Seattle’s Best New Restaurants, Continued Surreality Edition

Ashley S. Crofoot

Meesha’s menu draws from multiple regions of India. Restaurants have now spent a year jolting over the potholes of our pandemic dining protocols. And a small but battle-tested new guard has never known any other type of existence. Over the past six months, we welcomed some long-anticipated spots, plus others […]

Meesha’s menu draws from multiple regions of India.

Restaurants have now spent a year jolting over the potholes of our pandemic dining protocols. And a small but battle-tested new guard has never known any other type of existence. Over the past six months, we welcomed some long-anticipated spots, plus others that sprang into existence as an unintended upside to last spring’s shutdown chaos. A few currently offer adapted versions of their original vision, like a gorgeous Capitol Hill wine bar that sits empty while the kitchen puts out creative lunchtime pizza. (Fear not, Seattle’s newcomer pizza game remains strong, and more varied by the day.)

These, in no particular order, are the best new restaurants in the city. By way of reminder, Seattle Met updates this list roughly every six months, adding only places where we’ve dined—even if that means takeout, in the car, parked around the corner.


Allyum

West Seattle

A (currently) counter service restaurant in Luna Park achieves masterful vegan food through a seemingly simple formula: Do unto plants what another chef might do unto meat. Chef Ally Rael batters and fries a curlicue of oyster mushrooms until they’re a golden, spice-flecked stunt double for chicken, served atop a perfectly textured rye waffle. Slabs of carrot, cured and smoked a la lox, anchor a delicious vegan benedict. Allyum balances brunch with a rotating cast of dinnertime comfort food (you can order the whole menu for $40). An unexpected hit, these themed lineups will likely stick around in some fashion once Allyum can expand into a seasonal dinner menu and proper cocktail program. Rael dislikes the baggage-laden term “vegan;” it’s a common sentiment among plant-based chefs, though there’s nothing common about the food happening here. Co-owner Dahli Strayer bestowed the vintage coin-operated elephant ride by the door, a souvenir from the old Chubby and Tubby in White Center.



Banh Mi Deluxe

Rainier Valley

A freestanding shop on Rainier houses a terrific new banh mi counter and sibling bubble tea enterprise. Make your way from the rear parking lot and you’ll see duck and pork belly hanging in a glass enclosure on the side of the building, a literal window into the careful ingredients that get tucked into shattering, satisfying baguettes. The lineup of $5–$6 banh mi includes that pork belly, crisped, and grilled pork, but also a version made with bulgogi and kimchi. Egg and avocado also make unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable banh mi cameos. Boss Tea, the bubble tea half of the equation has its own counter with a digital menu so vast that a separate screen lists the shop’s top 10 bestselling drinks.

The Flora Bakehouse

Beacon Hill

Sure, it began as a commissary for Cafe Flora and its airport sibling counter, Floret. But along the way, owner Nat Stratton-Clarke realized this little corner of Beacon Hill could use a neighborhood hangout. One with a striking color scheme and a glass case stuffed with twice-baked croissants and vegan cinnamon rolls and brownies lacking gluten, eggs, or butter and yet rich enough to have their own tax bracket. Neighbors dig the coffee and breakfast sandwiches, but don’t overlook the rotating hand pies, a savory breakfast that also happens to involve buttery pie dough. Finally, Flora’s oft-underrated pastry program has the showcase it deserves.




Cornelly

Capitol Hill

Does any other city block pack a higher concentration of great food and drink than the stretch of Summit home to Single Shot, Top Pot, and Sol Liquor? Cornelly might just be the clincher. The formula (pizza, pasta, and vegetable dishes) may not sound groundbreaking, but we’re talking beautiful, labor-intensive sourdough pies, with mostly classic toppings and a comforting amount of cheese. And pasta that goes all in on seasons and texture—orecchiette in parsley anchovy butter with shaved brussels sprouts, strozzapreti rich with pesto and spicy as hell thanks to some extemporaneous calabrian chiles. All this, plus memorable vegetal sides, conjure easy comparisons to Ethan Stowell, back in his fiery early days. Cornelly co-owner Brett Phillips also admires the pasta stylings of Mike Easton (and even bought his old extruder). But Phillips and co-owner Sam Carroll have built something all their own, from the white and marine-blue dining room to the kitchen that nurtures creative riffs. Get in line early (and in person) to secure a square of the Sunday special Detroit-style pizza.

