As the first female chef of Seattle’s most iconic fine-dining restaurant, Canlis, Aisha Ibrahim is no stranger to ideating complex flavor pairings. For two and a half years, Ibrahim has helmed the kitchen turning out some of the cities most elaborate dishes, and just last year, was part of Food & Wine’s class of Best New Chefs. But the fine-dining chef is incredibly familiar with the city’s small, family-owned restaurants.

“Seattle has a relatively younger, fine dining scene,” she explains. “What’s special about Seattle is that there are some long-standing, quintessential hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are very largely celebrated here.”

Amber Fouts

Ibrahim is a fan of the food produced by Seattle’s immigrant community, especially its AAPI-owned restaurants (here are her picks for the best Teriyaki in the city) that elevate the city nationally. “Seattle is making a name for itself with the prominence of Filipino food. We have quite a large Fil-Am community,” she adds and highlights the work of chef Melissa Miranda of Musang and Leila Rosas of Oriental Mart, an award-winning grocery store and restaurant in Pike Place that’s been around since the 70s. 

Here, Ibrahim shares her picks for a culinary tour around the world — from Mexico and China to Northern Italy, all within Seattle. 

Suzi Pratt for Spinasse


Hailed as one of the best Italian restaurants in Seattle, this rustic chic Capitol Hill eatery specializes in serving plates of homemade pasta, which keeps Inrahim coming back.

“Spinasse does a lot of things well, but they do pasta exceptionally,” she says. 

The restaurant, which focuses on Northern Italian flavors and has a sister aperitivo bar next door, is Ibrahim’s go-to date night spot on the rare occasions she’s not working at Canlis. She raves about Spinasse’s Tajarin with butter and sage, prepared with very thin hand-cut spaghetti-like pasta that originated in the Piedmont region of Italy.

Szechuan Chef

Ibrahim explains that her favorite dishes are very simple (“Simple dishes are easy to get wrong.”) and are often prepared in casual, mom-and-pop restaurants like Szechuan Chef. Her local “hole in the wall” Chinese restaurant, for example, makes the “best rendition of honey walnut prawn in the whole area.”

“I swear no one knows about this place,” she adds, explaining that it’s hidden next to a gym on a drive-by plaza.

Ibrahim notes that family-run restaurants, such as this one, should be celebrated more nationally as they produce excellent food without the assistance of entire culinary teams.

Carnitas Michoacan

Case in point? This taqueria is run by the Santacruz family, who immigrated from Apatzingán, in the province of Michoacán, more than 30 years ago and now serve Beacon Hill’s best tacos.

Ibrahim swears by the carnitas tacos with freshly made corn tortillas. “The meat is cooked perfectly. It’s never dry, and it’s seasoned beautifully,” she explains. “I’m not a cilantro person, but when it comes to carnitas tacos, [I like] raw white onions on top, cilantro, and a nice generous squeeze of lime juice, and we’re good to go.”

Aside from classic Mexican handhelds, Carnitas Michoacan’s menu also features daily specials of hearty dishes and soups like beef steak with tomatoes and spicy sauce, cheese-stuffed poblano peppers, and traditional Mexican menudo soup.

Xi’an Noodles

Ibrahim won’t hesitate to go the extra mile for her favorite dish, including getting Xi’an’s hand-pulled noodles.

“I’m a creature of habit,” she says. “I can be an intense person, and I know exactly what I want in most situations.” But the dish that checks all her boxes is Xi’an’s Hot Oil Seared Biang Noodles with Sichuan peppercorns.

Founded by Chinese native Lily Wu, Xi’an opened its flagship outpost in Seattle’s University District in 2016 and has since added two more locations in Westlake and Bellevue. While Xi’an is known for biang biang noodles, the joint also serves street food staples like pork and beef buns, as well as skewers and noodle soup dishes.

T55 Pâtisserie

While Ibrahim says she’s not the type of person to “buy into the hype” and stay in line for something just because “everyone else is telling me, it’s worth lining up for,” she and her wife happily do so for a chance to get their hands on chef Muhammad Fairoz Rashed’s exquisite pastries that he prepares daily in the kitchen of this Bothell bakery.

Fairoz, who hails from Singapore and has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in France, co-owns T55 with his life and business partner Katie Pohl. While the menu changes frequently, some of Ibrahim’s favorite sweet treats here are Kouign-Amann Breton cake, banana caramel cake, and black truffle goat cheese focaccia that, she said, is so delicious she always buys two.