A version of this article was previously published by Fathom.
SEATTLE, WA - I have spent the better part of my 43-years living in Seattle (in a neighborhood just east of downtown – I am not from the suburbs, nor will I ever be). I have watched Seattle grow from a sleepy Pacific Northwest city characterized by grunge music and Boeing airplanes, to a global metropolis transformed by Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon. I have experienced the explosion of Mount St. Helens, the demolition of the King Dome, the construction of floating bridges across Lake Washington, and the tear-down of elevated Highway 99, but none of this compares to watching Amazon (and others) remap the physical and cultural landscape of our city. So, when I tell you that Seattle has changed, and OH, HOW IT HAS CHANGED, I have a lot of mixed feelings. But, I generally come from the perspective that the abundance of new business and real estate development is good for this city (with the exception of the traffic and homeless population that have come with it). Yet, as a born-and-bread Seattleite, I can’t help but be loyal to the people, places, and businesses that remain at the top of my “short list,” and continue to influence this city in spite of all that has changed. It is where this fabric of mainstays intersects with fresh, innovative businesspeople that a new Seattle has emerged; a city that continues to surprise me. So, as a self-anointed ambassador of Seattle, I give you the keys to my favorite old haunts, the best new spots to check out, and the truly amazing places that are straight up AWESOME and cannot be missed (even if it’s raining).
LAY OF THE LAND
Seattle is a beautiful city surrounded by water and flanked by mountains. While compact, Seattle also feels spacious thanks to an abundance of parks, green spaces, and canals. On the shore of Elliott Bay sits downtown, with Belltown to the North and Pioneer Square to the south. South Lake Union, and the Amazon headquarters lie just northeast of downtown, while east is the vibrant neighborhood of Capitol Hill. If this is your first visit to Seattle, you would be well served by staying downtown, as you are in walking distance to most everything I mention in this article. Plus, if you feel like visiting one of the islands in Puget Sound, the terminal for the Washington State Ferries is a short walk away.
Bisato: Award winning chef Scott Carlsberg, whose (now closed) Belltown restaurants Lampreia and Bisato were on Seattle’s short list of best restaurants for the better part of 20-years, has resurfaced after a 7-year hiatus by reopening and reimagining Bisato in a new space in Pioneer Square. Bisato’s menu features refined dishes grounded in traditional Italian cooking. The dining room occupies a former Italian trattoria, that was an institution in the Pioneer Square dining scene for many years. Carlsberg and his partners have reimagined the space as a contemporary alter to his culinary creations. The minimalist design featuring an open kitchen, dark wood paneling, and dim lights, is anything but distracting, and is Carlsberg’s way of bringing attention to the food. Which, by the way, is amazing. Incredible dishes like house made burrata, and perfectly tender and savory short rib braised in Barolo are just a couple of standouts from the seasonal menu. Be forewarned, Bisato is not the place where you will find a comforting, quick plate of cacio e pepe. Rather, it is the perfect spot to experience a beautiful, long meal on a cozy evening.
Matt’s in the Market: Matt’s has been around for a long time, but when someone from out of town asks where they should eat, Matt’s is always where I send them. Across the street from the Pike Place Market on the second floor of the Sanitary Market building, Matt’s has a beautiful view over Elliott Bay and the hustle and bustle of the Pike Place Market below, not to mention it serves some of the best Pacific Northwest fare in town. Matt’s began serving farm-to-table food long before the phrase became common place, sourcing ingredients from local farmers and foragers from the stalls below. Everyday, the menu features the freshest, seasonal seafood, along with staples like homemade chips and dip and a barbecue pulled-pork sandwich. Matt’s is open for lunch and dinner each day, and serves brunch on the weekend. Make a reservation, or take your chances waiting for a bar stool.
Restaurant Homer: Located on the crest of Beacon Hill, a short drive from downtown, Homer quietly opened last August and has been packed with people ever since. Chef Logan Cox, previously of Sitka & Spruce, has created a Mediterranean influenced menu focused around a wood burning fire. Meats and fish are grilled and seared to perfection at Homer, but the real standout are Cox’s vegetable dishes that sing with citrus and spices from the Middle East. At Homer, something as simple as house made Pita Bread is absolutely amazing paired with dishes of lamb ragu with tahini, or labneh with dried tomatoes and mint. Don’t leave without trying Homer’s signature soft serve ice cream, with two rotating seasonal flavors. Homer doesn’t take reservations, so get there early or be prepared to wait – it’s worth it.
Ristorante Machiavelli: These are my people and this is my place. I have been eating at this hole-in-the-wall, red-sauce, Italian joint for more than 20-years. During that time, the ownership may have changed, but the menu, prices, and deliciousness of the food sure hasn’t. Family favorites are the spinach ravioli, lasagna bolognese, and the pesto pizza. And if you are off gluten, you are in luck, as Machiavelli serves one of the best filet mignon’s in Seattle. Machiavelli does not take reservations, so go early or be prepared to wait (tables tend to turn quickly).
