Sommelier Jeff Lindsay-Thorsen is a Seattle native. After having spent most of his youth in Laguna Beach, California, he moved back to his hometown about 20 years ago and began his career in wine. Following a formative few years as the general manager and wine director at the James Beard Award–nominated Café Juanita in Kirkland, he has spent the past seven years as the lead sommelier for the Mina Group’s RN74. He also works as a winemaker for two Washington wine labels: W.T Vintners and Raconteur Wine Company in Woodinville.
Lindsay-Thorsen describes Seattle as a thriving city with an ever-expanding potential for food and wine opportunities. “It’s definitely beyond its infancy as a food town,” he says. “But I’d say it’s still sort of a toddler compared to New York or its other West Coast counterparts, like San Francisco and Los Angeles.” He explains that the restaurant scene has moved away from large corporate concepts to smaller, chef-owned places. “We have some limitations in terms of the breadth of wine that we can get here,” he says, “except for Washington wines, of course, which are all well represented throughout the city. But the cocktail and beer scene is really solid.”
When it comes to his favorite Seattle spots, Lindsay-Thorsen has a few specific ideas in mind.
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Most everyone flies in and out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, or Sea-Tac, which is a major hub for the Northwest Coast. The city of Seattle is bordered to the west by Elliott Bay, and its downtown district extends from its sea-level coastline up a hillside that rises to the east. The districts of Pike Market, Belltown, Capitol Hill, First Hill, Yesler Terrace, the International District, and Pioneer Square all fan out from downtown, along with a number of satellite neighborhoods. Downtown Seattle is about a 20-minute Uber ride from the airport, or you can take The Link light rail.
Where to Stay
Though you can cozy up in an Airbnb in outlying neighborhoods like Ballard and Georgetown, Lindsay-Thorsen suggests the chic boutique Inn at El Gaucho in Belltown, or the swank Inn at the Market in the Pike Market district, where you can reserve a room with a view of the Puget Sound. “If you want to be fancy, you should stay at The Thompson in the Pike Market district,” says Lindsay-Thorsen. “It’s a beautiful hotel.”
Where to Drink
Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium
By and large Capitol Hill is the hub for most of Seattle’s nightlife, says Lindsay-Thorsen. Canon, he notes, is a must. “They have this selection of vintage Chartreuse with some of these ancient bottles that are just unbelievable—not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of whiskeys they have. Their cocktail program is at the forefront of the craft for Seattle, and I always make sure to try one of their barrel-aged cocktails.” 928 12th Avenue.
Needle & Thread
“Tavern Law is a really cool bar, but I especially love their upstairs speakeasy, Needle & Thread. You enter through this back hall door where there is a phone you use to call up to be buzzed in,” says Lindsay-Thorsen. “It’s this sexy little space with really creative bartenders. They don’t have a drinks menu. Instead they just talk to you about what you like. I usually opt for gin cocktails like the Negroni, and they always make something unexpected that never disappoints.” 1406 12th Avenue.
Lindsay-Thorsen also singles out a couple of newer spots in the Pioneer Square district, which is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. The sherry bar JarrBar is one of his favorites. “I love sherry, and it just won’t catch on with a lot of our guests, so we don’t serve much at RN74. But Bryan Jarr has opened the bar of my dreams, with this big sherry selection and a menu of canned and cured meats and snack items like you’d find in Spain, Portugal, or Italy—boquerones, sardines, and patés. I love to go and see if he’s got anything new and interesting to pour.” 1432 Western Avenue.
In the same neighborhood, Lindsay-Thorsen also recommends Damn the Weather. 116 1st Avenue S.
When Lindsay-Thorsen isn’t at RN74, which is known for its massive, 2,000-plus selection of wines, along with an extensive by-the-glass menu, he goes to Le Caviste for wine. “Seattle hasn’t really embraced the true wine bar concept, but I love Le Caviste. It’s just really simple, with delicious patés and salumi, and a focus on really great French wines,” he says. “It’s like a sleeker, newer version of Le Baron Rouge in Paris. They always have all 10 crus of Beaujolais available, so they’ve got my loyalty forever.” 1919 7th Avenue.
