Ten Restaurants Seattle Needs Now

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

As I’ve written about restaurants for the past seven years I have focused not only on Seattle but on restaurants all over the world. After eating here and abroad, one can’t help but make some comparisons. And for awhile, I felt disappointed in Seattle from a food perspective. It’s not that we don’t have some absolute standouts. We do. We even have a few that would compare to restaurants in any major food Mecca. It’s the missing pieces that cause me to lament our local food scene. But the more I thought about it, the more i realized, that given its size, and relative to similar cities in the rest of the country, Seattle is actually no slouch. I put Seattle in the same league for restaurant quality and diversity as Boston, Washington, DC, and pretty close to San Francisco and Los Angeles. I consider all these cities basically food peers. Chicago is above them all, and New York (of course) well above that.

And while Seattle can hold its own, it’s by no means complete. There are many holes in the Seattle restaurant scene, and I’ve listed the things I miss the most below. I have little doubt that this list will spark some good debate. But if I am informed that I’ve overlooked some key Seattle food outpost, I’ll be only too thrilled to check it out. Also feel free to suggest if I’ve missed some glaring holes. I’m sure I have. Here we go (in no particular order):

  1. A proper pastrami sandwich. — Yes, I’ve been to Goldberg’s, Roxy’s, and Market House Meats. I don’t always follow the maxim that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, but in this case I will (follow the maxim). We’re not talking about rocket science here either. I want something that approximates Katz’s Deli in New York. And frankly, I don’t think that’s too much to ask for. Fly it in if you have to.
  2. Delicious Dim Sum — I don’t understand why a Pacific city like Seattle with a healthy population of Chinese immigrants doesn’t have high quality Dim Sum, but it doesn’t. We’re bookended by San Francisco and Vancouver (and especially Richmond, B.C.) and all of them have fantastic Dim Sum. So should we. See Sun Sui Wah in Richmond, B.C. for reference.
  3. High quality Chinese food — I’ve recently discovered two pretty excellent sources for Szechuan food in Seattle. Not world class per se, but with some pretty great standout dishes — Szechuan Chef in Bellevue, and Chiang’s Gourmet in North Seattle on Lake City Way. These are in the same class as (or perhaps slightly better than) Sichuanese Cuisine on Jackson in the I.D. But for Mandarin or Cantonese the best I’ve found is Hing Loon. And while I’m fond of the ladies who run the front of the house and have had many consistently decent meals there, it’s not what we deserve in terms of higher quality Chinese Food. See Hunan Homes in San Francisco for reference.
  4. Dunkin Donuts — Waa waa. I can hear the complaining. Yes, this is a corporate donut chain. Yes, we have Top Pot, and even Daily Dozen. I like both and they clearly have their strengths. But when I’m not in the mood for hand-crafted mostly cake donuts (I know Top Pot has some raised, but not as much of a selection as I’d like), or for mini-cinnamon and sugar donuts, I want a broad selection of fried-donut goodness, and Krispy Kreme is just too sugary for me. Dunkin Donuts chocolate frosted, jelly filled, and honey dipped hit exactly the right spot. And it’s crazy to me that we don’t have one. I believe that the Dunkin Donuts ads that come on TV periodically are designed to torture me personally.
  5. In-N-Out Burger — Since we’re on the topic of fast food chains, nothing beats In-N-Out Burger in my opinion. The hamburgers are loaded with flavor and freshness, and perhaps most importantly, have the perfect ratio of meat and accompaniments to bun. I’ve had ridiculously expensive hamburgers made from wagyu beef and filled with foie gras. They simply do not compare to In-n-Out. And don’t even mention Dick’s to me. Seriously. Don’t mention it. Hey In-n-Out folks, how about expanding north?
  6. Authentic Israeli falafel — Falafel is a staple across much of the middle east. But did you know that while some of it is made from chickpeas, some is also made from fava beans. Also, size varies across this region. Bottom line, I like all the varieties but I’ll admit to being partial to the Israeli chickpea-based moderately sized falafel balls. The endless bowls of various chopped salads and pickled items just make the experience positively perfect for me. For awhile a lovely gentleman of Moroccan Jewish descent ran Kosher Delight down in Pike Place Market that did a pretty good job on this front. But he’s long gone and nobody has replaced him to my knowlege. Rami’s in Brookline, MA does a really excellent job at this, as do I’m sure many outlets in New York City. They’re more focused on chummus, but I’d settle for a branch of NYC’s Hummus Place as well.