Hello Em

Chinatown–International District

Yenvy Pham of Pho Bac spearheaded this Vietnamese coffee shop in the Little Saigon Creative Space, and its menu of hot and iced coffees, topped with pudding-like egg creme or the salty, fluffy charms of the “egg foam” she makes out of the remaining whites. The coffee’s absolutely worth a trip; Pham and her partner, Nghia Bui, roast their own single-origin robusta, a rarity in the U.S. But the small lineup of banh-mi-nis—a sandwich hybrid achieved with help from a panini press—are a tasty digression.



Martino’s

Phinney Ridge

It’s your typical story, really. Three guys open a meaty sandwich counter, close it a few years later, then resurface it down the block five years after that as a neighborhood restaurant, equipped with high chairs and cocktails. Chef and co-owner Chris Martino revived his smoked tri-tip sandwich, still tender and adorned just enough, and expanded the menu with some meal-size salads, a burger, even a slate of breakfast sandwiches. Weekly dinner specials (fried chicken, smoked meatloaf) hint at the full-service menu to come. The restaurant’s resurrection happened after Martino’s business partners, Chris Navarra and Chris Gerke, decided to close their Mexican spot, Hecho, on Greenwood Avenue. Now, as Martino’s, it sports a sort of firehouse chic aesthetic and the requisite butchery diagram painted on the wall. The meat hook door pull summons ironic memories of the years this address spent as the vegetarian haven Carmelita.



Itsumono

Chinatown–International District/Japantown

The former Kaname Izakaya now crackles with nori-dusted curly fries, a commendable drinking burger, and karaage styled after Nashville hot chicken. New owners, both longtime Chinatown–International District denizens, refreshed the space to emphasize the bar without losing that “been there forever” feel. They also brought in Eden Hill alum Sean Arakaki to create a menu you won’t find elsewhere in Japantown’s compact dining scene. His playful izakaya dishes are fun, his saimin comforting in the extreme. But as Arakaki gets more comfortable in the kitchen, he’s been putting out specials that recall his Eden Hill days. Both ends of the fancy spectrum are worth exploring, as is the new bar setup.

Moto Pizza

West Seattle

A minuscule cottage and garden wedged between two blocky mid-rises provides easy comparisons to the movie Up, but also some stunning Detroit-style pizza. Rectangles of wispy crust sport a bulwark of browned cheese, plus a crunchy, almost fried bottom. On top, owner Lee Kindell might honor his Filipinx upbringing with lechon kawali and Pollock splashes of green sauce tart with calamansi, or pile a deluxe quantity of crab atop his cheese blend and garnish with butter and lemon. (Yes, he also totally does pepperoni, cheese, and meatless versions). A display case in the former living room offers soft serve, each vanilla swirl edged with your choice of flavor, piped in via a special machine. Kindell serves these in cylindrical confections based on sixteenth century European “chimney cakes” and dotted  with fruity pebbles or gummi bears or Oreo dust. If this is all starting to sound like the best sort of fever dream, then you’re starting to get the idea.



Light Sleeper

Capitol Hill

One of the most fetching bars in town glitters inside Chophouse Row, waiting for the moment when someone can actually sit in its copper-covered, low-lit environs and order a glass of orange wine on tap. Chef Eli Dahlin and his three wine-focused business partners set out to highlight small-scale producers—and pair those pours with small plates of uncommonly matched flavors. Like so much else, that formula’s currently inverted; Dahlin is leaning into the kitchen’s wood oven to crank out individually-sized pastoral pizzas. He tops these with brussels sprouts, fermented garlic, and rind-and-all brie chunks, or maybe pumpkin, parmesan, and lardo. Each passing week adds a new layer—outdoor seating, cocktails, more plates, glass pours. Elegant cabbage rolls (no, really) and a blood sausage katsu sandwich with a bright curry mayonnaise offer a portal to what Light Sleeper will look like in the future, when diners can occupy the plant- and booth-filled dining room. Meanwhile, the sibling wine shop does its thing around the corner.

Aviv Shawarma Bar

South Lake Union

The four-foot tower of dark turkey meat steals the show at this casual counter on South Lake Union’s east edge. It rotates hypnotically before gas flames, which melt strategically placed layers of lamb fat. By the time that meat’s shaved off and stuffed into a pita—along with a supporting cast of acid and crunch—you’d swear gravy lurked somewhere in its depths. Owner David Nussbaum channeled Tel Aviv’s shawarma bars, and in the process gifted Seattle one truly great sandwich. The rest of Aviv’s menu should look familiar to fans of its Capitol Hill sibling, Aviv Hummus Bar.



