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Seattle for Japanese visitor

jivingseaanemone Sep 7, 2010 08:52 PM

If you had a Japanese visitor, what are the most classically American-style places you would take them to in Seattle?

Our story: I just moved to Seattle this week (originally from Portland), so I haven't had much time to explore. My Japanese boyfriend, a professional Italian chef back in Osaka where we've been living, is hoping to follow and possibly work in Seattle before too long. So when he comes to visit next week, I'm hoping to give him a good taste mainly of American-style cafes/sandwiches/casual lunch/diners & happy hour places and of Northwest-y-esque Italian or French influenced restaurants. We probably won't want Asian food this time around, although I'd like to introduce him to a couple of foods that are hard to find in Japan, like Lebanese and Mexican.
We'll be staying at my place in the Wallingford/Greenlake area and won't have a car (yay urban biking Japanese-style!), so we won't want to go too far out. Also, he's not broke but I sure am (yay grad school!), so we can't eat at expensive places every night.
We've been to Seattle together once before for one day and went to Pike Place Chowder, which was a huge hit, and Steelhead Diner, which was less of a hit (I loved it, but I'm not the chef).

This is what I'm thinking so far, based on other Chowhound posts:
Day 1 (Sat): Dick's on 45th for lunch (it's American!) or Rancho Bravo tacos, Tangletown Brewery for happy-hour/dinner.
Day 2: U-District farmer's market for breakfast, Mariners game so whatever for lunch at the stadium, Pink Door for drinks after.
Day 3: Agua Verde for lunch and kayaking, Art of the Table for Monday happy hour.
It gets more vague after that but at some point....

3-4 dinners: Spinasse, Poppy, Tilth, Spud Fish & Chips (Alki), Palace Kitchen, Corson Building, Cafe Campagne, or Crush. Plus Uwajimaya (if you tell your roommates your boyfriend is a Japanese chef, they'll expect some home cooking...)
Most of these places seem like special event spots ... I'm not sure we'll want to maintain that level for all 9 days of his trip. Some more casual places would be good...

4-5 lunches:
Ugly Mug Cafe for sandwiches, Ray's Cafe, Le Pichet, Serious Pie, Baguette Box

breakfast (we'll see...):
Portage Bay Cafe, Cafe Besalu

and: Puyallup Fair (super American!), Fremont Oktoberfest

Does that seem like a pretty representative combination of good American/Northwest stuff? Are there any particularly good Lebanese/Greek/Middle Eastern places in the U-District, Fremont or Wallingford? Any fun, retro experiences? (And if anyone has advice for getting a work visa, we'd love to hear that too....)

Thanks so much for any advice & for reading! This ended up being kind of long.

Palace Kitchen
2030 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

Cafe Campagne
1600 Post Alley, Seattle, WA 98101

Le Pichet
Seattle, WA, Seattle, WA

Pink Door
1919 Post Aly, Seattle, WA 98101

600 5th Ave S, Seattle, WA

Steelhead Diner
95 Pine Street, Suite 17, Seattle, WA 98101

Seattle, WA, Seattle, WA

Serious Pie
316 Virginia St, Seattle, WA 98101

Cafe Besalu
5909 24th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107

Portage Bay Cafe
4130 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105

Spud Fish & Chips
9702 NE Juanita Dr, Kirkland, WA 98034

Ugly Mug Cafe
1309 NE 43rd St, Seattle, WA 98105

Baguette Box
1203 Pine St, Seattle, WA 98101

Pike Place Chowder
600 Pine St Ste 404, Seattle, WA 98101

Art of the Table
1054 N 39th St, Seattle, WA 98103

  1. f
    firecracker Sep 7, 2010 09:54 PM

    Oh my goodness I agree with taking your boyfriend to some places but I would skip Dick's. This is American fast food at it's worst (except for Burger King, McDonalds and Wendy's). I would also skip Crush as I find the food mediocre, prices high and service merely okay. You can find better for less.

