Having lived in Seattle now for almost four years, I've scoped out most of the Japanese food that the city offers. While I've definitely loved a number of places, I've also had my fair share of disappointments.
If you only have a day in Seattle, I've put together this guide to help you navigate where to go, depending on what you're craving.
The images used below in this post are from the websites of the respective businesses mentioned.
While there's no place in Seattle that specializes in Japanese breakfast, there are several places where you can grab a tasty pastry or okazupan in the morning.
Fresh Flours is a local chain founded by Keiji Koh and Etsuko Minematsu, both of whom were born and raised in Tokyo. Their bakeries always have a number of great treats to choose from including yuzu macarons, matcha adzuki muffins, black sesame butter cookies and more. There's also space at every location to hangout and leisurely sip on a matcha latte.
Fuji Bakery is another local chain that features baked goods with Japanese and French influences. While they have certain goods on rotation, such as their macarons, some of their staple items include adzuki donuts, melon pan, curry pan and more. Only their Elliot Bay location has seating (albeit sparse).
Ayako & Family
Alessandra Gordon, who runs Ayako & Family, can be seen at various farmers' markets in Seattle serving up the fluffiest shokupan, or "milk bread". She, her homemade shokupan and jams can be found on Saturdays at the University District Farmers Market and and on Sundays at the Ballard Farmers Market. You can buy a loaf to take home or nibble on a freshly toasted slice with butter and one of her signature jams.
Depending on the weather, you may gravitate towards something hot or cold. Either way, these two places can accommodate.
U:Don Fresh Japanese Noodle Station
U:Don, for short, is a made-to-order udon shop with two Seattle locations. It's not the fanciest place, but if you're looking for quick, affordable, consistent AND delicious, you can't go wrong with U:Don. While I haven't done the math myself, with all of the different toppings and types of udon to choose from, I think it's possible to create at least 100+ combinations of udon here.
Azuki Udon is a much smaller mom-and-pop udon shop in the heart of Madison Valley. Owner Ryuji Miyata opened Azuki just as coronavirus was spreading in Seattle. Somewhat luckily for them, their business model mostly depends on takeout anyway so it seems that they've been able to transition well in these circumstances. Even though their udon's price tag could be seen as high, it's handmade, absolutely delicious, and the portions are huge.
If you're craving a slice of cake or tea for oyatsu no jikan - snack time - look no further than these cozy places.
Hiroki is a cute dessert and tea shop tucked away in the Wallingford neighborhood. It reminds me of a few kisatens that I've frequented before in Japan. Hiroki serves delicious signature cakes including Green Tea Tiramisu and Honey Mango Cheesecake.
Koku Cafe is a small cafe and restaurant tucked away in Queen Anne. While they mostly tout their delicious rice bowls (e.g. mirin-soaked chicken, tamago gohan) their cafe options are also intriguing. Some of these options include Black Sesame Fudge, Yuzu Limeade, Tokara confections.
If it's early enough to stop by somewhere for happy hour, these are a few places I would recommend.
Suika, Tamari Bar and Rondo are part of the same restaurant group as Kingyo and Raisu, to name a few, up north in Vancouver. Nevertheless, the food is still good at all three places - and they have great happy hours. These three places fill up quickly though, so the earlier you get there, the better.
With a nod of approval from the James Beard Foundation, Kamonegi has skyrocketed in popularity. You can choose to have dinner here and try to make a reservation in advance, but I believe their happy hour should not be overlooked. Just be warned - you'll probably need to get there as soon as it opens to secure a seat for happy hour.
There are plenty of options for dinner, but it really depends on how much you're willing to spend, how much time you have, and how far ahead you planned. I'll break this section down into "Splurge" and "Budget" options.
W'az is a kaiseki restaurant that changes their menu often. I've only been once, but I thought the food was absolutely delicious. However, with a $110 price tag, this meal is not for the price-conscious. (It's perhaps worthwhile to note that when I went for kaiseki, I paid around $80). From their Instagram, I've learned that W'az also offers a weekend temaki lunch special which might be a good option for those who want to experience W'az quality without the kaiseki price.
