A lot of things have changed lately, including the definition of “a restaurant.”
Some of the best meals in the city don’t come from haughty, high-end establishments or [insert name of celebrity chef here]’s latest wood-fired Coastal Mediterranean concept. They come from pop-ups, created in commissary kitchens and parking lots, and preordered (and paid for) through your phone. Born out of sheer necessity, a desire to do things differently, or an unbridled spirit of creativity, pop-ups came into their own in 2020 - and we hope they continue to do so.
The spots on this running list challenge the very notion of what a restaurant can be. Which is a good thing - because we like a challenge. These are the best pop-ups in Seattle.
My Friend's Cookies
It’s an all-too-familiar argument - one person prefers crispy cookies and the other is more into gooey centers. We’d like everyone to please stop fighting and grab dessert from My Friend’s Cookies. These giant treats roughly the size of UFOs have delicately crisp edges, doughy middles, and are loaded with excellent topping combinations - from peanut butter with shards of chocolate and pretzels to a corn cookie topped with sticky marshmallow and Oops! All Berries cereal. The balance of sugar, salt, softness, and crunch is wonderful, and you’ll want to grab extra to stash in your freezer. You can find My Friend’s Cookies at Watson’s Counter in Ballard, and sometimes as the dessert option at Chachi’s Pizza.
To experience the BEC excellence of Hi Helen, you have to preorder your sandwiches in advance, pull up to a residential street corner in West Seattle, and then wait for owner Sarah Decelle to appear and hand you a paper bag full of the goods. With soft-scrambled egg studded with crushed peppercorns, crisp bacon (or savory pork sausage, or spicy kale), gooey American cheese, and creamy chipotle sauce, all on a yeasty homemade poppy kaiser, we can say definitively that this is the best breakfast sandwich in town. Each week also features a baked good or two, from miso bourbon chocolate chip cookies to f*cking delicious Little Debbie-style oatmeal creme pies filled with vanilla bean marshmallow fluff.
Chachi’s rectangular Detroit-style pies have a brittle layer of cheesy caramelized edges, and the crust made with Shepherd’s Grain flour (a.k.a. Washington wheat royalty) is incredibly tender, spongy, and almost sweet - one of the most flavorful we’ve ever tasted. There’s no sonic boom when biting down on one of these slices, and that’s exactly what we love about it. Especially in “The Abuela” pie, topped with ricotta, spicy pepperoni, Calabrian chili paste, fresh herbs, toasty sesame seeds, and a drizzle of honey. Chachi’s Pizza pops up on Sundays in Ravenna with ordering done via Instagram DM earlier in the week, often paired with a dessert collaboration. There are some White Center pickups in the works, so stay tuned to their Instagram if you live in South Seattle.
Brothers & Co.
Brothers & Co. is the pop-up that’s been around the longest on this list, but it’s also one of the best. This farm-to-table operation has been serving their outstanding ramen with chewy homemade rye noodles at farmers’ markets for years, and the tare-spiked broth is still flowing. The same ramen is available as a cook-at-home kit for pickup or delivery, as well as plenty of other dishes like St. Jude albacore poke, tacos with fillings like tempeh with sunflower seed queso or braised pork shoulder, and mushroom pot pie.
There’s been a lot of debate lately about whether using ceramic stones or baking steel is the best method for making excellent pizza at home. To yield the best results, we would just to scrap all that and order Dantini. This New York-style pie operation sets up shop at Harry’s Fine Foods on Sundays and Mondays, serving delicious pizza with toppings ranging from lemony ricotta and chives to crunchy pepperoni cups and incredible caramelized garlic confit. The crust is sturdy, pleasantly charred throughout the bottom, and has all the crackle and chew of a well-baked sourdough. Seattle seems to be in a bit of a pizza pop-up renaissance, but Dantini’s the one we’ve gone back to the most.
This Filipino comfort food pop-up has operated this year out of Sam Choy’s in Hillman City, and future pop-ups are TBD. But you’ll want Your Kuyas on your radar if only for the mechado dip - a glorious sandwich filled with tomato-y braised beef, sauteed peppers and onions, and crumbled queso fresco with a cup of pan drippings perfect for the baguette to soak up and/or for you to drink from the container. And while that’s what hooked us, the rich adobo short ribs, flavorful marinated grilled chicken with garlic rice, and the burger topped with longanisa sausage, chicharron, and calamansi slaw is what made this place one of our favorite pop-ups of the year.
