Seattle: Chef Robin Leventhal's Guide to the Ballard Neighborhood
In the time since wrapping up her appearance on Top Chef, contestant Robin Leventhal hasn't, to the chagrin of many Seattleites, re-opened her dearly departed restaurant, Crave. What she has done is enjoy the extraordinary culinary offerings of her little corner of the city. Ballard is a former Scandinavian fishing town turned urban hipster hangout, and Robin rounded up all the places that make this part of town a great place to grab a bite.
Coffee: Fiore. It's fabulous: espresso, lattes, beans to go, a sunny back deck (when the sun is gracing us), easy to find a seat without writers camping all day, and, added bonus, they even have parking!
Fiore: 5405 Leary Ave NW, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
Mexican: Señor Moose. My go to for Mexican, especially for breakfast. Sure, La Carta de Oaxaca rocks, and they do make their own tortillas, but I am a sucker for Señor Moose. We should just feel blessed in Ballard that we have not one, but two outstanding Mexican restaurants.
Food Truck: El Camion. All their tacos have satisfied me when I'm in that "I must have a taco now" mood, especially the mahi mahi fish tacos. But my real weakness is for their tamales. The best tamales I've EVER eaten hands down, and know that I've had my share over the years!
El Camion: 5314 15th Ave NW, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
Bar: SamBar. Thankfully I am not an alcoholic or I would be 86ed by now. Instead I save it for that intimate or special itch moment that no other place can scratch. Sensational craft cocktails and delicious bites from Le Gourmand's kitchen keep this hidden gem hopping. A simple steak frites is elevated to the divine when you're at SamBar (and it's not even on the menu!)
SamBar: 425 Northwest Market Street, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
French: Bastille. Oh how I love it so! Delicious, without pretension. Love goes into this food from the ingredients selected, the hands that prepare it, to the exceptional palate of the chef seasoning it. An outstanding experience in the front or at the back bar, depending on your mood. And cocktails that will make all others pale in comparison. This place is my #1 go to in Ballard! Plus they take reservations for Sunday brunch.
Bastille: 5307 Ballard Avenue Northwest, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
Pizza: Veraci. OK, it's neck and neck for pizza with Delancey, but they make my favorite Caesar in town. I'm a neighbor so I am admittedly biased here, but it's good. Really good! At Delancey, there is a magic that whispers from that oven through the crust and into your mouth. Much different pizza than Veraci, both kissed by flame, both topped with exceptional local ingredients and both worth the carb splurge.
Veraci: 500 NW Market Street, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
Asian: Thai Thani is a newcomer and it has grown on me. I was bitter about losing Thaiku [recently closed nearby Thai restaurant], so perhaps I was too hard on them the first time. That all changed the second time and it happened over the coconut salmon dish. They have atypical menu items that I find refreshing in a city filled with monotony. Don't miss out on some amazing brown rice, a last minute change when ordering last time and happier for it!
Thai Thani: 2021 Northwest Market Street, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
Sushi: Sam's. It's been there for so long and I have a sense of loyalty to them, but it's usually for lunch now. Moshi Moshi has my heart when it comes to dinner. Great cocktail program, even without [the recently moved on] Mr. Carlson. I am a big fan of the salmon belly that is flashed with flame just enough to caramelize the surface and create a melting sensation on your tongue. A clever use of a cut that normally would be trimmed off in a conventional restaurant. Sushi San is too clever for that here! Why not wash that down with some fresh uni: that defines bliss in Ballard.
Breakfast: Breakfast comes in all shapes and sizes in Ballard: Salmon Bay Café is the ultimate diner with Vera's pulling its weight in that department too. Both deliver volume at a great price point, but Vera's serves Café Umbria so it lures me with the better coffee. Salmon Bay's advantage is the free parking, especially valuable in the increasingly hip Ballard.
Sweet Brunch: Hi-Life. It's like the golden retriever of brunches. It's loyal, sweet and always there for you. If I want French toast this is where I head. Candied hazelnuts and mascarpone cream turn a weekend into a holiday!
Hi-Life: 5425 Russell Avenue Northwest, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
Savory Brunch: Hattie's Hat. The hipster hangout. Add hangovers to that mix and then you have all that defines this institution. Hopping, usually a line, strong drinks for the day-after cure and a hash that will fill your ailing belly! Think bloody Marys, biscuits & gravy and chicken fried chicken.
Hattie's Hat: 5231 Ballard Avenue Northwest, Seattle WA 98107 (map)
Pastries: Now for some off the beaten path recommendations: while we are honoring the brunch hour, let's praise Honore for their delectable pastries and coffee. Worth the wait if there is a line, as you will be rewarded with a buttery delicious treat. Be sure to try the canelés, a fragrant orange custard enveloped by a waxy crunchy caramelized exterior or the kouign amann, flaky, salty and sweet with a moist custard center, both are outstanding! Across the street is a sweet sunlit room called the Fat Hen. Although the name is misleading, the space is cute. Sparse portions compared to all the other breakfast joints I've mentioned and no hard alcohol to cure a hangover, but they do make their own English muffins and use farm to table ingredients.
About the author: Naomi Bishop is a Seattle based food writer and marketer. Find more of her musings on her food blog, TheGastroGnome, where she claims that being a GastroGnome is not about sitting idly on the front lawn of culinary cottages. You can also follow her explorations of cooking and culture around the world at @GastroGnome.