Where to Eat
Capitol Hill, while known for its dense concentration of bars, also has a profusion of great restaurants. “Stateside is fantastic,” says Lindsay-Thorsen. “It takes Southeast Asian classics and adds a creative approach that [gives] a little polish to the whole dining experience. The crispy duck fresh rolls are a must, and the goat curry is excellent.” 300 East Pike Street.
Being fond of Italian cuisine, Lindsay-Thorsen points to Altura as one of his top picks for its spin on Northern Italian food. The restaurant centers on tasting menus, led by chef Nathan Lockwood. “It’s about as fine dining as you can get in this area of town, but it’s a good addition to the more casual mix,” says Lindsay-Thorsen. “I don’t tend to eat a lot of heavy food, but I wouldn’t dream of not having pasta here. The fall is my favorite time to visit, when they start bringing in local mushrooms and [adding] heavier fare to the menu.” 617 Broadway E.
Sisters and Brothers
“A fun, blue-collar culture has evolved in Georgetown, which is historically a very industrial area,” says Lindsay-Thorsen, noting that he likes the cool vibe of some of the newer restaurants there. “I love Sisters and Brothers. It’s as hipster as hipster gets, but their Nashville Hot Chicken will burn your face off and is pretty damn delicious. It wouldn’t even occur to me to have wine here. Instead, it’s bottles of Rainier lager all the way.” 1128 South Albro Place.
Ballard, another satellite neighborhood that’s recently grown in popularity, is the home of Stoneburner, a restaurant that offers a rustic, casual ambience with a menu centered on the restaurant’s wood-fired oven. “I like how chef Jason Stoneburner really just respects the seasonal ingredients he gets from local farmers,” says Lindsay-Thorsen. “For him, it’s much more about the ingredients than the technique. I usually just order a few of the sides and starters he has on the menu, but the pizzas are always great. I’ll never forget the time I had fresh mackerel crisped up in the oven with a little salt. It was so simple—but delicious.” 5214 Ballard Avenue NW.
For special occasions, Lindsay-Thorsen likes Copine, also in Ballard. “The execution of the food is just beautiful here,” he says. “This is not a place where you just drop in and have a bite. You have to plan your day around it. The last time I was there, I had these glazed pork cheeks that were out of this world.” 6460 24th Avenue NW.
Lindsay-Thorsen emphasizes that he typically frequents all the places he’s mentioned, but he says his all-time favorite place to eat in the city is Tsukushinbo in the International District. “It’s this tiny little sushi bar with the most beautiful array of fresh fish,” he says. “They make well-executed sushi this traditional way—no crudely named sushi rolls doused in sugary sauces. I just grab a seat at the bar and order omakase and let them serve me whatever they want. I’d like to think it’s the city’s best-kept secret, but its popularly has definitely caught on. They don’t have a sign on the door, which helps its anonymity, but they still run a wait most of the time.” 515 South Main Street.
What to See
As a tourist town, Seattle doesn’t disappoint. It has many waterfront attractions, including the Seattle Aquarium, the Waterfront Park, and the Great Wheel. Lindsay-Thorsen suggests a visit to the Ballard Locks to see how boats transition from the saltwater inlet of Puget Sound to the freshwater of Lake Washington. He also recommends hopping on a ferry over to Bainbridge Island for shopping, ice cream from Mora Iced Creamery, and a visit to the Bainbridge Organic Distillers to taste some of their award-winning spirits. And on a clear day, take a quick day hike of the loop trail at the beautiful Discovery Park or taste through the myriad wineries in nearby Woodinville. Don’t miss the chance to view the sunset from the Sky View Observatory at the Columbia Center downtown, which offers 360-degree views of the city and beyond, including Mount Rainier and the Cascade Mountains, as well as the Olympic Mountains.
Jessica Dupuy is a wine, spirits, and food writer based in Austin, Texas, whose credits include work in Texas Monthly, Imbibe magazine, Wine Enthusiast magazine, Sommelier Journal, and The Tasting Panel magazine and with the Guild of Sommeliers. A Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine, and Certified Specialist of Spirits, she holds an Advanced Certificate with the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Dupuy keeps her palate sharp through travel, reading, and endless tasting.