Best of Seattle 2018: Food & Drink

Best Bar + Best Brewery + Best Happy Hour

Redhook Brewlab

Founded in 1981, just three years after then-President Carter legalized home brewing, Redhook’s craft-brewing past is a storied one. Redhook had credibility in spades when it opened, serving a craft beer-deprived community which had only watered-down or imported options. It quickly grew to be the largest craft brewery in Washington, thanks to its popular porter and, later, its Ballard Bitter (which would become its Long Hammer IPA). But great success and expectations often come with great costs. The company lost standing with its pluckypatrons when in 2008 it partnered with Budweiser’s parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev. What had been craft-beer royalty succumbed to corporate-beer snoralty.

But that was before Redhook Brewlab. Redhook’s most recent development is the big and bright new brewpub smack-dab in the center of Capitol Hill. It’s not merely an excellent option for beer and snacks, it’s a chance for the brewery to reclaim some of its former greatness. Opened a year ago in the former Pike Motorworks building, it’s a place for Redhook’s newest star head brewer, Nick Crandall, to experiment and create new flavors to shake up what had become a stagnant, slow-moving company. Crandall hopes flavors like the rich My Oh My Stout and the fruity Tangelic Halo IPA will invigorate a new generation of Redhook customers that had only been able to drink the same handful of standard options for years.

With two bars—one in front, one in back—that bookend about a dozen booths, Brewlab almost overnight became a post-work happy-hour hotspot. With the combination of 16 craft taps on hand and an open kitchen that offers bar snacks like $6 hushpuppies and pizzas like the $15 oozy Gruyère pie, it’s no wonder that Brewlab nabbed three Best Of awards this year: Best Bar, Best Brewery, and Best Happy Hour.

While Redhook now distributes in all 50 states, Crandall believes Brewlab offers new hope for a focus on Washington. “A lot of the beers we’re making now aren’t necessarily for national release,” Crandall told BeerAdvocate magazine last year when Brewlab opened. “As we launch new beers, we’ll stick to [distribution in] Washington. And after we plant those seeds, we’ll see if they grow.” In just a year, it seems like those seeds have taken root. Redhook brews most of its large-batch signature beers outside Seattle, but it’s within Brewlab’s walls that their next great pint will be perfected. | | JACOB UITTI

Bar: #2 Unicorn | #3 Solo Bar & Eatery

Brewery: #2 Georgetown Brewing Company | #3 Elysian Brewing Company

Happy Hour: #2 Salty’s | #3 Solo Bar & Eatery

Salty’s brunch buffet. Photo by Mike Prosser/Flickr

Salty’s brunch buffet. Photo by Mike Prosser/Flickr

Best Restaurant + Best Brunch


With its staggering 33-year history, the only thing that rivals the seafood at Salty’s on Alki is its gorgeous maritime views. You can nosh on classic Northwest fare and see sunlight glinting off downtown’s skyscrapers on a sunny day, or moody clouds settling in on a gray, wintry one. This West Seattle institution lives up to the hype, delighting locals and tourists alike. This summer, Prime Minister Abe of Japan even dropped in for lunch! No biggie.

While it offers hands-down the best restaurant view in the Emerald City (sorry, SkyCity), what will have you falling for Salty’s is the fresh seafood. Dishes are taken to another level with unexpected ingredient pairings. Take for instance the lavender honey salmon—the sweet floral notes take the velvety rich salmon from great to sublime. The food comes without a side order of pretentiousness, though; they do good ol’ fish and chips just as well as fancier dishes. Salty’s takes its seafood very seriously, with prime products sourced at prime time from trusted local farmers, fishermen, foragers, and vintners. Think dock-to-dish rather than farm-to-table, with just-caught seafood coming in every single day. If the salmon were any fresher, it would be doing somersaults on your plate.

