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Seattle is known by some as the home of grunge, and by others as the home of Bill Gates and Microsoft.

But ask about Seattle's dining opportunities, and most people will give you a blank stare.

 
 
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Dining in Seattle

The revolving restaurant at the top of Seattle's iconic Space Needle is one of the suggested dining choices.

But if you don't have a head for heights, choose from many other enjoyable restaurants.

Part of a series about travel in the Pacific Northwest region of the US and Canada - see links on the right for additional articles.

 

 

If you're visiting Seattle, you can look forward to some dining treats.

In an effort to steer you away from generic food and ordinary tables and chairs in plain dining rooms, here are some of the more distinctive opportunities for you to enjoy eating in the Puget Sound area.

 

The Space Needle

This well-known tower, built as part of the World Fair celebration in 1962, still looks amazingly modern 45 years later.  The main restaurant is just under the observation deck on the top structure, and is 500 ft above the ground.  It revolves every 60 minutes, giving you a glorious view of Puget Sound, the downtown area, nearby lakes, and, on a clear day, all the way to Mt Rainier, rising symmetrically and majestically ft in the distance.

I make a big thing of the view, because, like many other similar restaurants elsewhere in the world, the main reason for dining at the Space Needle is for the view rather than for the gustatory experience.  But, no matter how often I enjoy a meal there (the food is not bad, but neither is it remarkably great) I still find it a wonderful experience, and if the conversation ever slows to a stop, there is an ever changing tableau of sights out the window to study and comment on!

The restaurant serves lunches (brunches at the weekend) and dinners seven days a week.  Reservations recommended.  Valet parking on site. Expensive, and with a minimum food charge of $30 per guest, if all your companion wants is a salad, you might want to strategically allocate what you're both ordering variously to each of you so as to avoid paying the $30 each minimum.  Close to downtown.

Metropolitan Bar & Grill

I'm by no means a brilliant chef, but it annoys me to find that I can cook a steak at home much better and more consistently than is the case in most restaurants.  So I seldom order steak when eating out, but there are some exceptions to this rule.

In addition to the well known chain of Ruth's Chris Steak Houses, which can be found in both Seattle and Bellevue, Seattle boasts a wonderful steak restaurant which regularly scores in lists of the top ten steak restaurants in the US - the Metropolitan Bar & Grill.

There is a slightly dated (or should I say 'timeless') feel to the Metropolitan Bar and Grill, and service is unobtrusive albeit occasionally slightly aloof, and the food is unabashedly excellent.

If you want to treat yourself to one of the country's best steaks, this is the place for you.  Central downtown location, open lunches weekdays and dinners seven nights a week.  Expensive - entre prices range up to and over $50.

El Gaucho

Is El Gaucho even better than the Metropolitan Bar and Grill?  Quite possibly so, and both food writers and readers seem to agree - several people wrote in to protest its omission when this article was first published.

The restaurant is dimly lit, with a glow from the wood fired grill adding to the ambience.  They have a piano bar , private dining rooms and also a cigar lounge where you can rent your own private humidor.

Formally dressed waiters treat their food with the seriousness it deserves.  It is very expensive - entrees range up to $79 (for a ridiculously large 24oz New York steak) and you then have to pay more for a potato and vegetables.  Add the lobster mashed potatoes ($21) and some asparagus ($9) and you've just spent $109 on your meal.  And with appetizers ranging up to $26 (Crab and Shrimp Louie) or $75 (a Seafood Tower) you could quickly find yourself paying $200 for a dinner, without dessert, tax, or tip.

And do try and save room for a dessert.  The tableside flambed desserts are a must, and at a mere $9 per person, are almost the cheapest items on the menu.

If you're seeking a bottle of wine with your meal, you probably would prefer to order from the regular Wine List than from their 'Captain's List'.  The regular wine list offers bottles of wine for as little as $36 (white) or $46 (red).  The Captain's List starts at $72 (bizarrely, the cheapest wine on this list is a bottle of champagne) and climbs steeply up from there, with their most expensive bottle being $2695 (a 2001 Burgundy).

