10 Hometown Chain Restaurants Worth Visiting

Forget everything you believe about chain restaurants
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Cactus
Know that this modern Mexican mecca is actually more Southwestern in flavor, more liberal than traditional. But you won’t miss the taqueria vibe (hey, there’s even queso!), thanks to Cactus’ focus on tapas-like small plates, best for sharing over friendly get-togethers and business tête-à-têtes. Of the five orange-bathed Seattle and Eastside locations, our favorite is Alki Beach, where the proximity to the shore adds a casual flair befitting the seafood-friendly menu. And while there are plenty of options for omnivores, regulars love the butternut squash enchiladas ($15): stacked Santa Fe–style, with goat cheese and mole rojo to cut the sweetness of the squash and caramelized onions. This is one dish you won’t want to share. cactusrestaurants.com

Dick’s Drive-In
If you haven’t already indulged in a late-night Deluxe, fries and chocolate shake at one of Dick’s six drive-up Seattle-area locations, you can hardly call yourself a Seattleite. The meal is a rite of passage here—one that costs just over $7, including the extra sides of ketchup and tartar sauce recommended for optimal dipping. While we wouldn’t go so far as claiming that the DICK’S DELUXE BURGER—double patties simply dressed with American cheese, lettuce, mayo and pickle relish—is the best in the city, it’s definitely the one that makes locals most nostalgic. Macklemore even filmed a scene for his “White Walls” video on the roof of the orange-and-white Capitol Hill Dick’s. ddir.com

Duke’s Chowder House
What do you order at a chowder house? The chowder, of course, and Duke’s makes the decision easy by offering a full sampler of five different chowder types ($13.90)—New England style, as well as lobster, Cajun chicken and corn, wild Alaskan salmon and Dungeness crab. There’s plenty of fresh, sustainable, wild-caught seafood at the chain’s six local, nautically themed restaurants. A bonus: This is one very accommodating eatery, with an extensive gluten-free selection and a gussied-up kids’ menu that features coconut prawns, grass-fed burgers and tiny cups of that classic clam chowder. dukeschowderhouse.com

Homegrown
In the six years since this modern, sustainability-focused sandwich shop opened its first location in Fremont, the empire has expanded to 10 locations in and around Seattle. The menu has changed some over the years (including the addition of an all-day breakfast), but the concept is the same: fast, farm-to-table eats. Owners Brad Gillis and Ben Friedman take their green mission very seriously; last year they developed Sprouting Farms, a certified organic Woodinville farm that supplies produce for the shops’ seasonal menu. Sidle up to the counter and order the ham + Beecher’s ($11.50) or turkey, bacon and avocado ($12)—both longtime favorites for good reason. eathomegrown.com

Ivar’s
“Keep clam” remains the motto at Ivar’s—a punny reminder of the seafood chain’s irreverent founder, Ivar Haglund, who originally opened an aquarium of sorts along the Seattle waterfront in 1938 and began selling red clam chowder and fish ’n’ chips on-site. You’ll want to stick with the creamy white chowder with tender clams in the newly remodeled Ivar’s Acres of Clams, with its expanded dining room and outdoor patio; this Ivar’s is the kingpin in the empire and an anchor of the waterfront restaurant scene. Though the options here are more plentiful than the casual seafood and fish bars, stick with the basics: Ivar’s tender cod ($18)—the Cajun spice add-on is pleasant as well—or fried clam strips with chips. ivars.com

MOD Pizza
Although everyone is surely tired of the “it’s the Chipotle of pizza” comparison, MOD pulls it off better than most in the build-your-own, fast and casual movement. The high-ceilinged, slightly industrial spaces could be viewed as alluding to “MOD” as in “modern,” but here it stands for “made on demand,” a feat accomplished by taking orders, firing thin-crust pies at 800 degrees and having a slice in your hand faster than you can make it through the line at Chipotle. Started in 2008 at the Sixth Avenue location downtown by Scott and Ally Svenson, who previously founded Seattle Coffee Company, MOD now has 10 locations in or planned for the Seattle area and has expanded nationally via franchise. While any number of toppings you choose will run you the same price, you’ll choose from mini, MOD or mega sizes ($4.47, $7.47 and $10.47, respectively); the meat-laden Mad Dog, with pepperoni, sausage and meatball bits, is as satisfying as they come. modpizza.com

Pagliacci
A city is not complete without a good option for takeout pizza, and among the options, the green-minded, compost-pioneering Pagliacci chain is a crowd favorite. With two dozen locations, including a bustling biz on the University of Washington campus, the 36-year-old pizzeria has perfected the sort of chewy, thin-crust, hand-tossed pie that doesn’t completely disintegrate on the drive to your house—a not quite New York–style slice topped with classic, local and seasonal ingredients. Veggie lovers will want to try the Agog Primo (mushrooms, roasted garlic, kalamata olives, a blend of cheeses, and parsley over a simple olive oil base, topped with tomatoes; $26.99/large), while full-on carnivores shouldn’t miss the 12th Man Primo (pepperoni, salami, chicken, Mama Lil’s peppers, olives and mozzarella on seasoned tomato sauce; $26.99/large). pagliacci.com

Purple
A heavy dose of wrought iron (the hefty chairs, the centerpiece staircases), exposed brick and dark interiors give this popular wine bar’s four locations a dramatic feel, even midday. But the food is approachable and designed to pair with the lengthy international (with a Northwest emphasis) wine list. To sample the most wines and still be able to remember them the next day, start small with both drinks and eats: The wine flights by varietal, region or focus are recommended for those who like variety; and the shareable starters are even more impressive than the entrées. Order the rich, oozy baked Brie with caramelized onions and apricot preserves wrapped in phyllo ($14) dough and a selection of pâté and cured meats ($8–$12 each). Wine recommendations follow every menu item to assist diners. purplecafe.com

Red Robin
Perhaps the best known national chain to come out of Seattle is Red Robin, with more than 460 locations across the country and nearly 30 in the Puget Sound region. The chain started as Sam’s Tavern on Eastlake Avenue in the 1940s and opened as a restaurant in 1969. Though no longer locally owned, there’s still some local love for the expansive—bordering on ridiculous—menu: dozens of burger options; gluttonous appetizer platters such as towers of batter-dipped onion rings; colorful, fruity cocktails; and more dipping sauces for your bottomless fries than one server can rattle off. The best bet on the menu, to enjoy amid the birthday celebrations and music-themed decor (after all, the name Red Robin came from the song “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along)”: the Whiskey River BBQ burger ($10.39), topped with bourbon-infused barbecue sauce and crispy fried onions alongside the standard accoutrements. redrobin.com

Than Brothers

Tai chin nam from Than Brothers; Tia White
Seattle’s obsession with pho may be trumped only by its obsession with coffee. The proof is in the pudding—er, cream puff—at Than Brothers, a family-run pho shop that opened in 1996 on Aurora and has bloomed into more than a dozen locations spanning from Tacoma to Everett. You won’t find anything fancy here, either on the menu or in the ambiance, but what they do, they do right: deeply flavorful broth with your choice of beef cuts (we recommend the tai chin nam, which skips the tendon and tripe; $5.45 for a small), accented with a squeeze of lime, a few basil leaves and a hit of Sriracha. That bite-size cream puff served alongside is apparently a family tradition—and a symbol of France’s influence on Vietnamese cuisine. It proves to be just the right sweet bite to end such a savory meal. thanbrothers.com