A foodie’s guide to Decibel
Decibel is in its 9th year and by now most everybody has made plans to come, or at the very least has heard about it. Being one of North America’s largest electronic music festivals, it hardly needs plugging. But if there’s one thing that I keep hearing year after year, it’s “where should I eat?” Being a die-hard foodie, I was asked this question a lot last year. Seattle has so much great food, it’s hard to narrow it down to a few options, but I have made a list of some of my favorite restaurants. I have tried to keep some variety, but if there’s one thing you must eat while visiting Seattle, it’s seafood. I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail on seafood restaurants, but we get some of the freshest catches around and the chefs in this city are enough to turn even the most recent local into a vicious food snob.
Japanese soul food | Veggie Friendly
Happy hour: 2:30-7pm daily
If you’ve never had ramen before, you just have to try it. This ain’t your college dorm’s ramen; Top Ramen and other instant noodles are trying their best to emulate this rich, delicious soup, but don’t even come close. While there are many types of ramen, the traditional Tokyo ramen is called Tonkotsu (Ton-yu for vegetarians) and if you’re a first-time ramen-eater this is the one to start with.
A pork-based soup, the thick broth is made from boiling pork bones, fat and collagen for many hours. This results in a hearty, cloudy and creamy consistency that almost looks milk-based. While there is no butter or lactose in the soup at all, you would never know it! As all true ramens, their noodles are hand-made in the shop and you choose the firmness: soft, medium or firm. Tonkotsu’s vegetarian sister, Ton-yu has the same look and consistency (how, I’ll never know) but includes no animal products and uses tofu instead of pork slices.
Other types of ramen include Shio (salt based), Shoyu (chicken based), Miso (soy based), and a host of other specialty ramens including hot and cold dipping ramens. One of my favorites is the Hellfire, a Tonkotsu made with plenty of chili spices to heat your mouth. If you can’t handle heat very well, I still encourage you to order a side of their chile sauce. It’s not very spicy but has a rich, round smokey flavor that’s a must. It’s only a buck and is served on the side, so you may as well try it.
Round out your meal with appetizers and a wide selection of beers, wines, cocktails and sake. No reservations, but if you want to feed more than 4 people, get there earlier in the night. The place is rather small and fills up fast.
Sushi, Japanese | Veggie Friendly
Happy hour: Open-6:30, 6:30-8 (Bar only), 10pm-Close Daily
If you ask most long-term Seattleites where the best sushi is, you’ll get a range of answers but 85% of them will be Wasabi Bistro. Until a couple years ago I would have said the same, but I’m willing to bet most people have not yet learned the joy of Japonessa.
Set on the corner of 1st and Union (just across the street from Seattle Art Museum and kitty-corner from The Triple Door) the ambiance and inventive approach to sushi leaves nothing to be desired. Pair that with one of the best happy hours in town and you’ll know why I used to eat there 2-3 times a week. The portions are large and the fish practically still swimming. My go-to appetizers are usually agedashi tofu and tempura brie (served with raspberry soy dipping sauce) but you could branch out to garlic short ribs, yakisoba, eggplant & mocha, octopus cakes (with orange alloli), vegetable tempura, ahi tartare, ceviche or even king crab udon. I also highly recommend the rainbow poke. It’s basically a sashimi salad tossed in togarashi, avocado and toasted sesame oil, but the sheer size of it is likely to be a meal on it’s own. If you get one as an appetizer be sure to have a person or two to share it with.
Of course no sushi restaurant is complete without specialty rolls, and Japonessa is no exception. From the sweet, spicy or savory options, my favorites are the Super Bad Boy Roll (very hearty and filling: eel, snow crab mix, avocado, cream cheese, tempura’d and topped with spicy seared crab, drizzled with chili allioli & soy glaze), the Diabla Say (the spiciest, but still not that spicy my palate: spicy tuna, cilantro, yama gobo, topped with seven spiced tuna, habañero citrus, scallions, habañero tobiko), the Orange Crush (snow crab, shibazuke, cucumber, cilantro, topped with sockeye and white king salmon then drizzled with coconut mango glaze) and last but not least, the tastiest vegetarian sushi ever, the Laughing Buddha (seasoned vegetables topped with mango, avocado, drizzled with mango shiso glaze). This time of year the veggie rolls come with pickled beet, which is unexpected and adds a lot of kick to a dish that usually surmounts to a glorified california roll.