    Your other choices for dinners out are good. Spinasse, Poppy and Palace Kitchen all jumped off the page at me. You can't go wrong with any of them or all of them. Uwajimaya is terrific. Always fresh and always on top of their game. Your BF will love Pink Door. It's a Seattle tradition and a hoot and half. Report back on where you go and what you experience!

    Palace Kitchen
    2030 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

    Pink Door
    1919 Post Aly, Seattle, WA 98101

    600 5th Ave S, Seattle, WA

    Seattle, WA, Seattle, WA

    Burger King Restaurants
    5901 100th St SW, Lakewood, WA 98499

    2 Replies
    1. re: firecracker
      jivingseaanemone Sep 7, 2010 10:07 PM

      Heh, yeah, I was thinking of Dick's mainly for the humor/milkshake value. He'll have just gotten off a plane and won't be ready for a real meal anyways...
      Crush, off the list. Thanks!

      1. re: jivingseaanemone
        firecracker Sep 7, 2010 10:13 PM

        Well, Dick's for an initial "taste of Seattle" milkshake would be fun, jiving. You guys will be off to a good start so long as your BF isn't expecting excellent cuisine (or any cuisine) from Dick;'s. On the other hand, the price is right!!

    2. j
      Jazzaloha Sep 7, 2010 10:16 PM

      I'm not from Seattle (although I lived there a year), and I would also take Dick's off the list (although they are cheap). For burgers, I just went to Lunchbox Laboratory (Ballard) that is a fun place to try. I've also heard that the Skillet burger is great.

      Btw, I would recommend Parfait, which is a "gourmet" ice cream truck. I had only tried their Meyer-Lemon, but they seem to be going for ice cream that emphasizes the (natural) flavor and while de-emphasizing the sugar and cream. I think all of these things would appeal to a Japanese palate.

      Also, FWIW, I loved Spinasse (but try to make reservations early; we had to settle for a 9 PM dinner). Besalu was really good, but I also love Honore. I enjoyed Portage Bay for breakfast, too.

      For sandwiches, I'd recommend the neo-Cuban sandwiches from Paseo.

      Lunchbox Laboratory
      1253 Thomas Street, Seattle, WA 98109

      Honore Artisan Bakery
      1413 NW 70th St, Seattle, WA

      Seattle, WA, Seattle, WA

      Portage Bay Cafe
      4130 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98105

      1. Tom Armitage Sep 7, 2010 11:19 PM

        Seattle isn’t a rich source of either Mexican or Lebanese food. Agua Verde is okay, mostly for its location and the kayaking. How does it compare to the best seafood tacos I’ve had in Southern California or Baja California? Not terribly well. . . . but then. Dick’s may be “American,” but it’s bad American. Even for the novelty of a milk shake, why waste your precious time going to Dick’s? If you go to Tangletown for a brewski, why not go to down the street to Eva for dinner, instead of the Brewery. It’s much better food. Don’t miss the Cabrales flan with pear relish and walnut crisp. It’s a great appetizer. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but Spinasse is spectacular – the best meal I’ve had in Seattle this year – and since your boyfriend is a chef at an Italian restaurant in Osaka, he’ll really appreciate the skill and artistry of the chef there. I agree that you should make a reservation ASAP. The word is out on Spinasse, and it’s not easy to get a reservation. Your list for “3-4 dinners” is good, but I personally don’t think Palace Kitchen is in the same league as the other places on the list. Don’t limit Café Campagne to your dinner list. It serves a great breakfast/brunch. Café Besalu? A big yes if you want one of the best croissants made in the United States. They also make good coffee from a local roaster, Lighthouse.

        1. l
          Leper Sep 8, 2010 05:33 AM

          I suggest the Kingfish Cafe for traditional Southern American. Well worth the cab ride from Wallingford.

          1. j
            jivingseaanemone Sep 8, 2010 11:22 AM

            Oo, some interesting recommendations. Kingfish Cafe looks spot-on and Eva does look a lot better than the brewery. Parfait sounds good too... most American desserts are too sweet for Japanese tastes (mine too, at least at the moment while I'm readjusting....). I went to Molly Moon's the other day and the flavor combinations were amazing, but so rich I could barely finish my single scoop sundae.

