Seattle has its fair share of beloved restaurants: your Oddfellows, your Annapurnas, your Rancho Bravos. We’ve all been to them and we all love them. But what about the ones that go unrecognized? The unsung heroes of the Seattle restaurant scene, as it were? All it takes is a bit of research to unveil an underground of amazing restaurants flourishing outside of the public eye. Inspired by a recent Seattle Times article, The Spectator editorial board recommends some of our favorite
If you like Rancho Bravo, try Fogón Cocina Mexicana
Every time one of my parents comes to visit, I’m beset by the same problem: find a restaurant on Capitol Hill that’s inexpensive, but not necessarily a hole-in-the-wall. Most favorites tend to either fall into the sketchy-but-lovable or the upscale-artisan-cuisine category (also known as the Rancho Bravo/Barrio binary, because I say so).
After searching and searching, I finally came across Fogón Cocina Mexicana, an inviting and unpretentious Mexican restaurant on Belmont and Pine. Despite its chartreuse walls, it’s easy to miss, but doing so would be a huge mistake. The waitstaff is friendly and helpful without being intrusive and the restaurant attracts a young couples crowd.
Among the varied authentic Mexican dishes offered, the carne asada plate is everything the dish should be: classic flavorful steak, unadorned rice and beans, and guacamole. They also offer Dungeness crab enchiladas, which I’ve never tried and suspect I never should because I’d be hooked for life.
600 E. Pine Street, open daily
If you like Oddfellows, try Pettirosso
Oddfellows is great, don’t get me wrong. Their interior is as kitschy-cute as can be and their biscuits with scrambled eggs? Total revelation. But it’s nice to mix it up now and then.
Pettirosso is criminally underappreciated. What used to be a cute but unremarkable bagel shop was renovated last year and is now a full-service restaurant. Its dark wood interior, complete with industrial touches that recall the Hill’s history as an auto row, makes it like a sophisticated older sibling to Oddfellows.
It’s similarly versatile, shifting effortlessly from a coffee shop and brunch place in the morning to an intimate restaurant in the evening and a bar at night. Be sure to try their pumpkin tart topped with a house-made toasted marshmallow. Their breakfast bagels are uniformly awesome and their recently expanded menu has thankfully not omitted the jewel in its crown: a spicy, herbaceous vegan mac and cheese.
As an added bonus, owners Miki and Yuki Sodos, who also own the fantastic Bang Bang Cafe in Belltown, are sweet as can be.
1101 E. Pike Street, Tuesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
If you like Annapurna Cafe, try Chili’s South Indian Food
Annapurna tends to be most Redhawks’ go-to Indian restaurant and with good reason—their dishes never disappoint and prices are fairly reasonable. But don’t let this staple keep you from expanding your options.
Chili’s South Indian Food has a cult following among the University of Washington crowd, but it hasn’t quite reached the Capitol Hill set yet. By all means, be a trailblazer, because this place is worth it.
The restaurant specializes in Indian food for those who want to go above and beyond chicken tikka masala (which is not even an Indian dish, incidentally). Try Chili’s beloved dosas, a South Indian option not available at Annapurna.
It’s a pretty utilitarian-looking place, but sometimes that kind of experience is called for. Give it a try next time you’re in the area.
5002 University Way Northeast, open daily from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
If you like Bakery Nouveau, try Arabica Lounge
Bakery Nouveau offers a gorgeous array of classic French pastries, from eclairs to brioche—nothing to complain about here. But sometimes you just have to try something new, and for that there’s Arabica Lounge.
The options change regularly: flute-shaped honey and orange blossom pastries, cardamom-laced shortbread, and apple quinoa breakfast bread are some favorites. Everything in the case is nothing short of a work of art and all are made in-house; the baked goods look like the stuff of fantasy and taste unlike anything you can imagine. A few tips, though: don’t bother with their savory dishes unless you want to wait the better part of an hour for a single poached egg, and be prepared for some cranky employees and pretentious atmosphere. It’s still totally worth the adventure, though.
1550 East Olive Way, open daily
If you like Café Presse, try Dinette
Dinette’s lack of popularity is one of the great mysteries of the Seattle dining scene–it tops almost every list of underrated restaurants in the city.
Essentially, Dinette feels like Cafe Presse by way of a classy Parisian brothel. It’s got the same Euro flair as the 12th Avenue institution, but with an intimate, uber-feminine look, eschewing Capitol Hill’s go-to industrial aesthetic in favor of brocade and cursive lettering. They also serve a “Sunday Supper” meal every few weeks, pushing the tables together and serving one surprise meal family style.
Just like Cafe Presse, Dinette offers both inexpensive small plates and pricier entrees. They specialize in open-faced toasts topped with anything from a delicate egg crepe drizzled with truffle oil to sardines and pepperonata. Their roasted medjool dates with goat cheese and balsamic are also a highlight, or for a full meal, try the ricotta gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, sweet corn, and sage brown butter. Perfection.
