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What should I eat to get a "Bite of Seattle"?

Dear Seattle Chowhounders, I need your expertise.

I am a foodie from Kansas City (and a big fan of Chowhound) who is using my summer to travel to six different food festivals across the U.S. My goal is to truly get a "taste" of each city and then write about my food experiences while contrasting the differences and similarities of each festival for a local food magazine I currently write for in KC.

Many foodies I have spoken with show complete distain for these types of food festivals as they don't believe one can truly get great food at them. I know that these are not the best food festivals you city has to offer. I am also aware that most of these food festivals feature restaurants that are more fast food in nature and that very few of a city's culinary heavy hitters ever attend these events. I also know that chain restaurants also use these events to drive their business.

However, I believe there are hidden gems at each of these festivals that are locally-owned and truly represent the tastes and flavors of city that they live and do business in. Those are the places, I am trying to find.

I just returned from the Taste of Chicago a couple of weeks ago, which is attended by over 3.5 million people during the week it is held, and is considered the biggest food festival of its kind in the U.S. Upon asking the locals what I should eat to "Taste Chicago," I was kindly pointed to and gladly ate the following (listed in the order of most recommended):
#1 - Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizza
#2 - Chicago-style Hot Dogs
#3 - Italian Beef Sandwich
#4 - Pierogies with sour cream
#5 - Billygoat's Cheeseburger, cheeseburger!
#6 - Rainbow Ice Cream

Last weekend I was at the Taste of Dallas in the West End area, where I directed to go eat: Texas BBQ and Tex Mex food . . .or really any dish involving lots and lots of meat, preferrably BEEF. I dutifully obliged and had some terrific culinary experiences along the way.

Now, I am headed to Bite of Seattle this weekend, and I am needing to know what I should eat there to get a "taste" of your city.

Please see my link below, I want to make sure I hit only the best places that really will demonstrate what Seattle is about from a culinary standpoint.

If you can point me in the right direction, I would appreciate it. Then, I guess my bigger question for you is if I cannot really find a "taste of Seattle" at this festival . . . what restaurants or types of cuisine should I hit outside of my time at the "Taste" to really taste Seattle? Many thanks!

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  1. The only thing that looks even remotely promising is The Alley, the Tom Douglas fundraiser that you pay admission to. I don't see a lineup of restaurants in the Alley, but it has to be better than the other stuff that's there, which looks like typical festival food. I would say you really cannot get a taste of Seattle if you rely on the Bite. (Does anyone even go to this? I never hear co-workers, friends, or anyone mention it). There are small food festivals around the region-Penn Cove Mussel fest, oyster fest in Shelton-that would provide a taste of the region.

    Outside of the festival:
    Here is a good thread about "the quintessential Seattle restaurant:"

    If I could think of one place that was very Seattle, it would be Matt's in the Market (seafood/local). My second pick would be Green Leaf (Vietnamese), and then I'd say just wander around the Pike Place Market and eat whatever looks good (there's many threads on our market favorites). That is a much more authentic experience than the Bite.

    1. If you're going to the Bite of Seattle to get your impression of food in this town, prepare to hate Seattle.

      It's a weak event, not worth attending even as a local who lives within walking distance of the venue.

      1. I'd go to Ivar's on the waterfront and order their fried oysters; or go out on the Peninsula and do the same, after a day trip through the rain forest.

        Or go to a Mariner's game and have Red Hook Ale and a hotdog with sauerkraut. And root for them!

        Seattle flavors have a lot to do with oysters and clams, the native Americans' food---we live here, and regularly have what we call 'the grizzly bears' diet', which involves blackened salmon, salad, blueberries [they grow huge here] with whipped cream, and Washington wines, which are good and numerous. You can actually lose weight and get healthy on it.

        I would add that the trip out to Tillicum island [off the pier at Seattle] is very much worth doing: salmon, roasted Indian style, and a northwest Indian mask drama, plus a boat ride across Elliott Bay, is the best evening I can think of readily.

