RockCreek’s Eric Donnelly on his top hometown eats in Seattle

Chef Eric Donnelly of RockCreek in Seattle, Wash. Photo courtesy of RockCreek.
Chef Eric Donnelly of RockCreek in Seattle, Wash. Photo courtesy of RockCreek.

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: Owner and Chef, RockCreek Seafood and Spirits
Years worked as a chef: 10
Years lived in Seattle: 39
Awards/Accolades: Semifinalist, Best Chef: Northwest, James Beard Foundation (2014-2015)
Best New Restaurant, Seattle magazine (2013)

Go to Chef Donnelly’s shortlist

What do you love best about Seattle’s food scene?

I love the diversity and cultural influence that Seattle’s food scene has. I love the access that we have to global diverse ingredients. The terroir of the Northwest provides an amazing palette of ingredients for me to work with.

Pork and vegetable boiled dumplings from Fu Man Dumpling House
Pork and vegetable boiled dumplings from Fu Man Dumpling House

Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor in Seattle should try. 

Mai Thaiku: Mieng Kahm, a starter dish of fresh ginger, lime, chili, red onion, peanuts and toasted coconut to wrap in bai cha plu leaves.

Cafe Munir: Sunday Chef’s choice.

Fu Man Dumpling House: city’s best kept secret of Asian food.

Tamarind Tree: well-prepared, fresh Vietnamese classic dishes.

Joy Palace: dim sum.

Describe your perfect “dining out day” in Seattle.

First I would start with a latte at Milstead & Co. in Fremont. Breakfast, a fresh croissant from Cafe Besalu. Lunch, Matt’s in the Market. A snack of a dozen oysters at Taylor Shellfish and a glass of Sancerre. Dinner, Mamnoon. Dessert at Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery.

If you had to name one favorite dish from RockCreek, what would it be and why?

The sardine salad because it has so many diverse flavors and textures: salty, delicious sardines, charred eggplant, mint, basil, dill, fried shallots, fennel, chilies, lime.

The no-longer-in-existence Sea Garden in Chinatown.

What other cuisines do you enjoy eating or cooking, and where do you go for these foods?

I enjoy the flavors and textures of the cuisines of Southeast Asia because of their fresh, simple ingredients mixed with the classic French techniques. I also enjoy cooking Latin food for their mixture of bold flavors and multicultural influences. [Dining recommendations for these cuisines include] Tamarind Tree, La Carta de Oaxaca.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?

Ballard because we can walk to so many interesting restaurants and bars.

Because it’s Seattle, we have to ask: what’s your favorite thing to do in Pike Place Market?

I like to cruise the aisles of DeLaurenti and try the cheeses at their meat and cheese counter.

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at SeaTac Airport or the city’s hotels you would recommend?

Caffe Vita and Beecher’s Cheese at SeaTac. The iconic bar at the Sorrento Hotel.

What are your favorite watering holes around Seattle?

Oliver’s Twist. They specialize in classic craft cocktails in a warm environment. Mulleady’s Irish Pub in Magnolia for their Old Fashioned with cinnamon bitters

What’s your guilty pleasure food? 

Hand-shaved dan dan noodles at Seven Star Pepper in the International District. What makes it so good is the fresh noodles, spicy peanut sauce and ground pork.

Are there any foods native to Seattle that you particularly like and that visitors should try to find?

The coffee. Nothing compares to Seattle’s coffee scene. There are so many unique, hidden gems in Seattle, such as the restaurants in the International District, the coffee shops and bakeries.

Finally, what would you say any visitor must see or do before leaving Seattle? 

Take a ferry ride to any of the islands.

Chef Donnelly’s Shortlist:

RockCreek Seafood & Spirits, 4300 Fremont Avenue N (Fremont); seafood, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Mai Thaiku, 6705 Greenwood Avenue N (Phinney Ridge); Thai, lunch Saturday-Sunday, dinner daily.

Cafe Munir, 2408 NW 80th Street (Ballard); Lebanese, dinner only Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Fu Man Dumpling House, 14314 Greenwood Avenue N (Bitter Lake); Chinese, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday.

Tamarind Tree, 1036 S Jackson Street (International District); Vietnamese, lunch and dinner daily.

Joy Palace, 6030 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S (Hillman City); Chinese, dim sum and dinner daily.

Milstead & Co., 770 N 34th Street (Fremont); coffee shop, open daily.

Cafe Besalu, 5909 24th Avenue NW (Ballard); cafe/bakery, breakfast and lunch Wednesday-Sunday, closed Monday-Tuesday.

Matt’s in the Market, 94 Pike Street, Suite 32 (Downtown); Pacific Northwest, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Taylor Shellfish, 1521 Melrose Avenue (Capitol Hill); seafood, lunch and dinner daily.
Second location: 410 Occidental Avenue S (Pioneer Square); lunch and dinner daily.
Third location: 124 Republican Street (Queen Anne); lunch and dinner daily.

Mamnoon, 1508 Melrose Avenue (Capitol Hill); Middle Eastern, lunch and dinner daily.

Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery, 5427 Ballard Avenue NW (Ballard); dessert, open daily.

La Carta de Oaxaca, 5431 Ballard Avenue NW (Ballard); Mexican, lunch Tuesday-Saturday, dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

DeLaurenti, 1435 1st Avenue (Downtown); specialty food and wine shop, open daily.

Caffe Vita, Concourse C, SeaTac International Airport; cafe, open daily.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Concourse C, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; American/cheese shop, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Fireside Room at Hotel Sorrento, 900 Madison Street (First Hill); bar, open daily.

Oliver’s Twist, 6822 Greenwood Avenue N (Phinney Ridge); bar, open daily.
Second location: 3217 W McGraw Street (Magnolia)

Mulleady’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, 3055 21st Avenue W (Magnolia); bar, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Seven Star Pepper, 1207 S Jackson Street (International District); Szechuan, lunch and dinner daily.


About the Chef: Given Eric Donnelly’s childhood and interests, it should come as no surprise that he would become a chef and his first restaurant, RockCreek, would focus on fish. A Seattle native, Chef Donnelly grew up fishing in the Puget Sound and local rivers with his father. Family dinners often featured seafood. Whether he was out picking mushrooms or observing his grandma in the kitchen. he realized early on the impact food had on people.

His professional experience includes stints at some of Seattle’s most popular restaurants, including Sazerac in the Hotel Monaco and The Oceanaire Seafood Room. In 2009, Donnelly developed the New Orleans-inspired menu as opening chef of Toulouse Petit. Four years later, he opened RockCreek, named after his favorite fishing hole in Montana (Donnelly is an avid fly fisher). Menu highlights range from locally sourced crab, oysters and mussels, to offerings like ono from Hawaii and striped bass from the East Coast. Donnelly says he focuses on the flavor and texture of the particular fish and finds ingredients to complement it. The result is bold, flavorful dishes that have attracted local and national acclaim and gained a loyal following.

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