Canlis: Canlis is the oldest fine dining restaurant in Seattle. Continuously owned and operated by the Canlis family for 63-years, this is the restaurant that is routinely named the best restaurant in Seattle and the go-to for celebrating a special event. Since it has been around forever, it should come as no surprise that much of Canlis’ loyal clientele are of the octogenarian variety, who have come of age in Seattle alongside the restaurant. With that kind of stature and longevity, it came as no surprise a few years back when the Canlis brothers decided it was time to breathe new life into the restaurant by reimagining the space and the cuisine to last well into the 21stcentury. Naturally, the rebranding of Canlis included the introduction of a new chef and a revamping of the menu. Enter Brady Williams, a 28-year old chef from Roberta’s in Brooklyn. While it may have seemed like a gamble to hire a 28-year old chef to run a 64-year old restaurant, the Canlis brother’s vision appears to have paid off (Williams recently won a James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest). Historically known for cutting edge food (Canlis was the first restaurant in Seattle to serve Waygu beef) with a Pacific Rim flare (the Canlis family has Hawaiian roots), Williams has preserved many of the restaurants’ classic dishes, while deep diving into the bounty of ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest. The result is a menu that is simultaneously timeless and avant-guard, exactly what Canlis is to Seattle. As a result of this fine balance, the old guard continues to show up at 5 o’clock for Happy Hour and Canlis Salads, and a new wave of Seattleites with deep pockets and sophisticated palates have taken notice and confirmed what we already knew, that Canlis is as current today as it ever has been.
Jarr Bar: This tiny bar below the Pike Place Market was dreamed up by owner Bryan Jarr while traveling through the Basque Country of Spain. A narrow space, with only a couple of tables and a few bars stools, Jarr Bar resembles a Pinxto bar found in the Parte Vieja of San Sebastián. Serving small plates of cheese, charcuterie, tinned fish, and other seasonal bites, Jarr Bar is a great place to meet for happy hour. In addition to the petite menu, Jarr Bar mixes great cocktails and has an extensive wine list – a great way to experience unfamiliar Spanish varietals. This summer, Jarr will open Little Fish with chef Zoi Antonitsas, in the new annex to the Pike Place Market. Little Fish will be a modern day craft cannery and restaurant that celebrates seafood in all it’s forms – canned, smoked, cured, and fresh. Local products preserved in the cannery will be served in the restaurant alongside a selection of tinned fish from all over the world.
Foreign National: Just a few blocks from downtown, on the lower slope of Capitol Hill, another tiny bar took the Seattle cocktail scene by storm when it opened three years. Foreign National, the sister bar to Stateside restaurant next door is reminiscent of Saigon in the 1960’s. Go for creative cocktails riffing on the Singapore Sling or a Scorpion Bowl, and be sure to order a few of the delectable snacks produced by the kitchen next door.
With all of the development in Seattle, it should come as no surprise that there are several new hotels opening around the city. Two hot new boutique hotels, just a stones throw from Pike Place Market, are the Palihotel Seattle and The State Hotel.
Palihotel Seattle: The Palihotel quietly opened in the fall of 2018 to lots of fanfare as the new favorite among small, design oriented hotels in Seattle. On a recent stay, I regret to report that the Palihotel could use a fresh infusion of energy. While the service was friendly, they forgot to deliver my morning room service. All would have been forgiven, had it not been for the sleepless night above the noisy street below (soundproof windows had clearly not been part of the building redevelopment).
That being said, the interior design of the Palihotel is stunning. The guest rooms are dark and sultry, with comfortable beds and and clever fixtures, like petite Smeg refrigerators stocked with locals spirits. The art directed living spaces are a great place to unwind with a cocktail. The décor of The Hart & The Hunter, the hotel restaurant is a feast for the eyes with lots of brass, wood beams, and ceramic tiles. I could definitely hang out here. But I would be by myself. Every time I have visited, The Hart & The Hunter has been empty, probably a reflection of the unremarkable food (time to get a new chef). I really hope the Palihotel turns it around, because it has the potential to be a great spot for both locals and visitors to enjoy. Not to mention, the rates are reasonable.
The State Hotel: Around the corner from the Palihotel is The State Hotel. Opened in March, The State is a locally owned, independent, boutique hotel that occupies a historic 1904 brick building. The goal of the developers was to preserve and repurpose the historic building, and to bring character and creative design to the interior spaces. The result is a hotel that Seattle should be proud of. The design captures the essence of the Pacific Northwest with strategically placed art by emerging local artists. An abundance of natural light streams through the ceiling high windows into the lobby and adjacent restaurant, Ben Paris, where foxes and pheasants dance from above, thanks to a beautiful hand painted mural by local artist, Kyler Martz. If you can tear yourself away from the cocktail bar, take your drink upstairs to the roof deck, where guests can watch the color of the sky change as the city turns on it’s lights. On the way down, be sure to check out the incredible custom wallpaper by Portland artist Kate Blairstone, who used the bounty of the Pike Place farmers market as the inspiration for her AMAZING designs (every floor is different!).
