Posts Tagged ‘Old Ballard’

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.


Zesto’s Burgers – 11/26/11- Closed


Location: 6416 15th Ave NW


Mon-Sun: 10am-10pm

As a teenager, I remember going to Zesto’s when we would drive out from Duvall to visit my dad’s aunt and uncle in North Ballard. If it wasn’t a holiday, my dad would usually take us to Zesto’s for lunch, more because of the classic car on the roof than for the food. Much later, when I had moved to Ballard, my dad continued to insist we take visiting relatives to Zesto’s for lunch. For the longest time, until I actually moved to here, I associated Ballard with Zesto’s.

Zesto’s has sat in its spot next to Ballard High School since the 50’s. It’s an old school burger joint in the mold of Arnold’s Diner from Happy Day’s. Red vinyl booths with Formica tables. Black and white photos from Zesto’s hey-day decorate the walls. The menu is what you would expect from a burger joint in Seattle. Burgers. Fish and chips. Milk shakes.

The Service:

The two guys behind the counter were really friendly and our food came out in a reasonable amount of time.

The Drink:

J had a Mr. Pibb Extra and I chose the Chocolate Milk Shake. The shake was passable. Not as thick as I like and a little mild on the chocolate flavor but not horrible.

The Food:

J ordered the Mushroom Burger with Swiss cheese and a side of fries. Not good at all. The patty was obviously previously frozen. The mushrooms were really greasy. He said it tasted like the crappy burgers he remembers from the high school cafeteria. The burger was better than the fries, which were barely cooked. The worst burger in Ballard.

I chose the Bacon Burger meal with fries and a milk shake. My burger had that “flame-broiled” flavor I associate with Burger King. It was a dry sesame seed bun containing a flavorless patty. The “special sauce”, which I usually hate, actually gave the burger some much needed flavor. The bacon was the best part and it was merely okay. The French fries, which were obviously frozen and from a bag, were lukewarm and forgettable.

The Price:

Mushroom Burger with fries and a drink: 8.99

Bacon Burger with fries and a milk shake: 9.99

The Verdict:

Sometimes doing these reviews is not fun. I remember when Zesto’s was better than average. The guys behind the counter were really nice and I hate to give a bad review but we have to be honest. Zesto’s is barely a step above McDonald’s and Burger King. Flavorless, frozen burger patties. Lukewarm fries. Greasy burgers and barely passable milk shakes. It’s really bad that, other than the service, the best thing we can say about Zesto’s is that neither of us got sick. Sure, if you feel nostalgic for the burger joints of your youth or are a teenager with no taste and a cast-iron stomach, I suppose Zesto’s is okay but in our opinion they have the worst burgers in Ballard.

At this point, we’ve visited all the burger joints in Ballard. Both J and I agree that the best burger is at King’s Hardware for their creative selection, flavorful beef, and .28 cent buffalo wings. The Counter and Hamburger Harry’s tie for second because I preferred the former and J, the latter. Then it depends on what you’re looking for in a burger. Scooter’s or Red Mill are good for relatively quick and cheap burgers. If you want a hipster atmosphere, Hattie’s Hat is a good bet. After that, it goes Zak’s, because their burgers were okay but not memorable and in last place is Zesto’s.

Of course, the best burger in Seattle remains Norm’s in Fremont.

The Sloop Tavern – 10/29/11


Location: 2830 NW Market St


Mon-Sun: 11am-2am

One of the things we’ve learned over the course of this Project is that there are more pieces of Old Ballard left than you might think. Fine dining and hipster hangouts have not taken over all of Ballard. Saturday night, J and I walked the length of Ballard from our apartment on the east side of 15th to visit one such holdout.

The Sloop Tavern has been a Ballard institution for over 50 years. Located near the Ballard Locks, the seaman themed painting on the side of the unassuming cinderblock building lets you know immediately who the clientele of the Sloop is, if the name didn’t already. The interior has that interchangeable community bar look that’s the same across the country. A long bar along one wall. Numerous TVs showing two or three different sports games. Tatty Formica tables and red vinyl booths or beat up wooden chairs. There are a couple of pool tables, a pinball machine, and a few video games opposite the bar.

