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Volunteer Park Cafe
No place reveals Seattle’s small-town soul like the Volunteer Park Café on a Saturday morning. Someone’s golden retriever wags affably at the door. Sunbeams pour in soaring windows, warming flour sack–topped tables and mismatched chairs and legions of sleepy neighbors waiting (and waiting) for a cup of steaming, stunning Stumptown and the city’s best house-baked pastries, blueberry scones to pear-cardamom muffins. There’s fancy food too, day and night, but it’s the drop-in dreaminess of morning combined with the casually exquisite food that makes Volunteer Park Café indispensable.
Volunteer Park Café, 1501 17th Ave E, Capitol Hill
La Carta de Oaxaca
Authentic mole negro and albondigas and entomatadas on stylish Ballard Ave render La Carta de Oaxaca one of the really unlikely finds in this town. Bring a crowd of folks you like a lot (you’ll be standing in line with them), then send someone up to the salsa bar to fetch pots of each of that day’s five fresh choices for an informal sampling. With La Carta’s lighter-than-air housemade tortilla chips as conveyances, try ’em all, including an admirable tomatillo salsa verde and one red version whose bright fire will light up your taste buds like a pinball machine.
La Carta de Oaxaca, 5431 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard
You walk right past them on your way to your table, trying desperately to avoid eye contact with the tilapia and spot prawns and lumbering Dungeness that are about to become dinner. It’s a beloved tradition in Chinatown’s seafood restaurants—well, beloved for humans—and one best worth savoring at longtime haunt Sea Garden, where you can walk right up to the tank and point out the very lobster or geoduck you prefer. Or leave the choice to the chef, who will pluck the creature out of the brine and bring it squirming to your table for your approval. Your heart may bleed a little, but one garlicky bite of Sea Garden’s signature black bean crab will restore your killer instincts immediately.
Sea Garden, 509 Seventh Ave S, International District
Elliot’s Oyster House
Oysters on the half shell? Blessedly plentiful in this part of the world. Two dozen varieties in one place? That can only be the 21-foot ice bar at Elliott’s Oyster House. Order up a sampler ($23–$28 for a dozen—but just 50 cents apiece from 3 till 3:30pm) and someone much more knowledgeable than you will cleanly shuck your fresh Olympias or Totten Virginicas or pearly Kusshis before your eyes, then serve the briny little beasties with or without a mignonette. It’s like Oyster University, with a watery Elliott Bay view for inspiration. This local jewel hides in plain sight behind lackluster fish plates and about a jillion quacking tourists.
Elliott’s Oyster House, 1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56, Downtown