Thanks to the influx of new restaurants in Pioneer Square, there seems to be a new option each week – and below is my attempt to list and categorize so that perhaps I won’t spend so much time trying to figure out where to go every day. This list was last updated on May 17, 2014!
New Additions: La Bodega, Pizza Pro, Bakeman’s, Julie’s Garden, Diva Espresso, The London Plane, Taco Mania.
Opening Soon: Damn the Weather, The Good Bar, Pizzeria Gabbiano, Quality Athletics, Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar.
It didn’t take long for La Bodega to ascend to the very top of the list of favorite lunch spots in the neighborhood. For your first visit, you should order what they are known best for: the Puerco Asado sandwich and a yam and gouda empanada. You’ll be hooked on that one for awhile, but when you’re ready to expand your horizons you should order the Tomate Verde sandwich. After that, consider switching over to the empanada plate with garden greens or ordering any of the sandwiches as a bowl and skipping the bread.
Be prepared for a long line if you arrive around the noon hour (thanks in large part to this article) and swing by for happy hour after 3pm!
First things first: Salumi Artisan Cured Meats was founded by chef Mario Batali’s father, Armandino, and if you care at all about following celebrity chefs then you will want to eat here for that fact alone. Or perhaps you’re a fan of No Reservations and are willing to do anything that Anthony Bourdain does. I am both of these things, and feel that Salumi deserves a place at the very top of the sandwich list because of them. I mean, Bourdain’s not wrong about much – and he’s certainly not wrong about Salumi.
The thing about Salumi is that you’re going to have to wait in line. You’re going to have to wait in a long, long, long line, so you’d better come prepared with patience and a good attitude – and an umbrella because the majority of your wait will be outside. But you know what? You’re going to be rewarded – whether it be by the samples of salami they often pass out while you’re waiting, or by the cheerful attitude of the employees, or by the deliciousness of what you order.
On my first visit to Salumi, I ordered the Mole Salami sandwich which was fine but nowhere near as delicious as the porchetta or meatball sandwiches ordered by my dining companions – so I’ve alternated between those two ever since. (I think I might be ready to fully commit to the meatball from here on out because there’s a rival in the porchetta sandwich department as you’ll see in a moment.)
If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat inside (they are limited!), I hope you get the big table and have a large group, because one of my favorite Salumi memories is when six friends and I spent the afternoon feasting on plates of thinly sliced meats, a variety of sandwiches and copious amounts of wine. We might as well have been in Italy – it was so delightful. If you’re forced to take your sammie to-go, grab a TON of napkins and head over to the Waterfall Garden Park and enjoy it there.
Rain Shadow Meats Squared
I realize I’ve just gone on and on about the “can’t-miss”-ness of Salumi, but if you were to ask me where to get the absolute best sandwich in Pioneer Square, I would send you to Rain Shadow Meats and make you order THEIR porchetta sandwich. You would raise an eyebrow and say, “Is it better than Salumi’s porchetta?” and I would say “Yes – but it’s also really different.” And then you’d eat it and agree with me.
Rain Shadow Meats, as you may recall, is new to the Pioneer Square scene, employs a lot of attractive butchers and is serving a very hungry lunch crowd some pretty great food. I only ever order the porchetta because it’s just that good, but I recently took Edgar there and he declared his corned beef sandwich to be the best sandwich he’s had in the 9 months since he moved to town. (“And I’ve eaten about five years worth of sandwiches, honey.”) Those of you who don’t want to watch giant sides of beef or whole pigs get wheeled from the walk-in and out to the butchers block might want to steer clear of the counter-top seats, but there are other dine-in seating options in the gorgeous storefront – and a new little patio!
Plan to stand in line if you go right at noon, but it moves quickly and it’s fun to look at all the different things in the cases. I also insist that you order a celery soda. I INSIST.
I heart everything about Delicatus – the diversity of the sandwich menu, the design of the space itself, the friendliness of the employees, and selection of wine. It feels very “Seattle” to me. They offer a great lunch service (dine-in or take-out) and have a rotating calendar of evening events.