Communion

Central District

One of the city’s most anticipated restaurants enshrines chef Kristi Brown’s particular fusion of soul food and her lived experience shopping and eating in Chinatown­­­–International District and other Seattle enclaves. That could mean a long-simmered broth that harbors rice noodles, but also greens and seared rib tips. Or a sushi roll stuffed with cornmeal-fried catfish. Some glorious deep-fried chicken wings come out of Communion’s open kitchen, but so does a considerable breadth of vegan (and gluten-free) dishes. In the dining room, tufted booths and a vintage back bar warms new construction, and Brown’s son and business partner Damon Bomar stirs brown liquor cocktails. Communion’s long-planned debut as a Black-owned business just off the Central District’s symbolic 23rd and Union crossroads helps anchor the neighborhood’s identity in the face of gentrification. But Brown’s thoughtful comfort food and exuberant welcome (and patio!) extend to all comers.

Meesha

Fremont

Preeti Agarwal went straight from home cook to proprietor of the Indian popup, Meesha. When she took over Pomerol in Fremont, she kept its French menu mostly intact for her first year to learn the finer points of running a professional kitchen. Now, at last, the restaurant is remade as Meesha, home to tender lamb gosht in herb sprinkled gravy, buttery kulcha flatbread, and Amritsari fritters. The kitchen grinds an abundance of fresh, sometimes hard-to-find spices to flavor dishes from across India’s many regions, from northerly Kashmir to the coconut-inflected seafood of Goa. Agarwal generally avoids American familiars like tikka masala. But her butter chicken—a special garam masala just for the charcoal-smoked meat, sauce rich with cashews—is striking. Ditto the covered back patio.



La Rue

Capitol Hill

Alex Villa and Danae Alexander gave a storage space beneath the Reef cannabis shop on Olive Way a minty coat of paint and a new identity: crepe window. Villa’s previous experience with crepes was more as a consumer—an avid one during travels to France—but he channeled lessons learned making tortillas with his grandmother. Now he presides ably over a pair of round crepe stones to fashion savory and sweet versions, folded into a paper cone handy for walking around. Combos like ham and cheese or Nutella with strawberries skew classic, but Villa also pairs brie with candied walnuts and poached pears, or leek confit with a blend of mushrooms. Alexander runs the sidewalk window and dips into the Nutella supply to make a decadent mocha (and a latte made with bourbon barrel- aged maple syrup).

Chengdu Taste

Chinatown–International District

In 2013, Chengdu natives Tony Xu and Sean Xie opened a restaurant in Southern California to address what they perceived as a lack of proper Sichuan food in the United States. Its popularity was instant, first among Chinese customers and then far beyond thanks in large part to accolades from the incomparable Jonathan Gold. The handsome outpost that opened in Chinatown–International District this October is Chengdu Taste’s sixth location, but the first with a cocktail program that complements the signature spicy-numbing charms of this food. And really, it’s hard to go wrong on that front. The toothpick lamb fragrant with cumin is legendary. Fried bits of chongqing chicken pop with juice and spice. Tan tan noodles deliver a cold tingle. The kitchen does a brisk takeout and delivery business via the Fantuan app, but Xu and Xie enlisted a design firm in China to design the dining room, an ode to the minimalist power of red accent walls and great light fixtures.




Rubinstein Bagels

Denny Regrade

Andrew Rubinstein’s impeccable bagels have taken over the front section of Via6, giving us a reliable daily destination that doesn’t require a compass and a wayfinding trail of bagel crumbs like his original quarters in the Union Square complex. Rubinstein bagels are worthy of eating solo, but here they also underpin a dozen sandwiches, from a breakfast riff on avocado toast to lunchtime pastrami or tuna or BLTs. One of the nicest surprises about his new cafe (besides an outlet for Olympia coffee) is the duck matzo ball soup, sometimes with a side of delicate bagel chips. Rubinstein definitely isn’t a novelty bagel guy, thus his forays into flair are particularly thoughtful, like his recent salted chocolate chunk and cacio e pepe flavors.

Hangry Panda

Greenwood

It makes perfect sense that chef Lucy Ye worked previously at Taurus Ox. The restaurant she and partner Joe Ye opened on Aurora Avenue follows a similar ethos: Casual food that belies the tremendous amount of labor happening in the miniscule kitchen. Here it’s a blend of Seattle staples and Taiwanese street food, the resulting menu almost entirely gluten free. (Both Yes are from China’s Fujian province, a culinarily similar region just across the strait from Taiwan.) Hangry Panda deploys hard-to-source sweet potato starch to coat some incredible Taiwanese-style salt and pepper popcorn chicken. Lucy makes her own milk tea syrup, and the sauce for a really excellent teriyaki. The minced pork rice is the sort of dish that keeps your brain and palate busy decoding the many layers of flavor, but other items (fried chicken sandwiches, waffle fries, the black sesame “panda milk” drinks that beg for a thorough Instagramming) offer simpler pleasures, carefully executed.




