The luminous block letters advertising “Merchants Cafe” nearly overshadow the intriguing tidbit beneath: a sign reading "Established 1890, Seattle’s Oldest Restaurant." Once guests pass through the double-door entrance, though, its historic charms become undeniably clear. Rustic wood floors covered with ornate rugs complement wooden and exposed brick walls, and the stained-glass chandeliers hanging overhead cast a warm glow. Despite the homey 1800s feel, a few modern touches accent the restaurant, including flat-screen TVs around the cherry-wood bar and a menu of contemporary eats. Hearty American entrees, such as hot turkey sandwiches and Angus burgers, are crafted from local, organic ingredients sourced from the likes of Pike Place Market and Bob’s Fruit Stand.
Over the past 120-some years, Merchant’s has accrued quite a colorful history, but most notably operated as a hotel, saloon, and card room in the late 19th century. Today, barkeeps continue the tradition, sans the fist-fights over whose horse is more attractive, by pouring libations including Georgetown and Mac and Jack’s craft beers and wines and spirits from local wineries and distilleries.
Before diving into an entrée, Blue Water Taco Grill's regular menu lets you improve your ability to hold your breath under cheese with a heaping pile of nachos topped with cheese, beans, Pico de Gallo, sour cream, guacamole, fresh salsa, and veggies ($6.05), or meats such as chicken and beef ($7.30 each). From there, cast your mouth-net around a school of authentic fish tacos ($3.10) adorned with cabbage and lime tartar, or bomb your taste buds with a devastatingly delicious torpedo of prawn burrito (with rice, beans, Pico de Gallo, and fresh salsa; $7.30). For fusion-fueled humans, Blue Water's Taco salads, such as the shrimp and krab taco bowl ($7.30), fuel fusion-powered palates with a swirling vortex of beans, lettuce, Pico de Gallo, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, and fresh salsa, all harnessed inside a crispy tortilla chip bowl. Blue Water also whips up plenty of vegan options, such as the vegan-style fancy rice ($5.20) with Pico de Gallo, beans, cilantro, and salsa, plus a team of veggie choices. Breakfast is also served at select locations.
A native of France, Christophe Rougny has slung spirits to thirsty cocktail quaffers in high-end locales from Cannes and Monte Carlo to New York City, plus backstage at events such as Ozzfest. Take a triple shot of scholarship as your mixological headmaster guides you through a 90-minute primer on everything you need to know to turn your home bar or office conference room into a potable paradise. Lessons include classic cocktail recipes and ratios, bartending techniques, and puzzling brain-teasers to frighten away slow-witted pink elephants. The lion’s share of the class is spent with the students mixing, pouring, and sampling their own drinks, helping them develop cocktail-shaker muscle memory that can also be invaluable when shaking dice and Magic 8 Balls. Classes consist of approximately 12 people, and include all the alcohol you need to invent your own signature drink.
El Puerco Lloron's staff serves a full menu of classic Mexican food either inside or, on nicer days, on its sunlight-rich outdoor patio. Pork, chicken, and beef taquitos can be enjoyed amid a beach-like atmosphere full of cool blue and salmon tones, colorful hanging lights with intricate flower patterns, and mural art that conjures pastoral serenity. The well-worn folding tables further crystallize the vibe, which is more laid back than an SAT-taker who's already a billionaire.
One might say Marination’s secret is its sauce, except that its sauce isn’t a secret. The Hawaiian-Korean restaurant’s spicy pork and kalbi beef tacos come slathered in Nunya sauce, a hot miso-mayo blend that Food & Wine’s Kristin Donnelly said she “can’t live without.” Fortunately the restaurant sells its sauce by the jar at each of its two permanent locations, as well as from its roving food truck, which is officially known as Marination Mobile but which founders Kamala and Roz fondly refer to as “Big Blue.” Big Blue is as important to the business as the brick-and-mortar locations, and not just because it came first. It also has brought Marination scads of attention, winning not only Seattle magazine’s award for Best Street food in 2010, but also Good Morning America’s nationwide Best Food Cart contest in 2009. The truck shows up at locations including office buildings and private parties, bringing kalua pork sliders, fried-egg rice bowls, and kimchi quesadillas to lunchtime crowds who would otherwise be forced to eat the tires off a regular truck.