Seattle is blessed with one of the nation's best public markets. In it, one can find a staggering array of culinary delights, from the practical (cheap, fresh produce and meat, bulk spices, a quick lunch for less than $10) to the exotic (quail eggs, pig heads, and $400-per-pound foraged truffles). But many Seattleites avoid Pike Place Market. Why?
The answer has a lot to do with the market's status as one of Seattle's major tourist attractions. While, yes, it's a charmingly quirky place where you can take a photo of your kids climbing on the pig statue, watch burly men sling salmon around, visit the not-actually-the-first Starbucks, and buy a $300 cedar cutting board for your in-laws, it's also an expansive market where you can satisfy all of your shopping needs.
I worked at the market on and off for five years, and while I've had my share of dodging cruise-ship passengers, maneuvering around triple-wide strollers, and squeezing past crowds at Pike Place Fish Market, I still love the place and partake in its riches weekly. Nearly all of my memorable meals have had their beginnings there. And it pains me to see it underused.
Here's how to take advantage of the best the market has to offer with the least amount of hassle.
How to get there:
Whatever you do, don't drive. Parking downtown is either impossible or outlandishly expensive. If you attempt to snag one of the elusive free parking spots on Pike Place, the quaint brick road that runs through the market, you will most likely end up stuck behind a never-ending mass of gawking tourists. Plus, why would you drive when Pike Place exists at a nexus of public transit?
If you live in the South End, take the light rail to Westlake Station, which is just a few blocks from the market. Those who live north of the Montlake Cut can catch the 71, 72, 73, 74, or any of the upper-70s buses. From Capitol Hill, there are no fewer than seven different buses that will take you within three blocks of Pike Place. Coming from South Lake Union? SLUT it up.
How to get around all the tourists:
If you want to get your shopping done in a timely manner, you need to move like a shark. It's easy to be lulled into a complacent stroll by the pace of the average market-goer, but you must resist this impulse, lest you find yourself stuck behind an impenetrable wall of a family of six. I force myself to walk twice as fast as I think I need to, sidestepping lollygaggers and slipping through cracks in the crowd with ruthless precision. I am also not above stepping out into the street if need be.
Weekends can be pretty hectic, especially during the summer. If you can, swing by on a weekday. I find that going just after the lunch rush but before 5 p.m. yields the quickest shopping.
Where to get meat:
Don and Joe's Meats, hidden behind the ever-present crowd in front of the fish chuckers, has all the basic meats you need and then some (Rocky Mountain oysters, anyone?). Being a full-service butchery, they will also happily break down whole birds, trim fat off steaks, or perform any other meat alterations you may require. They also offer insane bulk deals.
BB Ranch Butcher, in the hallway behind the Can Can, has an interesting selection as well, with a bent toward the specialty stuff. Its offerings include ground lean buffalo, dry aged meats, and pig heads, with some tempting jerky options to boot.
Where to get eggs and dairy products:
At $2.50 per stick, Kerrygold's garlic and herb butter might seem extravagant, but once you make some mashed potatoes with it, you'll understand why it comes wrapped in gold foil. That's just one of the many specialty items you'll find at the Pike Place Market Creamery, which has countless varieties of butter, eggs, and milk. And duck eggs. Ever had a duck-egg croque madame? You should.
If it's cheese you're after, head around the corner to Quality Cheese, which sells every kind you might need—as well as a few you probably don't. The employees are always willing to discuss the finer points of cheese, but won't inundate you with their knowledge. If you just want a quarter pound of feta to crumble on your salad, you won't have to sit through an hour-long discussion of its flavor profile.
Where to get produce:
The market has a plethora of produce vendors, but I'm partial to two: Choice Produce and Frank's Quality Produce.
Choice Produce is most famous for its bouquets of hanging dried peppers and aggressive sample-pushing. (It's located in the Sanitary Market building, which gets its name from the days when folks rode their trusty steed to the market and also let that trusty steed shit where it may. The Sanitary Building was sanitary because it was the market's only animal-free zone.) You can always rely on Choice's staff for honest and reliable recommendations. I once went to buy one of their "OMG" peaches, a summer treat that's advertised throughout the market's various produce stalls, only to be told by longtime fruit-wrangler Swan that the peaches were past their season. Instead, he recommended a Taylor's Gold pear, which tasted better than drinking baby Jesus's sweet tears from a golden chalice. That is not hyperbole.
Frank's is a couple stalls down in the Corner Market building. It has a staggering selection, from frisée to rare mushrooms. If you have a pile of cash lying around, Frank's sometimes carries rare black truffles at $400 per pound. Chances are the chef at your favorite restaurant probably gets occasional odds and ends from Frank's.