  7. A really good bagel — No, I’m not referring to bagels from New York City. They’re fine, but not even close to the best in my opinion. Strangely, the source of the best bagels on the planet, IMHO, is Canada. Toronto and Montreal to be specific. And these fine cities produce not one type of superlative bagel but two! The Toronto bagel embodied by Gryfe’s Bagels is light and airy — almost bread-like. I can eat 3 between the cash register and the car and not even notice. The Montreal bagel, exemplified by St-Viateur Bagel is chewy, flavorful and almost more in the realm of the pretzel. Beggars can’t be choosers and I’d take either one. Right now the bagel choices are sad here in Seattle. Won’t someone take pity on us?
  8. Refined and delicious Indian cuisine — To me, the regional standard bearer is, of course, Vij’s in Vancouver. I’d heard that there was a possibility he’d bring some of his expertise to a Seattle outpost possibly partnering with the Wild Ginger ownership. But that was a few years ago and I’ve seen nothing since.
  9. Fine vegetarian vegetable dining — While I wish there were more original superlative fine dining in Seattle, I’m relatively content with Lampreia which is absolutely world class from my perspective. Some cities don’t even have that. But, some of my absolute favorite high end meals have been all veggie. One at Alain Passard’s L’ Arpège in Paris and one at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York City. To me the transcendance happens when the chef decides to cook vegetables in a way that celebrates the vegetables, and abandons any notion of trying to compensate for the lack of meat in the dish. This is when veggie dishes truly shine. Don’t compensate, vegetables are amazing enough on their own and should be highlighted. This restaurant I’m wishing for wouldn’t be all veggie because of a disdain for meat, it would focus in this fashion because of a deep love of vegetables.
  10. Street food. Really diverse street food.Asia has some of the best street food in the world. The middle east is pretty amazing too. But at this point I’d settle for New York City’s predictable street food vendors or Portland’s more diverse street food conclaves. Personally I’d like the city to insist that Thai street food vendors be imported to practice their craft on Seattle’s streets. But that seems unlikely, so I’ll settle for something more local. I know some folks may be working on this, so please please hurry. When I need meat on a stick, I can’t be expected to actually go inside a building to get it. I want it on the sidewalk and I want it now.
  11. Pizza. Actual real good New York pizza. (BONUS #11) — While I’m not a fan of NYC’s bagels, just about any random pizza place you walk into on any corner in Manhattan is going to be way way better than the best pizza you can get in Seattle. I don’t know if it’s the water, or the temperature of the oven. And no, I don’t want to bake it at home. My oven is not suitable for baking a pizza no matter how many bricks I jam in there. Memo to the next person who’s dying to open a restaurant that serves lots of salmon and other pacific northwest specialities [sic]. The salmon are endangered and I’m sick of them anyway. Good pizza… not endangered. Just impossible to find. Like the sasquatch. When you open your new pizza place, a trip to Totonno’s on Coney Island will be necessary for reference.

That’s the list. Restaurateurs please seek financing, and critics let your arrows fly. :-)

See all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries at our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.

25 Responses to “Ten Restaurants Seattle Needs Now”

  1. Sean P. says:

    Dunkin Donuts used to have stores in the area, but they all shut down years ago.

    Seattle is finally getting good street food, though I have to admit that I wish more of it were designed with eating while walking in mind. Bratz in the U District gets a lot of credit for actually asking me if I wanted to eat my food at the counter, at home, or while walking.

  2. [...] See the article here: tastingmenu » Ten Restaurants Seattle Needs Now [...]

  3. Zach says:

    I have to disagree with a lot of this.

    For Indian, I enjoy Annapurna Cafe (Capitol Hill), but my tastes lean far more towards rustic than “refined.”