            9 Replies
            1. re: jivingseaanemone
              Jeffo405 Sep 8, 2010 11:34 AM

              What the heck - why not include Dick's? It's a Seattle institution that has stood the test of time. Sure, Lunchbox Lab has great burgers, but they're pricey and not "typical," which is what it sounds like you're looking for.

              If you decide to take a ferry ride, Hitchcock on Bainbridge Island is worth a visit.

              1. re: Jeffo405
                mrnelso Sep 8, 2010 12:58 PM

                If nothing else, a trip to DIck's will give your guest a data-point on the curve of what sorts of hamburgers Seattle will eat. Dick's has been steadily pumping "Deluxe and fries" into the arteries of students since 1954. Other data-points are useful, too, to get the lay of the burger scene herabouts: Lunchbox Lab, Palace Kitchen, Two Bells, Red Mill...

                Palace Kitchen
                2030 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98121

                1. re: mrnelso
                  GreenYoshi Sep 8, 2010 02:51 PM

                  Right? Dick's is a real part of the history and culture of Seattle (before Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks). It definitely the kind of half historical/half dining experience that you'd take a tourist.

                  Besides, it's not even a full meal (like the other burger places mentioned). Split a deluxe and fries as a snack or something. Or get it late night.

                  I suppose if you only going to get one burger and wanted to make it a gourmet experience, you wouldn't pick Dick's. But it's definitely a legit call as part of a food tour, especially as a place to take a tourist.

                  1. re: GreenYoshi
                    Lauren Sep 13, 2010 04:41 PM

                    I was also going to suggest going to Dick's late night. Since you're in the Wallingford/Greenlake neighborhood there's bound to be one night where you need to eat before going to bed and Dick's is perfect for that!

                    1. re: Lauren
                      Tom Armitage Sep 13, 2010 05:07 PM

                      It's amazing the amount of love that Dick's gets on this Board. But if it's "Seattle culture" and history you're after, how come Ivar's so often gets overlooked? At least at the Alaskan Way Ivar's you get to sit outside, watch the ferries come and go, and you can throw the seagulls some fries. And, IMHO, the fish & chips are a lot better than Dick's burgers.

                      1. re: Tom Armitage
                        seattleviking Sep 13, 2010 05:29 PM

                        For a guest from Japan hitting the Ivar's Salmon House Happy Hour would probably be good bet. The building makes it worth a visit for out of town guests. It's also right in your hood.

                        Ivar's Salmon House
                        401 NE Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98105

                        1. re: seattleviking
                          mrnelso Sep 13, 2010 06:50 PM

                          Thank you TA, for a great suggestion. The setting alone is a winner, and a Japanese visitor will surely find the local preparations engaging. The bar has good local taps and happy hour is feeding half the UW campus.
                          Expect and spend an extra half-hour in the visit to read and see local history on the walls. Avoid the oily "Spring Rolls," and prepare for oysters shooters to be mostly a smother of "cocktail sauce," but get the chowder, fish-and-chips and fried halibut bites, for local color. We've not seen Ivar's to offer eel, which might be a good reference point, but often enjoy squid rings ('calamari') breaded and fried.

                          1. re: mrnelso
                            Tom Armitage Sep 14, 2010 02:11 PM

                            Actually, I was thinking about a daytime visit to Ivar’s Pier 54 Fish Bar on the Puget Sound waterfront, next to the downtown ferry terminal. But the suggestion of the Salmon House is a great idea for something “uniquely Seattle,” where getting the very best food Seattle has to offer isn’t the only goal.

                            Pier 54 Fish Bar
                            Pier 54, Seattle, WA 98101

                        2. re: Tom Armitage
                          Lauren Sep 14, 2010 01:26 PM

                          Because you can't go to Ivar's at 1:30 in the morning and watch a parade of interesting characters go by your car window!

