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Sep 8, 2013 06:48 PM

Seattle's signature food---is there such a thing?

If so, where should I get it? Staying two nights downtown and two nights near Sea-Tac.

If not, what do you propose as the signature food?

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  1. I don't know about signature but Paseo's is wonderful.

    But not downtown.

    Maybe dim sum in the ID (Intl. District). My fave is Jade Garden:

    1. Hi, ChowHap:

      I was born and raised here, and IMO there really is no "signature" food you can't get *somewhere* else. But Seattle is known for the wide variety of local seafood--fish, mollusks, bivalves, crustaceans.

      Salty's at Redondo Beach is within reach of Seatac, and the fresh sheet at McCormick & Schmick's Fish House downtown is always long and representative of what's in season. Ray's Boathouse in Ballard is one of Seattle's quintessential seafood dining experiences.


      8 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        x2 for Ray's. An outstanding view and deep wine list to compliment the tasty and beautifully prepared seafood.

        Downtown consider Blueacre Seafood, sister restaurant Steelhead Diner (in the Pike Place Market), Etta's, and Seastar.

        1. re: Gizmo56

          Agree that Ray's can't be beat for view and wine....but sadly I can't say the same for the food. The new, smaller menu is boring and homogenous comparatively and I was very disappointed last I went.

          If I go again, it will be to the new bar area in the dining room.

          1. re: jlbwendt

            I took my parents to Ray's for lunch. They really liked it (but their bar is low); I thought it was mediocre. Service and view were nice.

            1. re: jlbwendt

              Respectfully disagree, based upon several summer dinners at Ray's, but my original rec's still rank higher (Walrus & Carpenter, Blueacre, Steelhead, Etta's), if one subtracts view and tradition.

              A possible delightful best-of-all-worlds compromise would be a mid-afternoon round of cocktails and small plates at Ray's Cafe followed by the first seating at Walrus & C.

          2. re: kaleokahu

            I've been sensibly out-voted in nomination of Dungeness and Mahonia Berry bitters are yet to be seen in the swanky bars here. "Signature" in these parts is mostly graffiti, though often unexpected and lovely (Paseo, a zillion small platers). The Blake Island salmon show aspires to be iconic, if wearily. In advocacy, I'd say it's a worthy show and the cookery is plain and authentic enough to engage. Ingrown in every adult by 19 is a paradigm of pizza that will be defended to the death and I hesitate to nominate Fish & Chips for that reason, but it is an iconically correct and satisfying experience of chow to feed seagulls and watch the boats on a summer day in Seattle. Ivar's may not be your choice for D
            fish & chips, but the clam chowder is iconic to a slice of chowder hounds. And how about coffee, anyhow?

            1. re: mrnelso

              Thanks for the nice overview.

              And yes, how about coffee? Any notable local roaster / coffee house you'd recommend?

                1. re: ChowHap

                  Coffee is yet another typically idiosyncratic taste, but I look for Cafe Vita when I can't drink my own roast (cheap, easy, fun geekery).

              1. re: paulj

                Now how cool is that??? Thanks.

                1. re: c oliver

                  YES! If I had my druthers there would be much more discussion about teriyaki on this board (and alot less about overdone, mediocre burgers at Dick's and Red Mill).

                  The J. Kauffman article referenced in the NYT piece is also a great read on the history of the teriyaki phenomenon. I think both omitted discussion of Joy Teriyaki in Lake City (now sadly closed) which was more notable for its authentic Mongolian food. A little salty butter tea with your chicken 'yaki? Why not?

                  1. re: equinoise

                    Drat! Our kids live in the Lake City area, a place that we're loving more and more for the food.

                    1. re: equinoise

                      Hadn't hear Joy Teriyaki had closed. Sad.
                      I guess I should have gone more often...

                      1. re: equinoise

                        Hey now, take it easy on poor Dick's (you can have Red Mill, though). Dick's's been reliably cheap and fast and always the same for 50 years and they have been reliably overdone and mediocre the whole time with the exact same menu (can anybody match that?). It's not every shop that can produce the very same cheeseburgers for 30 players after the championships year after year and it's a helluva scene.

