I thought really, really hard about this list, you guys. I even thought about why I’d make such a list in the first place.
Would the point be to name the locations of the best-tasting food in the city empirically, so that they could eat it? Would I decide this based on my own personal preferences, or would I factor in other people’s, too? Would I need to be an expert on the type of cuisine in order to decide if it’s the best, or are good things just patently good, and IYKYK?
Is this list for the eaters or for the restaurants? Is it to boost the signal on a restaurant that people seem not to know about, ’cause I think they should? Or should I include truly great stuff even if everyone already knows about it? Is it maybe more fair and more useful to lift up small businesses rather than restaurants that are already killing it and, say, already had a spread in the New York Times the other day?
The answer is, “Yeah, kinda,” to all of these questions. So, fuck it, I just made a mixtape. Here’s my bricolage of current personal faves, unranked. These restaurants were selected based on dining space, accessibility to the average Seattleite, price point, consistency, having cool owners and staff, and just generally being the best around at what they do. I also focused on restaurants that embody the scrappy DIY Seattle spirit that is still lurking in our strip malls and dive bars.
These are the dishes I daydream about. The stuff that I wish to god I had a plate of when I’m still up at 2 am, working late. The places where I fantasize about my buddies and me carousing at a big table, laughing and chowing the fuck down. The self-care, joyful foods. They’re the best—and Seattlest, I say—ones in the area.
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As I said last year, every single sandwich at Lasa Sandwiches and Pearls is deliriously delicious, although none is (still) more spectacular than that lechon kawali roll. This is the number-one daydream food that I pine for when I’m very far away from Lynnwood. A genius is who invented this sandwich. The first bite of that heartbreakingly tender, chili-strewn slab of glazed pork belly makes me tear up a little bit, but also just thinking about that first bite does this. It’s a sandwich you can’t set down between bites because once you’ve taken a bite, your body requires the rest of the bites as quickly as possible.
More than once, I’ve ordered this enormous sando, eaten it all, then ordered another one to take home for later. All the other sandwiches at this place are killer too, particularly the meatball lumpia sub, where there’s pancit noodles mixed into the meatballs, and they put the crispy fried lumpia wrapper inside the roll, oh, man. Their sisig fries and halo-halo are bomb as well. You sincerely cannot go wrong at Lasa.
That lechon kawali, though.
You could blink and miss this down-to-earth bakery on Lake City Way, but instead of doing that, you should pull over and order one of each of their light, flaky, savory empanadas. They have eight or ten different flaves, but my favorite is the spicy cheese and onion, followed by the flavorful ground beef. They’re all transcendent, anatomically perfect empanadas, though—and as legit as Argentine cuisine gets in this town.
Seatango Argentine Bakery & Cafe’s owners, Monica Di Bartolomeo and Ariel Firpo, are from Buenos Aires, trained respectively by their Italian chef dad and pastry chef grandmother, and they make everything in house, from scratch, with real heart and heritage. I’d buy Seatango’s chimichurri by the bottle if possible and pour it over everything I make at home; it’s so punchy and garlicky-good. Although Seatango's choripan is very good for dunking in it too.
Also, one time, my boyfriend’s kid brought a giant box of Seatango’s alfajores home from his catering job—yes, those fragile, citrus-kissed shortbread sandwich cookies with dulce de leche filling and a powdered-sugar crust—and we lived on them for a week. I miss them so much. Babe, remember when we had like 200 alfajores? And we were rich in alfajores?
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A controversial choice, but hear me out. Certainly, there are fine-dining sushi restaurants of a higher level of presentation and service in Seattle, where they pull out all the stops for a couple bennies. But… can you afford to go there more than once a year? Is it comfortable to eat sushi there? Can you bring the whole crew? Are you expected to wear fancy clothes in order to eat this sushi? Can you even get a reservation?
