Welcome to The Infatuation Seattle’s Greatest Hits list.
We have an inkling that you’ve maybe listened to your fair share of “greatest hits” albums before, but unlike “The Best of Rick Astley,” this one is something you actually need in your life. The Greatest Hits is a short and sweet list of Seattle restaurants to hit up first if you’re new in town (or if you’ve been here for a while and have been sorely misguided) - restaurants that are essential to Seattle dining, from fresh oysters near the waterfront to bring-your-own-Tide-pen sandwiches.
Just like it wouldn’t be responsible to introduce your innocent niece to Britney Spears by pressing play on the music video to “I’m A Slave 4 U” and leaving the room, it’s not responsible for us to send someone unfamiliar to Seattle to some hip new Ramen-Mexican-French fusion joint without telling them to go to these classic restaurants first. Let’s just say these spots are never gonna give you up or let you down.
And if you’re looking for what’s new, check out our Hit List, a guide to the recently-opened Seattle restaurants most worthy of your time.
The hype is deserved. The Walrus And The Carpenter is more than a restaurant - it’s a Seattle dining rite-of-passage. Like your Bar Mitzvah, except with lots of shellfish, and after eating here, instead of becoming an adult, you become a true Seatown local. Mazel. This spot has many sister restaurants, but Walrus is definitely the first one you need to go to in order to set the benchmark for the rest. Get there while the sun’s still up, sit at the marble bar overlooking the wire baskets of fresh oysters, pound flutes of sparkling rose, and share some of Seattle’s best small plates. If you’re new to oysters, this is where to try your first. (Backup plan: get them fried.) And if you encounter a line? Grab an excellent cocktail at their Barnacle Bar next door while you wait for your seat.
You want to go to Italy, but you are such a procrastinator that you still haven’t gotten around to taking your passport photos, researching flight options and hotel deals, or learning how to say, “Please give me pasta and gelato until I tell you to stop.” In the meantime, you’re in luck: Cascina Spinasse exists. Stepping inside is like being zapped to a trattoria on the Mediterranean coast where some little nonna is in the back making eight pounds of egg noodles even though it looks like she’s about to snap in half. The service here is top-notch, the pastas are unbelievably good, and you don’t even have to deal with jet lag. Spinasse books up fast, so make a reservation and start thinking of reasons to ball out on fancy, perfect Italian food.
Nobody wants to wait a long time for a table. You’d probably rather play expiration date roulette with the random findings in your fridge than stand around for two hours - and when it comes to the excruciating wait at Kedai Makan, we felt the same way. That is, until we ate the incredible Malaysian food at this Capitol Hill spot. Dinner here is the kind of experience that you’ll feel the need to explain to any friends who can’t understand how fried rice, spicy frog legs, egg bread with lamb curry, and mushroom noodles are worth this kind of inconvenience. Defriend these people immediately, or just bribe them to come with you next time. They’ll be converted soon enough.
Say what you want about being a “local” and “used to it by now” - Seattle rain sucks. But the second the sun comes out, Marination Ma Kai is the one of the reasons we love this city, even though it’s like living on the belly of a wet dog for seven months. This is a seaside palace of Hawaiian-Mexican-Korean beach food (sounds questionable, is addicting), the best waterfront view in the city, and enough vitamin D on the patio to get you through next winter. Round up your crew, earn major bonus points if you have an out-of-town visitor (they’ll sign a lease that day), drink some lychee margaritas, and order everything on the menu and share. Your only requirement: the pork katsu sandwich.
Many of Seattle’s most solid Vietnamese food spots involve strip malls, fluorescent lighting, linoleum tabletops, and an ambience that doesn’t exactly beg you to stay a while. But Ba Bar is is home to both pho and partytime - which, as it it turns out, is a pretty perfect late-night combination (they’re open till 2am). There’s a dark, kind of sexy vibe, jazzy music, and a bar that’s so tall it requires a ladder to get to the Maker’s Mark. Knock back a few rounds of Nguyen Dynasty (gin, rhubarb syrup, lemon, prosecco), and eat steaming hot pho - or don’t. The appetizers here (like lemongrass beef skewers and soy caramel chicken wings) are so good you could make a full meal out of them too.
Opus Co. is the Greenwood destination restaurant that’s disguised as a neighborhood restaurant. The dining room is a tiny space that fits about 20 people and a dozen logs of firewood, and yet it still feels exciting just to be in there drinking a glass of wine at the counter and providing input on the Spotify playlist. We love everything on the grill-focused menu, which rotates based on three buzzwords of the season (for Winter, it was “apple,” “root veg,” and “brrr”) - one day you might eat roasted cauliflower with “squash guts mole” and some smoked sausage, and on another maybe an incredible seared salmon and a salad with tahini ranch and crispy falafel bits. You’ll never have the same meal twice here.
