Posts Tagged ‘Diner’

Mike’s Chili Parlor – 12/17/11


Location: 1447 NW Ballard Way


Mon-Thurs: 11am-11pm

Friday: 11am-12am

Saturday: 12pm-8pm

Cash Only

Mike’s Chili Parlor is a 72 year old Ballard institution. The distinctive Art Deco building has stared down modernity and continues to survive in new Ballard. A dive bar/diner that specializes in chili for decades to the point that even the Food Network has recognized their longevity in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Mike’s is a tiny, one room bar with an old school diner counter running along one wall with a view of the huge pot of chili simmering on the stove. Along the opposite wall are booths with sagging red vinyl benches and in between are a couple of tall tables. Also crammed in to the small space is a pool table. How anyone can play pool without hitting everyone nearby, I do not know.

Their specialty is chili. Meat chili served over beans in bowls. Scooped over pasta, fries, hot dogs, and burgers. Sure you can order a plain burger or hot dog but why would you go to a place called Mike’s chili and not order chili? This is East Coast chili, with a Greek pedigree.  Not a vegetarian/vegan friendly place. They have a full bar, draft beer, and wine as well.

The Service:

Probably the fastest service we’ve had over the course of this project. We had barely sat down before the server came over to ask for our drink order. Friendly, too.

The Drinks:

I had a Manny’s Pale Ale, my default beer when there’s nothing else on draft that I’d like to try.

J ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. The quintessential, dive bar Long Island. Neither terrific nor horrible. Perfectly serviceable with just a hint of tequila.

The Food:

I chose the traditional Bowl of Chili, served over beans with cheese and onion. The first thing I noticed was how dark red it was. They must add a hefty portion of paprika to the spice blend. After a couple of bites, I found it to been very spicy, a little greasy, and way too salty. So salty, in fact, that I ended up drinking a couple of glasses of water afterwards because I was so thirsty. I did like the texture of the finely ground beef though. It made me nostalgic for taco salads. I liked the fact that they pour it over the beans so they stayed firm rather than turning to mush. I think I would have enjoyed the depth of spicy flavor of the chili more had it not been so salty.

J ordered an East Coast/Midwest favorite, Chili Pasta with cheese and onion. He loved his chili so much so that he lamented the fact that he’d ordered a small rather than a large. The pasta apparently helped cut the spiciness and saltiness of his chili because he didn’t have any complaints. He liked how finely diced the onions were so they ended up being a condiment rather than a feature of the chili. All in all, he thought it hit the spot.

The Price:

Manny’s Pale Ale: 4.25

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Bowl of Chili: 5.50

Sm. Chili Pasta: 6.75

The Verdict:

J and I are kind of split on Mike’s Chili Parlor. He loved his chili pasta, partially out of nostalgia, I think. There aren’t many places in Seattle that serve chili over pasta. I thought my chili was way too salty. I would be willing to give Mike’s another chance to see if it was just a freak, salty batch of chili since I did like the texture of the meat.  Perhaps on some cold winter night, we’ll go back.


Ballard Smoke Shop Restaurant – 8/6/11

No Website

Location: 5439 Ballard Ave NW


Mon-Sun: 6am-2am

Nearly everyone to whom I mentioned the Ballard Smoke Shop Restaurant went on to ask where it was. Even J couldn’t remember where it was when I suggested we have breakfast there on Saturday. It seems to be perpetually overshadowed by the dive bar nature of the attached Ballard Smoke Shop Lounge.

The Ballard Smoke Shop Restaurant resides in a building from the 1920’s although the restaurant itself has only been there since the 70’s. It’s an old school Ballard holdout on the trendy north end of Ballard Ave with a blue and white Mission style façade that stands out among chic, renovated places like Bal-Mar, La Carta de Oaxca and Volterra. The Smoke Shop is a non-descript diner in the style of Vera’s but a lot quieter and, frankly, cleaner. Their menu includes the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner selections you’d find in a traditional diner, eggs and bacon, sandwiches, burgers and other sorts of comfort food. There are also a handful of Greek style items.

No matter what time of day or night, I swear I’ve never seen more than five or six people in the Ballard Smoke Shop restaurant. Mostly they appear to be older Ballardites. J and I were not sure what we’d find there when we went in for breakfast.

I’d like to note, I swear they have the slowest closing front door I have ever witnessed. I found myself oddly fascinated by it.

The Service:

Our server was extremely friendly and personable. In fact, she may be one of the friendliest servers we’ve had so far during this project. Service was quick … which may have been because there were only four other people in the place. We even became party to some Ballard gossip and drama while there.

The Drinks:

Good, diner quality coffee. The server was nice enough to brew up a new batch of decaf for me since the current pot had been sitting there for an hour.

The Food:

J ordered the Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs with hash browns, over-medium eggs and gravy. The gravy was tasty but needed a little extra salt. The eggs were well cooked and the hash browns were not greasy at all. The steak itself was pretty dang good, with a nice crunchy coating, and only need a little more seasoning to be perfect.

My breakfast choice was the Greek Omelette with green pepper, onion, tomatoes and feta, which included hash browns and toast. The hash browns had a nice exterior crust but were a little too mushy inside for my taste. The omelette was very good. Surprisingly the vegetables tasted like they’d been sautéed in a separate pan to the point of delicious, sweet caramelization. Matched with the heaps of salty feta and fluffy eggs, this turned out to be one of the better Greek omelettes I’ve had in Seattle.