And just when you think it can’t get any better, it does. What’s better than fresh seafood? An all-you-can-eat seafood brunch buffet! The bounty alone would make it the city’s best, but being at ease is also a hallmark of a great brunch, and Salty’s scores on both counts. The laid-back seaside vibe and the tunes in the background from pianist Victor Janusz, set the mood. You’ll see natives relaxedly milling about the boozy Make Your Own Mary station and awestruck tourists piling their plates high with Dungeness crab legs. We’re talking about freshly shucked Taylor shellfish oysters here! And as seafood brunches go, they don’t skimp on the scampi either. Having trouble choosing between the coconut prawns and the herb-crusted catfish? Well, you don’t have to! It’s a no-holds-barred celebration and a recipe for a perfectly lazy weekend meal, with the fish being the only thing that’s “wild.” (Pro tip: Wear your stretchiest pants and be prepared to stuff yourself silly.) Come to the end and there’s yet another choice: stroll along the boardwalk or head home for a well-deserved snooze? Either way, it’s a good call.

You’re in for a feast at Salty’s, and not just for the food: Be sure to ask for a patio table and enjoy the amazing vistas of shimmering Elliott Bay and the stunning Seattle skyline. It’s a sensory experience of flavors and sights, with waves lapping the shore and the scent of the sea hanging in the air as you indulge in every magnificent bite. | | AAKANKSHA AGARWAL

Resturant: #2 Saint John’s Bar & Eatery | #3 Ray’s Boathouse

Brunch: #2 Portage Bay Cafe | #3 Café Flora

Dick’s Drive-In.

Dick’s Drive-In.

Best Takeout + Best Cheap Eats

Dick’s Drive-In

No doubt our undying love for the eternal Dick’s floats on a cloud of nostalgia, but that’s not a bad thing these days as Seattle goes through yet another economics-driven losing-our-soul cycle. “The old weird Seattle” was perhaps never all that weird, but we can’t afford to lose much more of it as large swaths of the city turn into forests of mixed-use glass monoliths. Thankfully, Dick’s endures as one of the few remaining commercial reminders of Seattle’s past: pre-Amazon, pre-grunge, pre-MicroBucks, pre-Boeing bust, pre-World’s Fair even. As much as we revere the chain, its growth has been slower than plate tectonics, with six outlets (opened in 1954, ’55, ’60, ’63, ’74, and 2011) and a seventh in Kent on the way. The revolving sign at the original Wallingford location still advertises “Instant Service” in that retro Brush front—and that’s not all that’s never changed about the design; the chain is as devoted to orange and brown as ever. (Imagine a Dick’s decorated in hot pink and sky blue? So wrong.) The menu—basic, unfancy, ultra-affordable, and great on-the-go—is the very definition of reliable. Dick’s still promises REAL beef, REAL Pacific Northwest potatoes, REAL hand-dipped ice cream; they still charge a nickel for condiments; they still offer amazing employee benefits; and they still provide seating at only the Lower Queen Anne location. And if you’re wondering whether they’ve changed their strict no-substitutions policy, as one young man did when I was there last week—“Do you do substitutions?”—the answer is still no. | | GAVIN BORCHERT

Takeout: #2 Pecos Pit BBQ | #3 Ivar’s Seafood Bar

Cheap Eats: #2 Pecos Pit BBQ | #3 Ivar’s Seafood Bar

Biscuit Bitch coffee.

Biscuit Bitch coffee.

Best Coffee

Biscuit Bitch

While the biscuits and their various delicious Southern preparations get top billing, only a fool would sleep on Biscuit Bitch’s coffee. (Which, conveniently, does a very good job of negating that sleepiness.) The secret that separates this cup of joe from those of run-of-the-mill breakfast joints? Its signature blend. Greenwood’s Seven Coffee Roasters crafts The Bitch Blend specifically for the restaurant, mixing its Ethiopia Keffa Forest and Sumatra Mandheling Old School beans which result in a complex, smooth, and never-bitter drink. (It’s so popular that Seven sells it in their online store.) Biscuit Bitch’s full cafe and espresso shop gives patrons many ways to enjoy a perky cup, including the Bitch Brew cold brew. With three locations (two in Belltown and one in Pioneer Square), Biscuit Bitch has become a go-to spot for downtown workers to imbibe their morning pick-me-up. | | SETH SOMMERFELD