While the non-bar seating sushi is more than decent, being served by Chef Kotaru Kumita at Wataru is quite an experience. I've done both non-bar seating and bar seating at Wataru, and I must say that the bar seating quality is bar none. However, there are only two seatings per night and snagging a reservation oftentimes proves to be very difficult. You'll need to plan at least a couple months ahead.
From a price point perspective, Kashiba is pricier than Shiro, but also makes up for it in slightly better quality than the latter. But don't get me wrong - both places are great. It just depends on what you're looking for and, of course, how long you're willing to wait. For Kashiba, you'll need to start waiting around 4 to get a bar seat but at least for Shiro, you can make a reservation.
Splurge: Taneda Sushi
Taneda Sushi is the newest kaiseki restaurant on the block and it's quite a gem. Taneda-san likes to break traditional rules of kaiseki and throw in wagyu sushi or serve guests corn croquette and box sushi. While some kaiseki diehards might faint, I personally love this as it breaks up the eater's palate with some delightful other textures and tastes. I would HIGHLY recommend for anyone that loves all Japanese food, not just sushi. Just make sure to grab a reservation ahead of time - good dates and times (like Friday night at 7 pm) fill up quickly.
Budget: Betsutenjin Ramen
Betsutenjin is a Hakata-style ramen shop that, with its sometimes sticky floors and counters, televisions showing Japanese programs, and semi-chaotic kitchen, reminds me of some of my favorite ramen shops in Japan and Southern California. If you want quick, satisfying and affordable food, look no further than Betsutenjin.
Budget: Danbo Ramen
Only a few blocks away from Betsutenjin Ramen is Danbo Ramen. Danbo Ramen specializes in the popular Tonkotsu Ramen. Danbo Ramen is probably twice the size of Betsutenjin, but never fails to always be crowded. Do yourself a favor and arrive early, if you can.
Budget: Fort St. George
Located on the top floor of what seems to be a neglected strip mall is Fort St. George, a gem of a place for westernized Japanese food, which is generally difficult to come by. Fort St. George serves up classics like Tarako (cod roe) Spaghetti, Omurice, Doria and much more. Portions are quite generous, so be prepared to loosen your belt after a meal here.
Not everyone has a sweet tooth but for those that do... you're in for quite a treat!
Nana's Green Tea
Nana's Green Tea is a Japanese chain that has slowly moved east, with locations in Vancouver and now Seattle. The food is definitely good here, but the star of this show is dessert, particularly their parfaits. Even if you still have room, you might want to think twice about ordering a parfait just for yourself - they are absolutely delicious, but quite sizable!
Matcha Cafe Maiko
Matcha Cafe Maiko is a Hawaiian chain that already has a number of locations and, as of this writing, has only been in Seattle for two weeks! Matcha Cafe Maiko offers a variety of dessert combinations including lattes, shaved ice and even oshiruko! The matcha they use is the real deal - it isn't for the faint of heart.
In case you're not fully tired from all the food you've had in a day, Seattle is becoming home to a number of legitimate sake establishments.
Sake Nomi was founded in 2008 and has since been serving different seasonal sakes on rotation. Seating is limited, so if you can find seats, take your time trying the sake and striking up a conversation with Johnnie, who is incredibly knowledgeable about sake. Hours can be a little tricky, so make sure to check on them before heading over. While food is not served here, you can bring your own.
Even with the rave reviews that Chef Mutsuko Soma has been receiving for Kamonegi, this would not be her only project. Hannyatou which, as of this writing, was her second project that opened recently. Hannyatou is a wonderful sake bar with a broad selection of sake to choose from. In addition to the drinks, the food here should definitely not be missed.
Yoroshiku is a neighborhood izakaya on 45th street in Wallingford, which is home to a number of other Japanese restaurants. Yoroshiku not only has a great lineup of sake and cocktails, but the food there is also tasty. They do two happy hours, one on weekdays from 5 to 6:30 pm, as well as a late night happy hour on Fridays and Saturdays, from 9 to closing. They also hold a number of events including Yoroshiku DJ Nights on Saturdays starting at 7:30 pm as well as Tipsy Tuesdays, which gives customers 20% off bottles of sake sold in store.
Hopefully this guide gives you some new ideas of places to visit. Let me know if I missed anything. Thanks for reading!
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