Look, ʻOhana may have a rep as an oontzy nightclub, but its owner, Kyle Yoshimura, is the grandson of Seattle seafood scion Dick Yoshimura, founder of Beacon Hill’s legendary Mutual Fish Company from the 1940s, where many of our local sushi heavyweights buy their fish—and his cousin still runs it. Dude knows his seafood, and the fish at ʻOhana is immaculate. You can order way more of it, have Spam musubi as a starter, and listen to live Hawaiian music while you and your pals demolish the table-wide spread. Instant fuckin’ party. Plus, you get to eat it inside a tiki bar!!
In addition to having dope sushi, ʻOhana is keeping an important remnant of historic ’90s Belltown alive, and I hope it lasts forever. So yes, go have your super serious $200 kaiseki—I like it too—but in a city absolutely brimming with excellent sushi, I can’t think of a funner place than ʻOhana to eat it.
This place has been around for about twenty years, and no one in the food scene ever talks about it; I want to know why. Sure, it’s hidden in the back of a store, but Seattleites are usually pretty good about ferreting out culinary gems like this.
I’ve been blown away each time I’ve visited, not only by the gorgeous, colorful, authentic Ethiopian dishes, but also by the cheery service, gigantolor portions, and really reasonable prices. Two hungry middle-aged ladies ordering a sampler combo apiece can scarcely clear the combined platter (ask me how I know)! If you’re combo-plattering this way, make sure to include the Meat Combo #1, which comes with their spectacular lamb alecha. Vivid, complex spice profiles are the name of the game here, due to the fact that the front half of East African Imports and Restaurant sells spices in bulk, so they’re ground and blended about one second before they go into your dinner. Big fan of their clovey, cardamomy Ethiopian tea as well. I want to wear it as cologne.
There’s also something to be said for the special starlight delight one feels to be inside of a hidden restaurant in the back of a store, like Milhouse in his pup tent in the front yard, eating a lovely meal all secretly. Maybe that’s not what gets you off, but for me, there’s a sparkly little thrill to be found there. But the food at EAIR is still fantastic, either way.
Another iconic Seattle spot to haunt the old skull. A truck that just sells elotes. This is the superlative elote experience, like you find in CDMX and throughout Mexico.
If you’re not familiar, elote is roasted corn on a stick, and you can have them add various mayos, butters, cheeses, and powders to it, or nothing at all. Then you pay a couple bucks to have roasted corn on a stick, and you can walk around White Center gnawing on it like a grubby summer child, with mayonesa, cotija, and Takis Fuego dust all over your face and shirt. Get two, actually, because you’re gonna want another one. Double-fist these suckers, like Moe Szyslak with his two knives. That’s the way to do it.
Best Roasted Corn Stand is an integral White Center experience, and if you’re gonna live in this city, you need to try it at least once. Everyone likes corn, and now’s the exact perfect season for it. What a pure and total pleasure.
So, family-owned Chops does Korean burritos, right? But they take it a step beyond Roy Choi’s Kogi truck down in L.A.
Dig this: they take a very generous portion of Korean-style barbecued meat, add veggies, chili sauce, spicy mayo and a passel of other accouterments. Then they roll it up in rice like a sushi roll, wrap it in a tortilla, and GRILL IT. It’s an ecstasy-inducing gut bomb that will haunt your skull for weeks.
Chops makes eight different flavors of burritos—two of which are veggie—and I keep switching allegiances. My first love was the Flaming Boar, based around spicy barbecued pork and cabbage, but I had not yet gotten on the Locasoba’s level. That’s barbecued beef and yakisoba, for god's sake, plus scrambled eggs, cabbage, a four-cheese blend, and various sauces. Now I’m torn between that one and the Bulgorrito, which is bulgogi steak, salad mix, chile-lime dressing, and mayo. Served with jalapeno and fresh lime, these things are monsters; I’m a big dude, and I can barely finish half in a sitting. You’re gonna wanna do some calisthenics first, lest you find yourself staring down the barrel of a Bulgorrito unprepared.
These things are so good, it’s emotionally confusing. I’m sweating a little bit right now.