    I have had some really excellent Cantonese food in Seattle, most recently at 663 Bistro in the I.D. I’d call it high quality, but again, not exactly “refined” if that’s what you’re looking for.

    It’s way out of the question to expect Seattle to beat Vancouver and SF at Dim Sum, or to beat New York at bagels, pizza, or Jewish food. You could write the same thing about Vancouver not having decent burgers (for instance).

    And as for street food… Marination Mobile? Tako Truk? Skillet? Just to name a few. I haven’t tried any of these but some get good reviews. We don’t have the kind of street food scene that a lot of larger cities have, but give it time (and dense population growth necessary to approach the size of a DC or a Boston).

    And as for burgers? I’ve had In-N-Out. I’ll concede they’re better than Dick’s, but we’re not really talking about good food here if we’re talking about that kind of burger. Red Mill is in a whole different league.

  4. Dawn says:

    I agree with all of this, except for #4. :) I never thought anything could replace the Dunkin Donuts of my childhood, but I’m perfectly happy with a Top Pot doughnut. Although I have raised it with the Top Pot folks that I miss my raised apple cinnamon doughnut from Dunkin, so more variety would be great.

    My favorite Chinese spots are Szechuan Chef (mentioned), Chiang’s Gourmet (mentioned), and Jack’s Tapas – check out Jack’s if you haven’t.

    For pastrami, have you tried I Love NY Deli? It’s pretty decent. Beyond the Pike Place Market stand, they’re going to open a second location in the U-District.

    Zach, definitely agreed that we have some good street food, but we really have nothing on Portland, so saying that we’re not a larger city like DC or Boston isn’t an excuse for us. I didn’t understand what people meant by the Portland street food scene until I went down recently. I want Whiffies Pies!! Luckily, Skillet is working on gathering a bunch of vendors together to take some baby steps toward the street-cart-clusters that Portland has. I hope it works for them and spreads further around Seattle.

    NY Pizza – I hope Delancey’s lives up to the pre-opening anticipation. Everyone is hoping that we finally get some good NY pizza around here.

  5. jinushaun says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! With the exception of Dunkin Donuts, you’ve listed pretty much most of my Seattle food gripes.

    1. A proper pastrami sandwich would be great, but a proper Jewish deli would be better and on Capitol Hill would be best. It’s really shocking that I have to go into either a sandwich chain or a sit-down restaurant to get a pastrami sandwich. I know I Love New York deli recently opened up in the U-District, but their Market location has really inconsistent reviews.

    2 and 3. Seattle is simply not a Chinese food city. As a result, I think most people grow up not liking Chinese food. Maybe it’s the quality, maybe it’s the lack of options. As a local that has grown up with Seattle Chinese food, I just simply don’t care.

    5. I will agree with you here. Fast food burgers beat giant expensive “gourmet” burgers any day of the week for me. Seattle really isn’t a burger city either. It’s always at some fancy sit down restaurant, or a chain restaurant. There’s a reason why the lines at Red Mill are so long: Seattle doesn’t have enough great burger shops!

    8. I will have to disagree here. We have quite a few really good Indian restaurants, and refined doesn’t always mean delicious. I follow hole-in-the-wall theory. However, I do hate that most if not all Indian restaurants in the area resort to a buffet during lunch. I’ve had too many bad Indian buffet experiences… It seems to me like their food is not good enough to stand on their own so they have to cater to the value market instead.

    9. Thank you for pointing out my biggest gripe with vegetarian cuisine and restaurants in general: a disdain for meat, instead of a love for vegetables! How about instead of making dishes that substitute meat with tofu, make a meal that highlights how great vegetables are instead?! It’s not rocket science, and there are native vegetarian cultures around the world that don’t instantly run to tofu as their first vegetarian option.

    10. Seattle seriously lacks street food! Sure Marination Mobile et al are a good start, but we need more! Why don’t we have hot dog stands during the day? Where are the ice cream stands? I think the real culprit here is the history and geography of Seattle. Historically, people didn’t really live in downtown proper. Just compare the walkability of Seattle to Vancouver or New York and it’s quite apparent. (That’s why I think Seattle needs more condos and apartments!) As a result, there was never and demand for street food.

