When you think of Seattle, you might imagine seafood shacks and life-changing fish and chips. And while we have those, the city’s laid-back restaurant scene is better defined by the freedom it gives chefs. Take Dungeness crab, the super-tender crustacean caught off the coast, which might get curried and folded into scones, or tossed with mint and crispy fried onions in pappardelle.
This genre-bending and boundary-busting makes Seattle an unpretentious food town that harbors surprises at every turn and prioritizes flavor and function over formality. My list of essential local restaurants tells the story of a city in constant flux—and invites you to join in. Whether you wind up tucking into Lebanese tacos at an art bar or sharing an order of Ethiopian-spiced green beans at a Halal butcher shop, use this roadmap to plan your culinary adventures. Along the way, you’ll get a true taste of Seattle’s diverse communities.
1508 NE 117th St.
Samuel Ephrem and Menbere Medhane’s Ethiopian restaurant evolved from a butcher shop when customers started asking if the duo could cook Halal beef. It wasn’t long before the ribeye was destined for kitfo (raw chopped beef with spiced butter) and the bone marrow for a stew called kikel. They still bring in fresh local meat and break it down themselves. But the expert butchery can’t explain why their (vegetarian) green beans—heady with caramelized red onion and floral coriander—are such a sleeper hit.
418 Maynard Ave St.
The food and decór at this cash-only Chinatown-International District standby are as straightforward as its name implies. The chatter of elderly couples, the clatter of families serving up soup, and the slurps of solo diners fill the room better than any wall art could. Mike’s light, flavorful broth and needle-thin egg noodles draw lines out the door on weekends. The soup comes in almost 30 varieties, from standard wonton to house-made fish balls with beef brisket. And there are nearly as many styles of dry noodle and congee.
8230 35th Ave NE.
Stepping into the Wedgwood Broiler is like journeying back to the ‘60s, when this steakhouse opened—and the old-school booths and sassy waitresses still charm customers like they did back in the day. But my favorite part of the retro set-up comes in how they carry on the prudent custom of turning the beef trimmings into fresh burger patties and French dip sandwiches. Either pairs nicely with an equally old-fashioned martini in the wood-paneled lounge, or with a milkshake in one of the dining room's many booths.
When the pandemic forced drummer Lupe Flores to cancel her shows, she found a new way to entertain audiences: by making them tacos like the ones her Lebanese Mexican grandmother cooked for her as a kid. Fastened shut with toothpicks, the crisp-fried tacos come filled with brown-butter beef, garlic mashed potatoes, or harissa cauliflower and cilantro chickpeas. Place your order at the stand in front of the quirky, sprawling art bar, then head over to the arcade consoles to knock out a game of pinball or Street Fighter II while you wait for your food.
16212 Bothell Everett Hwy.
In 1976, Toshi Kasahara opened a tiny shop near Seattle Center selling his spin on the teriyaki of his childhood in Japan. Filling Styrofoam containers with piles of steamed rice and shiny, crackly-crusted chicken year after year, Kasahara honed and defined Seattle-style teriyaki. When Seattle teriyaki took off, so did Toshi, expanding and franchising until he completely burned out. Now, he’s back to his roots, with a single spot which harks back to the original: small and simple enough that he can run it himself, serving only teriyaki—no extras or ceremony.
Muhammad Fairoz Rashed shapes his pains au chocolat like flowers, dotting each petal of feather-light croissant with semi-sweet chocolate, which ups the ratio of chocolate to pastry. The same attention to detail and innovation fuels the savory specialties, such as the curry crab scones or black truffle goat cheese focaccia served in T55's sleek, minimalist space.
401 N 36th St UNIT 103.
This casual spot specializes in fun and funky seafood lunches. The bounty of the Pacific Northwest's chilly and pristine waters shines through in dishes inspired by Seattle's favorite foods, like the bánh mì filled with ground rockfish and pork patties. Subtle surprises also tweak familiar flavors in the house clam chowder, enriched with clam fat, the “BLT,” which swaps in crispy salmon skin for bacon, and Local Tide’s own “Filet-o-Fish” starring Dover sole.
3220 S Hudson St.
When this Vietnamese pool hall sprung up off Martin Luther King Jr. Way in 1986, Seattle barely knew its bánh mì from its bún thịt nướng. But today, locals line up at Billiard Hoang for both those dishes, plus soups and rice and noodle bowls. The latter come topped with tender short ribs or puffy fried tofu, which pair well with either Vietnamese coffee or beer, no matter the time of day.
4725 California Ave SW.
Seattle has an outstanding sushi scene, but Mashiko stands out for being the first established sushi restaurant in the country committed to serving only sustainable seafood. Those limitations elevated the skills and resourcefulness of the chefs, who have created a thrilling menu centered on offbeat species like spot prawns, geoduck, and herring.
1210 South Bailey St.
After flirting with fame on Bravo’s Top Chef, dabbling in Middle Eastern cuisine at Mamnoon, and briefly trying on taco cheffery at a brewery, Jason Stratton has settled back into his sweet spot: high-end, Northwest-inflected Italian cooking. In the casual low-slung brick dining room in Georgetown, expect seasonal gems such as tender asparagus cloaked in bagna cauda sauce, burrata draped over sweet grated carrots, and Dungeness crab pappardelle. Other menu stalwarts include Stratton’s signature tajarin al coltello, hand-cut noodles in rich sage butter sauce.
11805 Renton Ave S Suite C.
When Salima’s Restaurant closed in 2009, the region’s significant Cham population lost its community gathering point—and Salima Mohamath’s bold peanut sauce. For those unfamiliar, the cuisine of these Indigenous people of Southeast Asia is a blend of local and Islamic cuisines. At the new Salima Specialties, which opened in 2022, expect Malaysian-style satay, rich lamb curry, and Vietnamese sandwiches with housemade Halal chicken “ham”—plus that killer peanut sauce.
Elmer Komagata made his name cooking in LA’s fine-dining restaurants in the 1980s, then spent decades running hotel kitchens in Mexico. But he always dreamed of something smaller, like the tiny ramen cart he and his wife now park outside Seattle breweries a few nights a week. The concept is modeled after yatai, the evening mobile food stands he remembers from growing up in Japan. His balanced broth is a testament to decades spent cooking and studying French, Chinese, Mexican, and Japanese cuisines; it combines Chinese preserved vegetables and ground chicken breast. The noodles are specially made for Midnite and parboiled to his specifications, so they cook in 15 seconds. That keeps the lines outside the cart for the limited number of bowls each night moving just a little bit faster.