Evan Leichtling

Evan Leichtling grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent over a decade cooking in some of Seattle’s most revered kitchens. He moved to Europe in 2014 and worked in San Sebastian and Paris before returning to Seattle in 2019. Less than a year later, he opened Off Alley with his wife Meghna Prakash. Featuring nose-to-tail eating and minimal intervention wines, the restaurant was listed as The New York Times’ most exciting places in America in 2022.

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Seattle’s (Quiet) Culinary Evolution

I love Seattle. It’s very much my city and I care about it deeply. Eating out here is interesting because there has always been a lot of money in this sector, which has led to a vibrant dining scene. Huge companies like Amazon and Starbucks are based here and about 10 years ago, the tech industry sort of moved in from Silicon Valley, which gave it another boost. Large restaurant groups were born out of this tech takeover and ended up expanding. But a lot of fantastic little places have been here for a really long time – their owner still there working hard every day. New places are starting to pop up as well, bringing fresh ideas to the scene, and although Seattle is still a young food city, it has the infrastructure to support anything from high-end restaurants to laid-back venues.

Two Local Institutions Not To Be Missed

Le Pichet is a true Seattle stalwart that’s been around for at least 20 years. It’s the closest to France that I’ve ever experienced in the U.S. The place is casual and feels like a classic French bistro. The dishes are typical of a French bistro too: things like French onion soup and sausage with lentils, all executed with classic technique and a good amount of restraint. The wines are great: they’re everything you would hope from your favourite neighbourhood French bistro. It’s all really affordable too. Bar del Corso is another Seattle institution: an Italian restaurant in South Seattle where the big focus is on pizza. The best thing about this place though is actually the antipasto. The chef, Jerry Corso, has his own little garden and a lot of the antipasti will have vegetables from there. For me, Italian food is usually either expensive and fantastic, or affordable and comforting. But this place has always been the one that broke that rule for me by being affordable and top-notch. 

A Wine Bar Where the Food is Genius

La Dive is a natural wine bar opened by dear friends of mine. The wine programme is impressive, and David Gurewitz is one of the most talented chefs in the city. He’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. I was a line cook when he was sous chef and I can say that he’s kind of a mad scientist in the kitchen. The menu can go to all sorts of places from noodles and dumplings to a split pea falafel on toast, but everything he makes is on point. He’s always got something that’s fermented in an interesting way and plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.

A Long-Standing Japanese Spot That Dares To Challenge

There’s a large Japanese population in Seattle and a long history with the food and culture of the country. Maneki has been here for more than a hundred years. It serves old-school Japanese classics: no frills, no gimmicks, just really simple and tasty Japanese food, without the price point that Japanese restaurants seem to have. Although a lot of people go there for the sushi, what they’re well-known for are the hot plates. Things like grilled black cod or hamachi collars, or oysters with rice, where they’ll basically shuck oysters over some rice and cook it in a stone pot. There’s a lot of fresh squid in the Puget Sound, the body of water right by the city, and old Japanese men go fishing for it. Maneki makes a dish called shiokara, where they take the intestines out of the squid and ferment them with salt at room temperature for a few days. It’s one of the more challenging Japanese dishes but is my go-to dish here.

Two Great Venues By One Sake Sommelier

Kamonegi is a tiny Japanese restaurant run by a woman called Mutsuko Soma, who’s a sake sommelier and an amazing chef. She’s really well-celebrated here: her food is just fantastic. She makes all the soba in-house and really beautiful tempura with an interesting choice of vegetables. She also opened a small bar called Hannyatou, which has izakaya food. It’s meant to be super fun and playful food that goes well with sake which is their main focus.

An Overlooked Vietnamese Restaurant

There’s also a large Vietnamese population in Seattle, so there are really great pho spots but not a lot of Vietnamese restaurants doing other things. Rainier Restaurant and BBQ is one place that a lot of people overlook. The name is misleading because it has nothing to do with barbecue, but it’s a place with quality Vietnamese food. You can get fried baby clams with rice crackers or Vietnamese crepes (bánh xèo), and whole-fried catfish. It has a little bar upstairs with karaoke, so you can grab some drinks and snacks and do that too.

