Navigating Seattle’s rugged dining scene can be overwhelming for first-time visitors – but it’s definitely worth the effort. Here is a quick FAQ to help visitors navigate the various terms, dishes, neighborhoods, and city names.
Q: What food is Seattle famous for?
A: As you may have heard, this city takes its seafood seriously. Salmon is such a part of the region’s culinary identity that Sea-Tac Airport holds a small ceremony each year for the special Copper River salmon that is flown in from Alaska. Tourists also like to dodge flying fish at Pike Place Market. Shellfish are a staple in Seattle, from the many places to slurp fantastically salty oysters to those that serve geoduck (pronounced “sticky duck”), a huge, sought-after clam that sometimes surprises newbies with its strange appearance. Look out for popular spots like Lark in Capitol Hill, How to Cook a Wolf in Queen Anne, and Fremont’s excellent Japanese soba shop, Kamonegi. But Seattle does many cuisines well and is perhaps best known for its many incredible Asian restaurants, particularly Vietnamese and Japanese. Pho is ubiquitous around town, and teriyaki – this sticky-sweet Japanese-American dish – is a Seattle specialty popularized by Toshihiro Kasahara at Toshi Teriyaki Restaurant in the 1970s. John Chung gives the classic a popular Korean touch.
Q: What the hell is a Seattle dog?
A: It’s a hot dog or sausage that’s pickled in cream cheese and grilled onions. The story goes back to the late 1990s when a bagel cart became a little villain in Pioneer Square. While it sounds strange, whether you grab one at the Pike Place Market or one of the many street stalls around town, these preparations are surprisingly good. Would you like to try the most extravagant version of the city? It is the salmon roe-covered homage to the dramatic Deep Dive bar under the Amazon spheres.
Q: Should I bother standing in line at the Original Starbucks?
A: Depends on your patience. Starbucks’ faux-riginal location on Pike Place Market always has an epic line (the real original was nearby on the corner of Western and Virginia) isn’t worth it. However, visit the company’s sleek, modern, copper-plated Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room on Capitol Hill (1124 Pike Street), where fresh bean specialties are served direct to baristas and serve a variety of fascinating concoctions with or without syrup and whipped cream. The space even houses a full bar, and a high-end Italian bakery called Princi has set up shop to serve customers every day with flaky cornetti and other breads and baked goods that are freshly baked all day.
Q: What’s the nicest restaurant in Seattle?
A: From a French steakhouse to a northern Italian restaurant to world class sushi, there are plenty of places in town that are worth making big bucks. But perhaps the most famous mainstay for fine dining is Canlis in Queen Anne. Family-owned and run since the 1950s, this iconic restaurant, whose chef Brady Williams won the 2019 James Beard Award, is still family-run. One of the few permanent menu items, the Canlis salad, is an icon. The rest of the menu spins and the service is peerless.
Q: Where do Seattle locals eat?
A: As any traveler might notice when they first visit the city, there are many different neighborhoods on the outskirts with thriving restaurants and bar scenes. Most locals try to avoid tourist attractions like Pike Place Market and the Space Needle whenever possible by staying close to their home while eating while avoiding traffic and crazy parking situations. Of course, there are some neighborhoods with more robust options than others. Capitol Hill seems to be opening a new hot spot every week, the International District is a destination for lots of amazing Asian dishes, and both Fremont and Ballard are popular areas for some of the city’s young emerging chefs. West Seattle is a short hike from the main Seattle hub, but has great views of the water and lots of great restaurants, including Marination Mai Kai and the famous Ma’ono Roast Chicken (which tourists and locals love). If you head to South Seattle, you’ll find local favorites like Island Soul (Caribbean and soul food), the new Homer (Mediterranean) restaurant, and some of the best smoked meats in town at Emma’s BBQ. When in doubt, stop by one of these great coffee shops to get some caffeine in and fit in with the crowd.