Guest rooms at The State feature leather headboards, custom case goods, and incredibly comfortable mattresses. But the most important feature of the guest rooms at The State Hotel is the absence of street noise while lying in bed – a detail that does not go overlooked by this sleep challenged traveler. The hotel’s restaurant, Ben Paris, is named after one of the building’s original tenants, who owned and operated Paris Cigars, Lunch & Cards in the basement of the building in the 1920’s. A welcoming space that is integrated with the hotel lobby, Ben Paris is an energetic all-day restaurant that aims to become a neighborhood-gathering place for visitors and locals alike. Executive chef, Quinton Stewart, who cut his teeth at the Waverly Inn in New York City, and Hitchcock and Tilth in Seattle, has created a menu that features inventive twists on classic American fare (don’t leave without trying the fried chicken in the evening, and the potatoes in the morning!) Clearly, a lot of local heart and soul went into The State Hotel. If you want to sleep like a local, this is where I’d stay.
ON THE SIDE
Where to Shop: For many years, independently owned Baby & Co. has been the go to for Seattle’s fashion set searching for cutting-edge designs. Baby & Co. features an expertly curated collection of clothing from small-batch designers like Harvey Faircloth, Odeeh, and La Prestic Ouiston. If you don’t spend all of your money at Baby & Co., stroll south to Pioneer Square and be prepared to fall in love with everything at Flora & Henri, a local concept store that for 20-years has been a mainstay for luxury home goods, clothing, and children’s apparel. After exploring Pioneer Square, hop on the Jackson Street light rail for the short trip up to Capitol Hill. Stop into Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle’s original bookstore), where creaky wood plank floors and tall stacks of books have been drawing Seattle bookworms for decades. Next door, Totokaelo, my other favorite clothing store, is where I go to seek out pieces from Rachel Comey, Acne, Dries van Noten, Maison Martin Margiela, and more (it also has the best shoe selection in town). While no longer an independent retailer, Totokaelo maintains the soul of a local store. Finally, don’t leave the neighborhood without smelling all the good smells at Le Labo parfumer, and grabbing a cone at Frankie & Jo’s, Seattle’s plant based ice creamery.
Cultural Sites: Care to spend a day exploring some of Seattle’s best cultural sites? Start with riding the elevator up the newly refurbished Space Needle. It’s touristy, but if you’ve never been to Seattle, the bird’s eye view of the city below cannot be beat. When the revolving glass starts to make you dizzy, descend the Needle and head next door to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, where world-renowned glass blower Dale Chihuly’s incredible creations are displayed. Take a cultural intermission with a coffee at La Marzocco Café, inside the neighboring KEXP Radio headquarters. Manufacturers of the finest espresso machines, each month La Marzocco turns its machines and amazing space over to a new, renowned coffee roaster. Once fueled up, head down the block to the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly the Experience Music Project). Founded by Paul Allen in 2000, and designed by Frank Gehry, MoPOP showcases the rich musical history of Seattle (think Quincy Jones, Jimmy Hendrix, Heart, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, to name a few), and hosts rotating music themed exhibitions.
Live Like a Local: Tired of retail therapy? Had enough culture to last a lifetime? If it is a sunny day, the best way to experience the true Seattle is with a lazy afternoon on the grassy knolls of Gas Works Park. Throw together a picnic from the vendors at Pike Place Market, or better yet, grab savory Chinese pastries from Mee Sum across the street from the Market (the best barbecue pork Hum Bao ever!), and hire an Uber to take you to Gas Works (10-minutes from downtown). Take in the expansive views of the city, watch boats and paddle boards glide by, and soak up the sun. That’s what we are all about.
When to Visit: I am not going to sugarcoat this, Seattle is dark and damp in the winter months. But the upside of global warming is that short, dark days are giving way to warmer temperatures in Spring and Summer, making May and June my favorite time to explore Seattle. Be forewarned, while high summer is grand in Seattle, it is also when the cruise ships dock on the waterfront, bringing hoards of tourists to Pike Place Market and the waterfront. I would especially avoid visiting the first weekend in August, as this is when Seattle holds its annual Seafair festival, a weekend filled with hydroplane races on Lake Washington, parades of pirates in the streets, and Blue Angels streaking through the skies.
How to Arrive: SeaTac Internaional Airport is 20 minutes from downtown and easily accessible by LightRail (Seattle’s new mass transport system) or Uber. No need to rent a car. Seattle is a great city to explore on foot, and Uber is readily available when you need a ride.
Whats to Come:
Rosario Islands, Colombia ★ 8.2019
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W A N D E R L U S T