Desserts change frequently, but one guaranteed item is the green tea tiramisu. If you don’t try it you’re missing out. Likewise their specialty cocktail, the Mamacita, is one of the most unique and delicious fusion drinks I’ve ever had.
Like most sushi restaurants worth gushing about, full meals don’t come cheap, but if you get there for happy hour and choose wisely it’s entirely possible to get appetizers, drinks and entrée for under $30… sometimes under $30 after tax and tip!
Hawaiian/Asian/Mexican Fusion | Veggie Friendly
Tacos, tortas, sliders, spam and… kimchi? This hole-in-the-wall eatery located above QFC on the corner of Broadway and Pike started out (and actually still is) Seattle’s most beloved food truck. Voted America’s Best Food Truck by Goodmorning America, Marination Station inspires haikus and exceedingly long lines in the neighborhoods it frequents. The sheer proximity to where I live puts our whole household in constant danger, but the best possible kind of danger… we may or may not eat there 3-7 times a week, I’m not at liberty to say.
The tacos are of the traditional variety in size and construction, but the ingredients make them some of the most unusually delicious tacos ever to grace your taste buds. Miso ginger chicken, kalbi (tender Korean short ribs) and spicy pork are some of the taco choices, but we generally go with sexy tofu. Yes, sexy tofu. If all tofu tasted like this I never would have had to try so hard to convince my father tofu is edible. Give it to a carnivore and they might not even know it’s *gasp* vegetarian! All are topped with a very fresh, tangy and crunch “slaw”, Nunya Sauce (available for retail purchase) and pickled jalapeño slices (also available for purchase).
I haven’t tried the tortas or sliders yet, but the kimchi rice and kimchi quesadillas are grrrrrrreat!
Gourmet Pizza | Veggie Friendly
Happy Hour: M-F 3-5pm
Brooklyn has their slice and Chicago has the deep dish, but this is how Seattle does pie. Owned by local celebrity restaurateur Tom Douglas, this teeny gourmet pizza parlor only allows the most exotic and refined ingredients in their 600° apple wood brick oven. The result is a light flatbread-type personal pizza that’s bubbled and crispy on the outside while remaining soft and chewy on the inside.
With ingredients like huckleberries, duck eggs, cipponlini onion, pancetta and potatoes, these pizzas are anything but ordinary. They are also quite large for a personal pizza. Each is served on a wooden chopping block about the size of the one in your own kitchen – larger than your head and certainly shareable.
The pie that has me coming back again and again is the seasonal mushroom and truffle cheese, but the Yukon gold potato, rosemary and pecorino is equally tasty. The sweet fennel sausage, peppers and provolone is to die for and if you’re feeling adventurous there’s always the penn cove clam, pancetta, chilies and lemon thyme pizza.
The appetizers are slightly less exotic but still extraordinary. Marinated lacinato kale with chilies and pine nuts, braised pork belly with peach mostarda, arugula and pistachios are on the short list of ones to try, as is the creamy zucchini and leek soup with basil pesto. Finish off with a classic cannoli or plum tart with anise hyssop a la mode. Yum!
“Didn’t I see this already?” Yes, you did. And here it is again! See how that works?
THE HONEY HOLE
“Classic” American Burgers and Sandwiches | Veggie Friendly
Happy Hour: 5-7pm, 11-close Daily
The Honey Hole has been a Capitol Hill staple for as long as I can remember. I’m still a bit bitter over them nixing my favorite sandwich from the menu (a mouth-watering, artery-clogging, fat and sloppy meatball sub) but the rest of the menu is so awesome I am willing to learn to forgive… forgetting won’t be so easy.
