The essential Seattle restaurants and bars, according to Zoi Antonitsas

Zoi Antonitsas of Westward and Little Gull in Seattle, Washington
Zoi Antonitsas of Westward and Little Gull in Seattle, Washington

Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: Executive Chef, Westward & Little Gull
Years worked as a chef: 18
Years lived in Seattle: 28
Awards/Accolades: Best New Chef, Food & Wine (2015)
The Hot 10,” Bon Appétit (2014)
25 Best New Restaurants in America,” GQ (2014)
Contestant, Top Chef: Chicago (2008)

Go to Chef Antonitsas’s shortlist

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

Cured smelt with rose petals at Sitka & Spruce. I had it last year, and I still think about it … beautiful place, emotional, thoughtful food.

Steak tartare and oysters at Walrus and the Carpenter. One of my favorite restaurants in town. I wish I lived next door. It’s just too good. Killer cocktails, too. I take everyone there.

Nigiri at Sushi Kappo Tamura. I try to go here at least once a month. LOVE. Incredible quality, perfectly prepared local seafood. Also try the geoduck tender with mustard greens and miso butter.

Bottlehouse is a wine bar that has some of the best food in town. Simple bruschettas, with green chickpea purée, or burrata and melon with speck and black salt.  Also, their wine flights are amaze 😉 

La Medusa in Columbia City: Homemade pastas like perciatelli with sardines, fennel and pine nuts, house made salumi, and a wonderful and thoughtful staff, at an unassuming neighborhood joint.

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

I love where Seattle’s food scene is headed … we have so many incredible chefs and restaurants here. Some of the best in the country, in my opinion.

I am just thrilled to see all of the amazing new places pop up, and I do still love the fact that we honor our past, with the older restaurants that still provide a reminder of what once was.

Most exciting for me is always the ability to be totally creative with combinations of ingredients inspired by locality.

Describe your perfect “dining out day” in Seattle.

Stove top espresso at home. Brunch at SitkaLengua tacos at Asadero for afternoon snack. Pre-dinner oysters and apps at Walrus. Dinner at Sushi Kappo.

Braised Anderson Ranch lamb shoulder from Westward. Photo credit: Sarah Flotard.
Braised Anderson Ranch lamb shoulder from Westward. Photo credit: Sarah Flotard.

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

That’s tough … probably it would have to be the lamb. I love lamb, and this was my attempt to create a dish that was familiar (the flavors are supposed to evoke those in a traditional gyro), yet elevated in how it is prepared and presented. It is one of the most beloved dishes on the menu.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?

I love Madrona right now – it’s a perfect little jewel box neighborhood, with up and coming places. Or the ID (International District) – I love eating around there on a day off.

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

Matt’s in the Market, DeLaurenti.

What’s your guilty pleasure food? 

Pasta, pasta, pasta at Spinasse! When I go there, I typically eat at least three different pasta dishes. They are always spot on perfect, incredible quality and textures. Can’t miss the tajarin. It’s an absolutely perfect dish, either with sage and butter or ragu. I normally get both.

Tajarin with butter and sage from Cascina Spinasse
Tajarin with butter and sage from Cascina Spinasse

When you want something cheap and quick, where do you typically go?

Tacos el Asadero bus on Rainier Avenue, Pho Bac, Saigon Deli.

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

Geoduck!

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

Ferry boat ride to one of the islands. Swim in Lake Washington. Drink a ton of coffee and walk around the Pike Place Market and the Sculpture Park. “Get green” and walk around the Japanese Garden in the Arboretum. Go dancing at the Pony and/or Re-bar (if you’re feeling frisky!)

Chef Antonitsas’ Shortlist:

Westward, 2501 N Northlake Way (Wallingford); Mediterranean/seafood, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Sitka & Spruce, 1531 Melrose Avenue (Capitol Hill); new American, lunch Monday-Friday, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

The Walrus and the Carpenter, 4743 Ballard Avenue NW (Old Ballard); seafood, dinner only daily.

Sushi Kappo Tamura, 2968 Eastlake Avenue E (Eastlake); Japanese, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

Bottlehouse, 1416 34th Avenue (Madrona); wine bar, open daily.

La Medusa, 4857 Rainier Avenue S (Columbia City); Italian/Mediterranean, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

Tacos el Asadero, 3513 Rainier Avenue S (Columbia City); Mexican, lunch and dinner daily.

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

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

Cascina Spinasse, 1531 14th Avenue (Capitol Hill); Italian, dinner only daily.

Pho Bac, 1314 S Jackson Street (International District); Vietnamese, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Saigon Vietnam Deli, 1200 S Jackson Street, #7 (International District); Vietnamese, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Pike Place Market, 1st Avenue and Pike Street (Downtown); open daily.

Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Avenue (Belltown); open daily.

Japanese Garden at Washington Park Arboretum, 1075 Lake Washington Boulevard E (Madison Park); open daily.

Pony, 1221 E Madison Street (Capitol Hill); bar, open daily.

Re-bar, 1114 Howell Street (Belltown); bar, open daily.


About the Chef: As a kid, Chef Zoi Antonitsas would run home from school to catch an episode of “Great Chefs” on PBS. At 16, she worked her first job as a prep cook at Dahlia Lounge, the first restaurant from Seattle star restaurateur Tom Douglas. Though it sounds like she was always destined to become a chef, it wasn’t until Antonitsas was in her early 20s that she realized how truly passionate she was about food.

After spending some time in art school, working at various kitchens in Seattle, and backpacking across Europe, Antonitsas moved to San Francisco. She furthered her culinary training under Chef Loretta Keller, learning more about French traditional technique and the importance of seasonality and locality. During her time in California, Antonitsas also became a familiar face to hundreds of thousands of Americans as a contestant on the fourth season of Top Chef. “TV is not my thing,” says Antonitsas. “I much prefer being in a restaurant.”

In 2009, Antonitsas returned to her hometown to work as chef de cuisine of the acclaimed Madison Park Conservatory. Three years later, she joined Westward, a new seafood-centric restaurant located right on Lake Union. Soon after its opening, Antonitsas’ Mediterranean-influenced dishes garnered nods from national publications, and in 2015, she was named one of 2015’s Best New Chefs by Food & Wine.

“MY GOALS FOR WESTWARD ARE AND HAVE BEEN CONSISTENT: CREATE A WONDERFUL PLACE FOR PEOPLE TO COME ENJOY THEMSELVES. WE HAVE AN INCREDIBLE RESTAURANT WITH ONE OF THE BEST VIEWS IN TOWN, AND FOOD THAT SPEAKS NOT ONLY OF THIS PLACE, BUT HOPEFULLY TRANSPORTS YOU TO ANOTHER ONE THAT IS WATER-INSPIRED.”

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