The 60 hikes project is winding down, so it’s time for a new one, one designed to help explore the nooks of Seattle and have a little fun with people along the way. I’m calling it Let’s Eat: The Seattle 60.
The goal is simple; build a list of 60 restaurants, cafes and coffee houses – 6 from 10 of Seattle’s neighborhoods and enjoy an hour or so with friends and family. Who knows what’ll happen along the way. The scope will cover nearly every community of the city from Capitol Hill to Ballard, and from SODO to Fremont and all areas in between.
I’m sure this project will end up surprising me a bit, as it already has. I’ve had a chance to meet and spend time with some pretty cool and interesting people and the food and experience has been eye opening – that’s the goal, really.
My ratings: * – not the best experience, ** – good, will try again, *** – top-notch and will take friends and family from out of town for a visit. The order 1, 2, 3 is the visit order and has nothing to do with ranking!
Here’s the ever-growing list.
Wallingford neighbors Freemont, Ballard and the University district and rests on Lake Union. There, you’ll find Gasworks Park – a great family destination that captures the original heritage of the city through its exposed system of pipes from a long-gone industry. Wallingford though is a vibrant if not eclectic mix of residential homes, apartments and light industry.
Cantinetta – *** A second location for Cantinetta opened on Bellevue’s Main street in 2010 and it has been a huge draw since. Getting a chance to visit the original Wallingford location was a treat, with every bit of elegance I’ve grown used to at the Bellevue location – menu with seasonal ingredients, personal treatment by the staff. Some of the Bellevue favorites are on the Seattle menu (or is it the other way around?) – regardless, some excellent choices and no wrong ones.
Most tourists think of the Ballard locks when they think of Ballard but there’s so much more. This northeast Seattle neighborhood features a wealth of unique stores and restaurants that you’ll find no-where else. The area is known for its live music, restaurants and coffee shops.
Ocho – *** An intimate, rich experience awaits you at Ocho. The place started as a bar with tapas on the side but the tapas quickly became a major draw and after the first few it’s easy to see why. They are simply terrific all by themselves… and with the plates being small and very affordable, it’s easy to get a sampling of flavors to excite the palate. This is a ‘must’ if you find yourself in Ballard.
Le Gourmand – ** I enjoy the concept driving Le Gourmand, quality French-inspired cuisine using locally-sources organic ingredients. All are excellently blended to create palate senses out of this world. Quality touches were evident through-out, the cocktails were crisp and the dessert sweet and well-executed. The only nit is with the table, which seemed in the way with a constant buzz of staff navigating to and from the kitchen and patrons making their way to the restroom. This one is a must try again, but with a window seat for sure.
Ray’s Boathouse – *** The web site says that Ray’s is one of the ‘Must Visit’ places in Seattle and it was easy for me to see why. There are several dining experiences here, a formal, the bar and an outside patio. The patio on a beautiful sunny day is highly recommended, and if there’s a sunset happening, even better. Enjoyed the time at Ray’s with excellent service, quality food and balanced prices. All-around good time for sure.
The Matador – *** The Matador is a small series of restaurants but the Ballard location is the flagship and original. Boy, is this place original. The dark decor and expansive bar (in terms of size and offerings) is offset by the romance of candles that dot the walls. The food was stellar, but as this being Ballard, there was a wait on a Saturday night. All around great place.
Volterra – *** Another original in Ballard, the big city spot with local feel. The goal of Volterra is to bring the warmth and charm of Tuscany to this historic Seattle neighborhood. And they DID! The Polenta with Wild Mushrooms was out of this world.
Belltown has gone through a transformation over the last few decades. Originally a flattened area with low-rent and semi-industrial feel, it’d not a vibrant and trendy restaurants, boutiques, night clubs, and residential towers.
Tom Douglas: The Dalia Lounge – *** Walk through the door and you know you’re in a special place. The colors seem to grad you and lighten your spirit. The sound is even inviting – a nice din of a busy environment. But the smells make it worth sticking your nose up just a little bit. For 20 years this place has been at the epicenter of Seattle’s rising food explosion.
Queen Anne, Seattle is on the highest named hill in the area, and is surrounded by the Seattle Center to the west, and the Fremont area to the south. The name comes from the numerous mansions that follow the Queen Anne architectural style, many of which command sweeping views of the downtown skyline. A community unto its own, the hill has a wide variety of trendy restaurants, upscale hotels and popular bistros.