The ambiance is as quirky and funky as the food. Is it a tiki bar? A 1970s bullfighter’s drug den? Who knows, but it’s working for them. Chillax with the decorative entertainment while feasting on some of the best hot sandwiches Seattle has to offer. My favorite (well… second favorite) is the Waverider: roasted turkey breast, homemade pesto, smoked gouda, red onion, tomato, mayo and Mama’s Lil sweet hot peppers on a toasty demi baguette. My other go-to is the Corleone, house-cured pastrami, swiss, sauerkraut and yellow mustard also served on a demi baguette.
There’s a healthy does of sandwiches fit for a Texan king: beef brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken with varied types of BBQ sauce and cheeses, plus tri-tip steak, flank steak and other more traditional types of sandwiches. They’ve got burgers too, plus a large assortment of vegetarian sandwiches complete with veggie bacon, veggie chicken, smoked field roast, cheeses, veggies and vegenaise. Sandwiches are served with your choice of homemade slaw (really, really good, and this coming from someone who doesn’t generally like coleslaw), fries or soup.
Round off with a few “fresh squeezed” cocktails like Peach Smash (whiskey, muddled lemon and mint, sugar syrup and peach juice), The Cat’s Meow (mandarin vodka, house-made habanero syrup, lime and soda with orange juice float), or Golazo Punch (rum, hibiscus punch energy drink, muddled lemons and cranberry juice).
Fresh-Mex, Tex-Mex | Veggie Friendly
Happy Hour: 4-6pm, 11pm-1am Daily
Seattle has no shortage of Mexican food, but this place has enough sass to warrant a mention here. They have a ton of killer dishes, but a few flops, too, so I’ll tell you what I’ve loved and hated.
First what to avoid: the tacos. The only exception here is the yam tacos – those you should eat plenty of, then get a few extras and bring them to me. The meat tacos, though, are disappointing… somewhat dry and overall flavorless. After eating there multiple times in a row with no strike-outs this caught me by surprise. Tacos are so easy, and the rest of their menu is so great it’s baffling how they could screw something so simple up. But that’s okay, there’s plenty more reason to pig out here.
Start out with one of their signature margaritas. My end-all, be-all favorite is the Veracruz, made with vanilla bean infused tequila, organic orange juice and a splash of cream. The result is what margaritas would taste like if made at Orange Julius. Oh, how I miss Orange Julius. They were the best thing about the mall back in the day weren’t they? The rest of their margarita menu is equally fun with ingredients like passionfruit puree, pineapple, jalapeño and strawberry-infused tequila. Or you can go traditional with a bartenders, cadillac (they call it the purist) or fresh margarita. The black tea caipirinha fell a little flat for me, but for someone wanting an off-the-norm drink that’s still simple and refreshing it would be a good choice. Just be sure you don’t have one after a Veracruz, which was clearly my biggest mistake.
The first dish I ever had here, and it may still be my favorite, was the chicken mole enchilada. Their mole is more traditional, that is to say less sweet than most American Mexican moles, and in my opinion this makes it superior to most American moles. I’m not a fan of how sweet a lot of moles here are. Poquitos has chosen to go the oaxacan route, using dark or semi-sweet chocolate and more savory ingredients resulting in a rich, savory mole with light sweet overtones. You get 3 enchiladas with every plate – plenty of food in and of itself – but also a side of rice and beans. The beans – and I can’t stress this enough – are hands-down the best beans I’ve ever had. I don’t know what magic beanstalk they came from but… WINNING! According to our server they hardly season these pieces of heaven at all; they use heirloom beans that have a natural flavor explosion. I could easily fill a weeks-worth of lunch with nothing but a Poquitos rice and beans. They are that good.
