Pike Place Market is the heart, soul, and stomach of downtown Seattle. Without it, Seattle would probably be just another built-up city with the usual cluster of big name clothing stores. I find it a bit frightening that this wonderful site was almost sold off for commercial development in the 1970s.
Like any self-respecting market should be, Pike Place is the place to come to experience food at its best, particularly Pacific Northwest produce. In the summer, tourists swarm to the market, marveling at the throwing skills of the fishmongers at the corner of Pike Street and Pike Place, or shuffling along from stall to stall to admire the elephant garlic and Bing cherries. Having lived in Seattle for the past four years, and worked just behind the market for two, I have a few great lunch spot recommendations although it’s hard to keep the list to just ten!
1) MARKET GRILL. 1509 Pike Pl #3. Seattle, WA 98101
One of my very favorite spots is Market Grill. The menu choice is a fillet of salmon, halibut, shrimp or chicken, grilled in Cajun seasoning and served in a crusty baguette with onions and tomatoes or with a side of green salad and brown rice. They also serve what I believe to be the best clam chowder in the market, and a side of what may also be the best coleslaw I’ve ever tasted! Sandwiches and salads run at around $6, making a great value meal. You can take out, or if you’re lucky, grab one of the very few bar stools available at their counter. Here you can watch the staff cook fish and shrimp on the grill while you wait and listen to your neighbor's conversations or admire the many wall posters, including a lovely portrait photo of Ronald Reagan.
2) ULI’S FAMOUS SAUSAGE. 1511 Pike Place Market. Seattle, WA 98101
Directly opposite Market Grill, you will find the sausage emporium of Seattle. Uli is a German Master Butcher who somehow ended up in the Pacific Northwest. I’ll be honest, I’ve never actually seen him behind the counter although I have seen photos of him and his splendid mustache in the shop window. You can buy different varieties of lamb, chicken, and pork sausages to take home or pick one out and they’ll cook it on the spot. There are maybe two or three seats beside the service counter but given that they’re right on the busy market thoroughfare, you’re better off eating it on the hoof, even if it does mean spilling onions and mustard as you go. The sausages are hot and juicy and Uli’s supplies to an impressive list of Seattle restaurants in case my recommendation isn’t convincing enough.
3) SABRA MEDITERRANEAN SANDWICH. 1916 Pike Pl #14. Seattle, WA 98101
Sabra, and the nearby Saigon are little oases of peace. They both serve exotic comfort food and they’re both set back from the main market street. They’re a bit tricky to find but I’d advise asking for directions to the Starbucks store and then look up at all the shop signs until you find Sabra’s mixed in there somewhere. The lady who runs Sabra must be the warmest and calmest person in the market, which immediately puts you at ease. I usually order the lamb shawarma sandwich. The pita bread is warm and fluffy and the meat is tender and flavorful with tzatziki sauce, which usually drips all over my hands.
4) SAIGON. 916 Pike Place #17, Seattle, WA 98101
Almost opposite Sabra is the delightful Saigon. The kitchen counter is tiny but Saigon has a lot of seating available. On a colder day, I’d recommend a big bowl of Chicken Pho soup. It’s heart- and tummy-warming, served up with plenty of noodles, bean sprouts, thick chunks of chicken, slices of onion, a sprinkling of coriander leaves, and a wedge of lime and a small pot of mixed spicy and plum sauce on the side. Great to share are the fresh rolls, which come with tofu or shrimp. Note that Saigon doesn’t accept debit/credit cards so be sure to take cash.
5) LE PANIER. 1902 Pike Place, Seattle, WA 98101
Le Panier on the corner of Stewart Street and Pike Place is always busy. Touting itself as “a very French bakery”, Le Panier delivers. Flaky croissants come plain or filled with raspberry and baguette sandwiches are ready to go. If the choice seems limited, I’ve never found this to be a problem. My favorites are ham and butter, crudités, turkey and Brie. About once a year I’ll treat myself to their “Napoleon” mille-feuille. You really have to eat this dessert in the privacy of your own home or hotel room as the second you bite into it, cream and custard shoots out at all angles and a lot of it ends up around, rather than in your mouth. There’s a very small amount of seating available at Le Panier so you can wait for a stool or take out and eat in the small outdoor plaza behind Sabra, if the weather’s good.
6) THREE GIRLS BAKERY. 514 Pike Place #1, Seattle, WA 98101
Three Girls Bakery (not to be confused with Three Sisters in Post Alley) is run by Groucho Marx and a group of hip, young students. OK, so it’s not really, but if you eat there you’ll see where I’m coming from. Working in a kitchen the size of Luxembourg, the staff serve up sandwiches the height of the Space Needle. Sandwiches are made to order and there’s usually a healthy soup selection, all of which are excellent, although I really recommend their mushroom barley soup. There’s a small bar at the back with seating and the turnaround is usually fairly fast so it’s worth waiting. I’d also suggest trying one of their cookies and a pain au chocolat, although possibly not all in one sitting.
7) JAPANESE GOURMET. 82 Stewart St, Seattle, WA 98101
Half way up the hill to First Avenue, you’ll find the energetic Japanese Gourmet. Don’t be put off by their window display, the food served inside is real and fresh. The lunch menu offers great deals such as a big daily bento box and five- and eight-piece sushi plates. The edamame is a favorite of mine and on a good day it comes with a generous sprinkling of salt crystals. I also really enjoy the tempura: squash, potato, asparagus, shrimp, and sometimes other unidentifiable vegetables that are equally tasty. The sushi is fairly standard but after having tried sashimi at Tsukiji Fish Market, I’m not sure anything quite compares but it definitely satisfies a craving for Japanese food.
8) FALAFEL KING. 1509 1st Ave, Seattle, WA 98101
For anyone planning an evening date, I would not recommend lunch at Falafel King. This is because garlic is the friend of Falafel King. If fresh breath isn’t an issue then I would definitely urge you to try their menu because it’s all fantastic. The chicken shawarma sandwich (which also comes as a plate), the hummus, the baba ghanouj, and the lentil soup that I’ve tried here have all been outstanding. The sandwich is thick, garlicky (of course), filled with juicy chicken and crunchy red cabbage, and necessitates a two-hour nap after consumption. Seating at Falafel King is almost non-existent but, again, I could recommend the courtyard behind Sabra if you get stuck.
9) BACCO CAFÉ & BISTRO. 86 Pine St, Seattle, WA 98101
Bacco’s been going through some changes recently. The lunch menu, unfortunately has lost a little of its appeal (I’m lamenting the loss of their Strawberry Vinaigrette Salad) but I have to give Bacco some kudos. This personable café is split between two levels and offers an impressive and imaginative list of fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies. For lunch, I can recommend the Caesar salad with crab. I also enjoy their creamy tomato-basil soup, which is often on their menu. As mentioned, my favorite salad is now no longer available but they have a decent list of alternative salads and panini, wrap, and regular sandwiches.
10) SESTOS. 1518 Western Ave, Seattle, WA 98101
I want to give a mention to Sestos because if I don’t, you’ll visit the market without even knowing it’s there. Below the market is Western Avenue, which you can access by walking to Victor Steinbrueck Park and then continuing downhill towards the waterfront, or by taking the hidden elevator close to Market Grill. It’s a small, bright café with friendly staff, who take pride in offering specialty Louisiana fare, such as daily gumbos and chilis, along with a great selection of hot and cold sandwiches. If you’re around in the wintertime, ask if they’ve made clam chowder, as it’s the only one I know that rivals Market Grill. My favorite sandwich is the chicken salad sandwich and they produce amazing bagels, which come with a luxurious cream cheese whipped with honey.