Taste the West: Seattle
Discover top-notch seafood, coffee, and more culinary delights in this Northwestern foodie haven
The Seattle Center food court used to be a ho-hum mishmash of national chains. Now, with a new look and a new name—the Seattle Center Armory, a nod to its military past—it’s home to 14 vendors that serve as a mini Seattle culinary tour: blue cheese and bacon-jam burgers from Skillet Counter, BBQ sandwiches from Bigfood, and vegan pastas from Plum Market.
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Heralded more for its outstanding salumi sandwiches than for owner Gina Batali's connection to superstar brother Mario, Salumi Cured Meats is the place for pork lovers—and worth the wait. Every weekday, 9-to-5-ers queue up for the repertoire of lunchtime sandwiches made with meat dried and cured on-site, from coppa to finocchiona, a Tuscan salami flavored with a touch of curry.
The menu at sweets wizard Autumn Martin’s Hot Cakes is like an ode to Willy Wonka: signature molten chocolate cakes, baked to order; grilled chocolate sandwiches; even boozy milkshakes made with Scotch and smoked chocolate. Martin, a former Theo chocolatier, has created a Ballard dessert lounge that’s as inviting as the treats, with a savory menu to balance the blood sugar.
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Yes, you’ve got to snap a photo of the famous fish throwers, the world’s first Starbucks, and the 600-pound bronze pig. But to fully take in the Pike Place Market, stash the camera. Sniff down the trail of just-baked croissants and piroshkies. Listen to the creaky old floorboards, ferry foghorn, and street musicians’ medley, and inhale the salty Puget Sound air. Chat with farmers offering chin drip–juicy peach wedges and craftspeople selling handmade everything. But go soon and go often—the rows at Costco will never look the same.
Dozens of distilleries have popped up in the wake of a new, more relaxed set of Washington liquor laws. Sun Liquor is one of the best and the only bar in the state (and one of only three in the country) that makes and serves its own liquor. While there’s no official tasting room, the wooden bar with a view into the distillery is an excellent place to sip a cocktail mixed with seasonal produce and whatever liquor Chapman has running.
Think of Seattle as a body, and coffee as its blood. In the rich mix: Incredible local roasters like Herkimer, Caffé Vita, Cafè Fiorè, Lighthouse, Fuel, Victrola, Zoka, and oldie-but-goodie Espresso Vivace, which opened in 1988 and embodies the city's longtime devotion to perfecting how to roast a bean.
Seattle may be a casual town, but when locals want to fete a promotion or an engagement, they head to Canlis, the only restaurant in the city with an actual dress code. In 2008, the 63-year-old restaurant ditched the sauced fish fillets and chops that made it famous and recruited chef Jason Franey from Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York City. Now diners come for Franey’s more modernist dishes—smoked foie gras, pork loin with pine ash—though the restaurant’s 180° views of Lake Union and the Cascades remain, as does a tradition that requires men to don a dinner jacket in the dining room.
A few years ago, the Korean taco, a stupendous combination of garlicky charred beef and chili-soy shredded cabbage folded up in a corn tortilla, broke open what was possible for Korean-American food. Now, at their two restaurants Revel and Joule, Rachel Yang and her husband, Sief Churchi, are pushing the boundaries in their own way. If you have to pick one, hit up Joule—recently reborn as a Korean steakhouse inside the new Fremont Collective—for surprising combos like short ribs with grilled kimchi and, for brunch, oatmeal-stuffed porchetta and sesame waffles.
It’s impossible to choose a single favorite Seattle seafood spot, but the Flying Fish is definitely in our top 10. A beloved local staple, the restaurant does a fabulous job of marrying Northwest ingredients and Pacific Rim flavors—their Thai Crabcakes are local chef Maria Hines’ favorite dish. Packed with herbs and drizzled with a gingery lemongrass aioli, the combo kicks “the standard crabcake up a notch,” says Hines.
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As innovative as the city it calls home, decade-old indie chain Cupcake Royale recently churned out a new use for its sweet treats: As an ice cream sandwich for the ages. Imagine slabs of housemade ice cream, swirled with cupcake chunks and bracketed by firm slices of, say, red velvet or salted caramel cake, and you’ll understand why Seattleites are flocking, once again, to the pink-and-brown shop.