        1. Okay, just to play the game - of the listed food booths (most of which do not have corresponding restaurants in town) I would suggest (suggest, not recommend): Biringer Farms, RAIN Modern Japanese Cuisine, Bambuza Vietnamese Bistro, Indo Cafe, The Alley. Note that The Alley has different hours than the rest of the festival (it closes early).

          But be sure to follow the reccomendations listed below so you don't leave Seattle with a bad taste in your mouth - literally.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Lauren

            Many thanks! I really appreciate the honest advice . . .this is also my first trip to Seattle, and I was also wondering what kind of food would you say one must try while visiting. Salmon, I assume, seafood I would assume . . .anything else I should not miss? Local favorites? Wines not to miss? Also why would you say these foods are "must do's" while in Seattle? I do truly know the type of event Bite of Seattle is, I understand the disdain. I don't expect miracles, just a Bite of Seattle if possible.

            1. re: jvergara

              What is unique about Seattle goes back to the Native Americans. Other Native Americans hunted the deer or buffalo or grew corn. The NW tribes built canoes, did---and still do---marvelous wood carvings with intricate symbology---and gathered their food from the sea and the beach. Clams and oysters, salmon [runs all summer long]---the half dozen kinds of edible berries---these creations of nature still abound in the NW, many of them refusing domestication, like the huckleberry. So if you want the real taste of the NW, concentrate on the shellfish, the salmon, and the berries---wonderful cobblers, teas, drinks, and scones, and thank the tribes who learned how to make use of what nature so generously provided in the area---appreciate the native art, and enjoy the wonderful natural tastes, many of them enhanced with the smoke of the water-side alder tree, and others gathered from the cold waters of the north Pacific.

              And of course---the inevitable latte stands: at every intersection, there must be one. Go for iced, in this season, double shot at 20 oz; chilled chai tea, or other such: Seattle is singlehandedly responsible for Starbucks, and while there may be better coffees, Starbucks is very Seattle, and worth a try.

              1. re: dragonfare

                Speaking of cobblers. Chinook's at fisherman's terminal, does a seasonal "slump," which is a decadent cobbler a la' mode with whatever's fresh. Served up in a memorably maritime setting.

          2. Since you will be in the area this weekend, I recommend that you also attend the Seafair Indian Days Pow Wow at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Discovery Park, just minutes from downtown Seattle. In addition to the regalia and pagentry, you will have a truly regional culinary experience with a Northwest Coast style Indian salmon bake. The fry bread is a must.

            Here's a link to their website, for your perusal:

            1 Reply
            1. re: Roo

              Dragonfare, you are full of wonderful information about Seattle's food history . . .many thanks! I will put it to good use. I am enjoying my stay in Seattle and plan to eat my way through Bite and some other terrific restaurants while I am here. Roo, I like your suggestion too . . .again thanks to all!

            2. I might go browse around does it cost money to get in?I haven't been there in years.

              1. I went there on Friday night. The must haves were the sausage pizza at Tom Douglas' Pizza stand...the fontina and onion was ok..a bit salty due to the olive....but the sausage pizzas were great. Tom douglas was actually there signing books and even mixing some lemon gelato sodas.

                I also enjoyed the variety of wings/sauces at Wingdome, althought the wings weren't really out of this world or anything.

                A cajun place that had gator on a stick and crabcakes (skip those) also had a decent crawfish etoufee.

                Tried Durian for the first time in the form of ice cream at an indonesian stand. Interesting...just did it to try it out.

                1. Knowing that "The Bite" is in the rearview mirror, I offer this in hindsight. Skip most of the Bite except the alley, the wine garden, and cooking demos. Also noteworthy was Serious Pie, which I learned, from reading posts here, is owned by Tom Douglas. We went to the Bite on Sunday, rain had made a mess of most of grass. There were dozens and dozens of eateries offering food I can only describe as the carnival circuit. Elephant ears, curly fries, BBQ ribs, watered down lemonade, and a cajun place offering crab cakes that didn't taste like crab for $7. The alley was quite good though. The $8.50 admission went to charity. The lamb and the dessert were quite lovely. The wine garden offered a souvenier wine glass and two very generous pours for $6.50. We got our groove on listening to smooth jazz and attended two great cooking demonstrations featuring chefs from the Union and Il Fornaio. We had a great time! I wouldn't want it to be my only experience eatting in Seattle. I'm only saying I found it worthwhile.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: capsicumNW

                    Bite of Seattle is not a "gourmet" or "foodie" event, which it seems like you were expecting.
                    It's a "chow" event. An opportunity to try and experience ALOT of different foods.
                    Does it cater to the masses and appease the common man? of course. Were you expecting something else from an event that regularly draws nearly 500,000 people (when it doesn't rain)?