Hint hint, in advance: this place just screams Valentine’s Day.
1514 East Olive Way, open Monday through Saturday
If you like Ginger Lime, try Ballet
When you ask most people about their favorite Vietnamese restaurants, Ballet is rarely on the list. It’s easy to miss, seeing as Ballet is the ultimate hole in the wall. Sandwiched next to nightclubs on a busy stretch of Pike Street, it’s a little bit dirty, a little bit tiny and a little bit full of fish tanks—it doesn’t exactly scream at you to give it a try. Don’t let that deter you.
Ballet is like Ginger Lime’s slightly grungier cousin, offering a selection of Vietnamese and Pan-Asian dishes that go outside the standard pho-and-not-much-else lineup. Try their mock beef curry if you have a weirdly persistent adoration of fake meat like I do. Their ginger chicken vermicelli noodle bowl recalls a similar dish at Ginger Lime at a slightly lower price.
Overall, don’t let its less-than-welcoming facade turn you away—Ballet is a winner.
914 East Pike Street, open daily
If you like 8oz Burger Bar, try Sam’s Tavern
Sam’s Tavern didn’t exactly make a splash when it opened in early 2013—or maybe it was just eclipsed by Von Trapp’s explosive popularity when it opened a month later. But Sam’s deserves better than to drown in the competition, seeing as it offers some of the best burgers on the hill.
The Jalapeno Reno, priced at $9, comes topped with pico de gallo, pepper jack, fried jalapenos and a chipotle aioli. The Juicy Lucy features mushrooms, brie and cream cheese. As if that isn’t tempting enough, they also offer a bloody mary garnished with a slider for the over-21s looking to reach burger paradise.
To top it off, all their burgers are cheaper than those at 8oz and the restaurant is less pretentious to boot. The whole tavern, from menu to decor, is like an edgier version of Red Robin—which makes sense, since it’s modeled after the original Sam’s Tavern which eventually became the first Red Robin.
To be clear, “an edgier version of Red Robin” is very much a good thing, with Sam’s Americana style and low-ish prices. By the way, they have a two-for-one drink special during happy hour.
1024 East Pike Street, open daily from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m.
If you like Via Tribunali, try Serafina Osteria & Enoteca
Via Tribunali is great, don’t get me wrong, but it fumbles in a few ways: it’s dark and forbidding, its menu is more or less limited to pizza, and it’s expensive. It does its job well, but it’s not exactly a full-service Italian restaurant.
For that, turn to Serafina Osteria & Enoteca in Eastlake, just above Capitol Hill. Okay, it doesn’t exactly address the “expensive” issue, but it’s worth every penny. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel either, but Serafina offers staple Italian dishes done incredibly well and there’s something to be said for that.
Its sizeable yet cozy dining room often features live music to accompany your simply scrumptious meal. Their mussels, served in a tomato-harissa sauce perfect for dipping, are utterly delicious, and their hand-cut pastas are divine. In a little bonus for the under-21s, they offer a selection of sophisticated and tasty virgin cocktails.
This place makes a great preface for a walk around the Lake Union area at sunset or as a tasty ending to a day at Gasworks Park.
2043 Eastlake Avenue East, open daily
If you like Honey Hole, try Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop
There is definitely a time and place for Honey Hole. Sometimes a gigantic, dripping Reuben and fries is just called for. But when the grease gets to be too much, it’s nice to have an alternative.
Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop in Melrose Market is certainly on the pricey side, but the sustainably sourced fresh ingredients and winning combinations are worth it. Just how sustainable are they? Their website lists sources for every one of their ingredients, almost all of which are local.
This fall, the shop offers a seasonal broccoli melt, featuring spicy broccoli, caramelized onion relish, Beecher’s cheese, and a roasted garlic aioli. The breakfast sandwiches are also a treat—try the avocado-egg sandwich or one with wild lox and herb cream cheese.
Whole and half sandwiches are available to fit both your budget and your appetite, and Homegrown serves two soups a day, one of which is always vegan. Also, who wouldn’t love a sandwich shop that simply lists “a pickle” as a menu item?
1531 Melrose Avenue, open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
If you like Molly Moon’s, try D’Ambrosio Gelato
D’Ambrosio opened a new location on 12th Avenue a few years ago to relatively little fanfare. I say it’s time for it to get a little bit of the appreciation that’s always going toward Molly Moon’s.
Unlike the popular Hill ice cream shop, which features just a few unique flavors, but typically has a line out the door, D’Ambrosio features seemingly endless varieties of authentic Italian gelato, as well as coffee, Semifreddo cakes, and cannoli. Their gelato tastes just like the best you’ll find in Italy, and they feature both classic flavors and some that are a bit more outside the box.
I love the caramel and fig, the pannacotta, and the Piedmont hazelnut flavors. And if you can’t settle on just one, D’Ambrosio allows you to try a bit of each.
The building is also sleek and modern–not quite as cozy as Molly Moon’s, though.
1542 12th Avenue, open daily