They recently opened a small 18 room hotel above the restaurant.  So if you over-indulge and order/drink too many of their $2695 bottles of wine, you don't have to worry about driving home.

The Herbfarm

Located on Seattle's 'Eastside' (ie everywhere east of the long narrow north-south oriented Lake Washington that divides Seattle into two parts) is the celebrated Herbfarm Restaurant.  It is almost 20 miles drive from downtown, but if you're able to get a table, then it is worth the drive. However, the restaurant is often booked three months in advance, so don't be surprised if you can't get a table.

The evolution of this restaurant is an archetypal story of the American dream at its finest - an ordinary person started selling extra herbs at their farm gate in rural Washington.  One thing lead to another, and a flowering business in herb sales blossomed (okay, enough mixed metaphors already!).

The owners then added a small 24 cover restaurant, which became extraordinarily popular, until a catastrophic fire closed it down completely. However, this merely provided the impetus to rebuild the restaurant at a new location, closer to Seattle, and in a lovely semi-rural setting adjacent to a large micro-brewery (is that an oxymoron?) and two wineries (Columbia and Chateau St Michele).

Should you be as lucky as to have the opportunity to dine at The Herbfarm, you can look forward to a nine course fixed menu meal complete with matched wines, lasting 4 - 5 hours and costing the wrong side of $200 (after tax and service) per person, and sometimes reaching up to $250.  If you want to make a complete night of it, onsite accommodation is available in the same complex.  Dinners are served Thurs-Sun each week.

Wild Ginger

Confession - I'm at heart a rather conservative eater, and frequently get distressed when confronted by menu items that are 'spoiled' by featuring unusual combinations of food items.

I do enjoy eating 'different' things, but it is difficult to find a suitable compromise between different = good and different = strange and disappointing.

And so I find - and chances are you will too - Wild Ginger to be an excellent compromise between ridiculously exotic and boringly mundane.  This popular downtown restaurant serves an interesting mix of items strongly influenced by Asian cooking traditions.  The restaurant is clean and modern in styling, and the food is wonderful.

Be sure to go there hungry so you can enjoy several of their marvelous satay appetizers as well as a main course.

Prices are moderate.  The restaurant is open for lunch Monday to Saturday and for dinner seven days a week.  Valet parking is adjacent in the evenings, and there are plenty of local car parks.

Spirit of Washington Dinner Train

We have become so accustomed to atrocious airline food that it comes as a great surprise to find food prepared in a similar situation - for consumption on a local tourist train - can be served decently and even well.

The SoWDT provides dinners six nights a week (no Monday service) and lunches on the weekend, and takes its guests on a 3 1/4 hour roundtrip ride from a depot in Renton to its terminus at a winery next to the Herbfarm and back.  Renton is about 12 miles from downtown Seattle, on Seattle's Eastside.

You have 45 minutes for a wine tasting at the winery before returning to the depot.

There are two main seating choices on the train - either in a parlor car or a dome observation car.  The train of vintage carriages is hauled by a diesel locomotive.  Diners are asked to specify their entree choice when reserving (typically a meat, fish, and at least one other choice are offered).  Lunch/brunch meals are $54 or $69 in the dome seating area, and dinners are $64 or $79 (plus tax and tip).

The food is okay but not marvelous, and the experience is the main reason for choosing this dining option.  The Spirit of Washington Dinner Train also has occasional 'Murder Mystery' theme dinners.

Update :  If the SoWDT appeals to you, hurry to enjoy it.  Their track rights expire in 2007, and the track the train runs on may be closed and converted to a recreational trail.

Waterfront Restaurants

Seattle is very much a city on the water, not only Puget Sound but also its various lakes and waterways as well.  If, like me, you're irresistibly drawn to the water, then dining in a waterfront restaurant is sure to please.

Palisade Restaurant

One of my favorites, and with many memories of long enjoyable lunches, is the Palisade Restaurant, located around the harbor several miles from the downtown center.  The dining area is reached after walking over a 50 ft bridge that crosses a massive indoor pool, and the dining area offers beautiful views out over the water.

For a while they discontinued lunch service, but it has been happily restored, so you have a choice of weekday lunches, Sunday brunches (no midday meal service on Saturdays), and dinners seven nights a week.  Moderate price.  Plenty of parking available.

