Over the past several years, Seattle’s Shota Nakajima has established himself as one of the most influential figures in the city’s food scene. Before the pandemic, he ran Naka, one of Seattle’s only kaiseki restaurants, which turned into the more affordable Adana, a favorite among local food critics before it shut down due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, he was competing on popular food TV shows like Iron Chef: Guantlet and Beat Bobby Fly. More recently, he was a finalist on Top Chef: Portland While running Taku, his popular Capitol Hill karaage restaurant and Osaka-style bar. Coming any day now will be the grand opening of his newest project: Banzai Teriyaki, Nakajima’s take on a teriyaki restaurant with a rooftop bar in Cle Elum, which will be his first restaurant outside of his hometown.

Nakajima has been dining out in Seattle since he was a kid (he split time between Seattle and Japan during his childhood and training as a chef). He recently shared his favorite restaurants in the city with Eater Seattle. The following spots are organized alphabetically.


Bateau

1040 E Union St, Seattle; restaurantbateau.com

Chef Renee Erickson’s nationally acclaimed restaurant is known for its focus on sustainable whole-animal butchery and dry-aging under-utilized cuts of grass-fed beef. Nakajima, though, loves Bateau’s more traditional dry-aged steaks, like its ribeyes, and the atmosphere at the restaurant. “It’s a good ol’ steakhouse, in a cozier setting,” he says. “When you think of a steakhouse, it’s a little proper, a little stuffy. I like Bateau because you can go there on a nice occasion, or you can dress casually.”

A bone-in chuck eye steak with fries from Bateau, one of Shota Nakajima’s favorite restaurants in Seattle.
Bill Addison/Eater

Cupine

6460 24th Ave NW; copineseattle.com

Copine is one of the few fine-dining restaurants in Ballard (a generally casual neighborhood) from chef Shaun McCrain and his wife, Jill Kinney, who have both worked for some of America’s most-acclaimed chefs. The restaurant serves a mix of American, Italian, and French fare in its three-course prix fixe dinners and a la carte bar snack menu. It’s one of Nakajima’s go-to spots for a classy night out. “It’s a very classic, well-done, nice restaurant,” Nakajima says. “The service is great, and everyone is super nice.”

Gan Bei

670 S Weller St; ganbeiseattle.square.site

Nakajima doesn’t drink anymore, but back when he did, this Chinatown-International District restaurant was his go-to for an after-work shot of whiskey, a beer, and rice porridge in a claypot with Chinese sausage, chicken, and egg . “It’s cozy food,” Nakajima says. “It’s really got that mom-and-pop shop energy.” He also likes Gan Bei’s fried chicken.

“I’m a sucker for fried chicken,” Nakajima says. “I have a fried chicken shop, and I still eat fried chicken every day.”

Il Nido

2717 61st Ave SW; ilnidoseattle.com

Nakajima describes chef Mike Easton’s James Beard award-nominated West Seattle restaurant as “that classic Italian that everybody’s looking for in the city.” “Everything is always done so well,” Nakajima says. “He’s extremely passionate. I know a few people on his team as well — they’re all just extremely humble, driven people making delicious Italian food.” When he goes to Il Nido, Nakajima normally just orders the special, because whatever Easton makes (especially any pasta dishes) hits the spot.

Sushi Kappo Tamura

2968 Eastlake Ave E; sushikappotamura.com

At this Eastlake sushi restaurant, chef Taichi Kitamura keeps a laser-sharp focus on sustainability, trying whenever possible to source his fish from the Pacific Northwest. That’s what Nakajima (who used to work at the restaurant) likes about Kitamura’s cooking.

“He doesn’t really fly in a lot of stuff. He does what sushi shops in Japan do: take the time to get to know the fishermen around and understand the ecology in the area you’re serving,” Nakajima says. “It really turns it into this one-of-a-kind sushi place. You don’t get the ingredients that he puts on a plate in other states or anywhere else in the world, which is really cool.” Many other upscale Japanese restaurants in Seattle, he says, fly in much of their fish from other states and countries, making their menus similar to what diners would find at a sushi restaurant in Japan, Hawaii, or New York.

Taurus Ox

1523 E Madison St #101; taurusox.com

This Capitol Hill counter-service restaurant serves some of the city’s most herbaceous, funky, and satisfying Laotian food made by Sydney Clark, Khampaeng Panyathong, and Jenessa Sneva, all chefs with strong Seattle dining pedigrees. Nakajima says he loves the heavy use of fresh herbs at the restaurant. “There’s always great energy in there,” Nakajima says. “I like to order the sausage. That’s my favorite thing.”

A ceramic bowl full of green shaved ice and topped with cream and drizzled with a caramel sauce.

The sorrel shaved ice with, Dinah’s Cheese, hazelnuts, and grapes, at Tomo, one of Shota Nakajima’s favorite restaurants in Seattle.
Kyle Johnson

Tom

9811 16th Ave SW; tomoseattle.com

This White Center restaurant from former Canlis chef Brady Williams opened in September of last year with a menu serving micro-seasonal Pacific Northwest cuisine. The five-course dinner menus offer creative dishes based on what’s seasonally available in the Seattle area, and the restaurant was a 2022 James Beard Award semifinalist for its outstanding wine program.

On his last visit, he says he was particularly impressed by Williams’ chawanmushi, a Japanese egg custard dish that Nakajima is extremely picky about, especially when it comes to the ratio of broth to egg. “He killed that,” Nakajima says. “We are lucky to have a restaurant like this in the Pacific Northwest, just showcasing the ingredients we get around here in a really classy manner that’s approachable as well,” he says. “[Williams] has a really good palate.”

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