It’s getting to be one of the best times of the year to visit Seattle and I have a handful of friends coming in the next six weeks or so, all asking for food recommendations. My mom just visited last week and my dad comes this weekend, so restaurants have been on my mind lately. I thought that I’d long ago put together a list like this of places I like to eat in Seattle but in searching through the archives it looks like that was in a distant dream, so I thought now was the perfect time. I decided to organize this list in categories — Lunch, Dinner, Sweets and Cocktails — as that’s often how I kind of mentally categorize places. Maybe it will be helpful to you at some point if you find yourself in our city, and when you do, may there be no shortage of chocolate layer cakes, flaky croissants, excellent french fries, wood-fired vegetables and oysters. Not necessarily in that order.
Din Tai Fung: Dumplings! Soup dumplings! Bok Choy and Green Beans with Garlic! This kid-friendly spot in the University Village shopping center is always a favorite; we love coming here for an early weekend lunch, and it’s become a new must for out of town guests.
Le Pichet: A great day date spot, we usually come to this French cafe for a light lunch although they do a really nice dinner as well. The simple Salade Verte is a favorite as are the Broiled Eggs with Ham and Cheese, and the French Onion Soup.
Cafe Presse: Owned by the same folks behind Le Pichet, this tiny-bit-more-casual French spot makes my favorite french fries in the city. The simple baguette sandwich always tastes just right, and they’re very pro-lingering if you need a good spot to catch up with an old friend or tuck into a good book.
The London Plane: This is one of the more beautiful spaces in Seattle and a great place to meet for a light bite. I never find their food incredibly substantial, so I’d go in more of a light lunch or snack frame of mind … or just to gawk at the stunning pantry or floral counter bursting with local blooms. Avocado toast and the beet hummus are my go-to’s. Also a little-known fact: their cookies are only $1, and they’re the perfect size (not too huge) and quite tasty.
The Fat Hen: I come to The Fat Hen for casual lunch meetings. It is a sweet neighborhood spot with pretty perfect baked eggs (I always order the In Camicia – simple tomato, mozzarella, basil) and benedicts. Because it’s such a small space, it gets pretty crowded on the weekends, so if you’re able to come on a weekday, you’ll be happier for it.
The Wandering Goose: Owner Heather Earnhardt was born in South Carolina and makes a mean Southern biscuit. And Southern layer cakes. And mac and cheese. We love what she does so much, we had her do our wedding cakes, and people raved about them for days after (we chose the Southern Coconut Cake, Lemon, and Brownstone Front). For brunch, I usually order the Bubble and Squeek (beef brisket hash situation) or the Veggie Plate (pimento mac & cheese, collard greens, Sea Island peas, buttermilk biscuit) and we usually get a slice of cake to go. This is one of my favorite spots in the city to eat when I reallllly feel like eating.
Cafe Besalu: This Ballard bakery makes a killer croissant and slice of quiche. I’m not usually one to get excited about quiche, but it’s light and delicate and perfect here. The constant line out the door attests to that.
Honore: Also a strong contender for best croissant in Seattle, Honore makes wonderful macarons and canelé as well.
Coyle’s Bakeshop: New to the Greenwood neighborhood, Rachael Coyle’s bakery has become a favorite of ours. She makes great buttery scones and savory croissants (Sam loves the Ham and Cheese). I think Rachael’s chocolate cake is also really special: both the cake and the frosting are light and airy — very different from many American-style layer cakes. Her housemade caramels are also delicious; she made a bunch for us that we served at our wedding.
Hotcakes: I would’ve never thought I’d fall for Autumn Martin’s virtually towering homemade s’more, but I have: homemade graham cracker and marshmallow and house-smoked chocolate. Plan to split it with a friend as it’s large. The peanut butter cookies are also always perfect.
Spinasse: This romantic Italian spot (lace curtains! dark wood! Lillet and Aperol!) is our go-to date or celebration restaurant. While you won’t often read about it on “best of” lists, it’s a not-to-miss if you have time for a few meals in Seattle and like Italian food. They’re well known for their pasta with butter and sage which is so simple and delicate. They often have a tagliatelle special, a trout I really love, and always feature an Antipasto Misto Della Casa, which is a great way to sample a number of the antipasti.
Delancey: Even if Molly and Brandon were not close friends, I’d say the same thing: this is the best pizza in town. They often have a wait, so conveniently Essex, their craft cocktail bar next door, will likely have a stool for you. My favorite pizza is the white pie (add preserved meyer lemon and kale if you’re feeling fancy) or the housemade sausage. Sam’s favorite is the cremini.
The Whale Wins: Boasting a beautiful pantry and overflowing rustic platters of baked goods, chef Renee Erickson’s wood-fired chicken and vegetables are the stars here. The sardines on toast, and any of the salads are also always two thumbs up. Really light, airy space that’s perfect for a long, lingering lunch or cozy dinner.
Bar Sajor: I’ve long loved Matt Dillon’s approach to food: simple, vegetable-heavy, innovative flavors yet very unfussy in approach. This Pioneer Square restaurant is no exception; it’s a beautiful space to meet for early drinks and snacks, or to come and share heaping plates of wood-fired vegetables and seafood.
Manmoon: This Middle Eastern restaurant on Capitol Hill is one of those places I often bring out of town guests. The food is always interesting and delicious and the cocktails are creative and strong. Not to miss: the hummus is excellent (and Sam is very, very picky about hummus) as is the bateresh (charred eggplant and lebneh) and lamb meatballs. I also love cocktail #5.
Poppy: How to describe Poppy? I think it’s just a great deal of fun to eat here. They specialize in “thalis” or platters that I generally associate with Indian food but here they have a distinctive Pacific Northwest influence. Each thali comes with a main dish (such as lamb osso bucco or yogurt and poppy seed chicken with fried onions and raisins) and is accompanied by a small little soup, salad, a few interesting seasonal side dishes, naan, and often some sort of a local pickle. Dessert here is innovative, too — I have yet to try the Nutter Butter square but have heard it’s delicious (and Tim just blogged about it).
Cafe Lago: If you’re looking for an incredibly classic, tasteful, no frills Italian restaurant Cafe Lago is it. They make great meatballs and the lasagna is something to marvel over: paper thin noodles, seemingly weightless ricotta cheese — I often order a half order of the lasagna and meatballs on the side. Their chicory ceaser salad is also a must, and we always share an order of Carla’s biscotti at the end of the meal.
La Carta de Oaxaca: If you like authentic, no frills Mexican food, this is your spot. Generous portions, relatively inexpensive, lively space in downtown Ballard. Chicken mole tamales or mole enchiladas are my go-to’s here (note: it’s a stone’s throw from Hotcakes –above– if you’ve saved room for dessert).
Cafe Munir: This is a real neighborhood spot close to our house, so it’s perfect for a healthy walk followed by reasonably-priced, authentic Lebanese food. I love the beets and lebneh and the hummus with sizzling lamb. The savory pastries are also great (love the little cigar shapes!) and they have a nice whiskey selection, too.
Damn the Weather: Tucked away little spot in Pioneer square with creative cocktails and good french fries. The bartenders are always open to creating something special for you based on what liquor (s) you’re most excited about, too. Mellow, romantic atmosphere; they serve a proper dinner too although we’ve only come for drinks and snacks.
Barnacle: If you’ve ever been on the wait list at The Walrus and the Carpenter, chances are you are well acquainted with Barncale, the adjoining bar. They have a really nice wine list and make a great negroni along with a wealth of other well constructed cocktails.
Essex: Americanos on tap. Gracious bartenders who will make you just what you have in mind. Olives and toasts for snacks. What more do you need?
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.