Old Salt

Fremont

There are pivots, and then there are kitchens that set aside every pre-existing skill they possess to build some new ones. In December, Manolin set aside its breezy, Latin-tinged menu and became, of all things, a bagel shop. But look closer and the perfectionist lox and smoked fish spread constitute a smart extension of chef Liz Kenyon’s normal-times seafood dishes. She and her team converted the curved bar, normally stocked with pisco and rum, into a series of bins that hold plain, poppyseed, and everything varieties. The act of making a good bagel can prove elusive even to chefs who’ve been toiling at it for years. Kenyon and her team stared down a formidable learning curve and deliver a version slightly more breadlike than the platonic ideal, but damn delicious, and even better with the house chile schmear. Nothing is definitive yet, but Kenyon says bagels will likely continue, even after Manolin reopens.

The Flour Box

Hillman City

Interested in trying Pamela Vuong’s ethereal brioche doughnuts? Set a timer and clear your schedule; her preorder-only bakery in Hillman City sells out faster than a Hamilton show that comes with a free Covid vaccine. It’s not hard to see why; she pipes her creations full of sophisticated cross-cultural combos like basmati rice pudding, everything bagel, Thai tea cream, or roasted banana, each doughnut’s contents poking from the top with some sort of artful flourish. The Flour Box began as a popup, then transformed a former chicken shop in Hillman City into an inviting bakery with a broader menu. On any given week it might include beignets or cookies or giant cinnamon rolls, but always the signature creme brulee doughnuts, with their topper of torched sugar.



Sabine

Ballard

After 11 nonstop years as a French bistro, Bastille’s dramatic dining room received a dose of French blue and a new counter service identity suited to life during, and beyond, a pandemic. Chef Jacob Dunkelberger lifts the all-day cafe menu out of France and reorients it somewhere near Silver Lake, with bowls and toasts that nod to LA favorites like Sqirl and Gjusta. Sabine makes its own bread and pastrami, and dispenses so many housemade pastries it practically qualifies as a bakeshop. But the breakfast salad is a scene stealer: All of the bacon and lardon goodness of a classic salade Lyonnaise, plus a little funk (king trumpet mushrooms), a little crunch (quinoa), and a date syrup vinaigrette good enough to drink. The coffee menu is full of adaptogenic milks and the bevy of patios exude brunchtime charm.

Secret Congee

Wallingford

Though Seattle has a considerable amount of good congee, J.P. Lertsirin always found it odd the city has barely any spots dedicated to the art of rice porridge. So he set up shop in a Wallingford commissary kitchen and turns out beautiful, thicker-end-of-the-spectrum congee, thoughtfully tricked out with braised pork belly and Sichuan peppercorns, or blue crab and garlic. As comfort foods go, congee usually gets minimal adornment (Lertsirin previously co-owned Congeez, which stuck largely to classic garnishes) but the combination of porridge, sparked with ginger, creamy with chicken stock, and cheffy toppings hits just right in our current world of anxiety and takeout.




Temple Pastries

Central District

Christina Wood transformed her impressive popup into a proper bakery in October and has been stunning pastryphiles ever since. This bilevel shop on Jackson, a partnership with Broadcast Coffee, is as modern as the business model, full of textured minimalism and a mezzanine that promises a glorious spot for laptop work in our vaccinated future. Wood is equally architect and pastry chef, making precision magic in the form of brioche doughnuts with savory gruyere bechamel filling, chocolate tahini tarts, and buckwheat shortbread cookies. Not that her talents require showy flavors; each bite of Temple’s plain croissant crackles like a potato chip and rustles like Victorian skirts. Wood favors unsung combos, like Campari-inspired doughnuts, and in her hands even cronuts and cruffins feel dignified. 

84 Yesler

Pioneer Square

A fine dining phoenix just rose in Pioneer Square—an unexpected and welcome development at the address where Bisato made its short-lived return. A new name (yes, it’s also the address) now graces that same polished luxe interior. Chef Shawn Applin, previously the chef at RN74 uses seafood and Italian traditions as a base camp, but balances beautiful pastas with a fire-breathing Thai-style shrimp larb, a triumphant pork chop, and airy “churros” made of choux and dusted with parmesan. Service strikes that elusive Seattle balance of “special night out” and “you won’t feel weird wearing Patagonia.”



 

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