Your ramen choices at this spot that also operates out of Sam Choy’s parking lot sort of feels like something from a choose your own adventure book. Since you have the option to choose between five different broths, it seems impossible to pick between smokey brisket ramen with delicious spicy pork broth or the equally enticing crab and truffle butter with rich pork broth. It’s like deciding in the 1977 classic CYOA novel Journey Under The Sea whether to help the merpeople or selfishly search on your own to find Atlantis. But the two options listed above are some of the best ramen we’ve had lately. They also have a couple of different appetizers, like sweet chili wings and tasty pork belly bao, but you’re here for the soup.
Located on the sidewalk above a couple of shrubs, Old Scratch is L’Oursin’s casual takeout pop-up. Their entire menu of little Southern sandwiches is kind of an ode to Martin’s potato rolls - they fill theirs with everything from fried buttermilk-marinated chicken thigh and popcorn shrimp to a smoked tofu BBQ sandwich that’s just as meaty as a slab of brisket. And don’t get us started on the smashburger, with salty, crispy edges and tart cornichons. They’re also selling Southern pantry items like Bojangles french fry seasoning, Duke’s mayonnaise, and those Toast Chee peanut butter crackers. You know, the ones you used to get from vending machines only as a last resort.
Lenox serves very tasty Latinx soul food that we’re still thinking about. Their typical spread includes things like spiced longaniza hot links, a Cubano filled with some of the juiciest pulled pork in the city, cheesy roasted poblano grits, incredibly tender red beans sourced from Rancho Gordo, and churritos tossed in earthy anise sugar. And while their locations bounce around throughout the city anywhere from Good Day Donuts to Lucinda Grain Bar, they’re now serving preset dinners for pickup or delivery on Thursday nights - head to their Instagram for more information.
According to Juice Club’s Instagram page, we’re not really supposed to “f*cking tell anybody” about them. We’re doing it anyway because we like them a lot, and it’s our job. Back before the pandemic, this natural wine pop-up set up shop at Dacha Diner and B-Side Foods, and it was where you’d find us on a Saturday night, sipping pet nat, and introducing our friends to orange wine. While these parties are a thing of the past right now, Juice Club still has a bunch of bottles on a few curated shelves at Union Coffee, which somehow feels just as cool. They deliver, too - you can order on their website, which has quite possibly the greatest domain name on the world wide web: lol.wine.
Karachi Cowboys is a Pakistani soul food operation that serves things like tasty chana masala, dal curry, and kofta - but where they truly excel is in the snack department. And if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that snacks are important. From tangy labneh and perfectly-seasoned hummus topped with an herby green sauce to spicy pickled cauliflower and chewy blistered naan, mix-and-matching a meal made of little appetizers is the best way to do Karachi Cowboys. Whatever you do, don’t miss the decadent milk chai (the best drink we’ve consumed this year) or their incredible 50/50 mix filled with salty crunchy nibbles, curried nuts, golden raisins, and frosted flakes.
We always know when Blotto is slinging pizzas at the Broadway Alley Building, because it fills the halls with the unbelievable scent of charred crust, toasty cheese, and freshly-snipped herbs. But these pies taste even better than they smell, with toppings like sweet vodka sauce and basil, pancetta and radicchio, or lemon cream and pickled peppers. While their pizza operation is on hold for the moment, you’ll find them periodically at Juice Club whipping up East Coast-style Italian hoagies filled with things like hot soppressata and giardiniera, or marinated broccoli and fresh mozzarella.
This pop-up, which has found a semi-permanent home at Quality Athletics in Pioneer Square, makes some of the best fried chicken sandwiches we’ve tried lately. The chicken’s coating on the “Cookie’s Country Sando” is packed with flavor, and has a subtle crunch that lets the other elements shine - specifically the sunny sauce (which resembles Thousand Island) and perfectly-melted American cheese. And like any good fried chicken spot, Cookie’s serves some excellent sides, like mac and cheese, crispy waffle fries, and the outstanding collard greens. We have not been able to stop thinking about these saucy collards - the first bite is super sweet, and then the heat immediately kicks in. It’s kind of like reading a particularly good literary fiction novel when the author suddenly drops a huge plot twist. Possibly involving collard greens.