Fall is my favorite season. Its arrival is heralded by a harmonious juxtaposition of modernist hedonism in the form of the oh so fabulous Vogue September Issue and a new slate of must-watch television, and primordial blessings from Mother Nature dressed in tri-ponged leaves of fire and pumpkin-spice perfume.
Any of these signs is compelling enough to elicit the response:
“Is it that time already?”
But while some measure the seasons in love and others by the changing landscapes, there is another group of people: The Epicureans. The ones that wait patiently for a city’s worth of restaurants to bestow a bang for your buck dinging deal unlike any other. It is that time already.
Over 165 restaurants offer 3-course dinners for just $33. Some places even indulge in 2-course lunches for just $18.
Please Note: The event runs from Oct 21-Nov 8 Sunday through Thursday only; excluding Friday, Saturday and Sunday brunch. Reservations always recommended for any spot on the list.
This is my curated list of all the spots worth giving a try. Restaurants serving lunch as well as dinner will be indicated with a * next to their name. I base my lists on a criterion of various factors:
Diverse Menu Options
I’m looking for a thoughtful menu of dishes that can create a perfect meal. Let’s have some interesting apps and standout protein options during the entree round. Extra points if they are mindful of vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free people.
An Authentic Restaurant Experience
While restaurant week gives eateries an opportunity to engage with new menu items or play with a prix fixe style dinner, it should always be the experience a guest would receive without restaurant week involved. If a restaurant does tapas, then that isn’t quite the experience someone would get if they eat a rigid 3-course meal.
Bang for your Buck
Almost all these restaurants run on the higher end of tasty transactions, but which ones are the sweetest deals for their price point?
All that said, let’s take a look.
Andaluca, a Mediterranean gem located inside the Mayflower Park hotel has been a staple in the Seattle food scene for years. Chef Tiffany Layco brings a kaleidoscope of influences to her food. Raised in Hawaii, trained in French and Japanese cuisine, and a resume that includes the name Thomas Keller makes Layco a dynamic force in the city.
AQUA by El Gaucho/American Seafood
Their website advertises themselves as Seattle’s Quintessential Waterfront Fine-Dining Experience and I can’t help but agree. AQUA’s stunning views and timeless vibes are matched only with their delectable approach to fine seafood.
Ballard Annex Oyster House
If you want something less high-end than AQUA, check out the casual and accessible Ballard Annex Oyster House. Wood panelled decor creates a homey feel as you down oyster after oyster. Oyster house knows how to treat seafood simply and serve it with love.
I want to say I was about 12 years old when I was denied a chance to eat foodstuff from the Barking Frog. My family was invited to the wedding of a family friend. I was included in the invitation, but my parents didn’t let me go. I then found out the wedding food was catered by Barking Frog and I’ve held a grudge ever since. Don’t let 12 year old me be you. I’ve pretty much put Barking Frog on every SRW list because they know to how to churn out stellar menu options and even better morsels. Doesn’t hurt the Willows Lodge in Woodinville is a thing of Pacific Northwest beauty.
Bramling Cross/Modern American
While Chef Ethan Stowell is a maestro of Italian cuisine, he’s no slouch when it comes to a modern interpretation of a popping pub. Bramling Cross gives you the option to eat several appetizers for your first course. The premise of a great pub is eating multiple small plates. A restaurant that leans into their strengths within the framework of SRW is one that deserves a spot on this list. A restaurant that offers pretzels, burgers, and fried chicken is a devout disciple to a brilliant kind of culinary trinity.
Cortina is one of the newest entries in Ethan Stowell’s vast network of restaurants. It’s rare for a new restaurant to knock it out of the park with their SRW menu, but Cortina does. Their SRW menu includes a volley of apps for the entire table, a plethora of pastas, pizza, and entrees choices for the 2nd course and solids desserts to finish. I’m betting not a ton of people know about Cortina so it’s easier to snag a reservation. Set the trend and be in the know of this rookie rockstar.
