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SEA: "There is no X in Seattle"

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In a post in the recent "La Carta de Oxaca" thread, someone said:

"Enough with the blanket "there is no X in Seattle" screeds."

I'm interested in what others think, so I posted a new topic.

My reply:

When I first moved to Seattle in 2005, I wondered why chowhounds would constantly harp on how much better the food was outside of Seattle.

After being here for three years, I find myself defending those that say exactly that: "there is no X in Seattle".

At first I thought there was a variety of "Portland-Seattle-Vancouver" rivalry in place (or even a tri-cities solidarity else wise): "If you can't find it in Seattle, try this place in Vancouver." That's not true. When people say try Vancouver or try Portland, they are saying that Seattle doesn't compare favorably.

There are some good restaurants in Seattle, sure, but for every good one, IMO, there's a dearth of inferior ones.

Most cities have a "food bell curve", a number of adequate to good places at the center of the range with the usual outliers on either side. The curve in Seattle looks like a long tail with left shift: a number of good ones at the high end and a whole bunch of crap on the way down.

I think the reason the PNW board has so much SEA volume is because most of us chowhounds have become wary, indeed exasperated, of finding great chow.

I have no inhibition on spending a lot of money for great food, but I've had few experiences that would nullify my solidarity with those who are brave enough to admit the truth: "there is no X in Seattle".

This thread will generate some heated responses, no doubt, but what do others think? I think the generalization holds. I think restaurants here can grow from comparisons with other cities. I think they must.

  1. I wrote that there is no good Tex Mex in Seattle on that thread, and I stand by that statement. I still love the food scene here though, and don't agree with your overall premise that there are more inferior food joints then good ones in Seattle. It just has its own specialties and regional favorites.

    1. good higher-end Italian places: Cafe Juanita is one exception but they are far away (from downtown at least) and don't seem to change their menu much at all, also not enough rock-your-world pasta choices. Pasta at Barolo tends to be thick and gluey and their osso buco could be a lot better imo. Best pasta i've had around here was the crab ravioli at Cascadia but it's way overpriced. (ok, i do like the lasagna at Cafe Lago, but that's another isolated instance)

      Truly crispy/tender baby pig and truly soupy/delicate Shanghai soup dumplings (this has been discussed numerous times before)

      Sushi w/ creative toppings-- Seattle hasn't quite caught onto this yet, unlike places on the east coast that have taken the idea and run wild with it

      Great casual Japanese-- the late Takohachi came closest, now we are left with much inferior places...other cities do much better with this (i'm thinking e.g. San Jose, Boston, where these places have lines out the door every day)

      PS. Where can i go for a good grilled weisswurst (veal sausage)? besides People's Pub (the one at Feierabend isn't very good imo)

      3 Replies
      1. re: barleywino

        There is no good jewish deli food in Seattle. Goldbergs in Bellevue and the sandwich guy in the market are passable for corned beef on rye but you can't get a decent knish or bowl of chicken noodle/matzoh ball soup (made with schmaltz). For my brother's sake, I will mention chopped liver too. Please someone, prove me wrong.

        1. re: amyh18

          it may be my bubby and his came from the same shtetl but i find the knishes (just had a roasted garlic version yesterday) and matzoh ball soup at the new york deli in pike place market to be very good. his rye bread is the best in the city, the half-sour pickles are addictive and the chopped liver is first-rate.

          goldberg's is hopeless on many levels and every other soup in town (i've tried them all) cannot approach that at the new york deli

        2. re: barleywino

          High-end Italian - what about Il Terrazzo Carmine?

          Casual Japanese - there might not be a single replacement for Takohachi, but what about Fort St. George and Maekawa Bar?

          Agreed on the lack of Shanghainese etc.

        3. I dunno. I've been here since '91 and can say unequivocally that the food scene is magnitudes ahead of where it was then. The flip-side is that we've lost a lot of those marginal, quirky places that could only survive in a one-horse town. Never again will we see the likes of a Sorry Charlies, a Dog House, Chubby & Tubby's, or Cloud Room. Now add Sunset Bowl to that list as of last week.