Racha – *** I love Thai food and I love Racha in Queen Anne. This was the last of the 6 places on the list to explore in the Queen Anne area and I have to say that it was the most memorable of the lot. The atmosphere was comfortable but the food was out of this world good. Great company with great attention to detail made my Racha experience
Canlis – *** There was a bit of magic in the air at Canlis this night. The atmosphere envelopes you with warmth; the glow of the candles sets the mood. The menu is filled with those comfortable ingredients we know and love and yes, they’re prepared in unique ways. And the presentation is just crazy good… and how can I forget the taste… all of this together is a killer combination.
How To Cook A Wolf – ** What a name! What an environment! What a menu! I found everything to be pretty good here in this great Queen Anne Hill destination spot. I also found it to be a little eclectic… and I’m not quite sure if this was fun for me or just distracting. Regardless, it was a fine experience all the way around.
Crow – *** I have come to cherish low-key neighborhood restaurants that aren’t big on big-chain flair or big-chain trends. Crow is one of these terrific places that offers rich foods, unique ingredients and a great overall dining experience. A great any night of the week kind a place without all of the theatrics others use to try to set themselves apart. Good good, great prices, great environment and prompt staff.
The Sitting Room – ** This is another bistro style local stop that is welcoming and nearly perfect in every way. There isn’t a big menu but there is a lively local atmosphere, an excellent small selection of small plates, daily specials and a full bar menu with specialty cocktails – I enjoyed the Queen Anne. On this particular night things got a little rough as a fight broke out in the back of the restaurant, something that probably doesn’t happen often here. The staff apologized to everyone 1:1 and the night of relaxation continued.
5 Spot – *** So much fun to be had at 5 Spot with the menu changing every 3 months, there’s always something new to sample. In the case of this dinner, it was Mississippi Delta Blues theme, compete with catfish and O Brother Where Art Though playing in the men’s room. There’s plenty of non-theme food on the menu too with regional classics to satisfy any appetite.
The Madison/Madison Park area is in east central Seattle and is quite a diverse neighborhood. The park, beach, upscale mansions and gated communities seem to be in balance with the eclectic and eccentric Capitol Hill neighborhood that shares a border. This creates a very unique atmosphere with diverse eating destinations.
Cactus – ** Fun, spirited and surprising describe the experience here. Enjoyed everything about Cactus, from the ultra-smooth tequila to the classic 3-way tacos. You can’t beat the location, in the heart of Madison Park with lots to do and see within walking distance. Oh, did I mention tequila?!? They have the best tequila…
Nashino – *** I’ve had sushi but never like this. The reputation for being one of the best places for fresh sushi is well-earned at Nashino. This was a spectacular night out with food, service and atmosphere being top-notch. The sake was sweet and smooth, fresh sushi and sashimi presented in one of the most appealing ways I’ve seen. Yum times 3!
Crush – *** Oh my. This has to be the best dining experience on the planet. There was never a moment when a water glass was empty, when there wasn’t food of some sort on the table or when the staff didn’t drop by to see how things were going. The subtle details of the modern decor, unique menu and stylish preparations of only the best ingredients show that there’s passion everywhere at Crush. And yes, I do have a crush.
Madison Park Cafe – *** made it to brunch at the Madison Park Cafe on a beautiful, sunny afternoon in Seattle. The cafe is surrounded by a park, beach and Lake Washington’s shores and with the shops, there’s always something going on. The cafe is small and perfect, homey and elegant and the brunch selections cheerful and surprising. This was a nice experience all around, not fine dining, but wonderful for a quick bite.
Harvest Vine – *** another example of fine dining in a casual and unpretentious atmosphere. Check out the menu, and drop by for a great experience with classic (and some not so classic) ingredients mixed up in unconventional yet amazing ways. Owner Carolin spent time with us, ensuring that we had the time of our lives. We did.
Rover’s – *** I wasn’t sure what to expect walking in the door of Rover’s as it has a huge reputation for excellent food. I was somewhat taken aback by the atmosphere, a bit too much formality for my liking but that all melted away by the time the meal started. Looks can be deceiving. The evening was filled with surprising preparations of French cuisine, all excellent in their own right.
The West Seattle area features sweeping views of the Seattle skyline, the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges and has a comfortable mix of residential housing and eclectic beach-side parks like the Alki area.
Circa – *** the highest-rated West Seattle place on the list is Circa, located just off Admiral Way in the heart of the business district of West Seattle. It’s a small pub-style place that’s big in atmosphere and heart. Wonderful food, excellent service and I welcome the chance to visit again.
