Spring is a rainy season. Seattle is a rainy city. Combine the two and you might expect a washout. Yet, Seattle just experienced its driest March in 75 years. It may be a fluke, or perhaps climate change will make the Emerald City a fine spring getaway for us Vermonters, where winter continues, year after to year, to linger as long as possible. One could even argue that spring in Vermont has become nonexistent.
Having just returned from Seattle, where everything is in bloom, I can tell you that if you like to eat, like variety and enjoy having options, this city is worth a visit, no matter the weather. You will not go hungry and you will not be bored. With so many excellent places to eat, it’s almost hard to go wrong. But in less than a week, I quickly established a few favorite experiences that made it all worthwhile.
Top Pot Doughnuts
Doughnuts and coffee seem a bit mundane for a trip across the country. But they’re two foods you can’t overlook while on a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Every travel video I watched included recommendations for both. I lucked out and found an Airbnb next door to Top Pot, a Seattle doughnut favorite. They refer to their doughnuts as “hand-forged,” and view them as an art form rather than a mass commodity. From cakey to yeasty, Top Pot has more than forty flavors, and I won’t mention how many times I may have stopped in as I passed by. But I will say that the cherry blossom, raspberry coated and any of the jelly filled were fantastic. There are more than a couple dozen Top Pot locations in Washington, as well as a few in the Dallas area.
Tourists mistakenly love to go to the “original” Starbucks shop in Pike Place Market. As I learned on a Savor Seattle food tour, it’s not actually the original. Through some shady legal paperwork, records may indicate such, but the original was actually moved to this location to become part of the market. Is it worth waiting in a line down the street for? I don’t think so. Instead, if you want a unique Starbucks and coffee experience, head to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, where you can enjoy coffee flights, craft espresso beverages and coffee- and tea-based cocktails. You can also get your supply of coffee beans and fix of branded gifts. Or, skip all of the Starbucks hype and head to one of dozens of small coffee shops throughout the city that will likely offer you something equally as special and authentic to Seattle.
Take the easy-to-navigate Link Light Rail (it only goes in two directions) out of downtown to the Othello stop for a culturally diverse selection of small family-run restaurants. Among the mix you’ll find Rainier Restaurant, offering vibrant Vietnamese fusion cuisine, that Anthony Bourdain once visited on his show, “The Layover.” When we visited there was a restaurant week event called Plate of Nations happening, which allowed us to try several items for a super-reasonable price. The lemongrass chicken, sour catfish soup, passionfruit margaritas were wonderful and so was Lisa, who manages the family restaurant with her siblings, and took time to chat with us about the food and our trip.
Pike Place Market
Sure, it’s touristy, but you can’t really visit Seattle and not go to the Pike Place Market. From fish tossing and the gum wall to fresh flowers and the best cherries you’ll ever have, there is so much to taste and see. And with much of it coming from local food producers and crafters, it’s one of the best ways to understand the people and the local small-business economy — yes, even if Seattle is home to Amazon. I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed with crowds, too many options, and knowing what’s worthwhile and what’s not in markets like this. Luckily, we had a great experience taking one of the Savor Seattle market tours. Liz, our tour guide, got us in and around the market, tasting and learning about fresh Greek yogurt, crab cakes, Russian piroshki pastries, fresh caramels, and arguably the country’s best clam chowder.
If you need a reason to visit the Capitol Hill area, Ooink is it. The joint may be small and without frills, but it offers up some of the best ramen in the city, according to local food writers. The staff gets you in and out with impressive efficiency, so you’ll be dreaming of their comforting bowls of warm ramen noodles much longer than you’ll actually spend here. Luckily, it’s surprisingly affordable. Afterwards, head across the street to Capitol Cider, where you’ll find more than 20 ciders on tap.
Fun, eclectic and a bit unexpected sums up our visit to Hotel Albatross in Ballard, a neighborhood worth exploring in northwestern Seattle. The restaurant is situated in the remnants of a once-grand hotel that have been resurrected and pieced together to create an atmosphere reminiscent of the tropical adventurer who established the hotel years ago. I recommend the puffy poke or duck tacos, pork belly pinch buns and I Am the Astronaut — a ginger, citrus and molasses-flavored beverage off of their long list of exotic libations.
This short list doesn’t do Seattle’s food scene justice. It would take weeks and probably the length of a book to cover everything. But just don’t let the reputation for rain cloud your view of a city that has so much to eat and explore.