Girin/Modern Korean Steakhouse*
Ok. So Girin has some bang for your buck tasting menu options that somewhat render SRW moot, but when a restaurant is good, you take any opportunity you can to go. Girin’s reverence for Korean ingredients shines through most in dishes like yukhwe and pork belly. Is there anything better than lettuce wraps full of meat and umami?
I’m quite vocal of the severe lack of quality Mexican restaurants in Seattle, but every now and then comes a saving grace. Or more apt, a saving Gracia. Chef Chet Gerl’s fierce commitment to elevating Mexican cuisine deserves praise. It takes effort to want to do things a better way and sourcing corn varieties from Oaxaca and only using sustainable seafood is effort that pays off.
I See Food/Cajun Seafood*
Get it? Seafood? I See Food and I eat it. This tiny cajun seafood spot in Bellevue is relatively new. There is a special joy in digging your face in a bag of shrimp, crab, and corn. The fact you can do that for $18 is a steal. Whether you go for lunch or dinner, you’ll be feeling good.
One of the most underrated sushi spots in the city. It’s straightforward, somewhat contemporary, but so simple and so good. Impeccable service from a caring staff makes the experience all the better.
It’s not a teppanyaki style Japanese steakhouse like a Benihana, but a modern take on steak with Japanese influences. Kokkaku’s a newcomer, but already making waves with their technique and approach to foodstuff like Wagyu steak. If you want a different steakhouse experience from a Daniel’s Broiler or John Howie, Kokkaku is the place to be.
La Spiga is named after a shaft of wheat, representing fertility, harvest, and good fortune. Dining here can be considered a cornucopia of good fortune as Chef Sabrina Tinsley masterfully crafts regional Northern Italian food. Spiga embodies the essence of Italy on a table. Their minimalist and inviting approach has won over Seattle diners for years. It’s no wonder Chef Tinsley was invited to compete on Iron Chef America.
Rules are meant to be broken. While I tend not to put small plate focused restaurants on the SRW guides, Lark is the exception-because it is quite exceptional. Chef John Sundstrom has been pioneering the spirit of Pacific Northwest cuisine for over a decade. His impressive resume includes titans like Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Traci De Jardins. His influences go beyond classic and modern french cooking. Sundstrom perfectly choreographs Latin, Japanese, and broader European flavors into his food. In 2007, Sundstrom won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest. He is a legend in the Seattle food scene.
When restaurant Roux announced their departure from Fremont, eaters were curious and hopeful for a suitable replacement. While Le Coin doesn’t dish up Cajun/Creole inspired dishes, Le Coin shares a love for modern French technique and taste. They’ve kept some of the same swanky look as Roux, but have managed to add their own stunning signature to everything they do.
Luc maybe the best casual French restaurant in Seattle. When you have legendary Chef in the Hat, Thierry Rautureau of Rover’s, Loulay, and Top Chef Masters fame, you know you’re getting something fantastic.
Marine Hardware/Italian Seafood
It sounds more like a boat shop than it does restaurant. Marine Hardware is situated next to Ethan Stowell’s Staple and Fancy. Hardware focuses on elevated small plates. Again, Marine Hardware like Lark is an exception to my rule. Places that focus on food and proper cooking technique have my attention more than anything else. Give this place yours.
Sophie and Eric Banh are two of my favorite chefs in the city. Here is to the restaurant that started it all. With an ever expanding empire of restaurants including Ba Bar and Central Smokehouse, Monsoon is the proud flagship and still just as good. I went here for a pre thanksgiving feast during restaurant week and it was fantastic. I recommend ordering off the restaurant week menu and simply sharing family style. I’ve chosen their Bellevue spot over their Seattle location because of the lunch offer.
Nell’s has been hailed a Seattle neighborhood gem. It’s quaint fine dining at its best. Chef Phil is a master of technique and sourcing from various lands and seas to bring guests the most sensational epicurean experience. This is probably the most underrated fine dining restaurant in the city.
It can be difficult for any restaurant to pioneer a different way of thinking about a cuisine. Nirmal’s is in such a position to bring elevated Indian fare to the people of Seattle. Nirmal’s is truly a leader in the sensational flavors and spices of India. With an impressive SRW menu full of vegetarian and meat options, let Nirmal’s take you on a sensory experience like no other.