I thought Choice Deli & Grocery was just a regular mini-mart until like two years ago, when it got a spot in the Seattle Times for its teriyaki chicken. The next time I walked by, I squinted at the sign and realized that the logo is…a heavily stylized wizard? Holding a crystal ball? Soooo, this wizard sells teriyaki? Also there was an old guy standing around playing the saxophone in the parking lot. Done.
The teriyaki’s great—it’s hard to fuck up teriyaki, at least if you’re serving it in Seattle, where no one will buy it unless you do—but the real vision inside the wizardball here is the Korean fried chicken. It’s the uncontested best I’ve had in this city: hella light, lacy, crispy batter that’s not (too) greasy. The meat’s juicy and tender, and you don’t have to grapple with the drumstick to pull the meat off the bone (unlike a few popular local KFCs I’ll not mention). Plus, you get a dozen wings for ten bucks! I like the plain kind with the dippy sauces; my boyfriend likes the extra spicy, which comes with sauce on and is not playing with you.
Choice Deli is well named: It’s also a beer store with about 900 million bottles and more than 30 taps, so you can chase your Saxophone Wizard Chicken with a dank wild-fermented sour ale or some kind of, uh, peanut butter… peppadew… milk stout. If you want.
Guayaquil-born Ecuadorian chef José Garzón moved to Seattle for a pretty rad reason: to tour as a guitarist with pop-punk band MxPx! Hey, that’s awesome, but I’m selfishly glad he’s since branched out to making the city’s finest drunk food.
Opened in early 2022, Garzón is a foodhole in the back wall of Belltown’s Black Cat Bar, where Chef José’s serves his own playful pan-Latin creations. He’s also got a roving popup, Ekéko Like Add to a List , doing snacky stuff. Garzón’s dishes are more substantial than Ekéko’s, meant for sharing, and the executive summary here seems to be to stylize meat, cheese, starch, and garlic in glamorously decadent ways. Over at Ekéko, he makes an Evil Perra sandwich with grilled hot dogs, bacon, marinated steak bites, and salsa ajo that eats like a snack. I inhaled it in about 90 seconds, no lie. Meanwhile, back at Garzón, I couldn’t keep my damn fork out of my poor friend Mark’s pork soba noodle saltado, above.
José makes a spot-on South American-style chicken milanesa sandwich, too. Another star, the maizito, is like creamy-creamy esquites: a cup of charred corn kernels with salsa rosa (tomato-tinged mayo), avocado crema, and queso fresco, served over crispy shoestring potatoes with scallions. It’s 11 p.m. food. Three-whiskeys-in food. Take your glasses off and tuck your napkin, honey, or you’re gonna make a mess of yourself.
La Conasupo is the original, 24-carat-legit Mexican spot in Seattle, established in an era when Seattle had almost no authentic Mexican food whatsoever, and definitely not in Greenwood. For 20 years, Seattleites in the know would dip into this Greenwood bodega and head straight to the back, where they knew a crowded ceiling of piñatas, a handful of family-sized tables, fresh handmade tortillas, and luscious carnitas, tinga, and lamb barbacoa (on Sundays) were waiting.
Then La Conasupo got bought in 2020, and we all got nervous about the cartoon cactus in a sombrero that appeared on the door. Along with a menu, no less! Posted right there in broad daylight, where anyone can see it! That’s not the La Conasupo way!
Well, you can lay your worries to rest: new owners Ricardo and Sarife Sanchez are smiley sweethearts who’ve changed absolutely nothing. Well, it might be a little brighter in the back. But everything’s still made daily from scratch from the exact same recipes, nothing frozen, not even the sopas. Same staff, even, which is how you know.
La Conasupo’s still all about the barbacoa, by the way: I checked on it last weekend and couldn’t help but take a pound home with me. Like to make you pass out, it’s so frickin’ lamby. The greatest brunch in town, still.
If you’d asked me six months ago about my go-tos for Sichuanese food (the world’s greatest comfort food, if you forgot), I’da said Chef King in Greenwood and Sichuanese Cuisine on Jackson, full stop, hands down, goodnight, Vienna. But a friend has since recommended the months-old Spicy Style of Sichuan, cloistered in the entryway to the Asian Family Market on 130th and Aurora… and Player 3 has joined the game. I’ll tell you why SSoS is my new boyfriend.
