Portage Bay Cafe

best brunch seattle portage bay

  • THE GOOD: two words: breakfast bar!
  • THE BAD: long wait. S-U-P-E-R long.
  • THE NEIGHBORHOOD: U District Seattle.

“Dang, this place was still packed at 1:30pm on a weekday,” a recent review of Portage Bay Cafe on Yelp said.

My thoughts exactly.

My husband and I visited Portage Bay’s flagship restaurant, on Roosevelt Way in U District, on one of the hottest days in the summer, and waited outside for over 30 minutes, despite having reserved a table four hours prior. (You do so online at http://www.portagebaycafe.com.)

Sun beamed down; air felt humid; young adults complained; and children fussed. The impatient crowd surrounded us with an aura of annoyance. Feeling cheated out of efforts to plan ahead and on the verge of passing what friends recommended as “the best brunch in Seattle,” we began to leave when our names were announced by the front desk.

“Perhaps visiting Portage Bay Cafe was a mistake?” I thought.

As we followed a college-aged hostess through a slim hallway and into a boxy, high-ceilinged space, we were greeted by the room’s toasty air and people’s loud chatters. The restaurant, in the same building as University Inn, has no AC.

The hostess sat us at a small table in the middle of the room, next to the only path that leads others to and from the breakfast bar. Before we could request more comfortable seating, the hostess disappeared. I recall her smiling but sensed her haste. At this time, my husband and I felt uncared for–and we hadn’t ordered our food yet.

We were lucky to have neighbored a couple of lovely women who, after discovering our intent to review Portage Bay for Best Brunch Seattle, generously shared their meals for pictures (see below).

best brunch seattle portage bay

best brunch seattle portage bay

The fragrance of biscuits-in-gravy and roasted potatoes quickly reminded us of why we picked Portage Bay in the first place: its food! More specifically, natural, locally-grown food that the restaurant is recognized for. With a lingo that says “eat like you give a damn,” Portage Bay stands for Seattle’s unspoken ideal of support-local and live-sustainable, for which Seattlietes like my husband and I can forgive the long wait for.

Portage Bay Seattle

Under sunlight or in rain, Seattle exudes natural beauty composed of hills, mountains and water, including Lake Union lying west of the city whose left arm, a canal created by a piece of land jutting into the lake, bears the name “Portage Bay.” The neighborhood of Portage Bay remains true to Seattle before tech-boom where residents shop local, know their neighbors, and enjoy peace by the lake. Floating boat houses and crossing canoes are pretty much the most excitement Portage Bay ever sees.

Situated in the U District, in between Portage Bay and the University of Washington, Portage Bay Cafe preserves a neighborhood-feel by offering locally-grown food. From its brunch menu, brought to us shortly after being seated, we spotted “freshly-squeezed OJ,” “fair-trade coffee” and “organic ingredients,” all purchased from producers located within 300 miles from Seattle.

Each item on the menu sparked our curiosity, as meals named “Dungeness Crab Cake Benedict” and “3 Bear Porridge” differ from conventional brunch.

The long line at the breakfast bar, however, persuaded my decision.

“I’ll have the Vegan Banana Pancakes ($13.50) please,” I ordered from the waitress, a polite lady with pixie cut who was as attentive as she was attractive. Even with the high volume of customers, she constantly checked in.

(Scan through the menu and you will arrive at a section specifying selections for the breakfast bar.)

“Good choice!” She nodded.

“And I’ll have the Chile Verde Pork Omelette ($12.50),” said my husband.

While awaiting our food, my husband and I observed the excitement around the breakfast bar.

Toppings looked quite arousing: heaps of fresh fruits dressed in lush glow, pyramids of chopped nuts packed ever so densely, and clouds of whipped cream fresh in fluff. A passerby shared her plate in the picture below.

best brunch seattle portage bay

best brunch seattle portage bay

Drooling yet?

I spared no time between my pancakes’ arrival and dashing to the breakfast bar. The tower of yummies I then created–impossible to describe with words!

Alright then. Photos will do.

best brunch seattle portage bay

best brunch seattle portage bay

best brunch seattle portage bay best brunch seattle portage bay

By the way, I’m no vegan; but if all vegan meals tasted as good as my pancakes did, I’ll convert!

The Chile Verde Pork Omelette, however, impelled a different reaction from my husband, who found it unfortunate that such a fragrant and compact plate should taste so insipid. Perhaps he is to blame for setting high expectations, or knowing little of what Chile Verde Pork should taste like; but, are plantains supposed to be rubbery?

No. Really. I thought I lost a tooth from chewing plantains. Moreover, their starchiness tasted horrible in spicy chile and seasoned pork. I apologize for being honest!

No complaints about the potatoes or the eggs, but no praises either.

best brunch seattle portage bay

best brunch seattle portage bay

Albeit feeling disappointed about the omelette and the initial service, we still left with positive imprints of the experience.

I spoke earlier of the restaurant’s toasty air and loud chatters, which weren’t fixable anyway, but failed to acknowledge how amusing the decorations are: hanging from the high ceiling was a wooden rowing boat, representative Portage Bay’s lifestyle, as were antique pictures of the bay hanging amongst the walls. Four floor-to-ceiling windows granted ample brightness; and the patio outside allowed seating for those who seek fresh air.

After the crowd dissipated, Portage Bay’s unique decor became visible; and they were, to say the least, quite impressive.

Hmm. Would I recommend Portage Bay Cafe?

Perhaps not as the “Best Brunch in Seattle,” but yes, I would recommend it–singularly for the Breakfast Bar.

Have you been to Portage Bay Cafe? How was your experience?

== End of post. ==

Portage Bay Cafe



4130 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105

M-F Breakfast 7:30am–11:30am
M-F Lunch 11:30am-2:30pm
Sat-Sun Brunch 7:30am–2:30pm

South Lake Union

391 Terry Avenue N.
Seattle, WA 98109

M-F Breakfast 7:30am–11:30am
M-F Lunch 11:30am-2:30pm
Sat-Sun Brunch 7:30am–2:30pm


2825 NW Market
Seattle, WA 98107

Breakfast served all day
every day
7:30 am – 2:30 pm

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One comment

  • I like portage bay. This location can fill up quite quickly on a weekend, as with the other locations. I like that their ingredients are fresh and seasonal. Portions are generally large. I had a scramble and also got to try their biscuits and gravy. Overall, a very satisfying meal and leftovers to take home.

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