The menu at The Sloop matches the décor. Typical pub fare. Burgers. Sandwiches. Fried seafood. They have 9 beers and one cider on tap. Their claim to fame is the ability for customers to “Sloopersize” their draft beverages to a 33.8 oz, frosty mug that may take two hands to lift.

The Service:

It wasn’t busy at all when we went to The Sloop. Just a few people watching football or chatting. At one point, a couple dressed as Calvin and Hobbes came in, obviously for the Halloween party that was to take place later in the evening. The bartender, who also acted as waiter, was friendly and our food came out amazingly quick.

The Drinks:

J and I chose to Sloopersize our Stongbow Ciders, a nice, dry cider. The mug was so heavy that I had to use two hands to lift it. It took us so long to finish our ciders that we were able to finish and write our preliminary thoughts about our meal.

The Food:

J ordered the Fish and Chips. He said the fish was really fresh and surprisingly good considering he doesn’t usually like beer batter. Usually the batter overwhelms the flavor the fish but that wasn’t the case here. The fries were okay. He was glad he chose the seasoned fries option because otherwise they would have been rather bland.

I chose a BLT with a side of potato salad. This was BLT prime. The BLT from which all BLTs are descended. A BLT in its purest form. Lightly toasted, plain white bread. Mayonnaise. A pale tomato. The brilliant choice of shredded lettuce, thus keeping the other ingredients from sliding out from between the slices of bread. The salty bacon was fried to perfection. Crispy with just a slight chewiness. All it needed was a little yellow mustard. Was it a gourmet, fancy BLT? No, but it captured the essence of a BLT. The potato salad was a little too sweet. I think they used Miracle Whip rather than Mayonnaise. I added yellow mustard, salt, and pepper to make it more to my taste.

The Price:

Sloopersize Strongbow Cider: 2 @ 6.50

3 Piece Fish & Chips: 8.75

BLT with Potato Salad: 8.75

The Verdict:

We really liked The Sloop Tavern. It didn’t feel as insular and cliquey as the other old school Ballard bars we’ve been to over the course of this project. People were friendly. The atmosphere was comfortable. The food was better than most dive bars and a Sloopersized Strongbow Cider was awesome. We’ll definitely take the hike 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.

Bad Albert’s Tap & Grill – 4/22/11 – Closed


Location: 5100 Ballard Ave NW


Mon-Thurs: 11-10

Fri: 11-11

Sat: 9-11

Sun: 9-9

Breakfast Served: Sat-Sun: 9-2

Happy Hour: 3-6 Mon-Sun

Bad Albert’s sits at the what was the industrial, unpopular end of Ballard Ave until the hipsterific Ballard Loft, Ethan Stowell’s Staple and Fancy and The Walrus and The Carpenter oyster bar moved in. Now gentrification is creeping down the street although I doubt it will ever affect Bad Albert’s.

In Ballard, Bad Albert’s is one of the remaining bastions of old Ballard. For a Friday night happy hour, the crowd consisted mostly of the retired, a few younger folk and blue collar workers from the industrial area that runs along Salmon Bay. The interior reflects its clientele, being a little worn but in a homey, well-loved way. If you become any sort of regular, the waitresses and the owner will remember you. Maybe not by name but enough to say “Hi” in a familiar way.

If you can tell already, J and I have a soft spot for Bad Albert’s. For a couple of years now it has been our go-to spot for weekend breakfast. We’ve been there so often that the waitresses bring our morning beverage (coffee and cranberry juice) along with the menu. Their fried egg and bacon sandwich, with what we’ve come to call “crack mayonnaise” for its deliciousness, is one of the best breakfast items in Ballard if not Seattle. It’s so good that it’s not only on the breakfast menu but on the lunch/dinner menu as well.