Delicious Parking-Lot Tacos

Taqueria Los Potrillos is another hidden gem: a stationed food truck in the parking lot of a gas station. It is probably my favourite Mexican food spot in Seattle and one of my favourite places to grab lunch. It’s a lot better than most of the sit-down restaurants and for a sliver of the price. While there’s a lot of Mexican food here, not all of it is great. You have to drive pretty far south to get the fantastic stuff. But everything this truck makes is incredible, from the tacos and burritos to the Camarones a la Diabla (spicy devilled shrimp). 

Cheap Beer and a Round of Pinball

One of my haunts is a dive bar in Belltown called Shorty’s. It’s run by a bunch of old punks and is right in the heart of an area where a lot of musicians live. The theme of the place is kind of a Coney Island pinball arcade, so they have 10 or 15 different vintage pinball machines which I enjoyed playing growing up. Lots of friends have worked there over the years so I’ve always loved to grab a cheap beer and play some pinball there. 

Craft Beer and High-Standard Bar Food

The head brewmaster at Standard Brewing was a cocktail bartender for almost two decades. His understanding of flavour is really unique which makes his beers amazing. He has a another label called Sovereign Brewing which features more of his bottle-conditioned and barrel-aged beers. In American breweries, the food is usually an afterthought, but Standard is one of the few breweries in Seattle where you can go for the food just as much as for the beer. Chef Wiley Frank is really talented. I’ve worked with him previously and he’s one of the best cooks I know. Everything he makes from the tacos to the French dip sandwiches is of very high standards. 

A Classic Beer-Focused Tavern Without Pretension 

Seattle has a lot of great beer-focused taverns, but most of them have become overrun by tech workers and beer nerds. There aren’t a lot of places like Slow Boat Tavern, where you can enjoy a drink without having to listen to someone talk endlessly about beer or get packed in with people who have had one too many to drink. I’ve known Ken Provost, the owner, for years. He’s just a great guy who’s very knowledgeable about beer. He was in a unique position working for one of the large grocery stores here while a lot of breweries were just starting out. He helped get them known, and because of that, he serves beers that most of the other bars in the city can’t get. 

Affordable Italian Classics With a Whole Lot of Campari

Ristorante Machiavelli is what we in the US like to call a “red sauce joint”. It’s a little hole in the wall in Capitol Hill that’s been there for a very long time. It serves simple Italian food in a casual setting. You can get a chicken liver lasagna, a Caesar salad and other well-made classics for a really affordable price. It’s the kind of place you can drop into for an Aperol Spritz or a Campari. When my wife and I are having a rough week at the restaurant, we turn our brains off for the evening, come here for some Italian comfort food, sit at the tiny bar and drink a bunch of Campari while chatting with the bartender. It’s always a good time.

Our Place in the Alley

Our restaurant Off Alley is located in an old alleyway that someone threw a roof over years ago. The space is only six-feet-four-inches wide with not much room to move. There are 12 seats indoors, with a small space to stand and grab a drink. Last year, we built a patio outside with another 12 seats. It’s a cosy place playing loud, punk rock music, and we try to have a good time running it. The restaurant is kind of built for industry people: somewhere that’s fun for all of us to hang out and have good food and wine. The kitchen is pretty small too, but we focus on using underappreciated cuts of meat, bycatch fish and weird offshoot vegetables that people are unfamiliar with. Our offal offering includes sweet breads, lamb brains and tongues. We write the menu based on the produce we find. My wife runs the wine programme and it’s all natural wines. We have domestic labels with fantastic wines made in the Willamette Valley just south of us in Oregon. We also have wines from California and plenty from Europe. A lot of the American distribution companies are reluctant to work with a restaurant as small as ours, so we’ve had to work with smaller producers and distributors. The upside of that is that we carry some weird, esoteric and fun wines and spirits, such as one made out of pears by this old, local retired couple.

The Best Falafel in Seattle

Down the street from us is a place that not a lot of people know about called Habesha Cafe. It’s essentially an Ethiopian deli that sells things like Ethiopian coffees, chocolates, cookies and a variety of pastries. What they make there that is particularly wonderful are the pita sandwiches and wraps: the falafel is probably the best in the city. Less than ten dollars gets you a delicious falafel wrap that’s perfect to take to a park on a nice sunny day.

Natural Wine and Food on Fire

Light Sleeper was opened by chef Eli Dahlin, an ex-colleague of mine. We opened our restaurants pretty close to each other during the pandemic and shared a lot of support over that period of time. We kind of share the same philosophy with the food but their menu has a little bit more international influence and a woodfired oven inspires most of the cooking. The space is beautifully fitted out and is perfect to enjoy some share plates with good natural wine.

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