You really can’t go wrong with the menu – I’ve tried something different on every visit and been pleased every time. Each sandwich is cleverly named and my favorites have been the Fire of 1889 and the ShankLamb – there’s something for everyone.
If you’d like to avoid the line, try calling about 20-30 minutes ahead for your order and then go pick it up – but I’m not the kind of person who minds waiting for good food so I always order in person.
Grand Central Bakery
Please explain to me how a bakery with multiple locations and such wide distribution can suffer from such horrible wait times and service? I even know someone who works there – which you’d THINK would result in a bit more attention – but no – my order is regularly lost in the shuffle and takes for-ev-er. It’s a good thing I love their bread – and that my favorite sandwich – the Grinder – is offered in the “grab and go” fridge.
Let me back up and start over with the good things: Grand Central Bakery makes great artisan bread. They have a wide variety and it can be found in almost every grocery store as well as their two bakery/cafes in Seattle. It’s the only place I’ve found that sells brioche, which I know because I once scoured the city for a loaf so I could make a bread pudding. GCB also has a great Twitter feed that is constantly offering daily free treats with the mention of their tweets. And I really do love the Grinder, which is made with Salumi salami (of course!) and served on a baguette (my preferred sandwich platform).
But what is NOT so good about the Pioneer Square location is that everything takes far too long, the employees often seem overwhelmed and more often than not I have to go back because something has been left out of my order – or it has been lost entirely.
To minimize the risk of this happening to you, I would suggest NOT visiting between 11am and 1pm so that you avoid the lunch crowd, and if that’s not possible then skip the line and pick something up from the “grab and go” and head straight to the register.
I tried the Berliner simply because I had no idea what a “doner kebab sandwich” was. I guess it’s most closely related to a gyro, but served on a focaccia-like bread rather than on a pita. It’s a German/Turkish combination which I have decided that I do not care for.
You order by choosing your sandwich from the menu (there are some interesting flavor combos) and then pick a meat (chicken, lamb, or a combo of both), and bread (pita, tortilla or the German focaccia). I’ve had the Fiery Kruzeberg and the classic Berliner – and ultimately I came away feeling like there was just too much bread involved for it to be worth it. Give me a plain gyro any day – and also give it to me from somewhere else (see below for Mediterranean options).
I know plenty of people who would argue that Tat’s has the best sandwiches in the city. I’m not going to fight any battles on this front, mostly because I’m unqualified to judge. I’ve had some pretty good sandwiches from here, but I haven’t tried the ones that people rave about – mainly the cheese steak and the Rueben. I will say that the sandwiches are enormous, and the bread is exactly what you’d want on a sandwich – crispy on the outside and soft on the inside,
If you’re searching for a great East Coast-style sandwich, get thee to Tat’s immediately – and be prepared for (yet another) long line which will move quickly.
Bakeman’s sits just on the border of what I consider to be Pioneer Square, so sometimes it feels just a block or two too far outside of my lunch radius, but if you are craving a turkey sandwich that costs less than $5, there is no other place to go.
The restaurant itself is nestled into the slope of a building on 2nd and Cherry. I walked by it a million times before realizing it was there. You have to descend down a few steps to access the door – it’s very unassuming from the exterior.
And once you get inside? Well… have you seen the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld? The experience is kiiiiiind of exactly like that. If we’re being honest, there’s a full menu but there’s really only one thing you should order: the turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce and a slice of pie. Don’t want pie? Too bad. You’re getting pie. And you’ll like it because it’s delicious, but the pie is not optional. Get the pie. Also, bring cash. You must pay with cash.
Jimmy John’s + Subway
Not much to say on either of these fronts, beyond the fact that they exist and are the definition of fast and cheap!
