirely of crunched-up Ruffles potato chips. The chips are thick enough to hold their own in the marshmallow bath, making for a decadent salty-sweet, crispy-crunchy marvel. (MEGAN SELING) 

Grab a To-Go Hombow at Mee Sum Pastry 

Pike Place Market and University District

A hombow from Mee Sum Pastry is the OG broke-joke Seattle snack. It used to be that they only made the barbecue pork one, but curry beef, chicken ‘n’ mushroom, and veggie versions were eventually added, and they’re all pretty nice. For my money, though, the classic barbecue pork is The One—something about how the liquid fat from the pork and the red, umami-heavy char siu barbecue sauce mixes with the steamy, slightly sweet Chinese roll. The chewy edges of the meat, the delicate crust of the bread, and the pillowy texture. A singular and specific heaven. (MEG VAN HUYGEN)

Savor World-Class Sushi (and Try Geoduck If You Must) at Maneki

Chinatown–International District

Newcomers may not know that, although our city is pretty fucking white, Seattle’s Japanese American community has been in town almost as long as any other group of settlers—the first wave of emigrants ar- rived from Japan in 1880—and is a crucial part of our culinary psyche. Opening in 1904 and named for the maneki-neko, the beckoning cat figurine that apocryphally brings good luck to its owner, Maneki is the oldest sushi restaurant in the nation, and it’s been a paragon of Japanese cuisine in the US for 120 years. The original building mimicked a Japanese castle, it had private tatami rooms, the servers wore kimono, and the restaurant could seat 500. But during WWII, when its owners were forcibly interned in camps, the building was vandalized and ransacked. Lucky for us, the restaurant reopened half a block away in 1946, with new tatami rooms. Currently owned by former server Jean Nakayama, Maneki’s known by locals as the untouristy spot for world-class sushi (sorry, Shiro). If you ARE a tourist, you can famously eat geoduck here, a PNW delicacy that’s honestly just a big expensive clam shaped like a dick. But like everything else on the menu, Maneki styles it expertly, sauteing it with mushrooms, butter, and chili. (MEG VAN HUYGEN) 

Fight over a Flight at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream 

Various locations

 

 
 

 
 

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A post shared by molly moon’s ice cream (@mollymoonicecream)

You’re gonna wanna try everything on the menu at Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream—staples include salted caramel, honey lavender, mocha chip, oatmeal cookie dough, and Yeti, a sweet cream ice cream base dotted with crunchy granola, swirls of vanilla bean caramel, and chocolate chunks. And the shop’s seasonal selections—loaded with everything from fresh fruits to locally sourced candy bits to hunks of fresh-baked cakes and cookies— are even more impressive! So you could go down the line and ask for a sample of every flavor on those tiny spoons—they will do that for you, they are very nice—or you could live out your Ziggy Piggy dreams with the shop’s infamous ice cream flight, a big bowl stuffed with mini scoops of every single flavor on the menu. That’s 15 scoops total! It is not for the weak. It is meant to be shared. Bring a friend or five and have fun fighting over who gets the last little melty bit of their mint brownie flavor. (MEGAN SELING)

People-Watch with a Boozy Slushie at Rachel’s Ginger Beer 

Various locations

I’m a lightweight and I typically don’t drink much, but when you give me the ability to make my own dark and stormy with caramelized pineapple ginger beer from Rachel’s Ginger Beer, it’s game over. There are four Rachel Ginger Beer shops around town, including Capitol Hill, University Village, the Amazon spheres in South Lake Union, and their flagship shop at Pike Place Market, and they all allow you to create your cocktail of choice (with or without alcohol) using any of their home-brewed ginger beer flavors as a base. (The current menu includes blood orange, white peach, pink guava, mango, and blackcurrant.) All locations have good indoor and outdoor seating (and Seattle has an open container law, so you’ll have to enjoy your drink there), but if you go the booze-free route, you can grab your concoction to go and make your way to another prime people-watching (read: tourist-watching) location. If you’re at Pike Place, I recommend the tables outside the north arcade by Old Stove, the Harbor Steps, or, if you’re up for a little more of a stroll, the waterfront towards the Great Wheel. (SHANNON LUBETICH)

Feast on Expertly Fried Fish at Emerald City Fish and Chips

Rainier Valley

I want to say straight off the bat that the best people work at Emerald City Fish & Chips, a small joint whose windows view Rainier Avenue and the ghost of Silver Fork, a restaurant and Black cultural institution that was replaced a decade ago by a Safeway gas station. Emerald City Fish & Chips is still here, and their two-piece Alaskan cod and chips are made with the kind of goodness (back-home goodness) you expect from some of the best people in my town. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

Eat at (at Least) One Restaurant from The Stranger’s Best Restaurants List 

Various locations

Bison barbacoa tacos and cedar tea at ʔálʔal Cafe. MEG VAN HUYGEN

It fills me with ardent and boiling rage when people say Seattle doesn’t have a world-class food scene, as they’re wanking to Michelin-starred food galleries for $200 a plate. We do. It’s just in weird office buildings and old dry cleaner shops, not 10,000-square-foot Redditorial gastropubs in the Amazon Village. Need proof? Just pick one recommendation featured in The Stranger’s 15 Best Restaurants in the Seattle Area 2023 list. It’s true that Seattle’s blue-collar, working-class soul has been tricky to find lately, but in this guide I tell you where it’s hiding. Notable entries include Watson’s Counter in Ballard, Stevie’s Famous Pizza in Beacon Hill and Burien, ʔálʔal Cafe in Pioneer Square (get the bison barbacoa tacos!!!), and Fort St. George in the Chinatown–International District. Don’t knock their spaghetti slathered with garlic mayo until you try it. Find the full list at thestranger.com/bestrestaurants, and look for the 2024 installment in July. (MEG VAN HUYGEN) 

Have you eaten all the best food in Seattle yet? Download a PDF of our checklist to keep track of your progress! 


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