Seattle’s reputation as a place to go and eat proceeds it. We were living farther up the West Coast in Vancouver, Canada, when we visited, and here the coastal US city has an almost cult reputation for its inﬂuential food and drink scene. It’s somewhere you go to saunter around its sloping streets, clutching locally-brewed coffee and discovering its wealth of boutique delis, artisan producers, hidden bars, street trucks and independent restaurants. And it’s also somewhere you go to market, being, after all, home to one of the oldest public farmer’s markets in the US: Pike Place - but more on that later.
We checked into the Ace hotel in the artsy, post-industrial enclave of Belltown. This is the ﬁrst ever outpost of the zeitgeisty boutique Ace group, set in a former maritime workers hotel, and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to relaxed, pared-back luxury. Our room had a sparse, utilitarian comfort to it, with sleek mid-century furniture and quirky little guidebooks including ‘The Ace Seattle Guide’ and ‘What To Read in the Rain’. Despite checking-in before midday, we were treated to a bucket full of ice cold Rainier beer, and various tip-offs from the super friendly receptionist on where we needed to check out.
But there couldn’t be a more perfect way for a food-lover to begin their ﬁrst stint in Seattle than with a tour of Pike Place Market. We did ours through Savor Seattle, which runs an excellent food and cultural tour, led by enthusiastic actor-turned-tour guides with fascinating insight into the market’s history and a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of its most compelling traders.
Overlooking Elliot Bay down on Seattle’s Waterfront, the market’s labyrinthine warren of restaurants, shops and stalls has been operational since 1907. Before that, our lively tour guide CJ informed us - farmers had to sell their wares through commission houses which ripped them off, and when it ﬁrst opened, only eight farmers showed up because of threats from these disgruntled middle men. By the 1940s though, there were over 500 farmers trading here, and despite a crazy proposal to tear it down in the ‘60s (which the market and its supporters fought ﬁercely for eight years), Pike Place now has a ﬁrm place in the fabric of the city.
One of our tour’s highlights was a visit to BB Ranch - the market’s oldest butcher, which has been selling quality meat here since 1906. Now run by the ebullient William Von Schneirder, this place specialises in whole animal butchery and doesn’t waste anything: excess fat from the meats are rendered into ‘searbutter’; bones are used for stock and charcuterie like lardo, sobrasata, bresola and pork neck sausage are made in-house. Von Schneider told us about a rancher he uses for elk and beef who “doesn’t have a house - he’s this amazing nomad, living on the land with his animals.” It’s fair to Von Schneider is fairly obsessive about where he sources his meat from.
We also loved Pike Place Fish - a wet ﬁshmonger focused on sustainable ﬁsh where the rambunctious, wader-clad staff are famous for throwing each other - and sometimes willing customers - whole ﬁsh. All the ﬁsh here is fresh, plentiful and sparkly eyed; ruby red sockeye salmon being their most popular item, but make sure you try some of the melt-in-your-mouth sugar and salt brined alder wood-smoked Alaskan salmon.
While wandering around the market, you can’t help but have your head turned by the colourful fruit and vegetable stalls such as Frank’s Quality Produce, which showcase the bounteous seasonal produce of the surrounding Washington State, known for its cherries, mint, potatoes and asparagus. Crab is another local favourite, and we wound up our tour with freshly cooked, wonderfully perky crab cakes from Etta’s, one of Seattle super chef Tom Douglas‘ restaurants beside the market. The three-times James Beard-winning chef has 14 places in the city - as CJ points out, “you can’t go to a Tom Douglas restaurant without walking past two others.”
While he’s considered something of a restaurant godfather in the city, Douglas is just one of a host of chef talent boasted by Seattle. We enjoyed the locally-focused, wood-ﬁred cuisine at chef restaurateur darling Matt Dillon’s beautifully-designed Bar Sajor in Pioneer Square; and sitting at the bar and eating plates of delicious pasta at hot chef Ethan Stowell’s Staple and Fancy restaurant in the industrial Ballard neighourhood. His food here is Italian-inspired but retains a modern North American ﬂavour - so expect dishes like lamb bolognese, mint, parmigiano and potato gnocchi.
The elevated diner fare at food truck-turned bricks and mortar restaurant Skillet Diner in trendy neighbourhood Capitol Hill should not be overlooked. Here the fried chicken sammy is a must order - crusted with fennel seeds and served on potato bread with skin-on fries and jalapeño aoili, it’s the perfect way to sooth a hangover.
And speaking of hangovers, your chances of ﬂirting with one are greatly enhanced by a visit to the Bathtub gin bar, where original gin cocktails like the Fuji’s Daughter, a winning blend of sake, yellow Chartreuse, lemon, black sea salt and pressed apple juice are so good you’ll probably order one too many of them. Hidden away behind an unmarked door in Belltown, this place has an illicit speakeasy vibe to it. Take advantage of the 5-7pm happy hour ($7 a house cocktail), and then head to brilliantly well observed French bistro Le Pichet for a hearty plate of Muscovy duck leg conﬁt, with winter squash-sage bread pudding, apple-calvados butter and Brussels sprouts. One thing’s for sure, you’ll be sated in Seattle.
2423 First Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121
+1 206 448 4721
94 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101, United States
Pike Place Fish
2020 Western Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121, United States
+1 206 443 6000
323 Occidental Ave, Seattle, WA 98104, United States
+1 206 682 1117
Staple and Fancy
4739 Ballard Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107, United States
2034 NW 56th Street, Seattle, WA 98107, United States
+1 206 922 7981
2205 2nd Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121, United States
+1 206 728 6069
1933 1st Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98101, United States
+1 206 256 1499
Public Market © jluster, flickr
Delux room © Ace Hotel
Pike Place © mat79, flickr