Radici (formerly Tinello)
Radici (formerly known as Tinello) has undergone a name change (due to a cease-and-desist order from another Tinello), and is continuing to build out it’s restaurant thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. I haven’t been to visit since my previously negative-ish experiences at Tinello, but enough time has passed that I’m actually looking forward to trying it out again. It looks like the menu has evolved, and it’s a nice option if you’re looking for a sit-down lunch environment and was opened by the same folks behind the old Rialto in Fremont (now Pecado Bueno which serves the second-best plate of nachos, in my opinion). Below is my review of Tinello, but I’ll update as soon as I visit the new and improved Radici.
The minimalist decor of Tinello is, to me, almost TOO-minimal in that it feels unfinished – which is actually maybe the case because it’s only a few months old. You are invited to sit at a table but there are no printed menus to order from – instead you must crane around to look at the chalkboard menu up on the wall, or get up and go to read it before placing your order back at the table.
Follow the Facebook feed and you’ll learn that there is a group of old Rialto-regulars who have followed the owner to Tinello – which I thought must speak volumes about the quality of the food, service and atmosphere, but to be honest, I am just not that excited about any of it. Though the service is nowhere near as chilly as at Bar Sajor, I can’t help but feel like I’d enjoy myself more if I had more of an “in” with the team running the show.
There is a large window into the kitchen, where I would expect to see a little bit more action than what I have witnessed in my three visits. The food, while appropriately portioned, lacks the soul that you find in handmade pastas at Il Corvo or Carmine’s. The sandwiches are simply plunked down on a plate with no salad or garnishes. And because I always try to obey the rule of never ordering what you can make yourself, my options are limited.
I’ll let Tinello continue to grow and evolve before upping the frequency of my visits – but I do welcome any and all fresh dining options in PSQ!
Il Corvo moved from the Pike Street Hillclimb to PSQ just about the same time that I started working downtown again- here’s my post about the old location. But for some reason, it took me nearly six months to visit the new spot, which I felt bad about – especially because I kept insisting to everyone that it was the best place for lunch in the neighborhood. So when I finally did go – I went twice in one week to make up for it, and have been going regularly ever since.
Il Corvo is yet another example of a bustling lunch spot with long lines that move quickly. You may worry that you won’t be able to find a seat, but don’t stress- the turnover is pretty quick and by the time you get to the register to place your order, a table has opened up.
The very best way to experience Il Corvo is to go with three people and to order each of the three handmade pasta offerings, which change EVERY single day. If you’re feeling decadent, you’ll also order a plate of thinly sliced prosciutto with pickled celery, a couple of orders of their focaccia bread (so good that one order is not enough) and then you’ll simply rotate the plates of pasta among your dining companions until you’ve tried them all and you’re all stuffed. If you happen to be dining with more than three – then simply order another pasta and pick one of the three alternative sauces that are listed at the bottom of the chalkboard menu.
On both of my visits in the same week, I ran into almost half a dozen people that I knew, which, if you’re feeling the small neighborhood vibe, is fantastic – but don’t go there with the intention of having a private conversation. The tables are close together and if you work in the ‘hood, you’re bound to see someone you recognize.
Caffe Vita in Pioneer Square is not just a great coffee shop – it’s also a pizzeria from 11am-4pm, serving up thin-crust, Napolean-style pizzas for lunch. The pizzeria is operated by the same folks behind Via Tribulani and features a pretty badass oven from Italy!
Il Terrazzo Carmine
If you have a client or a special someone to impress, head on over to Il Terrazzo Carmine for an old-school, fine dining experience. Carmine’s has been around for nearly 30 years, and is heralded as one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. If you’ve got the time and the budget for it, treat yourself and enjoy excellent service, an extensive wine list, and great food.
See what else I have to say about Carmine’s on my episode of Check, Please Northwest!
The best thing about Pizza Pro is not actually the pizza (which is just pizza). It’s that the owner tells you – no matter what you order – that this is best pizza you’ll ever have and that you tell your friends about it for days. And then you actually DO go tell your friends about it because it’s such a strange conversation! So it works!