Oddly enough, we’ve never had dinner there. Sure I’ve had lunch a few times and J spent part of his bachelor party drinking there last year but never a true dinner. So when we started this project, we decided to make the effort to try Bad Albert’s dinner menu.

The Service:

When we came in the first thing out of our server’s mouth was “Wait. It’s not breakfast. How come you’re here now?”. This is indicative of the service at Bad Albert’s, friendly, familiar and relatively quick. As befits a place with a regular clientele, sometimes the service can be held up by the staff chatting with customers. Some may see this as a drawback but we’ve come to find it endearing and a sign of a certain comfort.

This is probably a good point to mention that Bad Albert’s is a bar and, as such, does not permit anyone under 21 in the place. While this may be a drawback to many people, when you’re recovering from a hangover or want a quiet breakfast, having a quiet place in Ballard to have breakfast is a huge plus.

Our server also gets points for insisting on bringing a basket of French fries when I mentioned that I had asked for them rather than the tater tots I received.

The Drinks:

As usual J ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, which he says was “Pretty dang tasty”.

I asked for whatever Hefeweizen they had on tap. What I received was a lovely, smooth Hefeweizen that tasted vaguely familiar. It turned out that Bad Albert’s carries my favorite local beer, Schooner Exact’s Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen. Only one other restaurant in Ballard (so far) offers this soft, mild beer.

The Food:

Since it was Happy Hour, we decided to try one of the half-off appetizers, the Cajun Crawfish, lightly floured and fried crawfish tails tossed in spicy chipotle sauce and served with blue cheese dip. When they came out, the crawfish tails looked like cocktail shrimp, little curled-up commas. At first taste, they were not at all what we expected. Much fishier than shrimp with a spicy, sweet coating. Even after the first few bites, the crawfish tails had such an odd taste that neither of us were sure if we even liked them. Gradually the little suckers worked some sort of mojo on us become delicious and addictive until they were completely gone. Next time we hit Bad Albert’s for happy hour, we’ll get them again.

For an entrée, I ordered the New Yorker, a seasoned Angus beef patty on a toasted garlic baguette with yellow mustard, tomatoes, pickles, white cheddar and a homemade grilled onion sauce and a side of fries. As befits a sandwich on a baguette, the beef patty was elongated rather than round and was flatter than a hamburger patty. The flatness allowed the flavor of the well seasoned beef to be more obvious as well as give it a little bit of a crunchy edge. The baguette was deliciously garlicky and toasted to perfection, not too soft or hard. The pickles were huge which made me think they cut them from whole dill pickles. The onion sauce was good if a little greasy. The french fries were obviously hand-cut, a rarity lately. They had that great mix of crispy outside and tender inside. Very good fries.

J had the Albert’s Burger Dip, a seasoned Angus beef patty on toasted garlic baguette with smoked provolone, grilled Guinness onions, bacon, a small bowl of au jus and a side of tater tots. He loved it. He described it as “homey”. Like something your mom would make. Very unpretentious. The au jus dip was so awesome that I was dipping my sandwich in it. So rich and beefy. Personally we both would be tempted to order a side of au jus with anything we ate there. A big win all around from J.

The Price:

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Gallant Maiden Hefeweizen: 3.50 (Happy Hour price)

Crawfish Tails: 4.75 (Happy Hour price)

The New Yorker: 11.00

Albert’s Burger Dip with Bacon: 11.50

The Verdict:

Of course we’ll be going back to Bad Albert’s. Their breakfasts are awesome. So, rather, I guess the question is whether we would go back for dinner. Yes, the food was so different than the fare we’ve had thus far in Ballard. Homey with interesting selections and combinations. I want to try the gorgonzola chicken sandwich and a few of their other options. Since they also offer my favorite beer, I think we’ll be going back sooner than later. Bad Albert’s may just become one of our go-to places not just for breakfast but for lunch/dinner as well.

