By No Vacation Required, on March 20, 2014

Top dining experiences in Seattle

There is great food, and then there is great food elevated by the overall dining experience. Lucky for us, a number of restaurants in Seattle specialize in providing a dining experience that goes beyond memorable food. Here are three of our favorites.

The Herbfarm 

The Herbfarm experience begins before you’ve even set foot in the restaurant, which is located about 30 minutes east of Seattle. An invitation to drink herbal tea, while attending the pre-dinner garden tour, hints that the evening is going to be different than most. 

The restaurant itself is at once fussy and comfortable–one part Victorian parlor, one part simple farm house. The décor is a prelude to the food; complex, modern cuisine that feels like your grandmother cooked it (that is, if your grandmother was an astonishingly good cook). 

Viewfinder Tip: If you opt for the wine pairing at The Herbfarm, spend the night next door at Willows Lodge.

The casual-meets-Downton-Abbey contradiction extends to the “vibe” of the meal as well. You may have more utensils, goblets, and wine glasses than you can imagine is necessary for one meal, but you are also encouraged to get up and stretch your legs, chat with your fellow diners, and watch the chef prepare your next course. It’s a unique vibe we feel The Herbfarm pulls of with aplomb.

Willows Inn

Like The Herbfarm, the Willows Inn experience starts the minute you get on the tiny ferry to Lummi Island, just north of Seattle. Because the food is so intrinsically tied to the island, the briny sea spray and scent of pine practically serve as the first course.

Décor at Willows Inn is a study in Pacific Northwest simplicity. The restaurant seems to be decorated by the setting itself: Out the windows, Puget Sound glimmers in the moonlight, while evergreens tower overhead.

Our multi-hour menu of five courses and 10 “snacks” included pickled oysters, grilled shiitake mushrooms, toasted kale with truffles and rye, and wild onions with caramelized mussels and toasted bread. But the smoked salmon, which we’d been anticipating as we watched the team stoke the smoker all day, was the star of the event. The staff described this as “salmon candy.” They were not wrong.

Salmon Candy (as it is lovingly called) at Willows Inn


Canlis, which is just a quick trip from any hotel in downtown Seattle, is considered by many to be the Emerald City’s finest dining experience (and you won’t hear any disagreement from us). While “elegant” is an appropriate adjective, swanky is much more on point. From the midcentury modern architecture to the panoramic views of Lake Union and the city, this place has class in spades.

Canlis was opened in 1950 and it feels like not that much has changed. It still is a put-on-your-best-outfit-and-act-like-a-grown-up restaurant. And the extra effort to dine at Canlis is returned to you with a level of service and attention that is disruptively sincere. Consider the magicians/valets who just know when to have your car ready (despite not giving you a ticket when you arrive). The wait staff seems to intuit your needs. 

On a recent visit, after eating one of the most delicious meals of our lives, we were treated to a tour of the restaurant before dessert. When we returned to the table, we were surprised with a cake to celebrate the event our server somehow knew we were celebrating. Did we mention that?!

We’ve had the recipe for the namesake salad from this restaurant on our bulletin board for years. Despite the fact that it’s a fairly simple recipe, we’ve never tried to make it at home. Why? Because the dish is far more than the sum of its parts; the salad is wonderful, but the experience of eating that salad at Canlis is what really sets it apart. 

The same is true for all three of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Try them and you’ll likely find that one visit simply isn’t enough.

What are your favorite places to have a fine dining experience?