A year or so back, our editor Britt Thorson opened her address book and shared with us her favorite under-the-radar Seattle businesses — those that do a fantastic job but are maybe lack the marketing budget to be very well-known. In that spirit, here is a list of favorite things that make my life here in the city so much more pleasant. Give these people some love. You won’t regret it.
The Varsity Inn
New condo buildings are springing up all around N. 34th St. and the ‘Stone Way Corridor’ but in their midst, like a beacon to breakfasts of a bygone age, remains The Varsity Inn. This old-fashioned diner, with its comfortable booth seating and crazy lampshades, is exactly the place to go if you’ve overindulged the night before. The classic diner breakfasts with super tasty Mexican specials are served in huge portions with beaming smiles and steaming coffee (they also have an espresso machine) and represent comfort food at its very finest – enormous fluffy pancakes with fresh blueberries, well-seasoned huevos rancheros and perfectly cooked eggs. The place is always full of Wallingford regulars, though there’s hardly ever a line, and the service from Patty and the gang is consistently the friendliest in the whole of the city.
At the other end of the style spectrum from the Varsity lies Bala Yoga, recently opened in one of the aforementioned condo buildings on Stone Way. The studio is gorgeous — ultra-modern, sparkling clean, heated but not unbearably so, and bathed in natural light. The spacious and beautiful foyer is straight out of the Anthropologie catalog, the retail store sells everything for your spiritual hipster needs, and yet the overall impression is friendly and homely. This is due in no small part to the cheerful and efficient front desk staff, but also to the incredible line-up of teachers. Though the studio focuses on vinyasa flow and yin yoga, there is no set formula for classes, so teachers are also free to explore their own interests from singing bowls to shamanism. I used to dabble occasionally in yoga, but thanks to Bala it has become a fully-fledged obsession. Check out their insane sign-up deals. They also have a location in Kirkland.
Blonde – a Steven Barrett Salon
One of the toughest things about moving to a new city is finding a hairdresser you can trust, and when I first arrived in Seattle I thought it would be a arduous process to find just the right person. But then a friend recommended Steven Barrett, he gave me one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had, and in the intervening eleven years I’ve followed Steven all over Belltown. His thoughtful, honest approach means that you’ll end up with a hairstyle that suits both you and your lifestyle, and a visit to his chic Second Avenue salon is always a pleasure, with helpful staff, a huge magazine selection, no hard sell on products and a relaxed, chill ambiance. Finding a hairdresser who offers great cuts, great color and intelligent conversation is as precious and rare as rubies. Tell Steven I sent you.
The Monkey Bridge
Whenever I’m stuck with a fridge full of nothing to eat for dinner, my pho-fiend daughter will, without fail, suggest we go to The Monkey Bridge. A notch up from the usual mom and pop pho shop, but in no way trendy or fashionable, this unassuming, soothingly-decorated restaurant on Ballard's Market Street serves up the tastiest Vietnamese food. Their broth is rich and flavorful, making their phos and other soups some of the best we’ve eaten in Seattle, and I’m a sucker for their succulent, melt-in-the-mouth garlic and lemongrass beef ribs and their super fresh salads. It’s open for lunch, which is a bonus, and their whole menu is available for takeout.
Behind an unassuming façade on North 45th Street, and conveniently close to the UPS Store, Paper Delights is the most beautifully-curated stationery shop in the city. Every time I pop in to peruse their eclectic range of cards I end up buying all manner of gifts — mostly for myself. Browse through books on art, design and food, gorgeous journals and notebooks, lovely wrapping papers, artisan candies, pens and jewelry, all artfully arranged by color and occasion. Owned by mother-daughter duo and self-proclaimed stationery connoisseurs Kathy Perkins and Alicia Olsen, it's also the place to go for your wedding stationery and other personalized stationery needs. Thanks to them I'm never stuck for the most perfectly appropriate card and gift, however late I leave it.
If you can't find the Thomas family at the Varsity Inn on a weekend, then Eltana is the place to look. Conveniently close to Bala Yoga, it's the perfect place for a post-workout carb fix. Proud of its Israeli heritage, Eltana has great options for a light lunch - the husband and the kid swear by the shakshuka and the chicken and pistachio soup respectively - and everything comes served with their glorious wood-fired bagels, which are made and baked on the premises. Smaller, denser and chewier than the average New York bagel, these toothsome gems are a revelation in taste and texture. Aside from the bagel-baking show, Eltana also thoughtfully provides food for the mind, in the shape of a fiendish weekly crossword. Sitting down with a stunning bagel, a cup of their excellent coffee and the crossword is definitely one of my favorite things. There are also locations in South Lake Union and on Capitol Hill.