It has become trendy to deem things underrated or overrated. It happens with food too. Amongst the food nerd set, the conversation can quickly land on restaurants that fit those two criteria. In Seattle, there are a bevy of underrated restaurants. But there is an even smaller group of restaurants that are harder to pick out. What of the restaurants that are under the radar? What are the places that consistently churn out great food, but are often overlooked by much hotter and buzzier places?
What constitutes an under the radar restaurant? In my purview, I’d say that it’s a place that has quietly been doing their thing for years. Putting out good food in a comfortable environment. They aren’t high on lists of food snobs as they don’t aim to be twee or drip with pretension. You can bring an under the radar restaurant up in conversation with people and you’ll either get a blank stare or an ‘I forgot about that place’ reply. But the thing about under the radar restaurants is that they’re not yearning for more recognition. They’re in no hurry to embrace social media. Heck, they might not have a website. They’re content to stay in their lane, continue to move forward, and keep their customers happy.
Here’s a few places that fly below the radar:
Market Grill. This stand in the Pike Place Market consistently puts out delicious sandwiches, chowders, and salads. While you wouldn’t think that a sandwich shop located in one of the busiest people areas in town would be under the radar, Market Grill is often forgotten for how good it is. Everything is fresh from Pike Place Market vendors and you don’t get more local than the bread they use from Le Panier across the street. Get the halibut sandwich, sit at the counter, and slow down while visiting tourists speed by, oblivious to the goodness you’re chowing down on.
King Noodle. Located in the International District on King Street, King Noodle has a menu where you are given a customizable checklist to choose your food. While they have things like noodle soups and congee, you really want to go for their rice stone pots. Note that it’ll be a few minutes after ordering to get your pot (I like mine with minced pork and pork spare ribs), as it takes some time for the stone pot to get hot. As in surface-of-the-sun hot. For that very reason, it arrives wrapped in foil and carefully set upon stainless steel tables. Inside is crispy rice lining pot edges with your protein of choice topped with a steamed bok choy. It is addictively delicious. You'll also get a little dish of soy sauce, intended for you to drizzle over the rice before diving in - be patient and let it sizzle and caramelize the rice. It’ll also give some time to for it all to cool down.
Nielsen’s Pastries. I spoke with a friend about Nielsen’s Pastries recently and she mentioned that their original location was in downtown Seattle. I was surprised by this as I only knew of their Lower Queen Anne bakery that puts out as delicious a pastry as any bakery in town. And they do it without the hipster notoriety that fells so many others. Stepping into Nielsen’s, you’ll be hit with the aroma of butter and almond paste and you'll just know you’re in for something good. Their ‘potato’ is notable: a pastry shell filled with custard, topped with a sheet of marzipan and dusted with enough cocoa powder to look like - you guessed it - a potato. Other delicious treats like their snitters and kringles are sure to please. Get a few for the office and have them fill it in one of their pink to-go boxes and you’ll make that 9 a.m. meeting something worth attending.
Nordstrom Grill. Yup, Nordstrom Grill. This unassuming spot is found in the basement of the flagship Nordstrom in downtown Seattle. Stay with me here. Go for their execution of the classics and service. Delicious (and massive) salads highlight the menu, alongside menu items that recall comfort food and steakhouse nostalgia. The vibe of the place is decidedly old school with the staff in formal attire. The service is excellent, which is natural for anything Nordstrom. The bar serves stiff drinks. You’ll happily enjoy your meal while your significant other whiles away their time shopping on the many levels of this Seattle institution.
Kona Kitchen – When Kona Kitchen first opened, the word coming from the place was about its Hollywood connection, as owner Yuji Okumoto is an actor with films like Karate Kid 2 and Inception amongst his credits. While there is fun Hollywood memorabilia in Kona, the food is what gets people through the doors. The menu at the Maple Leaf neighborhood restaurant is heavily Hawaiian in focus, which means meats and starch. What they do with those two components is straight up Hawaiian comfort food. Their macaroni salad is one of the better renditions of the Hawaiian staple in the area. And their lunch plates are not to be missed either. Their breakfast offerings also hit the spot.
What are your under the radar restaurants? Share them in the comments or keep them to yourself. They are under the radar for a reason, after all.