Along with the yam tacos, mole, rice and beans, the other must-try is the Ahoganda Torta. I’ve had many a torta in my lifetime, but never a drowned one. The sandwich itself is small – or, at least looks small before you start eating it – but is rather filling: a toasted demi baguette with braised pork, black beans, escabenche, avocado, cilantro, chipotle mayo and oaxacan cheese served face-down in a tomato and arbol chile broth. It’s a bit messy to eat, but the juxtaposition of flavors and textures make the mess well worth it. Just tie a napkin around your neck and own it.
Vegan Comfort Food | Carnivore Friendly
Happy Hour: 4-7pm M-Sat
Okay, so the whole “carnivore friendly” thing. While vegetarians are always wary of restaurants that specialize in meat dishes, meat eaters are equally (if not more so) wary of vegan places. With all those fake meats (none of which ever really taste like meat) and crazy ingredient restrictions, can anything really be that good? And how can you cook without butter or cream and have it still be edible? Also, where’s my steak??
If you were going to give any vegan joint a chance, do it here, but as with any vegetarian food, don’t expect the “chicken” to look and taste exactly like real chicken. That’s not really the point. It’s got it’s own thing going on, which is actually pretty good, so names are just for the sake of ceremony. But in all seriousness, this place will satisfy even the most pious meat-eater. I’ve watched more than one Brooklyn boy fall in love with this place and suggest going there unprompted by a “veggie”.
If you want to go spicy, get the chicken nugs. It’s bar food at it’s finest, somewhere between pulled chicken and buffalo wings. There’s a chicken caesar wrap on the menu, and if you ask nice they will make it with chicken nugs instead. This thing will have you dreaming of meatless wraps in a way you never though possible.
Another local favorite is the poutine. I’ve been seeing this French-Canadian dish spring up on a lot of Seattle menus of late. Some do it right, others not so much (hear me Uneeda Burger? Cheese sauce over waffle fries is not poutine!) but Highline knows what’s up. The only real difference from true poutine comes from the vegan cheese curds. As vegan curds are made from everything from pumpkin seeds to cashews, it will look more like a lumpy sauce than traditional curds. Still, as made from everything from pumpkin seeds to cashews, it’s damned tasty and worth an order. After a few bites you’ll quickly forget there’s supposed to be little crumbly bits on top.
For sandwiches, my go-to is the howie: bacon, ham, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion and tartar sauce on what I swear is buttered grilled bread. It’s oh-so good and I’m pretty sure it’s not good for me… just how comfort food should be! The other sandwich I’ve tried (and loved) was the mushroom a’la king, a portabella mushroom strip sandwich drenched in cashew cream sauce served almost open-faced on a grinder roll. I say “almost open” because while it’s not an open faced sandwich there’s far too much stuffed in this thing to close it. You may want to order a fork as well.
In addition to the food, their drink menu is killer. If you go in the morning (or techno morning aka 4pm) get the strawberry mimosa. Served in a pint glass with muddled strawberries and oranges, this thick, cloudy monstrosity almost needs to be eaten with a spoon. There’s also the bloody mary with garlic/basil/peppercorn infused vodka (whaaaaaat??) and a lavender vodka lemonade – perfect for sipping on the balcony patio. The Highline is keen on infusing liquors and have quite a menu. I love the orange/vanilla bourbon myself and it’s great on the rocks. There’s also a cucumber/mint gin, pineapple rum, vanilla, lemon & strawberry/kiwi vodkas and strawberry or habanero tequila.
At night the Highline is a punk/metal venue as well as a killer restaurant, so if you want to take a break from the 808, have some eats, rock out with your black t-shirt out and maybe play some pinball this is a great place to do it.
Seeing a pattern here?
MORE GREAT PLACES
I could go on and on about Seattle food, but there’s only so much time to blog. I’ve ranted about some of my favorite places, and if you were going to try any, try those, but here’s a quick list of other recommendations I didn’t have time to extrapolate on:
Kingfish Café – Southern Soulfood and the best grits I’ve ever had in my life. Also the strawberry shortcake could easily feed 6 people.
Sea Star – If you want seafood, there is no other place to eat.