Jak’s Grill – *** known for steaks and with a menu filled with a variety of great seafood and other classics, Jak’s is a place that exudes class. The steaks rival any I’ve had at the top places on the eastside for sure, and the staff went out of their way to make sure Susan and I had an amazing evening.
Spring Hill – *** another winner in West Seattle, and this one has a cool, calm and confident atmosphere and a menu to match. Unique presentations on some classic dishes and some unique spins on traditional ingredients make for one surprising dish after another. This all adds up to one magical night out.
Salty’s Alki – ** I suppose the best analogy to the experience at Salty’s is that of an orchestra. Like an orchestra, the instruments alone are good but not great, but when combined a symphony of wonder is created. Salty’s was kind of like that for me. The food was good but not great, the view was amazing too, and the staff was helpful but not out of this world. When combined though, it was a fine dining experience.
La Rustica – *** La Rustica can be quite busy on a Saturday night and while there isn’t much of a waiting room, the wait is worth it. This gem with a Puget Sound view is a find in West Seattle with service, atmosphere and food in equal parts of excellence. A healthy sampling of drinks, appetizers, main courses and desserts both surprised and tantalized – a great find.
This is also known as the U District but known for the University of Washington located in the area. The University campus is simply beautiful in its own right and with the sheer number of students housed in the area I’m hoping to find some fairly eclectic and inexpensive – yet really good food.
Agua Verde Cafe – * very highly rated and I can see how at one time it was an *amazing* place but I didn’t see amazing. OK drinks, inattentive staff and so-so everything else. Great location though and kudos to the green efforts they have in place – not sure I’d go back.
Northlake Tavern & Pizza House – ** Friends recommended a stop at Northlake after a quick bite at Aqua Verde and wow, what amazing pizza – now that’s what I’m talking about. Check out the history page to see how they make these monster pizza pies. Go hungry or don’t go.
Portage Bay Cafe – *** Wow, what a fantastic place for brunch with an rich menu filled with locally grown organic ingredients – the place combines a vibrant atmosphere, great food and great staff – what else is there? … would definitely go back. The rest of the menu, outside of brunch looked just as inviting.
Tempero do Brasil – ** It’s nice to experience authentic international food in a way that’s unpretentious and unfussy. Tempero do Brasil takes pride in preparing authentic food from Brasil using authentic ingredients… and though I’m not Brazilian, I can appreciate the unique creations.
Downtown is where Seattle’s tourists and business professionals interact and where you’ll find some of the city’s most famous attractions. The waterfront, Pike’s Market, the Seattle Art Museum are all well-known destinations for tourists and locals alike. Visiting downtown has almost always been with out of town guests, showing the ‘tourist’ sites. Hopefully this project will help build a little more cultural diversity into future ‘tourist’ visits.
Ipanema Brazilian Grill – ** a friend helped me understand the tradition showcased, well, interpreted by the Brazilian grill. I’ve been to a few of these types of places, including one in Las Vegas and loved the experience every time. The trick is to very lightly season the meat so that the natural flavors are highlighted, and not overwhelmed. This place gets it right… the music, the staff and of course visiting with a Brazilian friend or two helps seal the deal.
Matt’s in the Market – *** loved Matt’s for brunch. Now a favorite of mine that’s a ‘feels like Seattle’ place because it sits right on top of the action of Pike’s Public Market, and the view of Puget Sound just confirms that you are indeed in the heart of downtown Seattle. And you can’t beat the food, service and atmosphere.
Cafe Campagne – *** Dinner at Cafe Campagne surpassed my expectations. The charm of all I remember of Europe with a great menu, service and location right near Pike’s Market downtown. The night was perfect in every way possible. Grab a table outside if the weather permits.
Tulio Ristorante – ** Brunch at Tulio was nice, solid food with a nice, solid atmosphere with great (really great) service. The menu was impressive and the food prepared well… even though it’s in a hotel, the atmosphere was cozy and felt very local. Would like to go back and try dinner sometime.
Le Pichet – *** It’s a toss up between Cafe Campagne and Le Pichet for me personally, but both were amazing. Le Pichet has a more relaxed atmosphere but the food and service were top notch. I particularly enjoyed the french toast dessert, at least it’s the origin of what we call french toast.
Campagne – *** My wife and I spent the night out and chose Campagne for the formal atmosphere and romantic setting. The staff made the evening special, and the food surpassed all expectations. Sure, there is a bit of drama, but dining like this is special and drama helps set the stage for adventure.
Purple – Seattle – *** Another perfect evening out, great food, great atmosphere and great company. I’ve been to other Purple locations but there’s something special about this one – the energy in the space helps cement the entire dining experience together.
