Off Alley - Seattle


I don't often write restuarant recommendations, but if you are ever in Seattle and you are into food, you must go to Off Alley. It is the best resturant I have ever been to.

Off Alley is situated in a literal alley in Columbia City, south of Seattle. It has 16 seats, and they don't take reservations after 6pm. The menu changes frequently (they post it on Instagram). The menu is written on a blackboard, and drinks are handwritten in a school notebook. If you're into wine, they have an always changing selection of bottles that are open, which you can get by the glass.

eel and porcini mushrooms

A smoked piece of eel on top of a grilled porcini mushroom.

Porchetta with morel mushroom sauce

A Porchetta style rolled pork belly, stuffed with brioche, with a morel sauce.

scallops with eel cream

Raw scallops, smoked eel cream, pickled chantarelle mushrooms.

rabbit kidneys on toast

Rabbit kidneys, toast, ham and sherry sauce.

The food at Off Alley is razor sharp - the flavors are intense, the textures are varied, and sweet/salty/smooth/smokey/sour elements of dishes come from unusual places, and with a healthy disregard for existing culinary technique. The scallop dish is substantially all a similar texture - soft raw scallops, thickened cream, soft pickled mushrooms. But flavour contrast between these elements is so massive that it still smacks you in the face - rarely is a creamy sauce the "smoke" element of a dish. Rarely is the main protein the sweet flavour. These type of nuance is achieved regularly, but despite this the food is not fussy, and you would struggle to define it as elevated or modern.

Other dishes are just obviously delicious combinations of things, like the porchetta with morel sauce, or the eel and porcini mushroom. Sometimes these types of dishes would not be served in a restaurant - porchetta needs to be slow cooked, and isn't typically suited for a service kitchen. You will also eat things that you basically cannot eat anywhere else, because producing them at a commercial scale is not feasible. Rabbit kidneys on toast, gooseneck barnacles - you will not eat these things at other restaurants.

Off Alley is so good in part because it refuses to engage with the stereotypical meaning of "success" for a restuarant. The co-owners are not interested in "scaling a concept", or "building a brand". They are interested in making the best food they can, and serving it to people who appreciate it, whilst also listening to the Ramones at full volume. Off Alley is such a radical idea that it makes eating there feels almost counter-cultural. It is a place that is so good, and so unique, that it feels like it should not exist. But it does, and you should go there.