              2. p
                pusherman Sep 8, 2010 01:22 PM

                I hosted a group of Japanese (work) associates for a few days in Seattle, and what got them the most excited was the oysters -- I guess the quality and variety we get is great by their standards, and also at a value price. We took them to the kind of touristy seafood place by the fisherman's terminal (by the Ballard Bridge) and they got very excited about the sampler. I don't eat shellfish, so I couldn't have previously even told you there were different kinds.

                2 Replies
                1. re: pusherman
                  Tom Armitage Sep 8, 2010 02:02 PM

                  For oysters, go to Elliott's Oyster House. Since you're on a somewhat tight budget, Elliott's Oyster Happy Hour will reduce the cost significantly, although you will be limited to one or two house-selected oysters. One strategy is to order one dozen or more of the Happy Hour oysters, but get at least a dozen oysters selected by the oysterman to fit your preference (e.g., briny vs. sweet) at the regular price. If you go for Oyster Happy Hour, I suggest going on Monday through Thursday afternoon. Friday afternoon is a zoo.

                  1. re: Tom Armitage
                    jivingseaanemone Sep 9, 2010 06:50 PM

                    He does love oysters. It turns out Art of the Table is closed the week he'll be here anyways, so maybe I'll sub in oysters for Monday happy hour. Thanks for the suggestions! Will report back....

                    Art of the Table
                    1054 N 39th St, Seattle, WA 98103

                2. Teknotic Sep 26, 2010 10:34 PM

                  I have a feeling that your boyfriend's first impression of most American food is probably going to be pretty horrific. When we were with my fiance's Japanese family, their first meal was at this greasy fish and chips and bbq joint, and they looked like they were ready to puke. Bear in mind that the Japanese do not do foods that are very greasy or sweet. They also tend to be fairly picky eaters in many respects. You have a slightly easier task in that he is a cook from Osaka, so his tastes will probably be a bit broader than many others. I would suggest taking him to a nice Italian place like Serafina's (my Japanese coworker is OBSESSED with that place), and to leave Dick's out. I agree on the suggestion for Ivar's Salmon House as it is also a Seattle tradition. Another good seafood restaurant he would probably love is the Flying Fish on lake Union. They often have oyster specials at $.50 a pop!!

                  Ivar's Salmon House
                  401 NE Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98105

                  Flying Fish
                  2234 1st Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Teknotic
                    dagrassroots Sep 27, 2010 12:23 AM

                    You realize you a generalizing about hundreds of millions of peoples eating habits. Region plays into Japanese peoples diets as much as nationality. A lot of Japanese people like fried food and a lot like sweet things.

                    1. re: dagrassroots
                      burritobelle Sep 27, 2010 07:40 AM

                      I agree with dagrassroots. You really can't generalize. Also, I'm a Seattle girl currently living in Japan, and most locals I hang out with eat their fair share of sweets and fried foods. It's just Japanese style. Tempura and daifuku etc...

                      Anyway, I think you should definitely take him to Lunchbox Lab. I love taking visitors there. It's so unique. Skillet would be cool too. There's not much more American than an airstream trailer. What about BBQ? That's pretty damn American.

                      I would also skip Crush but recommend How To Cook A Wolf, on upper Queen Anne, for a great New American meal.

                      Has he been to the states a bunch of times? I think a foreigner who loves food might just like to browse Whole Foods for the novelty of it.

                      1. re: burritobelle
                        Teknotic Sep 27, 2010 12:01 PM

                        When Japanese people fry things, they are not dripping with grease the way our fried foods and hamburgers are.

                        1. re: Teknotic
                          mrnelso Sep 28, 2010 01:26 AM

                          In re:Dripping:

                          My Oregon, Air Force, uncle took me to a North Seattle pancake house (the ignominious name of which shall not be mentioned), when I was 12. It was a big day in my education. He encouraged me to join him in steak-and-eggs (unthinkable choice for this single-mom food-stamp boy). As if I weren't high enough on the indulgence, he expanded my world by giving a slightly obstreperous display of satisfaction, as he directly addressed the fatty rind and brought it, dripping, to his lips.
                          My Intensive-care-nurse mom tried, but nothing could be done to diminish the lessons her brother, taught.