    11. I’ve never had a proper New York pizza, so I really don’t know what I’m missing. Until then, I perfectly satisfied with Pagliacci’s

  6. Paul says:

    For a good dense bagel, go to Sweet & Savory in Mt Baker on 31st ave S. I think they only make them on weekend mornings. Superb.

  7. Venkat says:

    I like this list. I don’t agree with all of it, but it will generate some good comments and thoughts.

    Vij’s in Vancouver is tough to beat, but at the other end of the spectrum, Traveler’s is fast becoming my favorite Indian food in town (apart from eating at home of course :) ).

    Nothing much to add otherwise. I live over in West Seattle, and we’re suffering big time for choices. There have been some good openings in the recent years, but nothing really off the beaten path in my opinion.

  8. Frank says:

    People that compare I Love NY Deli to something like Katz’s have never had Katz’s.

    I’ve actually had most of the exemplar’s you’ve noted, and I have to agree with you.

    Pizza is where I see the most hope.
    Looking forward to Delancey.
    I’ve found Bambino’s by Seattle Center to be pretty decent in the NY style (compare to say Lombardi’s style).

  9. Dawn says:

    Frank, I hope you didn’t think that “pretty decent” equals “comparable to Katz’s”. ;) Like I said, I agree with every one of these points, including that we could use a proper pastrami sandwich. Just filling in the holes with suggestions as Hillel asked.

    Oh, BTW, for bagels, my Seattle favorite is Bagel Oasis.

    And to add #12 to your list: we’re missing a place with proper Italian pastries, like a good cannolo.

  10. Landon H says:

    9 letters, 2 dashes: Chick-fil-A

    (Maybe Waffle House while we’re at it?)

  11. Cheryl says:

    I really have NO arguments with this list at all. NY style deli and pizza, I don’t care what anyone says, there is no comparison to either outside of NY, not that I’ve found anyway. But oh, wouldn’t it be nice if we had one, or both, right here in our fine burg.

    I’m with ya on the Dunkin’ Donuts (or Winchells). They make a great pot of coffee, the donuts are “old school” (i.e. they remind me of my childhood in CA in the 70′s), and sometimes, I just want a good old fashioned FRIED donut, with all it’s bad goodness.

    Bagels… hmmm, well I’ve always been a fan of the NY (Jewish) style bagel. Chewy, yet soft. With lox. And capers. And red onion. Wait. That brings us back to good deli. Hello?! Could we please have one now? And no, to the people who have never eaten deli in New York City, again there is ZERO comparison. Chain shops cannot duplicate Katz’s. The end.

    Good Chinese would be great. But I don’t have an expectation to find it here, like I would in San Francisco, LA or New York. Just sayin’.

    My other gripe, esp being a West Seattle resident, is just to have more “mom & pop” shops in general. I don’t care if they’re huge. I don’t care if they’re fancy. I just want GOOD, simple, REAL food. Street food is definitely a part of that equation for me. I miss good street food; taco stands, hot dog stands (oy, what I’d give for a good Chicago style hot dog), ice cream trucks, middle eastern, etc. We may not be a “walking city”, but damn we are a NEIGHBORHOOD city.

    Why can’t we can more local street food in our ‘hoods? From what I hear it’s more of a city health department & permit issue than anything else. Or at least, I know that Skillet and Marination have had problems getting the “rights” to set up shop at various locations throughout the week.

    Hey, it could be worse. We could be living in Iowa.

  12. [...] » Ten Restaurants Seattle Needs Now Syndicated from tastingmenu » Ten Restaurants Seattle Needs Now.One at Alain Passard’s L’ Arpège in Paris and one at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in New York City. To [...]

  13. Ashley says:

    Gosh I agree with you on so much of this! Seattle NEEDS a really good pizza place, really good burger place, and really good bagels! Also, (coming from someone who grew up in San Diego), I have never found an amazing Mexican food place around here either!