Quinn’s is the gastro-pubby superhero of restaurant situations. There is no scenario that it can’t roundhouse kick and conquer. Birthday dinner, first date, group hang, dragging the kids along, bachelorette party, guy’s night, eating alone at the bar, just cocktails and snacks, or relinquishing all evil (that one might be a stretch, but the stiff old fashioned and A+ fish and chips definitely help). The menu covers the entire spectrum of bar food, from fries to fancy scotch eggs to a wild boar sloppy joe topped with a duck egg (our favorite thing here), and the fact that it’s in Capitol Hill makes it all the better for a post-sightseeing meal or a launching pad for your night out.
Just like having certain people on speed-dial for when you need to vent about other horrendous human beings until you’re hoarse, you need to have a killer taqueria standing by for when you need margaritas and carne asada. La Cocina Oaxaqueña is that reliable Mexican restaurant that’s necessary in your life, just like your friend who puts up with too much of your sh*t. La Cocina is our favorite spot for Mexican food in Seattle, and shapeshifts extremely well for most situations. The large-ish patio gets plenty of shade for a tequila-fueled summer birthday dinner, and the dining room inside is dim and vibey enough for a date or small group hang. Just don’t invite any horrendous humans.
You might be skimming this list looking for Paseo, the legendary Seattle sandwich spot. Spoiler alert: you’re not going to find it. What you’ll find instead is Un Bien, the sandwich shop owned by the Lorenzo family - the original owners of Paseo. Because after being sold at auction to an investor with money to burn, the Paseo of today has become a shell of what it once was (due to the fact that said investor doesn’t actually own the real Paseo recipes). Thankfully, Un Bien is here to restore the Lorenzo name to its rightful place of sandwich glory - this is the real thing. If you’re new to town, you’re going to have a lot of people telling you to go to Paseo. But much like you during your angsty black eyeliner years, don’t listen to what everyone else says. Go to Un Bien and discover what a massive slow-cooked Caribbean pork sandwich with spicy aioli, romaine, pickled jalapeno, and cilantro on a toasty baguette is supposed to taste like: f*cking incredible.
If you’re a local, Pike Place Market is a place you avoid at all costs, and if you’re not, it’s a place you’ve been told to visit by everyone from your grandmother to your airline’s seatback-pocket literature. But The Pink Door is the only good reason to listen to them. It’s somewhere in between an Italian restaurant and a burlesque circus, with live music, quirky murals, and acrobats swinging from trapeze rigs above you and your linguine with clams. Then there’s the patio, which is like a Tuscan vineyard terrace with a waterfront view. The Pink Door is your Valentine’s Day dinner/anniversary HQ, your place to impress your parents, and your “I finally quit my terrible job and can start to feel what happiness is like” celebration. Make a reservation at least three weeks out, and get the lasagna. It’s the best in Seattle.
Porkchop & Co. sets the bar for every other benedict-slinger in Seattle. This feel-good neighborhood place serves the greatest brunch in the city. Everything here is made from scratch, from the poached eggs (that slow-cook in warm water for an hour and are the consistency of custard) to the porchetta benedict with pork fat hollandaise to the housemade biscuit with seasonal jam. Porkchop & Co. also serves dinner, but come here for Sunday brunch or regret it forever.
Bateau is not your typical steakhouse. You will not find people on business trips clinking glasses of bourbon over an deal or a back stockroom of A1 sauce. What you will find is a beautifully-designed, light-filled space that would remind you of a springtime bridal shower, were it not for the dining room window showcasing the raw cow carcasses that will be butchered for your dinner. That butchering is also what makes Bateau different - when your server/personal beef guru guides you through the choosing of your steak, they will use a ceremonial chalk staff to cross off your selection, because the cut of meat you just ordered is one of a kind. You will also order wine, fries (cooked in beef fat), and most importantly: the burger, even if it’s for just for the table. Bateau’s steak is excellent, but the burger will change your life.
Part of what makes Seattle so great is the local seafood, and Manolin is one of the best places to eat it. Dishes here look like they should be in the opening credits for Chef’s Table, but are actually just plates full of things you actually want to eat (like rockfish ceviche with lime, avocado, chile, and a mountain of fried sweet potatoes), and the light, bright, and colorful space is the kind you could hang out in for hours. The giant u-shaped bar area alone has incredible situational potential - from solo dining to a first date - and when you add in their outdoor patio/firepit area, you have a restaurant you actually just want to move into.
In Seattle, the Italian deli as a concept doesn’t really exist, and if you desperately need a mind-blowing cold cut sandwich, stop yourself before you order a BMT through your own tears at Subway, and make moves to Salumi instead. This is a tiny, weekday-lunch-only mecca of house-cured Italian meat and handmade mozzarella. The move is to take your sandwiches (and/or a couple pounds of sliced sopressata and salami) to a picnic, which will make your friends glad they kept you around even when you did that embarrassing thing that one time.
Mamnoon is a special place. Part of that is because of the incredible Middle Eastern food, and part of that is because it just has the Feel Good Factor. The thing that makes you want to come here again and again. The pita comes out of the oven hot, the mezze spreads are exactly what you want to share with people you like, and everything tastes exactly how you want it to. Mamnoon is one of those places that gets just about everything right - including the things we can’t even quite put our finger on. Hit it for your next birthday dinner, or just a lunch break when you need something great - they do a daytime takeaway window for falafel wraps and loaded za’atar fries.