Seattle is like an overgrown fishing village, so fresh seafood is easy to find. And, Seattle natives love to go to local seafood joints to get a quick fix of fish ‘n’ chips, clams ‘n’ chips, or alder-smoked salmon.
Most Seattleites can’t afford to go to spendy high-end restaurants. Instead, locals go to Ivar’s Salmon House, Ivar’s Fish Bar, Chinook’s, or Spud’s. The good news, for those of you coming to Seattle for vacation, is that the best cheap seafood restaurants are on (or near) the water.
Lingo for People on a Seattle Vacation
The first thing to know is that any restaurant down on “the waterfront” refers to the Seattle Waterfront, near the main downtown hotels, the Pike Place Market, and the main cruise terminal. That is the only place called “the waterfront” in this land of rain. A Seattle restaurant can be on the waterfront of a lake, a bay, or a canal, but “the waterfront” refers to a specific area.
Ivar’s Fish Bar Down on the Waterfront
Technically, this place is named Ivar’s Pier 54 Fish Bar, but locals just call it Ivar’s. It’s named after a wacky guy who was a local Seattle legend, Ivar Haglund. Ivar’s is near downtown Seattle, the Washington State Ferry Terminal, the Bell Street Cruise Terminal, and all the touristy places on the piers. Get your cheap food at the take-out bar and sit outside. Why this place is great:
Outdoor seating (right on the water) with a fab view of the Seattle Fire Department’s boat fleet and other ships on Elliot Bay.
- Fish ‘n’ chips with good dips, shrimp ‘n’ chips, fried clams ‘n’ chips (not as good as New Hampshire fried clams, but better view)
- Clam chowder (and a warm place to sit on cold days)
- Begging seagulls with wild antics
- New York crankiness from fish-bar employees on busy days
Ivar’s Fish Bar on Lake Union
Some people consider this area to be Wallingford or Fremont, but, technically, it’s neither Wallingford nor Fremont. Seatown should call it Chihuly Land (because the famous glass artist is next door) or Gas Works Park Burg or, just, North Lake Union (as opposed to Paul Allen’s swank South Lake Union), but that sounds so grungy “fisherman dry-dock” to Seattleites. This is the best cheap seafood joint on Lake Union and it’s a fun place for hungry people with boats. There are tie-ups for 10-15 small crafts, depending on their sizes, and that’s a rough guess. Why this Ivar’s is great:
- Outdoor seating on the water (unfortunately there is traffic noise from the Freeway Bridge)
- Same fish bar food as other Ivar’s Splendid views of the Space Needle, downtown Seattle and sleepless-Seattle-style houseboats.
- Ever-changing assortment of hungry people coming off-high-end yachts, creaky old cabin cruisers, and everything in between
Little Chinook’s (shin-ooks) and Chinook’s at Salmon Bay
This restaurant is near the new Smith Cove Cruise Terminal Pier 91, but it’s not walking distance from the terminal. It’s also near Ballard, Magnolia, and Queen Anne Hill. Call Chinook’s to see if they are serving the Monday All You Can Eat special for fish ‘n’ chips (206 283-4665). Also, the alder-planked salmon is a reasonable price at lunch.
Little Chinook’s (fish ‘n’ chips) has salmon, cod, halibut, prawns, and clam strips. The cheap patio furniture is tacky, but it’s cool to be next to the real fishing boats, like those on Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. It has:
- Outdoor seating on the water
- Good fish ‘n’ chips
- Amazing views of the Seattle Fisherman’s Terminal
Spud’s Fish n Chips at Alki Beach or Greenlake
The fish at Spud’s can be good or so-so depending on the day, but both locations are at Seattle’s main outdoor social spots: Alki Beach and Green Lake. Going to Spud’s is just a very Seattle thing to do. One can either eat inside Spud’s or eat al fresco (picnic) out by the lake or by Puget Sound. Cool.
Looking for the best cheap food is a bit of a sport in Seattle.
Because Seattle is a seaport, Sea-town people demand freshness. Because Seattle is an expensive city, locals demand a good price. Ivar’s, Chinook’s, Little Chinook’s and Spud’s are Seattle institutions. All of these places are on the water or near the water. So, visitors should eat Seattle-style at these little seafood joints.