                    Obviously there's the "carnival food", but if you stay away from that you can definitely find interesting, unique foods at the Bite. These were a couple that i enjoyed.

                    Bamboo Garden (which i know sounds like "generic chinese restuarant") had some solid chinese/asian-fusion dishes.
                    Espi's Filipino had good stuff (also not often do you see Filipino dishes)
                    There was a Jamaican stand that was enjoyable. (I had jerk chicken, my friend had goat)

                    Clearly there's going to some hits and misses at an event like this.
                    This isn't a $150 prix fixe tasting menu at a restaurant, where you should expect greatness everywhere. It's something where you'll spend $20 on several dishes in at a "fair" like atmosphere with various hits and misses.

                    You're right, it does shock and surprise (and disappoint) me every year how long the lines are for generic BBQ or tasty, but pointlessly simple "roasted corn" at an event where people could be sampling a variety of more unusual fare, but that doesn't stop me from making it out every year and finding the spots worth finding.

                    1. re: capsicumNW

                      I got that "crab cake" for $4....they were clearing everything for 4 bucks each at the end of the day. All breading! The Crawfish Etoufee there wasn't that bad actually. 4 bucks also.

                      I had a good time trying a lot of different varieties of food and ethnic food in a short amount of time. Went with my brother and a college friend and his wife.....sharing the food was a good idea as you just want a bite of most things...maybe two. Fun time though.

                      the free mentos were great for after the durian ice cream though

                      1. re: capsicumNW

                        The Food Lifeline Alley is always first on my list.

                        I sampled the Cajun crab cakes. They are reminiscent of the crab cakes found in New Orleans which I never liked, basically bread stuffing with no crab. However, the crab cakes at the Chesapeake Crab booth were very good. A better price too - two for $5.

                        Carnie food - elephant ears keeps the kids happy. The only carnie food I would like to see is hand dipped corn dogs. Five years ago, a soul food place out of Bremerton, Heckle and Jeckle (now closed), had batter dipped hot links. Nice and spicy! Those were the best, unique and they were a new restaurant trying to build a customer base. Too bad the organizers don't identify the new restaurant booths versus the traveling carnie booths. I'd rather give the new upstarts a go.

                      2. Did anybody here try the fried ice cream?

                        1. What a terrific tip . . .wait getting pen and paper. My Aunt took me on a tour of Pike's Place last weekend too when I was there, and I got some great photos which I will post here once I am done organizing them. I loved seeing all the little places tucked in there, but it was soooo crowded that we really couldn't get up close to dig into all the wonderful food options. This sounds like this tour is just what this Foodie could have used! Many thanks!

                          1. Many thanks to all Seattle 'Hounders who helped me to really understand what Northwest cuisine is really all about. I just read an article recently that said that Seattle was one of the few places in the US right now that really seemed to have developed their own true regional cuisine, and I know I thought that to be very true upon reflection of my time there. This trip helped me grow more as a Foodie than any other experience I had all summer throughout my travels. To say thank you I am attaching a link to my Seattle photos with commentary. Enjoy!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: jvergara

                              Very nice! A few little things to help you out, should you care for details: Volterra is not owned by tom douglas, but rather by Don (and Michelle, I believe) Curtiss, and the name of the restaurant with the 'time to eat' sign is Steelhead Diner.

                              Enjoyed the show! Great to see people enjoying our town.

                              1. re: jvergara

                                Thank you! It's always fun to see "home" through someone else's eyes. It sounds like you and your mother had a wonderful trip.