AOL PICK from our Editors
In the Seventies, Alice Waters’ landmark Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, spurred a movement among Seattle chefs to value local, seasonal ingredients. Northwest Contemporary cuisine focuses on seafood—salmon, crab, oysters and other aquatic fare—and produce from regional farmlands. Chef Tom Douglas was a food pioneer who rose to national acclaim for his use of fresh, local foods. He now has five Seattle restaurants, and today it’s common for Seattle chefs to personally know mushroom gatherers, produce farmers and fishermen. This is true at small neighborhood bistros as much as at high-end dining palaces. Many Seattle restaurants are notable for water views; you'll shell out a premium for this pleasure, but it’s a price we're willing to pay for a breezy deck on a sunny day.
Neighborhood: Belltown Price: Expensive
Cornerstone for innovative restaurateur Tom Douglas, Dahlia’s inventive riffs on classics use Northwest-sourced ingredients. Try the sweet lemon-scallion Dungeness crab cake, interestingly paired with curried summer squash, stir fried zucchini, peppers and lime. Steaks from Northwest beef provide a fine back-up option. For dessert, the signature coconut cream pie is well balanced—rich and not too sweet.
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Neighborhood: Queen Anne
The most distinguished restaurant in Seattle stands above others for its impeccable service ethic, superlative Northwest cuisine and hillside Lake Union views. For 60 years, this Seattle institution has been where lovers pop the question and wealthy arts patrons hobnob. There's a superb multi-course tasting menu on offer for $115, but we prefer selecting our favorite dishes à la carte—mussels with Osetra caviar, lamb saddle with ramps and yellowfin tuna with haricots verts. And don't forget, Canlis' dress code—a rarity in Seattle—means men should don at least a sport coat.
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Neighborhood: Pike Place Market
This legendary Pike Place Market fine-dining spot attracts an older, well-dressed clientele. Chef Daisley Gordon is masterful at creating continental comfort foods based on French provincial cuisine, with Northwest ingredients. We swear by the sea scallops, prepared in a sweet chili sauce with Japanese maitake mushrooms and served alongside veal sweetbread chips and a cannellini-and-fava-bean ragu. (Secondary honors go to the house-made sausage.), Here, huge effort goes into exceptionally high-quality meals, enjoyed at white-napped tables overlooking the bustling market. Classic French desserts—like crème brûlée and tarte tatin du jour—round out the night.
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Neighborhood: Ballard Price: Moderate
Seductive Volterra, with its low lighting, pomegranate walls and leafy courtyard, is the setting for high-voltage Italian meals in which chef Don Curtiss combines the Northwest’s bounty with home-style Tuscan cooking. Among the standouts are hand-fashioned pastas (try the earthy black-peppercorn pasta with lamb ragu); a seafood stew in a saffron-scented tomato broth served with Tuscan bread; and lamb shanks braised with rosemary and green olives.
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Neighborhood: Waterfront Price: Moderate
Elliott’s delivers the freshest and best selection of oysters with verve. The waterfront establishment’s 21-foot-long oyster bar is a visual feast itself, and the shuckers can explain arcane differences between the 30 varieties of bivalve on display. Northwest salmon, Alaska halibut and Dungeness crab are simply prepared and expertly presented. Arrive early if you want an outdoor table with views of the working waterfront.
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Neighborhood: South Lake Union
James Beard Award-winner Christine Keff takes pride in an inspired menu that changes daily. In addition to in-season local fish, crab and other delicacies, Flying Fish serves up opakapaka from Hawaii, monkfish from Maine and other flown-in delicacies. The restaurant’s new South Lake Union location features a many-windowed, post-industrial-style dining room.
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Neighborhood: Belltown Price: Budget
Chef/owner Leslie Mackie has perfected the art of artisan breads and home-style desserts. The lunch menu includes spirited sandwiches (like barbecued pork loin and ginger aioli), sublime salads (tweaked with pancetta or roasted apricots) and homemade soups. Indulge in a rustic fruit tart or chocolate ganache cupcake—and make sure to tuck a still-warm olive loaf under your arm to go.
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Neighborhood: Pioneer Square
Seattle icon Ivar Haglund built an empire of fish and chip joints, promoting them and himself through decades of publicity stunts. More fish than breading, his fish and chips set the Seattle standard for fast (sea)food. You can order to-go at the waterfront Fish Bar or dine on more-expensive crab, salmon, halibut and such at the adjoining Ivar’s Acres of Clams restaurant, with its views of ferries coming and going.
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Neighborhood: University District
At Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club, you can rent kayaks to explore Lake Union’s houseboats, then enjoy Mexican food in a scenic lakeside setting. Lunch is ultra-casual, with a cafeteria line; dinner brings table service. Agua Verde is known for its tacos' wide variety of fillings (try the hand-line-caught mahi mahi), as well as its zingy, house-made salsas (we like the sweet pineapple-jicama blend). Saturdays bring all-natural pork ribs, slow-cooked in a tamarind-chipotle sauce.
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Neighborhood: International District Price: Budget
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Tucked into a narrow slot in Seattle’s International District, Green Leaf draws legions of fans—including Mario Batali—for authentic Vietnamese fare. The scent of basil and sizzle of sautéed meats infuses the air at this unpretentious family-owned restaurant. Often cramped, it’s worth bearing the crunch for dishes such as sea bass with lemongrass and fresh, succulent spring rolls with shrimp and pork.
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