With a new year comes a rekindled appetite for immersive and creative experiences, even when it comes to dining out. Whether you’re a seasoned Seattleite or a tourist, here are five restaurants serving exceptional meals where the entertainment rivals the food.
Theatrical dinner at Café Nordo
Café Nordo gives a whole new meaning to the term “dinner and a show.” Housed at Nordo’s Culinarium in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square, each show at Café Nordo is wildly different. The constants are that the space is transformed (from the lounge of a 1960s Pan Am 707 to a haunted house to an Old West saloon) and the food is an integral part of the theatrical experience. The actors roam freely among the audience and even double as servers. The prince you just saw getting beheaded from the kingdom might saunter over and refill your wineglass. That anguished mermaid writhing on the shore? She might serve your next course of wild salmon fillet. The best part? The audience has a “role” in the proceedings. All the world’s a stage at Café Nordo, and the audience is expected to play along. There are no traditional sit-down shows, and the line between actors and attendees blurs here. You might be a guest at a funeral or a ghost at a wedding. This is the perfect opportunity to show off your acting chops while slurping that tasty heirloom tomato bisque. Dinner with a side of drama, anyone? 109 S. Main St.
Authentic Moroccan experience at Marrakesh
Quick question: What’s probably as good as a plane ticket to Morocco? A wholesome, authentic Moroccan meal at Marrakesh in Belltown. The restaurant has a distinct regal vibe: Moroccan tapestries, silver urns, and a tent-like feel transport you to a faraway, mystical place you probably read about in the tales of the Arabian Nights as a kid. You’re offered rose-scented water to wash your hands as soon as you sit down, because you’re encouraged to dive into your couscous with your hands, as per tradition. It’s a very hands-on dining experience, to say the least. You may have gone to a Moroccan joint before, but probably not to one that commits so entirely and authentically to the experience. While they do have an a la carte menu, the prix-fixe menu offers the whole five-course experience. It begins with a deeply savory lentil soup, appetizers, and salads. For the main course, you can choose from Middle Eastern touchstones like tagines and moussaka. Before you know it, you’ll be cozily ensconced in floor cushions, digging into a fragrant, succulent tagine and being entertained by talented belly dancers. The meal ends with flaky, buttery baklava and freshly brewed mint tea. You’ll leave the place feeling sated from all that good food and invigorated from an unconventional food experience. 2334 Second Ave.
DIY meat grilling at Trove
Summer is far, far away, but you can still fire up that grill. Unleash your inner chef at this nouveau-Korean joint run by husband-and-wife duo Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi. Trove’s BBQ dining room holds tabletop grills on which diners can grill their own pork belly or beef short rib to sizzling, caramelized perfection. Trove is a four-way street — a wok room, parfait truck, craft-cocktail focused bar, and Korean BBQ hybrid. You’ll meat the tower of your dreams here (pun intended). The meat is downright delicious, probably more so because you’re eating the fruit of your own labor. Dress up your meat with Korean trimmings like kimchi and banchan, which with their bright acidities will take your food to the next level. You must order their infamous rice cakes, handmade noodles, and boozy soju shots on the side. This is an interactive, shareable dining experience — perfect for large, boisterous gatherings. Think of it this way — the bigger the group, the more dishes you can try! Pro tip: Finish the party with their homemade black sesame ice cream. 500 E. Pike St.
Old-world charm at El Gaucho
El Gaucho has been a high-end, swanky Seattle staple for more than 20 years. Its founder, Paul Mackay, used to begin service each night by saying to jazz pianist Daniel Davison, “Start the magic.” The magic of El Gaucho is its old-school details — glimmering candlelit tables, tuxedoed servers, live jazz on the piano, fire-dancing desserts, and meticulous tableside service. Dishes like chateaubriand, Caesar salad, and cherries jubilee are prepared tableside, adding theatricality to the whole dining experience. El Gaucho evokes days of yore with coat service, napkin-snapping, and a retro vibe. Rumor has it that Sir Mix-a-Lot is a regular. Classic steakhouse cuisine is the focus, but there are ample seafood and vegetarian options. Here, dinner is a ceremony, a rare thing in today’s world. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Seattle restaurant this guest-friendly. You’ll leave well-fed, even a bit nostalgic for the past after a rather pricey but unforgettable meal. 2505 First Ave.
Trapeze show at The Pink Door
Run by boss-lady Jackie Roberts, The Pink Door has been a Seattle institution since 1981. Its 20-foot ceiling, outfitted with swinging trapeze rings and ornate chandeliers, make the space feel whimsical, intimate, and kitschy all at once. They also have an outdoor patio space with swoon-worthy Puget Sound views. Take out-of-town guests here for a one-of-a-kind experience, great entertainment, and a lovely Italian meal — after a Pike’s Place Market stroll, of course. Live opera, aerial trapeze, jazz, tap dancing, stand-up cello, and burlesque are just some of the possibilities. Nowhere else will you find a trapeze artist swinging over delighted diners and steaming platters of pasta. The place is always populated with tourists, but also by seasoned locals who are serious about excellent hearty Italian comfort food, like saffron-stuffed arancini and spicy seafood cioppino. The place lives up to its name, literally and figuratively: You enter though a pale pink door (and no signage!) and leave in a rose-tinted haze, having managed to escape reality for a few delicious, lingering hours. 1919 Post Alley