Acclaimed chef Zoi Antonitsas takes us on a tour of her hometown’s eclectic food scene, from farms, food trucks and taverns to the best brunches, fine dining and ethnic restaurants.
Chef Zoi Antonitsas is no stranger to the Seattle food scene. In fact, the former Top Chef contestant is a native of the Emerald City and began her career there. From 2013 to 2015, she served as executive chef at Westward (westwardseattle.com), on the north shore of Lake Union, which was named one of America’s best new restaurants by Bon Appétit in 2014, and last year, Antonitsas was named one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs.
Since leaving Westward, where her seafood-focused menu featured a mix of Mediterranean and Pacific Northwest dishes, Antonitsas has continued to honor her Greek roots. Late last year she began collaborating with meze spot Omega Ouzeri (omegaouzeri.com), acting as executive chef and manager. 'I’ve been helping [restaurateur] Thomas Soukakos with everything from the kitchen and the menu to the front of house; it’s been a very complete partnership,' Antonitsas says.
While she’s happy exploring her culinary heritage and creating contemporary Mediterranean cuisine at Omega Ouzeri, she also is actively pursuing opening her own restaurant in the near future. She’s plenty busy, but took time to share with us her favorite places to eat and drink in Seattle.
Chef Antonitsas’ top picks
Just down the street from Westward is Al’s Tavern (206-545-9959). ‘Al’s is a place to order beers and shots only,’ she says. ‘It’s not fancy. They also have a nice bag of nuts and tater tots that take 45 minutes to cook in a toaster oven that looks 100 years old!’ An alternative is Kate’s Pub (206-547-6832). ‘They’re both just really laid-back joints, not hip or anything.’
One of her local farm favorites is Hayton Farms (haytonfarmsberries.com), a berry farm on Fir Island. ‘They’re friends of the family. My mom has a house in the Skagit Valley that is next door to theirs, so they always bring us tons of berries in the summertime. In late spring, I get super excited for their green strawberries.’
She loves to get radishes and ‘lovely little lettuces’ from Local Roots (localrootsfarm.com), a family-run vegetable farm about 20 miles outside Seattle, in the Snoqualmie Valley. ‘We eat lots and lots of beautiful salads and my radishes with smoked butter and goat butter are wonderful,’ Antonitsas says.
Given the chance to splurge on fine dining, Antonitsas is partial to The Inn at Langley (innatlangley.com), where chef Matt Costello ‘curates an incredible prix fixe meal that feels super-personal. Most ingredients are sourced from Whidbey Island [where the restaurant is],’ she says. ‘It’s really a special place, and I go there for special occasions whenever possible.’
She also favors small plates destination Sitka & Spruce. ‘The chefs are putting together really inspired combinations that are very special and unique to this area, yet somehow feel as though they have always been paired together. Each ingredient is handled with care and love, and you can really taste it,’ she says. One standout dish there is pickled smelt with yogurt and rose petals – ‘Incredible!’
Ethnic, brunch and home cooking
Seattle is a huge melting pot, with many Asian immigrants settling in the coastal hub. ‘I remember eating Asian food as a very young child,’ Antonitsas says. ‘My dad used to go to this little hole-in-the-wall corner store to get fresh tofu, and he would fry it for breakfast with soy sauce.’
Her Asian favorites now include Sushi Kappo Tamura (sushikappotamura.com), Tamarind Tree and Saigon Deli (206-322-3700), but when she’s craving ethnic food, she’s most likely to be found ordering Mexican bites from food truck Tacos El Asadero (206-722-9977).
Brunch is a big deal in Seattle. Antonitsas thinks it should be all about the food and drinks. ‘My preferred brunch is something that’s bright and clean, with wonderful seafood dishes like oysters, pâtés and perfect tartines,’ paired with champagne or mimosas. You can find her frequently at Café Presse on Capitol Hill and Matt’s in the Market at Pikes Place Market.
When it comes to cooking at home, Antonitsas looks toward her Greek heritage. ‘I adore the flavors of Greece and the Mediterranean in general,’ she says. ‘My goal is to take flavors and ingredients – some of which may be familiar, some which may not – and combine them with local products of the area to create a new type of contemporary cuisine.’
Every year, her family has a big Greek Easter party. ‘It’s like American Christmas. It’s our biggest holiday of the year, and we spit roast a whole lamb and eat tons of meze, drink wine and ouzo, and party with Greek music in the background.’
When pushed to name her favorite food, though, she lights up when talking about roast chicken. ‘It was the first thing I learned to cook,’ she remembers, ‘and it just reminds me of home. It’s so easy and super delicious, and one of my favorite smells.’
She’s quick to remind, though, that she also loves eating local, which in Seattle means fresh seafood. ‘Oysters, clams, mussels, crab, urchin, geoduck, octopus . . . We are very lucky to live in a place that’s so abundant with glorious, fresh food, and I feel super lucky to be in a city that’s so open to growth and experimentation. It’s the wild west, after all!’
This article appeared in the spring 2016 issue of the Lonely Planet Magazine.