Old conventional wisdom: Seattle is safe and sleepy (and the coffee sucks). Portland is the juice, bad to the bone. But recently, Portland seems a bit ... stuck, with critics crowing that Seattle’s food scene has got it going on, with big bucks, big ideas, and beautiful spaces. With my friend Gary Okazaki (a.k.a. Portland personality Gary the Foodie) in tow, I hopped a train up north for a 24-hour food bender. Turns out, there’s some truth all around.
In the eternal Portland vs. Seattle death match—our scrappy chefs pitted against their flush restaupreneurs—let us not forget one city has a thriving center-city Chinatown/International District. Score, Seattle. We beeline it from the train station to Little Saigon to check out the next generation of pho: fun-loving, foodie-winking, and Instagram-ready. Welcome to Pho Bac Súp Shop, from the clan behind Seattle’s beloved, old-school Pho Bac chain. Here, three siblings plant a flag right in a bowl of their family’s iconic beef broth: two shortrib bones, each dragging a saddlebag of tender meat big enough for a Smithsonian exhibit. Damn. Some dishes still need workshopping, but the place is adorable, down to the teeny natural-wine shrine. The message scrawled inside the photo booth says it all: “Use at your own risk; smile bitch.” Bet this place rocks at night. 1240 S Jackson St
Hot? JuneBaby, an evocation of the South from an African American perspective via chef talent Edouardo Jordan, is downright equatorial hot, double Beard noms included.* Even the New York Times dispatched critic Pete Wells for a taste (he raved). Expectations rarely meet hype, but JuneBaby delivers, with its own voice in a casual, rollicking room. From tonight’s haul: ribbons of crispy pig ear resting on pecan butter; luscious collard greens with smoked carrots above and tahini below; killer corn bread with bronzed, cast-ironed edges and a wicked chew unlike any other. Entrées are less exuberant; the wise go for nightly specials, brisket to fried chicken. Bottom line: worth a trip to Seattle alone. 2122 NE 65th St
* After press time, in May, Jordan took home a historic two James Beard wins: Best Chef Northwest for his first restaurant, Salare, and the coveted Best New Restaurant in the country for JuneBaby.
A cult bar among the cocktail cognoscenti, Canon is home to one of the world’s largest and rarest spirit collections. (To order a 1935 rye requires 24 hours’ notice.) But much of the chatter centers on the legendary waits and, how you say, attitude. Canon has no phone; no “happy to text you when ready” policy—tough it out in the rain, snowflakes. (To be fair, I’ve read posts from sidewalk hopefuls who received gratis hot cocoa while waiting in the cold. That was not our experience. Hot cocoa is for closers.) But once inside, Canon opens up into a strange and wonderful little cave of votive-lit bottles and intense bartenders who double as magicians, as hard-bopping music soars. The 4,000-plus options are a joyful mind-boggler, and the glassware is part of the action—from Russian-mob-worthy cut-glass to a miniature bathtub-shaped vessel for a bubbly romp. The mode is fun, but flavors are dead serious. Plan to drop $14–20 as an opening lob and upwards of an Amazon paycheck for the unusual stuff. (The $225 negroni, made with luscious decades-old spirits, was our crazy, impulsive splurge.) But one question remains: how do we get that hot cocoa? 928 12th Ave
Here’s what we tore into before the 2:20 p.m. train home: 1. Stuffed brioche doughnuts at General Porpoise: drier than I remember from last year’s glorious showing at Feast Portland, but still nice, especially the lemon curd—and the coffee is dialed (1020 E Union St). 2. Brunch at critics’ darling Stateside. High points: Vietnamese seafood omelets ripping with rau ram leaves, crab paste, and hot sauce, as well as toasted sticky rice “finger sandwiches” packing creamy, cumin-laced pork (300 E Pike St). And 3. We almost ate a few bagels at Westman’s Bagel, a streetside stand with powerful word-of-mouth excitement, but by noon the day’s inventory of 300 rounds was long gone. We did snag a fine little Nutella-swirled babka and duck into the stand’s super-cute outdoor “diner,” a tiny wedge of life complete with framed art and three bright yellow stools. It was so Portland (1509 E Madison St). —Karen Brooks
Bonus! A Seattle Culinary Insider Tells All
Seattle Met’s food editor Allecia Vermillion reveals the new places and dishes Portlanders must try—sea urchin custard to deep-fried Oreos (say what?).
Windy City Pie Chicago-style pizza with flavors so calibrated and a crust so crisp with browned cheese—it made me a deep-dish believer. Get your fix from a counter inside a distillery tasting room in Interbay; ordering online is a smart move, even if you plan to eat in. (Windy City’s new sourdough-focused offshoot, Breezy Town, is also superb.) 1417 Elliott Ave W
Kamonegi Mutsuko Soma’s handmade soba noodles rightfully rake in acclaim, but magic is all over this menu: truly elegant tempura, duck meatballs, deep-fried Oreos, and good god, the foie gras tofu. 1054 N 39th St
L’Oursin When chef JJ PRoville rebooted classic French with Northwest players, he bypassed old familiars like steak-frites in favor of sea urchin custard and arctic char tartare. Lean into charcuterie and impeccable seafood dishes (and brace yourself for butter). L’Oursin pours natural wines and writes the town’s most entertaining tasting notes. 1315 E Jefferson St
No Anchor Mod, walnut-wrapped walls, fine dining snacks, the draft list splayed across a cool (and eminently useful) flavor matrix: This elegant spot in Belltown busts out of the typical beer bar mold with glee. I love living in a world where fresh radishes with parmesan custard dip constitutes drinking food. 2505 Second Ave
Dough Zone The Eastside dumpling and noodle chainlet, beloved for its xiao long bao (a.k.a. soup dumplings), finally hopped Lake Washington and opened a Seattle location. The dumpling bonanza is worth the crazy wait times, especially if you throw in some green onion pancakes and dan dan noodles. 504 Fifth Ave S