How Pop Ups Are Changing Seattle’s Dining Scene

This article was published on February 4, 2021, and covers the emerging trend of Seattle pop ups gaining a foothold in the city’s restaurant scene.  

Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s decision last week to change the criteria for a region to move into “Phase 2” means that Seattle-area restaurants are now allowed to re-open for indoor dining at 25% capacity. That news may be welcome to some restaurants, who have seen their sales plummet during the winter months when only take-out or patio seating was permitted. But others are choosing a wait-and-see approach. 

Ethan Stowell’s restaurant group, which includes Staple & Fancy, Tavolata, and How to Cook a Wolf, is still only offering reservations for outdoor seating. The owners of the neighborhood butchery The Shambles say they’ll be staffing up over the next few weeks before they decide whether to re-open indoor dining. And Ballard pizzeria Delancey only offers to-go orders through their reservations system on Tock.

As established restaurants adapt their businesses to the latest rule changes, an increasing number of new players have emerged in the Seattle dining scene. These entrepreneurs are popping up with varying schedules, often only announced days before on social media. While some Seattle pop ups are partnering with breweries or other restaurants to provide a steady stream of customers, others are drive-up and pick-up only operations. If you’re not paying attention to their Instagram feeds, you’re likely to miss out.

One such business is Hi Helen, based in West Seattle and known for their New York-style bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches that sell out in minutes online. I was fast-fingered enough to score a 1:30 pickup time on a recent Saturday, and pulled up at a residential corner where the owner (who is not named Helen, by the way) handed me my order. The sandwich was spectacular, with a soft poppy-seed bun surrounding peppery bacon, a creamy fried egg, melted cheese, and spicy aioli. I’ll admit to eating half of it in the car before driving home.

Other Seattle pop ups I’m keeping my eye on include:

  • Rough Draft Burger Shop, which is known for its smashed burgers, has recently resumed operations in Seattle after opening up a second outpost in Portland. Look for Rough Draft to open a permanent location in lower Queen Anne in the next month or so.
  • Bootleg Barbecue, which drew lines of customers to its popup at Fair Isle Brewery as early as 7:30 last Saturday morning, and apparently sold out of its brisket in just a couple of hours. Look for them next (for what they say will be their final popup in Seattle) at Holy Mountain Brewing on February 13.
  • Guerrilla Pizza Kitchen, which serves naturally fermented pizza using local grain
  • Perfect Breakfast Sandwich, which popped up for a few hours last weekend at Delancey and will return there on February 13
  • Chachi’s Pizza, Detroit-style pies that pop up weekly in Ravenna and White Center

Related: How to Travel the World (of Pizza) Without Leaving the City

It remains to be seen whether these businesses will develop a secure foothold in the Seattle scene, or whether they’ll be soon forgotten. But as long as the pandemic keeps many established restaurants closed for indoor seating, these alternatives are enticing new options for your dining dollars – as long as you’re following along on social media so you’ll know when they’ll pop up next.

What I Ate: Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich from Hi Helen

Seattle pop ups like Hi Helen are changing the city's dining scene

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