Since 2006, I can't think of a time when the South Sound region welcomed a dozen new restaurants in a three-month period. Restaurant watchers might remember the restaurant boom in 2006 that introduced Matador, Masa, Stadium Bistro, TwoKoi and a string of other restaurants in a short period.
Now it seems history is repeating. Will the economy make it a bust? Only time and your dining dollars will tell.
And speaking of the economy, what's with the flurry of restaurants opening when the business landscape is not exactly friendly?
In short, restaurant owners have told me there’s no single reason for the boom. But what they have said is that lease negotiations are easier now than they have been, which can translate into lower start-up costs. Enter plucky new business owners.
Whatever the reasons for the restaurant boom, one thing is certain: This is a great time to be a diner. The range of restaurants opening is wide and interesting; from a trio of higher end restaurants in trendy restaurant neighborhoods, to slow-smoked barbecue, old school burgers, an Irish pub, family Italian, and unusual vegan and vegetarian concepts brand new to Tacoma; diners have more choices now than ever. Even a few chains new to the Northwest are venturing into the South Sound for the first time.Here are the restaurants you should be watching:
High-concept eating: For fans of higher-end dining, three restaurants to watch are Zara Mediterranean Cuisine, which opens downtown today (read more about it here) and the newly opened Marrow on Sixth, as well as Social on the Foss Waterway.
Fans of barbecue have a swirl of restaurants to track: Papa Jones barbecue has just opened and they serve the real-deal slow smoked barbecue. And remember Porter’s? It’s the barbecue restaurant that operated near the Tacoma Dome that closed this year, but is relocating to South Tacoma Way. Owner Alton Porter is keeping TNT Diner blog readers apprised, so check here for updates in the coming weeks. And here’s something new: Bonney Lake will be home to a new national barbecue restaurant chain, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. They’ll serve slow-smoked meats in casual digs. They aim to open this fall. I’ll tell you more in the coming weeks.
Something really fascinating for foodies with vegan leanings: AmeRAWcan Bistro is a sparkling new concept for Tacoma with an urban, sophisticated dining room and geeky foodie touches – like iPads on every table for menu perusing and paperless receipts, which your accountant will hate. The bistro serves a menu almost entirely raw, which means the food is not cooked. Yes, that’s right. It’s like caveman eating, if cavemen were vegans, that is. Find the concept perplexing? Check back next week and I’ll tell you more. I’ll also delve into Marrow, a restaurant that serves a few unusual proteins, like oxtail and bone marrow, but truly caters to the vegetarian crowd with a dedicated menu of high-end vegetarian dining.
Here are quick glimpses of the new restaurants opening, with links to the reviews I've already written. Watch for more reviews in the next few weeks:
Twisted Kilt: Opened late June. Irish bar in downtown Puyallup with American pub food and Irish leanings. Reviewed in this column last Friday. Prices in the $10 range. 109 S. Meridian, Puyallup, 253-604-4791, twistedkiltpuyallup.com. Read the background here.Read the review here.
Pho 701: Opened June. A downtown Tacoma Vietnamese restaurant with a pretty dining room and typical pho and noodle dish menu. I'll tell you next week about the trials of opening the restaurant in a historic building. Prices around $10. 701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-627-9225.
Massimo: Opened July 17. A family friendly University Place Italian restaurant that mirrors the restaurant’s sibling establishment in Purdy. Prices mid- to high-teens. 4020 Bridgeport Way W., University Place, 253-503-1902 or massimosup.comRead the background here.
Social Bar and Grill: Opened late July. A Foss Waterway restaurant meant for sociable crowds, and created by three alumni of the local Tex-Mex chain Matador. A sophisticated menu of eclectic fusion eats that come in shareable plates, $7-$12 range. 1715 Dock St., Tacoma, 253-301-3835 or thesocialbarandgrill.com.Read the background here. Check today's TNT Diner for the review.
Kimberly’s Cafe: Opened mid-July. An all-purpose restaurant with an eclectic menu and Italian leanings. Breakfast is standard fare, lunch is panini sandwiches and pasta, and dinner is a wild card. Prices in the $10-and-under range for breakfast and lunch, around $15 for dinner. 11126 Gravelly Lake Drive S.W., Lakewood, 253-588-8989. Check back here next week for more.
Lefty’s Burger Shack: Opened July 23. A classic walk-up burger stand with hand-formed burgers in University Place (think Pick Quick meets Little Holland). Prices under $5. 8317 27th St. W., University Place.Read the background here.Read the review here
Papa Jones BBQ: Opened late July in Tacoma. A barbecue restaurant that uses alder and cherry wood to smoke its meats. House-made potato, macaroni and coleslaw, too. Prices in the $6-$12 range. 1902 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253-572-2513.Read the review here.
Marrow Kitchen Bar: Opened Aug. 2. An ambitious restaurant serving duck, oxtail, escargot and other unusual proteins, as well as a companion vegetarian menu that sounds polished. Prices in the high-teens to low-$20s for entrees, less for shareable plates. 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-267-5299.
AmeRAWcan Bistro: Opened Aug. 12 on St. Helens. Part deli, part raw foods café, this is a new concept for Tacoma. 745 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma.
Zara Mediterranean Cuisine: The restaurant will have its grand opening today. Zara will serve shawarma, shaved rotisserie meats, and other Eastern Mediterranean dishes. In the high-teens to low-$20s. 1498 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-572-1222, zaracuisine.com (under construction)Read the background here.
Medi’s: A family style pizza, calzone and pasta restaurant by the folks from O’Malleys, the bar across the street on Sixth. Stay tuned for details. 2710 Sixth Ave., Tacoma.
Buffalo Wild Wings: Coming this fall, a national chain buffalo wings restaurant will open at 4219 S. Steele St., Tacoma. The national chain has more South Sound locations planned. www.buffalowildwings.com
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit: Opening sometime this fall, a national barbecue chain that is just breaking into the South Sound landscape. More are planned for this area. 21109 state Route 410 E., Bonney Lake, dickeys.com.