Ray's Boathouse

There are other distinctive waterfront restaurants, of course.  Ray's Boathouse is another favorite of mine.  This is located at Shilshole Bay, right on the water, and close to the entrance to the locks, Lake Union, etc, so there are always boats moving past.  It is often a convenient way to complete a pleasant day out by visiting the locks then going the couple of miles further to Ray's for a meal.

Ray's current building dates back to 1988 - a major fire destroyed the earlier building, and there is a formal restaurant downstairs (only open for dinners, seven nights a week) and a cafe upstairs (only open weekends, for lunch and dinner).  A definite plus for the upstairs cafe is being able to dine on an outside deck in the summer.

The menu is predominantly focused on fish and seafood and moderately priced.  Expect to pay somewhere in the $30s for an entree in the restaurant, and in the teens in the cafe.  Parking is directly in front of the restaurant.

Others

Daniel's Broiler (various locations), the Leschi Lakecafe, and Anthony's (various locations) would all be good and safe choices.

Salty's on Alki Beach is located opposite Seattle on the far side of the harbor, and diners can enjoy stunning views back to the Seattle skyline. They provide lunch (brunch on weekends) and dinner seven days a week, and offer complimentary limo pickup from many downtown hotels, and has water taxi service from downtown during the summers.  Moderately expensive.

If you're looking for a part of Seattle's cultural history, you should head to Ivar's Salmon House, with wonderful views out over Lake Union.  The restaurant is named after its founder, Ivar Hagland, a long time Seattle 'personality'.  Designed in the style of a traditional Indian longhouse, and with an open pit barbeque in the kitchen, it serves a variety of primarily fish/sea food related entrees.  Food quality is a bit uneven, but usually good.  There is also a takeaway shop facing out onto the street, serving a very disappointing range of so called 'fish and chips'.

Ivar's Salmon House is open daily for lunch and dinner.  On Sundays they serve an excellent buffet style brunch, at which I'm often to be found! Prices are moderate, and there is plentiful parking immediately opposite.

Royal Argosy Cruises

Perhaps you'd rather dine on the water rather than alongside.  In such a case, a lunch or dinner cruise on one of the boats operated by Argosy Cruises would be a great choice.

The day tour cruiseline operator has partnered with the company that operates the Metropolitan Grill (and other excellent restaurants in the region) to provide a very high quality three course dining experience. Dinners have live music, making it a 'dine and dance' type cruise.

In addition to regular dining, Royal Argosy Cruises occasionally offer themed dinners.  Lunches and dinners are not served every day (occasionally the boat is chartered) and you should reserve ahead of time.

Note that they offer 'web specials' on their dinner cruises (currently, Nov 06, they are selling dinner cruises for $60 online as compared to $69-89 if you call or visit).  And, ridiculously, they're also adding a 50 per person fuel surcharge.  How petty is that?

Icon Grill

This is a stylish restaurant with a quirky decor, and very popular with lunchtime diners.  It is a good choice to take a business associate to, and due to popularity, it is often advisable to make a reservation.

They are open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Food at the Icon Grill is good, and service is friendly. Moderate pricing. No parking provided for this central city restaurant, but street parking lots are nearby.

Pagliacci Pizza

Maybe you're alone in your hotel room and don't feel like eating in the hotel's over-priced and disappointing dining room.  Why not order out for a Pagliacci Pizza.  Definitely Seattle's best pizza, and with fifteen different delivery kitchens (you can also phone in an order then go pick it up yourself - something I always do so as to get the pizza at its freshest), the chances are there's one not too far from wherever you are.

Summary

Whether you're in Seattle for business or a vacation, and for a day or a week, you're sure to find something to enjoy from the wide range of distinctive dining choices available in this area.

More information on Seattle dining can be found on the Seattle Visitor's Bureau website.

Bon Appetit!  Or, as my favorite ribs joint (Armadillo in Woodinville - no website, alas, and - double alas, now it just does special event catering rather than have a public restaurant too) says, bone appetite.

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Originally published 8 August 2003, major rewrite 3 Nov 2006, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
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