THE GRAB BAG
These are places that made the list but are a little scattered out and about on their own. By no means does this devalue them as a destination, but it does mean that they’re a little off the beaten path.
Buca di Beppo – *** In the Lake Union area you’ll find Buca di Beppo, a chain place that feels local in so many ways. Because of the unique atmosphere and really good menu it makes it near the top of the list of friends who have visited (some many, many times). Good, hearty Italian food that feels like it came from a home kitchen is the norm.
Sky City – *** This restaurant rests atop the Space Needle, it revolves, has very nice menu options and oh yeah, has one of the best sweeping views of Seattle. The staff knows tourists make the needle a ‘must see’ experience and they cater to their every whim, quick to point out stats about the restaurant or the view outside the window. All of this together makes is a great place to take out of town guests.
Capitol Hill is one of the most culturally diverse areas of the city and is described as stylish, artistic and eclectic. It’s considered to be the cultural hub of the city by many, so it’s a great place to get started!
Bleu Bistro – ** surprise! eclectic and unique is the name of the game at the Bleu – from the interior to the menu to the dinner crowd. What a cool place, great drinks, fun and very adult drink menu and just about the coolest interior I’ve seen in a while. Keep an open mind and you’ll do just fine – good company helps too.
Barrio – *** couldn’t be more polar opposite from the Bleu, where sophistication and class rule. Mexican classic with a modern twist means that the menu, both the drinks and main dishes hold many surprises – enjoyed the night of class with a friend who made the night pretty special.
Kingfish Cafe – *** everyone but me seemed to know about Kingfish and now I know why. Southern hospitality rules at this place, and the menu is so unique yet so simple it’s like spending time with family on a lazy Sunday afternoon. An amazing Mojito starts the night off right and fried green tomatoes, southern fried chicken and a decadent chocolate cake makes for a filling yet unique dining experience. Again, best to enjoy with good friends.
Via Tribunali – ** like pizza? Then you’ll definitely like Via Tribunali… another eclectic and unique space with great food and the first place I visited on this entire list. I didn’t explore this one too much, but the food was good, and staff friendly so pretty good overall. I’d go back to sample all they have to offer.
Quinn’s – ** Fun! Go with good friends and explore the surprising menu. The ingredients list on the small plates menu might make you head for the door, but keep an open mind and start with one of the STRONG mixed drinks. Indulge in the well-prepared food, creative menu, solid staff and vibrant Capitol Hill atmosphere.
Poppy – * Hmm. Poppy. Sure, it’s highly recommended and made it on the top 10 lists of 8 different sites bit the jury is still out for me on this one. The atmosphere is bright and different and the menu is unique but I wasn’t blown away by the whole package. I guess the staff just put me off as they seemed bored, tried to push drinks and sell ‘extra’ menu items. There was no ‘welcome!’ or ‘we have a unique menu here’ or anything remotely related to hospitality – not sure I’d go back.
Tango – *** It takes 2 to… you know. The spice of life, or something very close to it can be found at Tango. The rich flavors bring out the best in the sampling of tapas and main dishes without overpowering them. Check out the Diablo cake for something truly heavenly… and be sure to go with someone special, it’s a place for sharing!
Dilettante – * Such a disappointing experience. Surprisingly lousy service, so-so food and yet a bright spot, an amazing chocolate-based martini. I had heard so much about the wonderful dining experience but I didn’t see it. Perhaps I am spoiled by the wonderful desserts at places like Le Pichet or even Spring Hill that Dilettante doesn’t seem all that special.
Lark – *** so glad to be finding unique and delightful places like Lark. I can’t call any one thing as a stand out at this place as everything from the food to the staff, to the presentation to the atmosphere seemed to be absolutely perfect. Thankfully the plates are small to medium in size to it’s easy to order a variety of dishes – and a surprising thing happened, nearly every single item on the menu, including the desserts sounded fantastic. Bring friends and share!
Café Presse – *** The goal for this Sunday was to visit a place in West Seattle, but no luck, not open on Sundays. So, some quick thinking brought us to Café Presse. I’m happy fate sent us this way because Café Presse was simply amazing. The unassuming atmosphere might mislead you, as the menu is filled with rich ingredients mixed in some traditional and non-traditional ways. An amazing brunch for sure.
Cafe Flora– ** Cafe Flora has been on the list for quite a long time, a few years since the beginning of this project. It offered up a unique dining experience with vegetarian and vegan cuisine. It was good, and worth exploring further but not much felt quite right with the overall dining experience this evening. Maybe next time. :)