                        1. re: mrnelso

                          Sir Nelso:

                          Yes, Dick's is nothing if not reliable. I too have fond memories of eating there in my youth (and extended youth). But more recent (and sober) visits have confirmed that its recommendation as Seattle's "signature food" or a "must-do" attraction for visitors is, like its burgers, overdone.

                          1. re: equinoise

                            Thank you equinoise, and I so agree that Dick's is all the mediocrity posited herein. So much so that I would not personally nominate Dick's for any CHOW awards, though 50 years of consistency is unheard of in the industry and awardable for certain on those commercial merits alone - an award Dick can display proudly with his many and well-deserved deserved civic appreciations. A couple times a year, usually exhausted after late meetings, I will swing through the parking lot to grab a Dick's Special for a few hundred fast, familiar calories, but I do not expect CHOW.
                            It is my fervent hope that more chowish candidates for the signature signature will present themselves and they will not include hot-dogs or cream-cheese.
                            Having been a regular and appreciative patron of the Sunny Teriyaki Donut Center and Yoshi's on Roy, I see and acknowledge the appropriateness of this impulse, but it hurts my heart to acquiesce to this and I still feel bad about the element of cultural dis/mis-placement, so I will resist this nominee while we seek a better fit.
                            You will restore your general appreciation capacity some by visiting Dick's on a hot (such as it is) summer weekend night when the lot is full of giggling kids and smiling coaches.
                            I wait with you for illumination of this issue: when in Philly, have cheesesteak (often just icky, by the way), in Chicago, NY, or Mystic it's pizza. In Florida, Apalachicola oysters and dime-time shrimp; what in Seattle? I'd hope not to abandon the CHOW requirement to admit lesser, if worthy, gustatory events (Dick's, Paseo, Pagliacci...) and I am delighted to wait here with you.

                          2. re: mrnelso

                            Dick's may be consistent and a "helluva scene" but it's also some of the worst crap served in the Seattle area. It's nasty beyond belief!

                        2. re: paulj

                          We consume a lot of cheap teriyaki. But I don't see how we can consider it a signature dish, given the fact that teriyaki is part of Japanese cuisine.

                          My understanding of the meaning of "signature dish" is that it signifies something that was created locally, to which we can put our "signature," as an artist does on his or her own painting.

                          1. re: Gizmo56


                            I agree that teriyaki is, per se, a cooking technique that is part of traditional Japanese cuisine. But the ubiquitous meat/rice/salad combination known here as "teriyaki" is a long way from traditional. Especially when you consider the liberties in preperation and accoutrement taken by the Korean, Vietnamese, Indian and Mongolian owners of local teriyaki shops, it's a decidely different animal.

                            1. re: equinoise

                              Yes, it gets spun in various different ways here. But teriyaki itself was not born here, and therefore I don't think we can put our "signature" on it.

                              If that were true, we could say that because we put cream cheese on hot dogs, the frankfurter is Seattle's "signature" dish.

                              1. re: Gizmo56

                                Not sure I agree... Deep Dish Pizza is certainly one of Chicago's signature dishes, but pizza doesn't originate there. Chopped beef and cheese sandwiches didn't originate in Philadelphia, but Philly certainly put their signature on the Cheesesteak.

                                On the OTHER other hand, though, I've never heard anyone say "Give me a Seattle Teriyaki"...

                                1. re: Booklegger451

                                  Right, I don't think serving cheap teriyaki with a little salad and rice is really so unique or distinctive that we can claim anything especially new is taking place.

                                  Deep dish pizza is a sufficient reinvention of pizza as to be almost a completely different animal, and the particular flavor profile you get in the Philly Cheesesteak from the combo of ultra-thin Ribeye, Grilled Onion, CheeseWiz and the Italian roll, is very different from a plain vanilla roast beef and cheese sandwich.

