Seattle's waterfront Ballard neighborhood is known for its Scandinavian heritage, which you can learn about in the Nordic Heritage Museum. It's also home to trendy shops, breweries and growing list of must-visit restuarants. We've rounded up the top spots to grab a meal in Ballard offering up seafood, barbecue and more.
If what you seek is a sit-down restaurant with a view, dim lights and impeccable service, Ray’s Boathouse is the place for you. It's of the best restaurants in Seattle and definitely in Ballard. Ray’s has been in this spot in one form or another since the original owner Ray Lichtenberger opened his boat rental and bait house here in 1939. After that, he opened a coffee shop, later a fish and chips and boat rental place. In 1973, three men bought Ray’s and turned it into the classic restaurant it remains today. The menu has a firm focus on Northwest seafood, from Dungeness crab cakes to wild-caught halibut to Ray’s sablefish done in a couple of ways (popular sablefish in sake kasu pictured). You can make reservations for indoor seating, but the outdoor deck and bar are walk-in only.
Ballard has a long maritime history, going back to the original Duwamish natives and continuing on through Nordic settlers later on. So it would be a shame to miss out on sampling some seafood in this neighborhood and it would be a shame to miss out on The Walrus and The Carpenter in general. From the name and literary reference, you might guess that oysters are on the menu here – and you would be correct. Choose from a variety of locally sourced oysters, and if you aren’t a fan of shellfish, you’ll also find salads, fresh fish and other seafood, and a few meat items. But seriously, most come for the oysters. Do expect a wait time unless you get really lucky as reservations aren’t available. Once you’re in, the atmosphere is light and cozy and just the right amount of trendy.
If you love a good happy hour and some barbecue, then Bitterroot BBQ has your back. While the menu includes appetizers and salads, most come here for the meat, which you can order paired with your choice of yummy sides or on a pretzel roll. Bonus – you’ll find a wide variety of barbecue sauces to try with your food. You likely won’t leave hungry! Happy hour serves up $5 barbecue bites and $3 bourbon cocktails. The restaurant is small and casual, but has a cool vibe with interesting touches like chain link fence pieces as décor and lots of dark wood and brick. There are no reservations accepted so there may be a wait during busy times.
Like most Ballard restaurants, La Carta de Oaxaca is on the smaller side and has a chic feel to its space. On busy nights, you’ll have a lot of new friends sitting close by, but you came here for the stellar Mexican food based in traditional Oaxacan cuisine. The menu isn’t huge, but features several stand-out items such as the tacos al pastor and the fresh guacamole. While you’ll spot plenty of familiar things on the menu, because this is Oaxacan cuisine, you’ll also see some items you might not see everywhere. The mole negro Oaxaqueño is the house speciality and if you’re a mole fan, this is a surefire hit.
If what you’re in the mood for is straight-up American grill style food — a great place to have some grub and grab a drink — then The Hi-Life is an excellent spot. For one, it’s located in a firehouse originally built in 1911 so it wins cool points right off the bat with its brick walls and wooden beams across the ceiling. The menu is versatile and has something for the whole family, from pizza and burgers to seasonal seafood. The restaurant serves up breakfast, lunch, dinner and has a happy hour so you can dine anytime of day. There’s even a great kids menu that also features some seasonal items so they can also get in on the foodie action if they have more adventurous palates, and yet doesn’t lack staples like mac and cheese and burgers and pizzas.
Pasta Bella offers warmth and ambience, a touch of romantic-yet-casual atmosphere, and delicious Italian food. The restaurant is small and intimate and you’ll likely be greeted with a wine list when you are seated. While the menu features appetizers, starters and salads, what you’re really here for is the pasta – and there are many types to choose from, all made to order. Go classic with Alfredo or spaghetti and meatballs, or try the puttanesca or wild mushroom ravioli. The menu also includes a number of seafood, chicken and steak entrees, and baked items like lasagna and eggplant parmesan.
Stoneburner is decorated with architectural objects and antiques from around the world — a cool perk for history buffs and beautiful décor for everyone else. The restaurant is headed up by chef Jason Stoneburner and offers his take on Mediterranean and Pacific Northwest fare, largely cooked on a stone hearth. Enjoy brunch, happy hour or dinner, but make reservations if you’re really counting on eating here as peak times can be busy. The menu changes regularly so what’s popular may or may not be there from one visit to the next.
Italian-inspired Staple & Fancy is an Ethan Stowell restaurant, a native Seattle chef who was named one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs in America in 2008 and is a frequent James Beard award nominee. The menu features both staple items as well as fancy items – hence the name. Though, even the staples are a bit more creative than your average spaghetti and meatballs! If you spot something on the menu that you know you’ll love, go for it, but if you’re not sure what to order and you’re in the mood for a bit of a splurge, ask for the chef’s tasting menu. This full-table experience (it’s served family style so it’s an everybody in kind of deal) is one surprise after another as the chef cooks up the best of what’s on offer that day. Make a reservation to ensure you get seated at your preferred time.
Another Italian option, Ristorante Picolinos serves authentic-style Italian cuisine in a homey and cozy atmosphere that might just make you feel like you’re in someone’s home. It’s all about welcoming warmth here, from the service to the décor to the food. You really can’t go wrong with anything you order, but the house-made ravioli is a surefire hit and the restaurant’s specialty. Ravioli comes stuffed with either goat cheese and ricotta, pork belly or a daily special. The daily happy hour is perfect for smaller plates or a pizzette with your wine, and there’s even a kids menu with things like pizza, mac and cheese and a few pasta dishes.