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?
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)