First, it’s what you might call ecumenically Chinese, with a mixed menu of Sichuanese and Hunanese dishes, plus a bunch that I’ve never seen anywhere before. It’s perfect for bringing your unspicy friends along to convert them. The space is modern and well-lit, and no offense to any other Sichuan spots—I’m down with grotty too—but Spicy’s breezy aesthetic is invigorating but not uptight, and so is the early-twenties crowd. Life is here! We are all alive here together! The staff’s attentive and curious for feedback. The dishes are all a vibrant visual delight, all flamboyant rainbows of veggies. They do something really intense to their ma po tofu that I think is just extra-fermenty black beans and lots of them, but I want to suck it all up through a fat straw like boba tea.
And lastly, although I’m a Sichuanese food superfan, I’m still a white lady from Seattle who has tons more to learn about it…and since Spicy Style’s menu goes outside the classics, I get introduced to a new dish to fall in love with each visit. This week’s crushes include cured bacon dry pot and the stretchy pan-fried rice cakes in brown sugar syrup.
I still have big love feelings for the other Sichuanese strongholds in town! But you’ll forgive me for stepping out on them lately with this sexy, compelling new stranger. It’s the beans.
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I already wrote a big long missive about how much I love Chef Geo Rodriguez’s sandwich shops—Geo’s Cuban to Go and El Cubano Like Add to a List —and how resolutely I believe in what he’s doing out there, in a city that’s already bursting with Cuban sandwiches. But let me say it again: Geo’s doing it right, from his bewilderingly juicy chicken fricassee to his classic Caribbean citrus-marinated pork; from his imported rolls direct from La Segunda Bakery in Tampa to the way he dotes on his customers. I like every single thing about this homey little strip mall storefront on Aurora: the kitschy folk art, the wall of old painted doors, the Afro-Cuban jazz on the stereo. I just like being in there.
This is another shop where I can’t leave without buying a spare sanguich for the road, usually for me, but sometimes so I can evangelize about their juiciferousness to whoever I might see later. Hell, food aside, I can sit there and talk to Geo for an hour without even trying, just listening to him wax philosophic about recipes from back home in Havana. It’s that scrappy Seattle style I was talking about up there. This guy’s got the energy, man.
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Mark Pinkaow is a marketing mastermind, but even if he wasn’t, he’d still be on this list. Mark and his wife, Picha, were the original owners/chefs at lunchtime lifesaver Thai Curry Simple in the International District. They are now dealing Thai lunch with an added dimension in the U-District. Mark Thai Food Box (fka Wann Yen) is a concept born out of the pandemic: when we couldn’t dine indoors, Picha and Mark started putting their homestyle meals into little grab-and-go boxes for ten bucks, with at least a dozen dishes on offer, and then plastered Mark’s cartoon face over every possible surface. Even the bottled water.
I can’t think of a Mark Thai food box I don’t adore, although I tend to gravitate toward the khao mun gai and the pork panang curry again and again. They’re sold at local supermarkets, but when I can, I like to go outside the box (heh) and dine in with Picha and Mark—who is the Ave’s own Mr. Looper, an expert on every customer’s name and favorite dish. He and Picha were immediately dedicated to their new neighborhood, regularly donating meals to homeless camps in the area, and I’m tremendously on board with that. I also love their mini general store with bottled pad thai sauce, curry paste, Thai spice gift sets, and other take-home ingredients, so you can slap it all together at home, your own way. They even provide recipe ideas!
Basically, these folks really just want everyone to be fed, in whatever way one has time for, and it’s what we need more of in Seattle. Brilliant, friendly, delicious community-building. It’s pretty much the best kind.