#2 Caffe Vita | #3 Starbucks

Chateau Ste. Michelle. Photo by Don Hinchcliffe/Flickr

Chateau Ste. Michelle. Photo by Don Hinchcliffe/Flickr

Best Winery

Chateau Ste. Michelle

The crown jewel of Woodinville, this expansive winery is often at its best in the summer. Visitors can wend their way north from Seattle, park their cars or bikes, and head out to the green fields outside the castle-like Chateau Ste. Michelle to splay picnic blankets and an assortment of cheese and crackers to prepare for a summer concert from beloved performers like Allen Stone or Rodrigo y Gabriela. Unlike garden-variety options at your local grocery, these wines are crisp, light, refreshing, and delicious. Like a spring morning on your palate. Amid all the music, make time to stroll into the winery to pick up a bottle or two—or perhaps just sample their exquisite collection of nearly 100 varieties, from the critically acclaimed Artist Series of reds or the pressed-onsite whites like the Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay or the dessert-like Columbia Valley Harvest Select Sweet Riesling. | | JU

#2 DeLille Cellars | #3 Mark Ryan Winery

Erin Brindley.

Erin Brindley.

Best Chef

Erin Brindley (Café Nordo)

Seattle boasts a number of celebrity chefs: restaurateurs with name-recognition levels exceeding those of some of our elected officials, captains of industry, or artists and athletes. You can name them as well as I can—and you’ll have to, because I’m not going to embarrass them here. Because you didn’t choose them as your favorite, you chose Erin Brindley. She offers something they don’t: As co-artistic director and menu designer for Café Nordo, she’s taken the intersectionality of cuisine and theater to heights other dinner-and-a-show presenters like Teatro ZinZanni and the Can Can haven’t reached.

In a Nordo show, what you eat and what you watch were developed together, from the ground up, to interact and comment on each other. “I think what makes Erin the unique chef she is is her desire to tell a story with her food,” says co-artistic director Terry Podgorski. “Her individual plates are often wonderful in and of themselves, but it’s the weaving of all the courses of the evening into a theme and motif that makes a diner approach his or her food differently that is her magic. She’s a theater artist in chef’s clothing.” Brindley devises dishes that transport you, conjure a different time and place, just as theater does—like her “nouveau chuckwagon cuisine” (oxtail chili, pandowdy) for last spring’s Sergio Leone-inspired Smoked (anybody else doing a spaghetti-Western show would have simply served spaghetti), or the reinterpreted traditional dishes representing the fare served at an L.A. nightclub in the telenovela-a-la-Korea Persimmon Nights. And the food, in turn, inspires the performers, says actress Opal Peachey: “One of my favorite times in the rehearsal process for Nordo is when Erin gathers the cast, who will be serving the food, to try the menu. Often there are courses, like the ‘poisoned’ wedding cake for Hotel Nordo, that directly affect a character and inform our performance.”

After studies at New York City’s Tisch School of the Arts, Brindley came back to her hometown and fell in with the legendary and lamented Circus Contraption, directing its farewell show in 2008–09. There she met writer/set designer Podgorski, and, inventing a shadowy avant-garde culinary experimenter named Nordo Lefesczki to serve as the troupe’s avatar, the two launched Café Nordo’s first show that fall. Their productions, a handful each year since, all including live original music by Annastasia Workman, found a permanent home in Elliott Bay Books’ former Pioneer Square space in 2015. Their 10th season opens Sept. 20 with The Witching Hour, in which malevolent spirits (the supernatural kind, not the potable kind … though Brindley designs those too) are inadvertently released by hapless occultists. Again, in conceiving and developing the show, says Podgorski, she’s “scour[ed] her cookbooks for ingredients and techniques that capture the essence of the evening.” It’ll be the first of six all-new shows in Nordo’s anniversary year—a massive undertaking. But Brindley and the company are driven by the desire to satisfy two basic human needs at once; as Peachey puts it: “There is nothing more human than coming to table, and nothing more transcendent than storytelling.” | | GB

#2 Renee Erickson (Sea Creatures restaurants) | #3 Kelli Waugh (Solo Bar & Eatery)