Main Street Gyros
Main St. Gyros is open again and better than ever. They have emerged from the ashes and rebuilt the restaurant after some jerk lit fire to the place and destroyed it last year. The new place is sparkling and busier than ever before – and the food truck that was opened in the interim now travels to South Lake Union where apparently it’s raking in the dough.
Come here if you’re looking for a quick and cheap lunch – or if you like free things like the lentil soup that you’re served while you wait. It’s fun to watch newbies look confused as they are handed a bowl. I typically order a chicken and lamb gyro or a falafel sandwich or salad – all of which are delicious. This is a spot that we support by buying food for a large crowd for our member lunches!
Med Mix – 1st Avenue
I was always confused as to why there were two Med Mix’s in Pioneer Square with only two blocks between them, but the second one has closed.
Med Mix claims that it’s the originator of the cream cheese Seattle Dog and that they have the best fried chicken in the city – neither of which I can comment on because I haven’t tried them. I only order the falafel sandwich (my second favorite in Seattle – the first being Mediterranean Kitchen in the Westlake Mall food court). The service is friendly and quick and it’s a good alternative to Main Street Gyros.
Bar Sajor / The London Plane
I’ve said all I need to say about Bar Sajor. If you’ve got time for a relaxed and leisurely lunch in a beautiful space, then by all means head here – but you’ll find me across the street at the new (even more new!) London Plane – a related, yet more casual eatery by Matt Dillon and Katherine Anderson of Marigold & Mint, which features a deli counter, restaurant, flower shop, etc.
Little Uncle is another Capitol Hill based joint that opened up their second shop in Pioneer Square, and I am ever-so-thankful. Located in the basement of a storefront just below First and Yesler, follow your nose down the stairs for authentic Thai street cuisine. You won’t find your typical pad thai made with a ketchup base at Little Uncle – instead, their version isn’t red at all and tastes fresher – even more so with a pinch of sugar and chili flakes, which are served in little waxed paper packets.
As always, I prefer to dine in groups and to order lots of things and sample each, but if I have to choose a single item (and the menu does change occasionally), my favorite is the “khao mun gai” – a poached chicken served with rice and topped with a spicy soy-ginger sauce that I wouldn’t mind just drinking, or the shrimp paste fried rice (order this if you’re in a rush!) or the spicy beef salad – which is really really spicy! I can also recommend the curried rockfish fritters – get a couple orders because you won’t want to share.
I’m pretty sure that I will be consuming gallons of pho during the cold, grey winter months, so I should probably build out a budget for Pho Fuchsia. It is, by no means, the best pho in the city but it will do in a pinch. Plus they have bahn mi, which is always a cheap lunch option. I’ve only ordered food to-go, and the service is relatively quick.
Asia Ginger Teriyaki
The takeout service at Asia Ginger has been boiled down to an assembly-line-like science that is fun to watch. Stacks of side salads, dressings, packets of sauces and chopsticks sit at the ready and waiting to be bagged up with your order (read the Yelp reviews for more on this). It’s the closest place to get lunch (across the street from Impact Hub Seattle) and most of the time, it’s also the fastest – and always the cheapest.
There are plenty of options to choose from – whether you prefer teriyaki (of all varieties), yakisoba, fried rice, bi bim bap, short ribs – you name it. It gets SUPER busy during the lunch hour but they can turn it around fast! And apparently there’s free miso soup which I didn’t know until I was reading about it on Yelp.
Asia Ginger is also one of our staples for our weekly Thursday member lunches. Our orders for 70 (regularly last-minute) don’t seem to faze them and everyone always enjoys it.
There is only one option for sushi in Pioneer Square – though please keep in mind that the International District is only 4 blocks away. Gaba Sushi is a healthy, fast-food sushi restaurant with customize-able options!
The interior of the restaurant is clean and bright. I love how colorful the sushi rolls are – plus there are a gazillion different sauces that you can choose from to dip your sushi in. The price is alright… though I’d suggest ordering two rolls because one is never quite enough.