Hattie’s Hat-2/18/2011

No Website

Location: 5231 Ballard Ave NW


Mon-Fri: 3-2

Sat-Sun: 9-2

Happy Hour:

Daily: 3-7

If you’ve ever seen a show in Ballard or gone bar hopping or been in Ballard late night, you’ve probably gone to Hattie’s Hat. Hattie’s is a 100 year old institution in Ballard. Small. Dark. A bit seedy around the edges. It was the place to go before Ballard Ave began overflowing with restaurants. Now it’s just one bar/diner that is really only special for its history, not the food so much.

We wanted to get burgers at King’s Hardware but, alas, it was full of hipsters so we decided to go next door to Hattie’s Hat instead. We walked in to find the front part taking up the overflow from King’s so we headed to the back room, which was completely empty.

I have to admit, I miss the fish tank that used to be back there. It gave me a reason to go to Hattie’s as well as giving some extra lighting in the back room that tends to be a little dark.

The Service:

It took the server a little while to realize we were in the back room. As seems to be our habit lately, we showed up just before a shift change and when there was only one server for the entire place. Once she did see us, her service was polite, friendly and very quick.

The Drinks:

I ordered a Manny’s Pale Ale, which was … well, Manny’s. Perfectly acceptable beer and at a happy hour price of $2.00. J ordered what he deemed a “really good” Long Island Iced Tea.

The Food:


I ordered the Happy Hour Sweet Potato Fries, hoping they would be a smaller version of their regular sweet potato fry appetizer, which has the sweet potatoes tossed with crumbled blue cheese and Serrano chilies. Alas, it was merely a plate of plain sweet potatoes sliced in medallions. The potatoes were crispy on the outside with just a bit of salt but were in sore need of a dipping sauce of some sort. It felt like it was a half finished concept.


J chose the Beer Batter Dipped Fish & Chips with tartar sauce, fries and spicy coleslaw. The fish was the star of this plate. Wasn’t too greasy, the batter covering stayed crispy and kept the flavorful cod hot the entire time. The fries were … fries. Not amazing but not horrible.

The spicy coleslaw was the misstep of the plate. J likes coleslaw so he was interested in trying something different than the usual. J’s problem with this version was it didn’t taste like coleslaw. It tasted like spicy cabbage that had been drenched in vinegar. He took two bites and set it aside.

My choice was the Blue Cheese & Bacon Burger with a mixed green salad with blue cheese dressing. I usually order the green salad at Hattie’s because it’s pretty good. A large pile of mixed greens with a good handful of shredded carrots and bean sprouts thrown on top. Their blue cheese dressing is one of the better examples I’ve had in Seattle. Not too heavy with a good helping of blue cheese.

My burger was okay. The toppings were amazing. The thick peppery bacon was cooked to crispy perfection. I kind of want to go back for breakfast just so I can order the bacon. The blue cheese was a complete surprise. Most places seem to use bland, mass market blue cheese chunks that don’t seem to related to the sharp, stinky stuff I love. I would not have been surprised to find this blue cheese on a cheese plate at a high-end restaurant. It tasted like Spanish Valdeon, a cheese with a great, blue cheese flavor with a nice creamy finish. It melted on the burger perfectly.

However, the burger patty was a major disappointment. First off, it was very small and thin. The bun, which was actually quite good, completely overwhelmed it. The texture was dry without any of the juiciness I expect from a good burger. Its uniform size made me sure it was a premade, if not frozen, patty. This could’ve been an amazing burger with those toppings but instead it was merely okay.

The Price:

Long Island Iced Tea: $7.00

Manny’s Pale Ale: $4.00 (Happy Hour price, $2.00)

Sweet Potato Fries: $3.00 (Happy Hour price)

Blue Cheese & Bacon Burger: $9.00 ($11.00 with a side salad)

Beer Battered Fish & Chips: $10.25

The Verdict:

Hattie’s Hat sits on the edge of being really good. Some ingredients are surprisingly good for what is essentially a diner. But those are overshadowed by the mediocre … either mediocre ingredients or a failure to take offerings beyond just okay. If they could get some consistency to the menu, I think Hattie’s would be one of our go to places but as it is, we’ll probably only go back if someone else invites us to go there.