In The Bowl – Asian vegan soul food. Hearty, large portions and extremely delicious. Beware of the star rating, though! Their 3-star is most places’ 5-star. I will eat a jalapeño raw but 5-star is nearly inedible. 1 is moderate, 3 is a good burn for seasoned spice eaters, 4 will force seasoned spice eaters to eat slowly.
Tavern Law – They take their mixology very seriously. For incredible drinks (be sure to sit at the bar because it’s just as fun to watch them make your drink as it is to actually drink it) go here. Their ingredients get as small as a few drops from a eyedropper and as large as a cup-full of shaved and shaped ice. I haven’t had a full meal here yet, but the smells are enticing and the fingerling potatoes are fantastic.
Snappy Dragon – if you are able to get off the beaten path and into the Roosevelt neighborhood, Judy Fu’s home-made chow mein will change your life. This Chinese restaurant, set in a converted home, is the recipient of multiple awards ranging from Zagat to CNNGo. They have been reigning Chinese champion of the coveted Seattle’s Best-Of since 2008. Portions are huge, so it’s best to get a few people and do it up family style… with black bean sauce.
Vivace – The best coffee Seattle has to offer. Sadly the café was torn down to make room for more condos a few years back, but you can still get drinks from the cart on Broadway.
Dilettante Chocolate – For desserts and drinks there is no other. This place is practically made of chocolate – from rich chocolate mousse to torte, cheesecake to tiramisu, if you need to satisfy a sweet tooth, stroll on down to the north end of broadway. Pair it with one of their many dessert drinks (my favorites are the hazelnut espresso martini and chocolate truffle peppercorn martini) but if you’re eating a chocolate dessert limit yourself to one dessert drink. Even a menopausal chocoholic couldn’t handle that much chocolate! I’ve tried.
Café Flora – Down Madison Ave is another vegetarian restaurant worth making time for. With dishes like fried avocado, portobello wellington, Yakima Valley polenta, watermelon salad and black bean burgers, their food is drool-inducing even if you aren’t a vegetarian. This award-winning kitchen can be pricey, but is oh-so-worth it. Their specialty cocktails are fabulous as well – give the Douglass Fir infused Tequila a try (yes, as in the evergreen tree). How much more Northwest can you get?
Metropolitan Grill – Steak, steak and more steak! Pricey but you’ll never have better a better cut. The Met is a Seattle fine dining standard-bearer.
seattle.eat24hours.com – My life changed the day I discovered this website. A savior to hungover party people everywhere, when you don’t want to leave the room (or physically can’t get out of bed) this website will not only deliver food from a variety of restaurants, but you can order from any restaurant right from their website! What can be delivered depends on what time of day it is and where you are located, but most of the time it’s pizza, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese or Italian. There are even some all-vegetarian options and most have free delivery. The two most ordered restaurants from my household are Mirch Masala and Palermo, listed below.
Mirch Masala – The, I mean THE best Indian food ever. EVER! And I’ve had a lot of Indian food. Cedars is fabulous, no doubt, but this place is even better. Not possible you say? Try it. If you don’t think it’s better I’ll give you a nickel.
Palermo – My favorite Italian. Technically “pizza and pasta,” they also have the most amazing northern Italian food. Make sure you get the baked cauliflower. It’s sooooo not good for you and tastes sooooo good. Cauliflower drenched in lemon and butter cream sauce, baked to perfection. And by drenched, I mean soup.
Samurai Noodle – Seriously, dude, go eat there! Get a card stamped and then give it to me I will say the International District location does a better job cooking the pork… the cooks on Broadway have a tendency to overcook it slightly. They’ve been getting better, but the original location (5th Ave S in the same block as Uwajimaya Village) has it down to a science. The pork is so tender it will fall apart in your chopsticks. Most of the time I end up having to eat it out of the spoon. But if you can’t make it to the ID, Broadway will do. It’s just as well though. The ID location has a capacity of about 15 diners.
Okay kids, get out there and eat up the town! Hopefully this guide will help you out and I would love to hear what you think if you try one.