Where to get fish:
I like Jack's Fish Spot because, despite its polished website, it's still the crustiest of the market's three fish vendors. In addition to its no-nonsense retail operation, it's got a 10-seat counter where one can get cioppino, fish 'n' chips, or a quick half-dozen raw oysters. The fried fish is fresh as hell and the batter is kept simple, allowing the fish to shine. My one complaint: The last time I tried it, the tartar sauce was made by Kraft, which tasted like seasoned glue. Better to just douse everything in malt vinegar.
As far as the other fish stalls go, City Fish is also an excellent choice. Situated in one of the market arcade's main entry points, it doesn't have a sit-down counter, but it does have a variety of packaged seafood cocktails to go. You can grab a refreshing German lager and a paper bag from Bavarian Meats and take your humble feast to nearby Victor Steinbrueck Park, where the other day drinkers are hanging out. Speaking of Bavarian Meats...
Behold, the glorious panoply of sausage:
I love everything about Bavarian Meats, from the no-bullshit-taking-yet-somehow-sweet-as-pie German ladies manning the counter to the overflowing shelves of imported dry goods to the delicious hot-food menu. But it's the staggering cornucopia of meat that calls to me like the Sirens from behind the shiny glass of the sprawling deli counter. There are so many different types of salami, I have given up counting them. There's also a ridiculous variety of bacon, headcheese, German-style sausages, and some other stuff I am at a loss to categorize. Notable lunches I've had from Bavarian: butterkase, mustard, and a perfectly rich blood-and-tongue sausage on a fresh pretzel roll with a can of Dortmunder. Also, the "Kicker Hauschka" from the "Lynch My Lunch" playoff-themed lunch menu: a grilled link of weisswurst—a texturally elegant sausage made from pork and veal—served on a sea of curried ketchup in a little paper boat.
Where to get brined things:
Though Bavarian Meats may seem like the logical place to get sauerkraut, you'd be better off going to Britt's Pickles, which is right next to BB Ranch. After tasting its hot-and-sour pickles, I will never eat a kosher dill from a jar again. And its kimchi—be it the regular, the White Market, or the Black Market—beats the hell out of some I've had at Korean restaurants. A heap of it atop your scrambled eggs in the morning is magical. Also, black garlic. Put it on a pizza, blend it in some hummus, spread it on toast, or just put it straight on your tongue. You can't go wrong.
Where to get obscure European delicacies:
DeLaurenti—whose offerings lean heavily toward the "shipped in from Europe" variety—is another market essential. In terms of options, its cheese selection exceeds Quality's (though it's also pricier). Meat-wise, its display case of salami, speck, coppa, prosciutto, and mortadella, among many others, is wondrous. If you can afford to indulge, you can blow some serious cash here. If you can't, you can still score some good deals. The brandied pâté spread, at $10.99 per pound, is way more economical (calorically speaking) than even the cheapest of ramen packages. Get a pound of this delicious meat paste, some Dijon mustard, and a few baguettes for a filling meal. DeLaurenti also has a massive selection of jarred pickled vegetables, oil and vinegar, canned fish (and octopus!), fancy chocolates, wine, fresh bread, and crackers. It even has a pretty good lunch/espresso counter. The sandwiches are always money and the pizza is great when it's fresh.
Where to get all the other things you need to make a meal come together:
Sur la Table's flagship store isn't exactly cheap, but it likely has whatever weird gadget you might need. I love my five-in-one spatula/spreader/slotted spoon/tasting spoon/ritual dagger. There is also Kitchen Basics, tucked away behind the Creamery in the Sanitary Building. If you need a really badass Japanese chef's knife, Seattle Cutlery has you covered.
For spices, stop by Market Spice, where you can buy a multitude of spices by the ounce. It also sells tons of tea and several preblended spices (think herbs de Provence or harissa). The Souk also has a variety of Middle Eastern spices and curries—I'm fond of their yellow curry powder. Close by the Souk is Mexican Grocery, where you can pick up awesome fresh salsas and delectable tamales. For all things Asian, visit the unfortunately named Oriental Mart by Frank's, which also has a purportedly excellent Filipino lunch counter.
How to end your day at Pike Place Market:
Get a dozen tiny doughnuts from Daily Dozen Doughnut Company. They're downright delicious, especially with frosting and sprinkles or cinnamon sugar. Or down a really cold beer at the Athenian, the market's unofficial employee watering hole. It has a wide variety of local brews on tap, all served in extremely frozen mugs. I'm partial to Maritime's Old Seattle Lager, which is rumored to be brewed from the original Rainier recipe. The Athenian also has $1.50 oysters at happy hour and a variety of other delicious fried seafood on the cheap.
Besides the abundance of great food at the market, there's another, oft overlooked benefit of shopping there: Your dollars indirectly contribute to low-income housing for seniors and social services for low-income families in the downtown area, services the Pike Place Market Foundation funds through a combination of donations and earned revenue. If you want to contribute more directly, brush aside the children straddling Rachel the Piggy Bank and slip a dollar in the slot on her neck.