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Catfish Corner at MLK and Cherry was a staple of the Central District for decades until 2009, when original owners Rosemary and Woodrow Jackson sold the restaurant to friends… and a few years later, it suddenly and calamitously blinked out of existence. The fact that it’s back now is a bafflingly unusual twist here in Vanishing Seattle that we can’t take for granted for a second.
It’s all thanks to Terrell “Catfish” Jackson, who’d worked at his grandparents’ restaurant starting at age 14. "I know all the recipes,” he told the Stranger’s Angela Garbes when he reopened at 23rd and Jackson in 2015, just a few blocks south of the original store. “I had to bring it back—the correct way, the way it's supposed to be run."
Old-time Seattleites will be catapulted back to the '90s by the scent that hits you when you walk in the door, to say nothing of the crunch of the cornmeal crust on that hellafied catfish filet. You kind of can’t believe this is happening. You’re a teenager again. They even have the old sign from 1985, with the same cartoon catfish and the bubble-letter typeface, transliterated into a vinyl decal on the front window.
Listen, what are the odds? Not only could Jackson's Catfish Corner have easily been stamped out forever, like dozens of other historic Seattle restaurants that’ve been gentrified right off the map, but it’s been essentially frozen in amber for us. Same recipe, same family, same quality. I know the Catfish Corner Redux happened years ago, but I’m still not over it. We lucked out so hard, Seattle, I am telling you.
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Remember a couple years ago, when the internet was flooded with photos of Georgian khachapuri—those extra-Instagrammable so-called “cheese boats,” with the egg and pat of butter on top? (Dacha Diner had them, RIP.) Soon, we started seeing recipe adaptations where you’re told to substitute traditional sulguni cheese with a very wrong combination of feta and supermarket mozzarella, and people were like, “You can just use premade pizza dough from Trader Joe’s!” and it was just a bad scene all around?
Skalka has the real thing. Their khachapuri adjaruli—the one with the egg—is made with real imported sulguni, and it’s just to swoon for. To be fair, there are also a few modern neologisms on the menu, e.g., the beef stroganoff khachapuri… which you probably will not see in Tbilisi. Doesn’t matter. Authentic or not, they’re all incredible.
Skalka calls them “boats” on the menu, and you might wait up to 45 minutes for your khachapuri on a busy day, but just do it. Go for a walk on the waterfront or something, then come back. Nothing beats opening up that steamy takeout box, inhaling the perfume of freshly baked bread, salty cheese, and whatever toppings you picked, then beholding the masterpiece before you. Rip a piece of soft, fluffy bread from the edge, stab the yolk with it, and swirl it into the lake of melty cheese and butter. Dunk it into the luxuriant dairy elixir you have made, and eat it. Now you see.
Milano Pizza and Pasta was in Wallingford for eons, and I couldn’t tell you how their pizza tasted—only that they were open unusually late. A few years ago, they also quietly started selling samsas and fitchis, which are two sides of the same Turkmen coin: bread dumplings with savory fillings. Then Milano came fully out as Turkmen and rebranded itself as Fitchi House—still serving mostly pizza, but with little bits of Central Asian decor in the shop and that proud Turkmen word right in the name.
A fitchi is a small round meat pie with a top crust, while a samsa is folded over like a small calzone. Both are available at Fitchi House packed with either minced beef, chicken and cream sauce, or an onion, spinach, and mushroom mix. The one that stays on my mind like Wind Song is the beef samsa, which is loaded with a couple herby meatballs and about half a cup of fatty, shiny, garlicky beef broth, like a khinkali or xiao long bao. It’s a baked version, but you slurp-bite it the same way, in one motion. See, the fitchi kinda falls apart when you do this, so I like that the samsa’s shape creates a bready drinking horn from which to sip your rich, beefy broth, like an ancient sultan might.
It still takes finesse, and I spilled most of the precious meat broth and half the meat itself all over my plate the first time I came here. When we were finished, our server asked how we liked it, and I exclaimed, “We loved it! We’ll be back for sure!” He smiled serenely and laughed. “Yeah, when I saw you licking your whole hand, I was like…” [finger guns] “We got ‘em.’”