A zillion light-years ago, in times before the pandemic, you could barely count on one hand the number of restaurants offering comfortable outdoor seating during the winter in Seattle. And good luck getting everyone in your company to agree to eat outdoors during the dark, humid season.
But two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we have become such an outdoor dining town that when you pick up the phone to make reservations or hit the host counter, the question is likely to be whether you prefer indoor or outdoor seating?
Seattle has 191 sidewalk cafe permits now, more than at any other time in recent history, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Restaurants have winterized their terraces with windshields, corrugated roofs and heaters, lots of heaters. Many outdoor setups tend to look like, um, resuscitation tents or unfinished kids clubhouses. But don’t worry about it. The goal is a dry and (relatively) warm place to eat for those who want to avoid dining rooms under COVID.
We sent our food writers Tan Vinh and Jackie Varriano around the Seattle area to find cozy places where they could dine al fresco and enjoy good food and company with friends without freezing to death. Here is a collection of their favorite terraces.
17.00-22.00, Wednesdays-Sundays (closed Mondays and Tuesdays); 127 N. 36th St. (Fremont), Seattle; 206-632-0135; meeshaforyou.com
Out the back door stands a sleek, brown deck with chocolate brown slats and bright orange cushions that match the candles on the tables. The drop, the dripping of rainwater from the roof gives a zen-temple-like calm to this mood. For those who easily get cold, this is the place for you: The heat lamps are sauna-like heat unless you turn them down a few notches. The amazing Indian food is composed of one of the new talents in the city, chef Preeti Agarwal, who offers small plates for starters with starters served in family style, perfect for date evening or to catch up with friends or family. Start with the spicy lamb slicers (rarah keema pao) followed by the lamb chops and Agarwal’s charcoal smoked version of takeaway standby, buttered chicken. If the server asks if you want ghee rice with. The answer is “hell, yes!”
– Tan Vinh
11.00-16.00 Sunday, 15.00-22.00 Tuesday-Wednesday, noon-22.00 Thursday, noon-23.00 Friday-Saturday; 5313 Ballard Ave. NW (Ballard), Seattle; 206-268-0217; graciaseattle.com
I’m not quite sure what it is exactly about melted cheese that I find so irresistible, but I’m done trying to fight it and lean in whenever possible. Take queso fundido at Ballard’s Gracia: a blend of cheeses, spicy chorizo and roasted poblano peppers that are like sunshine on a sad day. It comes with soft corn tortillas, but you want chips – and probably guacamole – to really get in there efficiently with all the smelly cheese strands. That and huarache – a thick, oblong masa cake topped with carnitas, crema and queso fresco – are two of the things not usually offered on Gracia’s to-go menu. Fortunately, the outdoor space is just as lovely as the fundado, stacked with plenty of heaters plus greens and light strings for just the right amount of cozy ambiance. Go there on a Tuesday and all 2-ounce pour mezcal, tequila or agave distillates are 25% off.
– Jackie Varriano
11.00-midnight daily; 2504 S. Jackson St. (Central District), Seattle; standardbrew.com
One of the most underrated terraces is located at the elbow of South Jackson Street and 25th Avenue South, hidden behind ash blocks and bamboo stalks. There is no table service. But the house rules are beaten up all around.
“Please bus your dishes.”
“No bikes on the patio, father-O.”
The 60-seat patio is split between some picnic tables a plein air, and benches and chairs under a covered wooden structure with heaters and a television turned to ESPN. The food and drinks at Standard Brewing are as good as any bar in town. Owner Justin Gerardy brews some amazing lager beers and Indian pale ale and has put together an all-star cast to help with the rest of the menu: Talented bartender Connor O’Brien has put together a craft cocktail list ($ 10- $ 12) that runs around $ 5 cheaper drink than what you would pay on Capitol Hill or Ballard. You will not find better cocktail deals anywhere in Seattle. Holiday offers include bourbon rum eggnog and a hot mulled wine. The food comes from chef Wiley Frank’s creative mind, formerly from the much-missed cult favorite Little Uncle restaurant. His menu, mostly tacos and sandwiches, gives a nod to soul food and Asian cuisine, including a creamy hariyali chicken taco topped with herbs and chili.
Stoup Brewing Kenmore
15.00-21.00 Monday-Wednesday, 11.30-21.00 Thursday-Sunday; 6704 NE 181st St., Kenmore; 425-470-6222; stoupbrewing.com
When Kenmore’s Seaplane (sister restaurant to Stoneburner, Rhein Haus and Poquitos) was conceived as a partnership between Ballard’s Stoup Brewery and Jason Stoneburner, not only did the menu change, the outdoor space exploded. Open since early May as Stoup Brewing Kenmore, the existing outdoor fire pit has been joined by four separate covered seating with heaters sprinkled across the ample space just in front of and around the dramatic industrial-chic building, meaning you can nosh on a pretty good smash burger while sipping a Citra IPA, all under ample cover. The food menus have been cut down: the brunch is gone, as are many of the salads and the large plates. But you can still get pizza and soft serving, and on Tuesday night you’ll have a dinner of fried chicken with kimchi mac and cheese and hush puppies – it’s $ 40 for a whole chicken! I also spotted the French onion-grilled cheese, served with a side of butternut squash soup instead of tomato for dipping.
Bar Del Corso
16-21 Tuesdays-Saturdays; 3057 Beacon Ave S. (Beacon Hill), Seattle; 206 395-2069; bardelcorso.com
Chef Jerry Corso doubled his patio space to 40 during the early pandemic ban on indoor dining, cordoned off the backyard with cedar slats and placed at least one propane heater between each table. The hop vines and honeysuckle that grow up in trellis give this terrace some life in winter. Bar Del Corso is a faithful Beacon Hill and throws some of the best Neapolitan-style pies in Seattle. Get the classic margherita with the distinctive fermentative seaweed that listens to the best pies from your vacation in Naples, Italy. It’s been a tough year, give out the extra $ 3.50 for the buffalo mozzarella on the pie. For those who demand protein on their pizza, salame piccante is the better pepperoni pizza. For shared plates, of course, the meatballs remain popular. But do yourself a favor and whisper to the server that you want a bit of salted fish fritters. They are not listed on the menu, but you can request them.
17.00-21.00 daily; 401 N. 36th St., Seattle (Fremont); 206-547-2040; revelseattle.com
Last summer I was sitting (heavily pregnant) with a friend for an early dinner on the patio at Fremont’s Revel. I thought I would miss the sloping patio at the back of the old room (demolished in 2018 to make room for the new Cedar Speedster building), but the place – complete with the same swags of bistro lights – is fully charming now. Pretty sure I fainted after the first bite of short rib wonton. Was it hormonal? The joy of growing up and eating those wontons fresh from the kitchen instead of for takeaway? Who knows. Either way, I always faint over Revel. They have recently made the room winter-ready with a little extra wind and rain protection and heaters, which means that the wontons (and the kimchi pancake! The spicy miso rice cakes! The crab noodles!) Can be eaten outdoors without having to swallow it all as it cools quickly in the fresh, wintry air.
17-21 Wednesdays-Sundays; 6307 24th Ave. NW (Ballard), Seattle; 206-397-3263; rupeeseattle.com
One of the big openings in 2019, this Sri Lankan-Indian inspired bar had wait times that ran two hours long back then. Your chance of scoring a table increases exponentially now that the owners have popped down off a patio with a cozy fireplace on the parking lot out front. During the summer, the bar next door even hired a band to perform along the sidewalks. And there’s even a swing hanging up from a corner tree. When the pandemic gives you lemons …
In this Ballard bar, the food is all shared plates. Start with the devilish prawns, a spicy nosh with the shells sprinkled with cornstarch, turmeric and chili and fried to create this salty pork rind-like snack. More extensive is the lamb shank and an order of charred cabbage made coated with yellow curry.
11 a.m.-midnight daily; 8617 14th Ave. S. (South Park), Seattle; 206-327-9649; lorettasnorthwesterner.com
Past the cozy stalls at Loretta’s in South Park you will find a wonderful rustic oasis at the back complete with a wood burning stove. There are striped awnings and even a partial roof under which you can enjoy the fourth best burger in America. And yes, that burger is still delicious in all its squishy bun, dill pickled, melted cheese glory. I especially love that the pickles are on the bottom – or at least they were on mine – and that the fries only come with if you want them (which, duh): a whole pile for an extra four bucks. But if I have to be outside this winter at Loretta, I order the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, which has a battered thin, crispy, crispy cutlet that is roughly the size of my face, if not larger. It’s so comically large that it’s entirely possible to trim around the bun and save the accessory for another full sandwich later. It comes with lettuce, pickles and onions and a delicate touch of mayo. With extra pickles and a little extra mayo, it’s almost perfect.
Ba Bar Central District
10.00-22.00 daily; 550 12th Ave. (Central District), Seattle; note Ba Bar also has branches in South Lake Union and University Village; 206-328-2030; babarseattle.com
The outdoor decor time travels back to a Graham Greene era before the fall of Saigon, in festive yellow and orange hues and women in the speakers singing about a magical landscape.
The hanging infrared heaters are not the tropical sun, but in a pinch they can keep you cozy in 40 degree weather. Them and Ba Bar soups. Winter is blurry weather, so the stomach falls into a cauldron of steaming broth from the well-known sweet Southern-style beef photographer to a saltier, northern version that is on the menu as “Phở Hà Nội Style.” Or try the signature soup from central Vietnam, Bun Bo Hue, where chef Eric Banh’s contemporary take comes with smart cuts of breast, roasted pork and ham, with the funky broth smoothed out with star anise and punched up with ginger.
Brimmer & Heeltap
17-21 Wednesday-Sunday; 425 NW Market St. (Ballard), Seattle; 206-420-2534; brimmerandheeltap.com
The outdoor space of this Ballard restaurant is distinguished by having two kinds of separate areas. The upper room – which serves as the coffee bar Red Arrow daily from kl. 7 to 14 – has a cozy little fire place and tables located directly under built-in heaters. There is also a large, rolling garage door that is often rolled up completely so an extra indoor space feels like the outside. The lower area offers small, intimate tables nestled in beautiful hydrangea bushes and green areas – you only need to bring your own cozy rug, and then you are ready. There’s always something a little surprising on the menu to fall in love with: a tender pork chop with einkorn and nước chấm or wild salmon roe paired with herb cream fraîche and crispy watermelon radishes. As always, there is the irresistible bread, sprinkled with butter, salt and pepper. Oh – and do not forget to swing into Half Seas, the wine shop in the restaurant. Buy a bottle and it only costs 10 USD.