                                  I think what is arguably unique about our teriyaki (if anything) has more to do with the business model of these ubiquitous little shops (as developed by Toshi in the 1980's), than it has to do with the teriyaki itself.

                                  Returning to the hot dog analogy, I think we can lay claim to originating the cream cheese dog, but we can't claim that "hot dog" is our signature dish. And I just don't see what is so inventive in our teriyaki joints that we can call teriyaki a Seattle "signature" food.

                                  1. re: Gizmo56

                                    I think I can get behind the "not sufficiently mutated" line of thought.

                                    I'm going to vote for the Rainier Cherry as our signature food.

                                    1. re: Booklegger451

                                      I now officially adore you, legger. This is a lovely contribution.

                                    2. re: Gizmo56

                                      Great arguments. But let's talk a little more about that hot dog analogy.

                                      Think about the importance of the hot dog to New York's food identity and history. You know: Nathan's Famous of Coney Island, Gray's Papaya, the ubiquitous Sabrett dogs sold on the street corners. As one blogger explains:

                                      "To many, New York City’s iconic street food is the hot dog. The steaming hot frank – boiled on a street cart and wheeled around on hot metal rollers at a baseball game, or perhaps tossed in a basket while you're waiting in a rowdy line at Nathan’s on Coney Island – holds nostalgia for New Yorkers and tourists alike."

                                      BUT, she goes on to say:

                                      "In the 1860s, German immigrants sold the frankfurters (which originated in Frankfurt, Germany) from pushcarts in Lower Manhattan, for three cents each, or two for five cents. As the popularity of the meat sandwiches in fluffy buns increased, sporting events and street vendors throughout the city began selling the dachshund-like food; hence the name, 'hot dog.' "


                                      What did NY do, then, with the immigrated frankfurter that is different from what Seattle did, first with the hot dog, and second, to sauced meat of Japanese extraction?

                                      It appears the major New York innovations upon the German frankfurter were business model (in the case of cheap street dogs), location and format (in the case of Nathan's Famous in Coney Island), or side accountrements (Gray's Papaya, serving dogs with the eponymous fruit drinks).

                                      As to the Seattle style dog, arguably the addition of cream cheese is a more substantive mutation than a mere change in delivery format or business model.

                                      So what of teriyaki then? We seem to agree about the uniqueness of the teriyaki business model/delivery format in Seattle. Is that, coupled with the ethno-centric variations on the salty-sweet meat/rice/salad theme, not sufficient to qualify as a signature food?

                                      1. re: equinoise

                                        I think not.

                                        Visitors go to Chicago and seek out deep dish pizza. Visitors go to Philadelphia and flock to Geno's and Pat's for cheesesteak. Visitors go to NYC and seek out NY pizza, towering pastrami sandwiches in the delis and, yes, a Nathan's hot dog at Coney Island. People visit New Orleans and seek out gumbo, and oysters bienville, and other Creole cuisine. I have never heard of anyone coming to Seattle and seeking out our teriyaki.

                                        If we have anything approaching a signature food (and that is doubtful, IMO), it would be the sort of fare that is served at a place like Ivar's Salmon House. If people around the country associate any particular food with this city, it is seafood in general, and specifically salmon with some sort of Native American themed prep, in a place with totem pole decor. I think local salmon roasted on an alder plank is about as close as we'll get to something that rises to the level of a local signature dish.

                                        I would say that teriyaki as a cheap fast food option is unusually popular here, and that we do have a distinctive business model, but I would not say that we can put our signature on teriyaki.

                                        I think we probably each interpret the term "signature food" in different ways, and so reasonable people may disagree.

                                        Now you have awakened an old craving in me for Gray's Papaya...dag nabit!

                                        1. re: Gizmo56

                                          Excellent point. And as a regular visitor, I'll agree with salmon. And we are amazingly probably the only two people living on the Left Coast who don't particularly care for it :(

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Try white (or ivory on some menus) salmon, c.oliver. Milder taste and higher in Omega 3 fish oils. Almost always wild caught (not the farmed stuff), it's really good grilled plain with butter and lemon drizzled on the finish.