                  2. l
                    loveeatingout Sep 28, 2010 03:27 PM

                    For Middle Eastern Arab food, Gorgeous Georges. It is authentic and very tasty.

                    1. j
                      jivingseaanemone Sep 30, 2010 09:17 PM

                      Thanks so much for the advice, everyone! I loved hearing all the suggestions. He's been and gone now and here's how it went:
                      Tried Ivar's Salmon House for happy hour the first day. It was packed to the brim with visiting football types and we couldn't get in, and there's not a lot nearby, so we ended up at Agua Verde for some beer and guacamole. At that very tired point in the day, that was all we really needed. Good view.
                      Eva's for dinner - nice atmosphere, enjoyable, we weren't amazed by the food but it was pleasant.
                      Safeco Field Ivar's chowder for lunch the next day - disappointing. I did introduce him to cracker jacks, though, which he liked more than I did. (I often got laughed at in Japan for not liking meat or anything popcorny - apparently I'm not a real American!) We went to Pike Place Market after the game and got some lovely flavored pastas for dinner at home. He loved that -- America has way more pasta variety than Japan does.
                      Ray's Boathouse Cafe - he was in heaven over the chowder there! The rest of the lunch was just ok, but the day and the view were gorgeous.
                      Perche No - we came in late and got some rather sloppily done pasta (we found 3 kinds of noodles in the seafood "linguine"!) but the food was still tasty and luckily we were seated upstairs with a view straight down on the kitchen - PERFECT for us.
                      The recommendation for oysters at Elliott's was a good one - he wanted to go back the next day too (but we didn't).
                      ZigZag - he was really impressed by this. This kind of mixology hasn't caught on much in Japan.
                      Volunteer Park Cafe - perfect example of a nice & simple soup-salad-sandwich type cafe. These kinds of cafes are next to impossible to find in Japan, and we both loved it.
                      Cafe Presse - we popped in here at the last minute and had a good meal.
                      Spinasse - as everyone suggested it might be, the absolute culinary highlight of the trip. We sat at the bar where we could watch the kitchen and talk to the staff and endlessly enthuse over every bite we took.
                      Woodland Park Zoo - the soup was actually not bad.
                      Molly Moon's - too rich for us, but we appreciated the flavor inventiveness.
                      Issian - we only spoke Osaka-dialect Japanese with the staff in here. authentic!
                      Kisaku - he'd never had American-style sushi rolls, so we came in here and he loved them. Caterpillar rolls! Entertaining! And delicious.
                      Tilth - amazing flavors! He liked Spinasse better, but this was great too.
                      Tangletown Brewery - I took him here when he expressed a desire to try "American bar junk food." I ordered the artichoke dip. He was very pleased. They don't have that in Japan!
                      Cupcake Royale - this was more for me than him. It was a bit too rich for him, but just right for me.
                      The Farm - by Snohomish. Fresh corn, apple cider, u-pick pumpkins, and cute farm animals. Very, very, very American.
                      And finally:
                      Easy Street Records. This was the best American-style breakfast place I could possibly imagine taking an international visitor to. SO American. AND cheap. AND delicious. AND a really fun atmosphere & server. My boyfriend couldn't imagine biscuits and gravy from my description before he tried it. He can now!

                      Ray's Boathouse Restaurant
                      6049 Seaview Ave., Seattle, WA 98107

                      Safeco Field
                      1250 1st Ave S, Seattle, WA 98134

                      Pike Place Market
                      1501 Pike Pl, Seattle, WA 98101

                      Cafe Presse
                      1117 12th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122

                      Ivar's Salmon House
                      401 NE Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98105

                      Seattle, WA, Seattle, WA

                      Cupcake Royale
                      2052 NW Market St, Seattle, WA

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: jivingseaanemone
                        Tom Armitage Sep 30, 2010 09:32 PM

                        Great report. Thanks.

                        1. re: jivingseaanemone
                          Lauren Oct 7, 2010 01:47 PM

                          Thanks for the report. You really showed what great variety Seattle has to offer. Good selections!

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