Pioneer Square’s Restaurants Are Back, and Maybe Better Than Ever

120-Room Carbon-Positive Hotel Westland by Urban Villages to Open Summer 2024 in Seattle

Pioneer Square is the muddy spiritual center of Seattle. Part of the historic city that burned down in 1889, the neighborhood was rebuilt to be a full story higher up, creating a warren of catacombs that is today a tourist attraction. Pioneer Square has been a hotbed of nightlife (including gay nightlife), a gathering place for artists and yuppies, and a provider of services to the down-and-out, thanks to its large number of missions and homeless shelters. Occasionally, it’s been a symbol of Seattle’s decline or renewal as a city.

It’s also, not incidentally, a great place to eat right now.

The past year has seen an impressive array of restaurants open in and around Pioneer Square: The ʔálʔal Cafe (pronounced “all-all”) opened in the Chief Seattle Club, a Native-led nonprofit that provides housing and services to homeless people. Ohsun Banchan provides incredible (and gluten-free) Korean meals and snacks. Rojo’s Mexican Food (which immediately became one of the best vegan spots in town) now occupies the former Il Nido space. Saigon Drip Cafe gave the area a contemporary spin on Vietnamese food and coffee. Ballard Vietnamese restaurant Monkey Bridge now has a second (and much larger) location on First Avenue. Ephesus opened as a wine bar and meze specialist on Occidental Square; not far away Darkolino’s, a new Italian spot attached to a streetwear store, took over the space that used to be the London Plane cafe and bakery. The massive Railspur development is already home to tacos-and-tequila joint Tacolisto, and the Hotel Westland is slated to open there next year, with a restaurant and bar attached.

This influx of restaurants follows the easing of pandemic lockdown restrictions, which left Pioneer Square businesses in a precarious position. “Pioneer Square still has a relatively low residential rate,” says Lisa Howard, the executive director at the Alliance for Pioneer Square, a neighborhood nonprofit. So when people stayed home during the worst waves of COVID-19, the area turned into something of a ghost town. “The pandemic meant that we lost our office workers, game and event traffic, and tourists all in one fell swoop,” Howard says.