                                            1. re: firecracker

                                              Our kids fixed us wild and it was definitely white-ish. In that case, didn't like the texture. Almost mushy but perhaps they didn't cook it correctly (over/under?).

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Sounds over to me, c.oliver. How was the taste?

                                                1. re: firecracker

                                                  Really not much flavor at all; just that unappealing texture. I recently bought Fish Without a Doubt. When we get home from this trip, I'm going to buy a piece from WF (my only choice where we live), follow directions and if we still don't like it then at least I know I gave it a fair shot.

                                          2. re: Gizmo56

                                            I like the "seeking out" criteria for signature food. And while I actually have had some friends visiting me who were "seeking out" teriyaki, it was more of a function of their New York Times readership than anything else.

                                            Under that criteria, I'll go with Salmon (in any shape or form) and "Seattle-style" hot dogs.

                                            1. re: GreenYoshi

                                              Thanks Yoshi
                                              I, too, like the "seeking out" criterion, and had the same experience of NYT readers disappointingly seeking teriyaki, but was unable to offer better candidates. "Salmon in any form" is probably as good as it gets, though this will raise howls of protest up and down the west coast, as truly indigenous candidates are rare as hen's teeth. Context continues to insert itself into CHOW considerations, where I do find a summer day in the back-yard with a Weber and a Salmon iconic.

                                        2. re: Booklegger451

                                          Thank you and all for putting your appropriately many hands to the task of sorting-out this brainstorm.

                                          1. re: mrnelso

                                            I am pleased that Yoshi's out-of-town friends were seeking out teriyaki. The revolution has to start someone, and the food section of the the NYT is as good as anywhere else. Presumably, something analogous happened before the first time a Chicagoan went looking for a pastrami in the Lower East Side, or when a visitor to Philadelphia first sought out a cheesesteak.

                                            It seems as if I'm in the minority here, but I am bit leery about letting external perceptions too heavily dictate what is our signature food. There are numerous posts here wherein locals attempt to re-educate and re-direct visitors searching for some kind of Platonic ideal "Seattle seafood house" where they can realize a half-baked fantasy of salmon, crab, oysters, halibut, etc., all in one meal, all excellently prepared, all under the watchful eyes of totem poles surrounding the dining area.

                                            It seems to me that the core mission of this site is helping visitors eat as the locals do, which is not necessarily the same thing as validating the nautical- or Native-themed stereotypes that are promoted by external media and the popular imagination of visitors.

                                            1. re: equinoise

                                              Hi, equinoise:

                                              Good on you for championing teriyaki. I get "yuki" takeout quite often from several places.

                                              I always assumed that most major cities had similar/proportionate ## and quality of teriyaki joints, but apparently not.

                                              Strange, but even though I eat it here at least 1:5 cheap-eats meals, whenever I travel, teriyaki is one of the last things I'd seek out. Again, I've always thought teriyaki was ubiquitous.


                                2. Definitely fresh, local seafood, most especially salmon, local oysters, and Dungeness crab.

                                  The closest you'll come to a "signature" Seattle dish would be salmon roasted (or bbq'd) on an alder plank.

                                  We are more about quality local ingredients than a specific regional "cuisine." The Walrus and the Carpenter is one spot that is currently highly regarded as being emblematic of Seattle's unique strengths. It is in the north end of the city, so it would be a cab ride from downtown.


                                  There are not many great spots near Sea-Tac, but here is one stand-out:


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Gizmo56

                                    Having moved here three years ago from the east coast, I'd say the signatures of Seattle dining are:

                                    1. Fresh, local seafood, as others have said.

                                    2. Farm-to-table plates (often small plates) that emphasis grains and especially vegetables, which tend to be afterthoughts elsewhere in the country.

                                  2. seattle dog: hot dog with cream cheese. grab it during the day at dog in the park (westlake center) or late night at the hot dog cart in the belltown bar district.