Old Stove Brewing/Brewpub
Old Stove is a hyper-casual kid friendly brewpub. T-shirt merch on site belies the brilliance of their food. Their craft beers elevate thoughtful dishes like paella and charcuterie. If you want an unfussy but delicious SRW experience, Old Stove will provide.
Much of Western civilization is influenced by the Greeks. The fact there aren’t more Greek restaurants influencing our palates is puzzling. While there is no definitive answer about Greek philosophy and academia being the best, Omega Ouzeri just maybe the best Greek spot in Seattle. Bright and festive colors light up a spacious and airy eatery. Flavors of land and sea take centerstage.
Pomerol is the ambitious project of Vuong and Tricia Loc. This is modern French food where the details make or break a dish. Pomerol just has that special it factor that so many other restaurants don’t.
Poppy/Pacific Northwest Thali
Poppy is the unmistakable magnum opus of legendary chef Jerry Traunfeld. He pioneered Pacific Northwest dining during his tenure of the celebrated Herbfarm restaurant. Traunfeld showcases the concept of Thali, the Indian name for a round platter used to serve various dishes and accompaniments. SRW menus don’t lend itself very well to Poppy’s style, but their bold flavors are superb enough to land them a spot on the list.
Quinn’s Pub/American Gastropub
Quinn’s is a longstanding gastropub who has always had their finger on the pulse of what makes good Seattle food. Quinn’s takes an artisanal approach to lift pub food to a different stratosphere. Their affinity for meat-centric dishes like burgers and charcuterie is a carnivore’s dream come true.
Love the name. This energized and upscale brasserie is Ethan Stowell’s take on some really good steak frites. Steak is delicious enough to stand on its own, but french fries don’t make for a bad sidekick. Love the fact their SRW menu just gives you five appetizers for the table.
San Fermo, San Fermo, I love San Fermo. It’s a beautiful restaurant with a wonderful house style design. San Fermo has a revolving door of seasonal menu items, but with an open selection for SRW, you’ll get an accurate taste of this incredible little restaurant.
Below are some photos of from my birthday dinner at San Fermo.
There is a bounty of tasty Thai restaurants in Seattle, but few serve food hailing from Isan, the northeast region of Thailand. If you are feeling bold and want to play with fire, then Soi is the place for you. You probably can’t go on a wild adventure to Thailand right now, but Soi is the next best thing.
Staple and Fancy/Italian
Staple and Fancy is my favorite of all of Ethan Stowell’s hotspots. This is the place I go to impress friends and give them a taste of the vibe of restaurant I like. Staple and Fancy is just that, a place to chow down on all the staples of Italian cuisine and presentation to make you think, hey this is pretty fancy.
Tavolata Capitol Hill and Belltown/Italian
Some places offer a special 3-course menu just because of SRW. Some places just give you their regular menu and let you pick an app, entree, and dessert. Tavolata in Capitol Hill and Belltown gives you free reign over their menu. Ethan Stowell has no bad restaurants, but Tavolata is a standout because it is Stowell’s temple to pasta.
Tilth has been around for a while now. It’s still one of the best and quintessential Seattle restaurants. Nestled in a beautiful restored house, Tilth is a quiet and beautiful restaurant where food is the centerpiece. Pretty much all of Tilth’s food is certified organic, and nobody makes dishes like Maria. Chef Maria Hines was a Food and Wine Best Chef 2006, James Beard Award winning chef, competed on Top Chef Masters and beat Iron Chef Morimoto. Tilth was declared one of the best restaurants in the country by the New York Times back in 2008 and is still deserving of such a declaration a decade later.
I love Brian Clevenger’s restaurants. Vendemmia is his first, and quite possibly his best. Vendemmia is simple Italian food. It highlights ingredients and prepares them in a way that is refreshing and modern, but always accessible for any diner. Vendemmia is where I chose to ate for SRW last spring.
Below are some photos from that dinner: