It’s a classic Magic mystery: you’re coming to town for a Grand Prix. You’ve got the Magic side of things pretty well figured out. But what else should you know? where should you eat/drink? What sights should you see?
Don’t worry – I have you covered.
You might know me as Gavin Verhey, Senior Magic Designer, the man behind Commander 2017 and 2018, Battlebond, and the person whose name you scream in agony whenever you lose to Monastery Mentor. (Sorry.) That’s one side of me. But what you may not know is that I’m also Gavin Verhey, Seattle native, city explorer, lover of food, and that I keep up the very food blog your browser has navigated to at this moment!
I love Magic. I also love food. And I’ve found that there is a huge intersection between the two: a gigantic key to playing at your best is being well nourished and happy. Sometimes, you just need to topdeck a taco, you know?
So, welcome to my city! Seattle is a fantastic city for food, and even if you’re not normally a food person, I challenge you to go out and have at least one nice meal while you’re here! Just go ahead and try. See if it ups your game.
And hey, if nothing else, it should make your stomach very happy.
This is a perfect time to go out and have that good meal. Why? Well, there are two things you should know:
- This week (and next week) are Restaurant Week in Seattle! If you aren’t familiar, this means that many restaurants around the city are offering a full, delicious, three-course meal for $33 Sunday-Thursday. You can find the full list here. If used well, this could be a powerful force you could take advantage of for some stunning meals at an incredible discount. But also know that if you try and go to any place on that list on a day restaurant week is happening, you are very unlikely to get in without a reservation. Make your reservations now. In advance. Seriously. Do it.
- The suggestions I’m going to give are all walkable from the convention center. There are many great restaurants in the Seattle area, and you can find out about most of them over on my sortable and searchable Food Finder. However, given that many of you are likely staying Downtown, and that the event is Downtown, I’m keeping all my suggestions a 20 minute walk or less from the convention center itself. (And most of them far less.) You can easily walk to all of them!
So those are two big reasons why you should go try something new out. Explore a little. Give some of my suggestions a whirl.
What suggestions? Well, I’m glad you asked, theoretical quizzical reader!
I’ve separated my recommendations into five categories depending on what you’re looking for, with my top 5 picks for each. So, really, it’s my top five top five lists!
Let’s get started.
1) Quick Eats
I know how it is. You finish a round. You’re hungry. You glance at the clock to see if you have time. 25 minutes left in the round.
What’s a Magic player to do?
Here are my top five places you can usually go to, get food, and get back to the convention center in a half hour or less. (No guarantees of course – but you should be able to.)
- La Vaca Burrito Express
Or, as I know it, “that literal hole in the wall at Pike Place Market.”
An 8 minute straight shot from the convention center, this place serves up far-better-than-Chipotle Mexican food. It’s good, cheap, and most of all, fast. (I mean, Express is in the name!)
There are a number of fine choices on the menu, but it’s hard to go wrong with their namesake: the #1 Burrito. And at 5.50 for a pretty big burrito, that’s the best value you’re going to get all weekend outside of cascading into Ancestral Vision.
- Café Yumm
Now if you want a safe pick to get your food, eat, and return to the center with time to spare, Café Yumm is your target.
A short 2 minute walk from the convention center – literally just around the corner – Café Yumm specializes in “Yumm Bowls”. That makes sense, I guess.
What’s a Yumm Bowl? It’s sort of like a burrito bowl: you get your mix of beans, cheese, meat, avocado, rice, and a variety of other toppings of your choice. (Many of which are not traditional burrito bowl toppings.) Then they dowse it in this delicious trademark sauce which is allegedly “not too bad” for you and you proceed to devour the whole thing. I personally like the Hot and Jazzy with chicken, but choose to your fancy.
It’s lighter and won’t make you feel like a zombie after eating it, and you can get in and out in a jiffy. When I’m crunched for time and down by the convention center, this is often where I go. Give it a try at some point on the weekend!
- Lil Woodys
One of the best burgers in Seattle lives just up the hill from the convention center, at Lil’ Woodys. Don’t be misled by their nomenclature: there’s nothing little about these burgers. They’re packed, large, and delicious.
There are many great options, but to just pick two of my favorites, I’ll suggest The Trotter – burger, onion, bacon, and apple – as well as the Smoked Out – beef, cheddar, chipotle mayo, onions, and tomato. Important tip: don’t sleep on the milkshakes! Not only literally, because then you’ll have ice cream all over the side of your face, but also figuratively because they’re made with ice cream from a local chain that is delicious.
Why #3? Well, fair warning: going up here can be a bit of a risk. It tends to be popular, and it’s a 9 minute jaunt away, and when you factor in both ways, that just leaves 12 minutes out of 30 to get and eat your food. So be cautious and try not to cut it close… But know that if you miss your round, the burger might be worth it.
- Mamnoon Street
This offshoot of the very popular sit-down Mediterranean restaurant brings all of that good Mamnoon cooing from up on Capitol Hill cooking to a quick, streetside station.
You can go inside – but if you’re on a tight schedule, just saunter up to the window and place your order. It’s a 9 minute walk, but you should be fine as long as it isn’t absolutely slammed. (I might not go there right at noon, especially on Thursday or Friday, given that it’s in Amazon employee range.)
What to order? I bounce around, but the Chicken Shawarma is a pretty great bet. (Served with French Fries, just like they do in Greece!) Definitely order some dips on the side though, as it’s one of their specialties: their trademark hummus is good, but my favorite is the beet spread. So good!
So, you’d think #1 is next, right? Well, a quick detour first…
2b. Pie Bar
Ah, Pie Bar. Many good memories have been made there of me stuffing pies into my face.
Walk briskly, as it is 11 minutes away, but well worth the sojourn up to capitol hill. As you might guess, they’re renowned for their pies. Featuring both savory pies and dessert pies alike, they’re all freshly made and ready to go. While you can go inside and sit down, given the fast nature of what we’re looking for here, the takeout counter right outside is going to be what you want – and fortunately, it’s speedingly fast as you can place your order and be given your boxed-up slices within just a couple minutes.
I’ll suggest the Steak and Potato pie as my go-to. And, while you’re there, might as well pick up a slice of the Peanut Butter Chocolate or Rhubarb Crumble for later. You know you’ll need it.
Wait – so what’s up with the 2b distinction here? Well, here’s the rub: Pie Bar is only open in the evenings, starting at 6pm. So if you’re in a late event, great – but for lunch, it’s not going to work. But I still wanted to mention it, because it is absolutely worth going to.
- Pike Place Chowder
Let’s be real here – you’re in Seattle. You probably want to try some seafood.
Well, Pike Place Chowder has you covered.
Don’t let the name fool you: this isn’t actually at Pike Place. (Well, there is one there, but not the one I’m sending you to.) An easy 4 minute walk away on the top floor of the mall Pacific Place will put you at this gold standard.
You can’t go too wrong with any of the orders, but for me I normally order the New England Clam Chowder in a bread bowl. The seafood bisque is also great. It comes out piping hot – and perfectly delicious.
This locks up the top spot for virtue of good local ingredients, a pretty safe bet for getting there and back with plenty of time, and for being delicious. But really? It’s hard to go too wrong with any of these picks. Eat away!
2) Lunch-Only Restaurants
There are a few places in Seattle which are incredible… but only open for lunch. As hard as that can be to work in, you really don’t want to miss them, as they are excellent experiences.
These are not necessarily fast places, in part of the lines that are there, so I’d stick with the above list if you need to get there and back quickly. But if you’re between events and have some time to spare, this is where to go.
- Pike Place Market
Okay, so it’s a bit cheating to list all of Pike Place Market here. But I’m doing it anyway.
Strolling through the Market is absolutely worth it, just picking up any food that looks interesting and chowing down. You can get full on the samples alone if you aren’t careful. Plus, it’s just a classic Seattle sight to behold!
If you aren’t familiar, Pike Place is a huge, many-storied market down toward the waterfront featuring all kinds of food and knickknacks. You can easily spend an hour wandering around through the many shops and sands. It’s open every day, but only until 6PM (5PM on Sundays) – and in reality, a lot of stalls start closing down before that. I’d try and get here before 3:30 or 4 for the best stuff.
My typical route is to grab a piece of fruit somewhere to start – there are many fruit stands! – and then either grab a pastry from Mee Sum Pastry, a Piroshky from Piroshky Piroshky, or stand in line at Beechers cheese for something delicious and cheesy. But you really can’t go too wrong just roaming the market and seeing what stands out to you!
- Chocolate Box
Calling Chocolate Box “lunch” is a bit like calling some Magic card some metaphor I couldn’t come up with after staring at my screen for 10 minutes, which I guess makes it probably not the best metaphor. Oh well
But anyway, the point is this: Chocolate Box is a chocolate shop. Saying that you are going to eat a full lunch there is a bit ambitious. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with ambition. (Or just going here after strolling through the market.)
Not only do they have chocolates from all over the world, but they have – my favorite – a chocolate bar in the back. As in, a bar that you sit at and order things. It’s complete with chocolate tea, wine and chocolate pairings, and, my personal favorite: melted Sipping Chocolate. Just pure melted chocolate. Delicious.
So maybe do eat a full chocolate meal there. Hey. You’re on vacation. Whatever makes you happy.
What makes their hours weird? Online they’re listed being open until 8, but the number of times I’ve come by at night when they’re supposed to be open and they are randomly closed is high enough that I’m putting them in this category. You’ll probably be fine… but I’d still try and hit them up earlier rather than later.
May the chocolate be ever in your favor.
- Tat’s Delicatessen
Okay, now we’re about to get into what I call the Pioneer Square trifecta.
There’s an area of Seattle called Pioneer Square, and all three of the next places are within a couple minutes of one another. It’s a total hotspot for delicious food, and among my favorite places to eat in the entire city. It’s also, oddly, a place where all three of these restaurants keep very targeted lunch hours so going there is a real treat for me.
You should take this chance of being in Seattle during lunch to hit them up. And where better to start than Tat’s Deli?
The name Tat’s Deli might remind you of the famous Katz’s Deli in New York which serves up pastrami… and that should put you in the right place to understand what’s going on here. This is the closest I’ve had to New York pastrami and sandwiches anywhere outside of New York. Some people will tell you to order the Cheesesteaks here. They’re wrong.
Here’s what you do. You stand in the moderate line around lunchtime. You get up to the front. You order the Tat’strami sandwich. Get the larger size, you’ll probably regret it later if you don’t. Now go over and pump copious amounts of their homemade mustard into a cup. When your order is called, try it without the mustard first – let your teeth sink into that absolutely delicious, tender, and warm pastrami sandwich mixed with sweet coleslaw (how is this possible, I don’t even like coleslaw) and swallow. Bask in the glory. Then layer on the mustard and realize It’s somehow even better.
Having tried most of their menu, that’s how you do Tat’s.
They’re only open 8-3PM Monday-Friday, and they do a brief 11-5 stint on Saturday. Check them out!
- Il Corvo
You know a restaurant is good when they can only be open for 4 hours a day, five days a week, and basically always have a line out the door.
A winner of multiple James Beard awards, this tiny little place is open only 11-3, and only Monday through Friday. That’s it. Sometimes the line is 45 minutes long.
And you know what? It’s so worth it.
They make all of their pastas every day in house. Their Bolognese is always on the menu – but their other two change every. Single. Day. And the quality? It’s some of the best pasta I’ve ever had… and that includes all the time I spent in Italy! Simply amazing.
Grab the Kale Salad – light and perfect to start – and then a dish of pasta… Or two. It’s not that it isn’t filling, but after waiting in line are you really only going to try one? Better yet, go with a few friends and try the full daily triad together. And hey, if you go on Thursday and like it, you can come back on Friday – the pastas will be different.
It’s always a close race between this and my #1. But I really do have to give the top spot to…
The story of Salumi is wonderful.
Mario Bataldi – a famous NYC Italian Chef – made it big, and his father, Armandino moved out to Seattle. But seeing his son’s success and missing the days of simple Italian sandwiches and salamis, he opened Salumi as a side project to keep him busy. Just as a fun thing, you know?
Well, several years, awards, and being featured in TV programs later, Salumi is here to stay in the family.
It’s a narrow little shop, with just a couple seats in the back. And they have some of the best salami and cured meats you can imagine. Put them on a sandwich with some light toppings, some butter, some garlic, homemade mozzarella and some incredible bread, and you have a simple recipe that is making my mouth water as I type.
And to top it all off, what really puts it over the top for me and the reason I told that story is that is really is a family affair. If you hang out in there, especially when things have cooled down after the lunch rush, you’ll often hear the family talking with each other, cracking jokes, or even engaging you to ask what you think.
One time, I went in there at the end of the day, just before they closed. We had a great 5 minute conversation about sandwich making that ended with, “Hey, do you want to take all of our extra sliced salami we have lying here and bread home with you?”
And speaking of bread, know that they run out of things and use up what they have every day. So get there earlier rather than later. It’s not uncommon for their bread and homemade mozzarella to be gone by midafternoon.
As for what to order? The weekly special is usually good. But without knowing what that is for this week, go for the Mole and Finocchiona salami on Giuseppe bread if you want a cold sandwich (my preference), or their classic porchetta sandwich if you want a hot sandwich.
Now I am really hungry for a salumi sandwich. If anybody could bring me one, that would be much appreciated.
But let it be known: like Il Corvo, they’re only open 11-3, Monday to Friday. Go while you can!
3) A Nice Dinner
It’s been a long day at the GP. You’re beat. Maybe you even got beat. Who knows. Who cares.
You know what will help? Some good food.
Here are my top picks for a nice dinner. And remember, as I said earlier: it’s restaurant week. Get reservations. If you want to eat at one of these Thursday night before the GP on Friday, or Sunday after the GP, get your reservations now.
A high-end American/Mediterranean fusion, eating here for restaurant week is a steal. Tucked away inside the Mayflower Hotel, after over 20 years, they’ve mastered both the craft of food and impeccable service.
Off the restaurant week menu, I’d lead off with the hummus appetizer – they mix lamb into their hummus, which is just divine – and then take the Za’atar Pork Tenderloin as your main and the Liquid chocolate cake as your dessert.
Yes, I did say liquid chocolate cake.
Enjoy, my friends!
This is the only one of my five options which is not running Restaurant Week. This means two things. For one, if you’re going somewhere on Friday or Saturday – the days Restaurant Week isn’t active – coming here is going to be more affordable. But second, it must be really good.
And wow, it is.
The really cool thing about Nue is that the owner has traveled and sampled food all around the world, then brought it back to cook here. The restaurant is a mix of many, many different cuisines – all prepared very well.
You can order everything from the more tame side of the spectrum – jerk chicken, Brussel’s sprouts, Spare Ribs – all the way to some truly unique flavors: fermented duck egg (balut), water beetles, and chicken hearts.
But make no mistake: you don’t need to eat the weird stuff to enjoy Nue. My go-to dishes are the Puerto Rican Mofongo, the Goat Curry, and the pineapple cornbread – which are the right balance of slightly different and delicious to strike my fancy. But no matter your preference, it’s absolutely worth checking out.
You want an amazing seafood place to try while in Seattle? Here it is.
With absolutely gripping ambiance – expect a live piano player and a view right over the Seattle waterfront! – the food is delicious to match. This is widely considered one of the top seafood places in the entire greater Seattle area, and with dishes normally sitting from 50-100 a head, getting a three course meal for $33 is an absurdly good price.
I’d suggest the Nettle Soup, the Seafood Risotto, and the Rhubarb Tart off the restaurant week menu. But anything off there should be delicious. Visit and have a truly Seattle experience!
- Heartwood Provisions
I’m just crazy about this place.
First of all, while the restaurant week menu is still a great deal, this is absolutely a fine – if upscale – place to visit without it on Friday and Saturday. (Expect about $50 a person or so.) That said: this great establishment is probably the upscale eatery I’ve frequented the most over the past two years, coming here somewhere around 10 times.
It’s not just the casual-yet-sophisticated ambience that gets me. It’s not just the great service. But it really is the northwestern food and how it keeps evolving every season, as new items enter and leave. Whether you’re a vegetarian or carnivore, there are great picks here.
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, they have an extensive drink menu – and offer adorable mini-pairings with most items on their menu. Delicious!
Off the restaurant week menu, I’d go with the Yellowtail Collar, into the Seafood Stew, into the trademark Panna Cotta dessert. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on that panna cotta dessert!
- El Gaucho
It was never going to be anything other than El Gaucho at the top.
Widely considered Seattle’s best steakhouse, the cuts here are incredibly prepared – and quite expensive. So eating there for this price is truly worth it, and makes for a great night out to either prepare you for a big day tomorrow – or to cap off the weekend on Sunday. Either way, get your reservations now: they tend to fill up all of their slots for all of their days.
There’s really one way to go for your three choices: Insane Truffle Soup, Filet Mignon Medallions, and the Chocolate Ganache for dessert. Pure bliss.
Sometimes, things go well and you want to drink to celebrate. Sometimes, things go poorly and you want to drink to forget about it. Sometimes you just want to drink.
GavinEats would certainly never condone drinking to excess in any of these situations. But, you know, I mean, if you did feel the need to go out and have a bunch of drinks, here is where you should hit up.
- Rock Box
Okay, here’s the deal. The drinks here are not the greatest or anything. They’re entirely adequate.
So why put it on the list? Because the most important part here is this: karaoke.
Rock Box is a huge, Japanese-style karaoke place. Meaning, you and your friends can get your own private room and karaoke away with people bringing drinks and food into your room. It’s a blast. And because I didn’t have a list for “top 5 karaoke places” I figured I’d use this as an excuse to slide my #1 karaoke place on here. And if showing off is important to you, don’t worry: they also have a lobby out front with karaoke where you can sing in front of strangers as well.
I know that Magic players love karaoke. So, you’re welcome. (Ha, I guess it’s just my way of being me / You’re welcome! / You’re welcome!)
- Pine Box
Sticking with our box theme here, Pine Box is a place that has 33 beers on tap at once. All top-notch and with a knowledgeable staff, it’s an absolute go-to for beer lovers.
The place is also in a really cool space: it used to be a mortuary, so it has crazy high ceilings and all kinds of remnants from the cathedral it once was.
Go in. Try beers. Be happy.
- Optimism Brewing
There’s a lot of things working in Optimism’s favor. They have a wide selection of drinks. They have food trucks that park inside and deliver food. But most of all, they have one of the most coveted things: space.
Optimism is huge. It might be the single largest establishment I can think of on Capitol Hill, save for something like a grocery store. And not only does that mean there’s plenty of space, but that there is plenty of room to game! And that’s precisely why it earns the #3 berth here: they’re plenty used to people coming in with board games, getting drinks, and playing. So if you wanted to do a draft, or playtest, or Cube, or whatever else you’re thinking and need a venue – well, Optimism has your back.
And yeah, the drinks are solid too.
- Knee High Stocking company
It’s a speakeasy, so there’s no online menu, naturally.
I’m a total sucker for speakeasies. Seattle has quite a few of them, actually – Needle and Thread, Bathtub Gin, Foreign National, to name just a couple – but of them, Knee High is probably the one with the most space that’s closest to the convention center. And it’s one of my personal favorites.
It looks like a nondescript white building – but upon pressing the doorbell, someone will come out and greet you, bring you in through the curtains, and you’ll find yourself in a quaint establishment – perhaps with some jazz music playing.
There’s a bar upstairs, and a fairly spacious lounge downstairs. Come on in, grab a drink and some snacks, and enjoy.
The best cocktails in Seattle are at Canon.
Winner of many awards, featuring an absurd variety of drinks, and claiming to have America’s largest Spirit collection (though I don’t know that they’ve seen my huge stack of Chapel Geists), Canon is the place to go.
Now, I say all of this with the note that it isn’t easy to get into. You actually need to place a reservation for a timeslot online, which you can do on their website. But despite that, if you enjoy a good drink, you should absolutely set up a reservation and go to Canon. It’ll be worth it.
5) Future Sights
Wait, what? Things that aren’t food and drinks? Yes, well, you need to do something to pass the time in case you’re here after the GP and you’ve already eaten.
Here is where you should go if you’d like to sightsee:
- The Space Needle
While basically as touristy as it gets, it is the Seattle landmark. You’ll notice that right now the Space Needle has construction going on so you can’t visit every part of the top, but you can still get that great high-up, 360 view of the city.
The restaurant inside was good for brunch, but that’s closed during construction. So just go up high, take your pictures for social media, and say that you’ve done it. It’s a Seattle icon!
- Unexpected Productions Improv
If you head toward Pike Place Market (which I’m only skipping on this list because I already mentioned it above, but you should be sure to go!) and head into the Gum Wall (you’ll know it when you see it), you’ll hit the Marker Theater. Here is the home of Unexpected Productions, a group which puts on excellent comedy improv shows nearly every night of the week!
Seattle has one of the best improv scenes in the country, and if you like improv at all this is a great way to laugh a night away. I really suggest the Theatersports show on Friday and Saturday nights – it’s sort of like Who’s Line is in Anyway, and very approachable. But no matter what you see, I’m sure you’ll have fun. (And if you don’t, I’ll just blame it on it being an off night. Phew. I’m covered from all angles here.)
- Chihuly Garden and Glass
Just steps away from the space needle is this exhibit. Chihuly, an amazing glass artisan, blows glass like none other, and created all kinds of huge, towering glass structures which were put into an exhibit – some inside and some outside.
There isn’t really a lot to compare to it, and they are so intricately made and well done that it is worth seeing. Plus, if you’re over by the Space Needle anyway, buy a ticket and go on in. It’ll make for some great pictures.
- The Seattle Underground Tour
You may not know this, but the entire city of Seattle burned to the ground over 100 years ago. So, what did they do? Easy: just build a new city on top of the old one!
Because of this though, the remnants of a bygone era still exist underneath the current city of Seattle. On the underground tour, you head down there and can take a look at moments stuck in time. It’s like our own little version of Pompeii, in a way. If you have the time, schedule a tour!
- MOPOP (The Museum of Pop Culture)
Okay, we all like pop culture here. We’re all probably nerdy about something. Well, MOPOP has got to be the place to check out. It’s a museum of sci-fi, fantasy, movies, music , and more.
A Star Trek exhibition, complete with costumes and props? Yep!
An indie games area, showing off indie video games? Check!
A fantasy exhibit, with original written pages from Lord of the Rings, props from Harry Potter, and yes, even Magic cards and artwork hanging up? Absolutely!
I would guess it is up the alley of many people at the GP – and is a museum you should absolutely see. I’d budget at least a couple hours for it – it’s a blast!
Hopefully that gives you enough ammo to enjoy yourself while you’re here in Seattle! It really is a fantastic city – and if all goes well, the weather might even clear up!
If you have any further thoughts or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. For food questions the quickest way to reach me is going to be on Twitter @GavinVerhey. I’ve eaten at literally hundreds of places in Seattle, and I’m happy to give suggestions if you’re looking for something in particular. If you do go to some of these places, please let me know what you thought!
Also, if you’re staying in a different area, don’t hesitate to use my food finder. It’s sortable by area, type of food, price, and more to find just what you’re looking for.
If you’re local to Seattle and think I missed something, feel free to chime in the comments below! I’d love to know your suggestions – and I’m sure others reading would too.
And all I ask is this: please, don’t eat at the cheesecake factory across from the convention center. I beg of you. I know we can all do better than that.
Challenge yourself, enjoy the GP, and have fun!