Update: forget the rolls – the brown sprouted rice bowls are where it’s at!
Thai Taste offers a menu of 50+ items plus eight different lunch combos for only $8.95, plus bubble tea and smoothies! As far as Thai food goes, I’d always rather eat at Little Uncle but their menu is limited and sometimes you just want something familiar. This is my favorite place to have cater lunch because there is always plenty of leftovers and our members love it.
My coworker has been raving about Julie’s Garden for months, but I have to admit that I was a little bit underwhelmed when I finally visited it. I understand the appeal of cheap Chinese food, but I honestly don’t know why you would go here when you could walk a few extra blocks to the International District and have much better food for the same price. Way too much sauce on everything but the price is right and entrees are served with soup, rice, and eggrolls.
Hole in the Wall
Chuck’s Hole in the Wall BBQ is a great place to meat men (see what I did there?!). Seriously – the only time I went, I was the only woman in the place and there were probably about 30 dudes in line. I had a pulled pork sandwich that was delicious and messy. There are limited in-house seating options, mostly because they need to have room for the line – but there are a few counter tops that you can perch at while you wait.
Taco Mania has just replaced the second Med Mix, and oddly enough, it’s kind of hard to find the tacos on the menu. However! Their burritos are enormous and they serve them for breakfast.
If you’re craving something on the lighter side, Cocoa Banana‘s salad and smoothie bar will be right up your alley. The build-it-yourself salad bar features lots of different types of greens, veggies and all of the dressings you could possibly imagine. You weigh your salad by the ounce at the register. Bring your own container and you’ll get a discount!
The trick to Cocoa Banana is to not rush yourself. Take your time and try not to feel pressure from the other people who are behind you in line. Every time I go, I feel stressed out and just start loading things on but then when I get down the line, I regret my previous choices and curse the people behind me for breathing down my neck.
In addition to a great variety of salad items, they also have bunches of smoothies that you can order when you get to the counter!
Custom Smoothie & Sports Nutrition
Just around the corner from Cocoa Banana is Custom Smoothie, one of those kind of intense smoothie places that also sells all kinds of supplements and muscle powders. I always feel weird about going there because I’m not a body builder, but sometimes you just really need a smoothie.
Even though I work in a coworking space that is designed for people who are looking for an alternative to the coffee shop culture, I find that I get FAR more done when I’m at Caffe Vita. In addition to having great coffee, a relatively friendly staff and pretty decent pastries, they have a ton of seating options and reliable Wifi.
Umbria is not a coffee shop that encourages laptop loitering, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. It is a good place to meet a friend and have a conversation over some great coffee, and they have fresh sandwiches, gelato and yummy grapefruit granitas.
Update: their roast beef sandwich is one of my new favorites.
Zeitgeist is a pretty perfect coffee shop. There’s good coffee, artwork, plenty of seating and great people watching. Plus, they have a fun website!
Update: craving a breakfast sandwich? I love their ham and egg on brioche. Takes a few extra minutes to make, but totally worth it.
Cherry Street Coffee
Cherry Street Coffee‘s original location is in Pioneer Square. The coffee bar is on the street-level, and there is a large room with tables and mismatched chairs in the basement. It lacks the nicer ambiance that the other Cherry Street’s have, but this one has the history.
Trabant Coffee & Chai
Trabant Coffee & Chai, is, unfortunately, NOT my favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood. I think it might be because, despite the name, there’s no emphasis on chai in the menu. And I had a terrible blueberry iced tea.
Diva Espresso just opened a new location in the Smith Tower a few months ago. They are the earliest to open in the neighborhood, so I frequent this location when I have to be at work before 7am.
Rocky Mountain Chocolate Shop
You’ve got limited options if you’re craving something sweet for dessert in Pioneer Square. The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is a bit run down but they have a small ice cream counter.
Caffe Umbria’s got you covered on the gelato front – about 8-10 flavors, plus gelato cones and pre-packed scoops to go.