The Price:

2 Cups of Coffee: 1.50 ea

Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs: 7.25

Greek Omelette: 6.95

The Verdict:

The Ballard Smoke Shop Restaurant turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It’s a lot less scary and more approachable than it looks from the outside. With one of the friendliest servers we’ve had so far in this project. A clean and bright interior decorated with photos of old Ballard. A quiet clientele. Super cheap prices for Ballard. Simple, good diner food.

Honestly, having eaten at the two other diners in Ballard that are the most similar to the Smoke Shop (Vera’s and Salmon Bay Café), I don’t understand why the Ballard Smoke Shop is usually empty on weekend mornings. The atmosphere and food are far better than the apparently more popular Vera’s.

If you’re looking for a traditional diner breakfast in Ballard, you really can’t go wrong with the Ballard Smoke Shop Restaurant. It’s been put on our personal list of weekend breakfast places now that Bad Albert’s is closed.

Salmon Bay Café – 5/15/11


Location: 5109 Shilshole Ave NW


Mon-Sat: 6:30am-2:30pm

Sunday: 7am – 3pm

The Salmon Bay Café is another of those bastions of Old Ballard. It sits among the industrial buildings and marine works along the back edge of Ballard proper. Upon entering you see that it’s an old school, blue-collar diner that’s probably been there, in some form, since the 1960’s. A mish-mash of styles and decoration. Dark faux wood paneling here. Floral wallpaper there. Faded photos of ships, captains and kids with fish.

The Service:

Our server was very friendly and gets points for complimenting J’s d20 pendant. The only problem with the service was that it took a while between J’s meal arriving and when mine did. It was odd because the restaurant wasn’t that crowded and what I ordered wasn’t something that should have taken extra time.

The Drinks:

J had pretty good coffee and I had cranberry juice.

The Food:

J chose something he was surprised to see on the menu, Eggs and Polish Sausage with homefries. The eggs were cooked exactly as he had requested and the Polish sausage made a tasty and interesting compliment to them.

I ordered the Fremont Omelette, a four egg omelette filled with bacon, tomatoes, avocado and cheddar cheese with a biscuit and homefries on the side. The biscuit, while homemade, was tough rather than fluffy. The homefries actually tasted better than most, fresh with a great textural mix between crispy skin surrounding well cooked interiors. The omelette came to me overflowing with thick, salty bacon and better than usual cheddar cheese.

The Price:

Coffee: 1.50

Cranberry Juice: 3.25

Polish Sausage and Eggs: 8.95

Fremont Omelette: 8.95

The Verdict:

The Salmon Bay Café serves up a pretty good breakfast for an old school diner. Rather than tasting like everything came out of a bag or from a can, the food tastes home cooked. But the service, at one point, left a bit to be desired and I found paying $3.25 for a glass of generic cranberry juice to be a bit much.

Their breakfast was better than Vera’s but I think we’ll stick with our Ballard breakfast of choice, Bad Albert’s.

Vera’s Restaurant-4/9/11

No Website

Location: 5417 22nd Ave


Mon-Fri: 7am-2:30pm

Sat-Sun: 8am-2pm

I awoke Saturday morning with a craving for a Greek omelette. After discussing it a for few minutes, J and I decided upon the most likely location for such a thing: Vera’s Restaurant.

Vera’s is an old school diner. A leftover from Ballard where the old school, Scandinavian, blue-collar workers out numbered the hipsters and the stroller and dog set. It only serves breakfast and lunch. The interior looks like a grandma’s kitchen with its floral wallpaper and vinyl benches. Vera’s is a no nonsense sort of place. The fanciest the menu gets is in their omelette selection and even the omelettes are translated through a white, European filter.

The Service:

The first half of the service was great. We got seated, ordered and got served in record time. The waitresses were polite and friendly. It went downhill when we were ready to leave. It took forever to get our check. Waitresses kept walking past our table even though we had our dirty dishes piled up at the end. I think waiting for our check took longer than it took to eat breakfast.

The Drinks:

I had cranberry juice. J ordered coffee, which was “actually good”.

The Food:

I ordered the Greek Village Omelette, eggs with mushrooms, tomatoes, scallions and feta, with sourdough toast and hash browns. The omelette was great. Fully cooked with crispy edges. The mushrooms weren’t mushy. The scallions were almost caramelized. The feta tasted like real, Greek feta, salty, briny goodness. The only off note were the mushy tomatoes but that’s to be expected in April so I can’t really fault them.

As to everything else, the hash browns were almost burnt on the outside but incredibly mealy inside. Greasy, nearly tasteless and probably came out of a bag. The sourdough toast was limp and barely toasted.

J tried the Biscuits and Gravy Special, with hash browns, and two eggs over medium. His opinion, “meh”. The biscuits were nothing special. The gravy tasted like it came out of a jar. He ordered his eggs “over medium” but they arrived over easy. A good over easy but not what he ordered. He described it as akin to a typical, low price hotel breakfast.

The Price:

Cranberry Juice: 1.95

Coffee: 1.95

Greek Village Omelette: 9.95

Biscuits and Gravy: 9.95

The Verdict:

My Greek omelette was really good. Completely satisfied my craving. It’s just that the rest of the breakfast was over priced for what we received. We have had better and cheaper breakfasts down the street at Bad Albert’s. Other than the omelette and the coffee nothing tasted fresh or even that appetizing.

I highly doubt that we’ll go back unless it turns out that Vera’s is the only place in Ballard where I can get a Greek omelette.

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