  14. another thrown away chef says:

    is seattle ready to pay for these items????what does a really good pastrami sammy cost in NYC it would cost the same here, good pizza that would be great but you need good taste to start.
    the Chinese food is what it is, i miss d&d too. Unfortunately you left out a diversified dining scene, take a look at all the top restaurants menus, they all have the same shit on them, what your talking about is junk food yes the junk food sucks here, but so do the diners, “top”restaurants and so on. This city’s restaurant scene is becoming a joke $15 or less is what opens NO High end. seattle wouldnt know what to do with somthing good even if it sat on its face! 1 year your hot the next your ready to flop.

  15. riders says:

    I like delicious foods,such as thai food,japanese foods and chinese foods.

  16. In regards to your comments about NY style pizza in Seattle…

    My family has been operating Vince’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria since 1957. There isn’t a week that goes by that haven’t heard from a transplanted New Yorker that Vince’s pizza is just like the pizza they grew up on.

  17. LunaCafe says:

    I’ve been waffling on this for some time now, as I live in both Seattle and Portland and love them both. But the truth is that I enjoy eating out in Portland far more than Seattle these days.

    The food is consistently more interesting, varied, and usually better executed. You want pizza? There are 3-4 really excellent contenders. House-made pastrami? Fantastic choices. New wave sandwiches? Portland has them. Street food? Definitely.

    When someone asks me where they should eat on a visit to Portland, I rattle off a dozen or more restaurants I think are really memorable, both from a food and a unique atmosphere point of view. When I am asked that same question about Seattle, I begin to stutter.

    Where is the truly memorable food? Food you want to go back for again and again? My bar is low. If a restaurant has 1-2 stellar dishes, that’s enough to get me back. Mostly I leave Seattle restaurants mildly disappointed and perplexed.

    To compare Seattle to Boston seems to me to miss the mark entirely. Boston pushes the culinary envelope in it’s fine dining venues. Not saying these dishes are always successful, but innovation and cutting edge is not the general direction of equivilent Seattle venues. Boston is a very exciting food city. Heading there on an eating tour in September to make sure this is still the case.

    OK, let the arrows fly… :-)

  18. [...] LunaCafe: I’ve been waffling on this for some time… [...]

  19. JonnoN says:

    Dim-sum – Jumbo’s (Rainier & Genessee) is superb, much better than House of Hong or Ocean City. Hong’s Garden in Renton is also excellent.

    Pastrami – Tat’s East Coast Deli (Pioneer Square). I don’t know how their Philadelphia style compares to New York (its on a hoagie), but I love it.

    Street food – Portland’s Cart World is unbeatable.

  20. Kevin Paulich says:

    I grew up in LA with both Dunkin and Winchells nearby. I much prefer the latter. When I moved to Seattle in 1970, there were plenty of Winchells. Oh how I miss Winchells.

  21. Jim says:

    Several of these food items aren’t on my menu, but I basically agree with the premise. I just returned from five weeks in NYC where all of this and more is available at good prices and thoughtfully served service is pleasant surroundings.

    Last Thursday I went to in Chinatown where I ate mediocre food in a recommended restaurant that was filthy and where the wait staff was distracted and neglectful.

  22. Heather says:

    I think Bengal Tiger has great Indian food, and the best falafel I’ve had, ever, is from Zaina. They have two location, on on Cherry in Pioneer Square, and one on Pine Street between 1st and 2nd – or maybe 2nd and 3rd? It just opened. They used to be in the bottom of the Macy’s garage before the Columbia store was built.

    We just need a real New York deli, where you can get a rare roast beef sandwich on a hard roll. Why do no sandwich places here offer hard rolls? Dry, overcooked roast beef, terrible bread.

  23. Andrew says:

    For number 6 try Mawadda Cafe at Rainier and Henderson.

  24. JenMoon says:

    NYC is my second favorite city; I love Seattle. But I miss Katz’s regularly. There is a good place up on Roosevelt and 90th or 100something or other but it just isn’t worth the drive when I want them to hand me a “taster” slice and then a HUGE fatty yummy pastrami sandwich.

  25. JenMoon says:

    and #11…I’d rather have Chicago pizza. U Village, Delfino’s stuffed pizza. I’d rather be eating Giordano’s but this is really good too…

Leave a Reply