          Griping about one's local food is a time-honored tradition. Unless of course you move to San Francisco, where you can loudly proclaim you're the best on every level.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Finspot

            I think griping about the food is something mostly reserved for people who moved here from elsewhere and want Seattle to be just like where they came from. I'm a well-traveled native, and I guess it just doesn't occur to me to look at what's wrong with the food scene here. *shrug*

            1. re: allisonw

              There could be something to that, as I've lived in New Orleans, Chicago, Anchorage, Honolulu, and Lake Tahoe. In all of these places, after I lived there for a while, I developed go-to places, often more than one per cuisine: These two for Thai, this for Italian, this for great pizza, awesome Chinese here and here, even if they're both hole-in-wall establishments, etc.

              I wouldn't have to try so hard to come up with "go to" restaurants that were consistently good to great AND affordable.

              In Seattle, it's not like this at all, even after three years. For me, it's a much more difficult process, more granular.

              Instead of developing a quick-list of "go to" resturants, I have "go to" menu items. I don't trust restaurants here, I guess, after having so much overpriced (and under-delicous) food.

              Caveat emptor: I just realized this could say more about my palate development than the food scene: my tastes are more refined. As a result, I'm more particular. That's quite possible. I'll have to think on it some more.

              1. re: fooey

                It's also a Chowhound thing. Go to the Boston, NY, San Francisco, LA forums and you see the same thing. There I've seen people argue there's no good Chinese in SF, no good Mexican in Orange County, no good anything in Boston, and no consensus on what's good in NY. Which is all pretty funny because there are so many ex-pats from those cities on the Seattle board raving about the Chinese in SF or the Mexican in SoCal or the Italian in Boston/NY (just try getting a recommendation for Italian for the latter two cities. You'll be told it's all tourist trap, bad Italian-American, except for the Batali restaurants.).

                And note to Finspot: Look at the SF board!! I go there frequently for work and have given up looking at that forum for recommendations. According to them the Mexican sucks, the Chinese sucks, the Vietnamese sucks...

                I think there's an awful lot of nostalgia that affects people's memories of the food that they left "back home," too.

                I wouldn't argue that Seattle has top notch everything but if anyone else travels regularly to a variety of other American cities, you'd probably agree we have a good restaurant scene here, especially considering that we are not such a big city.

                1. re: christy319

                  Christy319,
                  Thanks, I'll take a look. I was thinking more specifically of my friends there (lived in SF & Berkeley for a few years) who are Bay Area cheerleaders to the point of annoyance. It's good to hear they're passing around the humility doses.

                  1. re: christy319

                    Coming from north county san diego, Seattle is a freakin' food mecca.

                    (although I still can't find a decent fish taco!)

                    1. re: Jeters

                      I hear you brother. I'm in Portland wondering the same thing.

                      (Vista High, c/o '96)

            2. I'm a native too, but have lived in other cities and traveled extensively. There are some things seriously lacking in our area.

              1. Good NY Jewish Deli. Some are ok, but nothing is authentic.
              2. Mexican, not a taco truck rec
              3. Upscale Chinese
              4. Greek (Lola is good but not real traditional or afforable)
              5. East coast diners

              There are also many things we do just as well, or better than other cities:
              1. Fresh fish and seafood
              2. Asian fusion
              3. Espresso bars
              4. Brew pubs

              1 Reply
              1. re: lisaf

                For good Greek in this X town I recommend: Divine (updated) and Yanni's (traditional).

              2. My standard retort to this line of griping is that Seattle is about the same size as Jacksonville or Indianapolis. We punch way, way above our weight in the culinary world.

                (Of course there are things that are better in other cities due to various ethnic diasporas, that's always true of any place.)

                I think the reason the PNW board has so much traffic, frankly, is that the local population is relatively educated, internet savvy, and interested in food. And hooray for that.