Best of Seattle 2018: Food & Drink

Best LGBTQ Bar


Pony is many things—a dive bar, an art installation, a papier-mâché dick museum—but never boring. Located in a former gas station on a tiny triangle of land between Union and Madison, and marked only by a sign featuring the silhouette of a running horse, Pony can look intimidating from the street. But wander inside and order a Zima (just me?) and you’ll find a punk gay fantasia. Every available inch of the place is plastered with vintage gay porn and illustrations of queer icons by designer Kirk Damer. The DJs are spinning Bronski Beat or Grace Jones or some European techno track that sounds like a bathhouse soundtrack. In the corner, a sign by street artist John Criscitello exclaims “We Came Here To Get Away From You.” And above it all dangle those ever-present paper dicks. Amid the shifting demographics of Capitol Hill, and at a time when the fate of Seattle’s queer community feels unsure, Pony manages to supply both community and reliably good times. Plus, there’s a glory hole. Maybe that’s why celebrities have been known to pop in from time to time (I once told Alan Cumming that I loved his work in Spy Kids while waiting in line for the bathroom). Or maybe they’re just craving a Zima. | | SAMUEL CHAPMAN

#2 Saint John’s Bar & Eatery | #3 The Cuff Complex

El Camión.

El Camión.

Best Food Truck

El Camión

Food trucks have become a staple of the culinary scene over the past decade, offering increasingly diverse cuisines. But if we’re being honest, it’s really hard to top a taco truck. And in Seattle, El Camión long ago established itself as the truck (literally, that’s what its name translates as). There’s nothing fancy about El Camión’s fairly standard menu of Mexican staples, it just happens to nail all the details. For less than $3, its standard tacos are piled high with pico de gallo and one of eight meats—from the rock-solid carne asada and the spicy pork kick of the adobaba to tongue, intestine, or head for the adventurous (or authentic) tastebuds—on a flavorful corn tortilla. The preparation of the meats gives each a distinctive flavor profile, and the array of sauces with actual variety (an unfortunate rarity in Seattle Mexican food) truly lets an eater find their perfect taco combination. With four trucks stationed across town—North Seattle, Fremont, SoDo, and Laurelhurst (plus a brick-and-mortar outpost in Ballard)—El Camión offers plenty of ways to cheap-eat to your heart’s (and stomach’s) content. | | SS

#2 Pecos Pit BBQ | #3 Off the Rez

Ballard Farmers Market.

Ballard Farmers Market.

Best Farmer’s Market

Ballard Farmers Market

How great is the Ballard Farmers Market? If it were a once-a-year celebration, I highly doubt anyone would complain. The fact that it happens every Sunday all year round? Well, that just feels like an embarrassment of riches. With almost 150 vendors set up along Ballard Avenue Northwest and 22nd Avenue Northwest each Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the neighborhood event has all one could ask for to turn a lazy Sunday into a fun community gathering: fresh produce from nearby farms to stock up on for next week’s meals, tasty food vendors with shorter lines than those at weekend brunch hotspots, artisan crafts that catch the eye, and an always-pleasant (even when it rains) open-air vibe. When Seattle’s feeling too big, techy, and disconnected, the Ballard Farmers Market is the perfect low-key, homey escape. | | SS

#2 Pike Place Farmers Market | #3 West Seattle Farmers Market

Uncle Ike’s.

Uncle Ike’s.

Best Pot Shop

Uncle Ike’s

The easiest way to tell that people like Uncle Ike’s? The local chain keeps expanding. The original Uncle Ike’s in the Central District opened soon after legalization in 2014, and less than four years later a fifth outpost is on its way on Capitol Hill (joining the White Center location, another Capitol Hill spot, and the Glass and Goods shop in the CD). The dispensaries are the antithesis of what buying from a sketchy dealer used to be like: They’re clean and well-organized, offer a myriad of options for cannabis ingestion (from dozens of flowers to Death Star vapes to infused cookie dough), and boast friendly staffs that know their products. You might get more in-depth conversations on specific strains at smaller shops, but Uncle Ike’s makes up for that with its variety and accessibility for both marijuana newbies and old hands. | | SS

#2 Have a Heart | #3 Ganja Goddess