This is your last chance to eat at Steamers in Tacoma before it closes
In my 20+ years of writing about restaurants around here, a constant question diners send me is – where can I go for fish and chips on the waterfront that’s affordable and has a view?
My answer always: Steamers Seafood Cafe at Tacoma’s Titlow Beach.
Steamers is Tacoma’s most affordable seafood restaurant with sweeping this-is-why-we-live-here views and a comfy dining room. And it’s got crunchy, fabulous panko-breaded fried cod. And a pump-all-you-want tartar station. And beer on tap and wine-by-the-glass. And ice cream.
And after March 31, 2021, sadly it will be no more at Titlow Beach. (((UPDATE March 18: The restaurant has announced that it will stay open a few extra weeks. You have until April 11 to get in there. Read this post for more information. )))
The Tacoma restaurant at Titlow Beach is closing for good. You have just a few more weeks to grab an order of the bacon-heavy clam chowder, the panko-breaded fish and chips and a steaming hot order of fried clams. The last day of operation general manager Candis Larsen said, is March 31 (update: they’ve extended service through April 11, 2021). They’ll be open from 12 to 7 p.m. daily until then. She added, “Hopefully, we will open another location here in Tacoma soon. I know that’s what we want and will try to do.”
The restaurant announced its closure last year, which you can read about here, so this should not come as a surprise to anybody who reads my dining website.
“It’s really unfortunate” is how Jim Rowe described the closure to me last year. He’s the CEO of E3 Restaurant Co., the restaurant group that operates Steamers.
Rowe said the lease was not renewed, which triggered a search for a new home for Steamers.
There’s a complicated backstory for the building and what’s going to happen next to the longtime restaurant building is murky (more details on that at the end of the story).
“We’re not opposed to pursuing other restaurant spaces down in Tacoma,” said Rowe, who also will not rule out a relocation outside of Tacoma. They have looked for some time.
“We’ve looked several times over the years, but never found anything that worked. And we’re sad about losing Steamers. We understand that restaurants are really important to communities. We’re a big part of the community and we don’t take that responsibility lightly,” Rowe said last year.
If they were to find another space, would it be on the waterfront, which is becoming increasingly difficult to position a restaurant on? “That’s certainly ideal and what it’s known for, but we’d certainly explore options,” said Rowe.
STEAMERS OPENED IN TACOMA IN 1991
The order-at-the-counter cafe, with a stellar view of the Narrows bridge, opened at Titlow Beach in 1991. It was an outpost of the Pier 56 restaurant in Seattle with the same name, founded in 1975. A Kirkland Steamer’s opened in 2010. Both those locations are now closed.
Steamers in Tacoma was at the top of my list for fish and chips on a lengthy tour of casual fish-and-chips spots that I wrote in 2016. That was just a few months after Steamer’s reopened after a six-month closure due to a dining room flood that caused extensive damage.
What Steamers probably is best known for is the exquisite crunch of its panko-breaded cod. Other than the outstanding fried cod at Paya Fish and Chips at Freighthouse Square, I call the Steamers fried cod the crunchiest fish and chips you’ll find in the area.
But battered fish lovers get their fill at Steamers. The halibut is dipped in a beer batter. It’s the best of both worlds at this seafood spot with stellar prices. A two-piece fried cod and chips will run you $10.95. For an expensive product, that’s an extraordinary price for any restaurant, let alone one that comes with a view.
Steamers also is a style of casual eatery we lack on the waterfront: affordable, family friendly and a view for days that offers such a sense-of-place in Tacoma.
As it enters its last few weeks of business, expect long waits in the restaurant that is seating indoors at 25 percent capacity.
There’s outside seating if the weather is warm. There’s a walk-up window open for business should you want to order take-out. You can picnic on the beach, too.
The menu currently is scaled back a bit, a consequence of the current dining regulations and the need to wind down restaurant service.
Manager Candis Larsen said she might plan a farewell event of some kind, so check the restaurant’s social media for details of that.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT FOR THE STEAMERS BUILDING?
Currently, building owner Mike Ebert said, there are no tenants slated to fill the building. What happens to the building next is a complicated story involving a pedestrian crossing, the loss of parking and a building with a zoning change.
Since that building was constructed, the zoning in the area has changed, which means that the building as it is today would not be allowed under current zoning, Ebert said.
It is zoned for a residential building now. “The only permitted use of the property in the S-1b Shoreline District today, in 2021, is: single family residential on an upland location with 50-foot marine buffer for native plants,” Ebert explained via email.
That change complicates future development of that building or property.
And there’s this: A pedestrian crossing project that will take place this year.
Ebert described the pedestrian safety improvements as necessary and “a blessing” for the neighborhood. “The city (of Tacoma) staff deserve commendation for their perseverance and tenacity. They all have worked tirelessly for years putting this project together,” he noted.
It will, however, lead to months of disruptive construction.
And then there’s parking, a perennial problem in that area.
“The new crossing project will remove 40 percent of the existing parking in the north parking lot owned by BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company) primarily used by Marine Park,” Ebert explained. “The new crossing project will also remove 100 percent of the existing parking on city right of way contained in the south parking lot. BNSF has already removed 14 parking stalls which were located ‘on-site’ next to the restaurant.The only remaining parking for the restaurant will be located on 11,000 sf of property owned by BNSF and licensed to me.”
That licensed lot is expected to go from about 44 parking stalls to somewhere between nine and eleven. Ebert said that years ago, he had a purchase agreement for that parking lot, but BNSF canceled the agreement because it considers that land integral to its railroad operations. He currently holds a lease for the lot, but it has a 30-day cancel clause.
He asked, “What kind of waterfront restaurant with 130 seats plus employees can be financially viable with 9 dedicated parking stalls, all of which can disappear on 30 days notice?”
Ebert said, “The immediate plan is to stand-by and let the dust settle from the USDOT, BNSF, and City of Tacoma 6th Avenue Grade Crossing Improvement Project. The City of Tacoma Webinar states the project will commence imminently and may continue thru December, 2021.”
After that? He’ll take a look at his options. As Ebert puts it, “it’s the classic either/or” situation:
EITHER: “The existing building is allowed to be repurposed to a residential use (with obvious significant remodeling and site modifications).”
OR: The existing building must be demolished and a new building constructed conforming to the 50 foot Marine Buffer Zone with native plants AND utilizing the preferred 35 foot height restriction.
STEAMERS SEAFOOD CAFE
Where: 8802 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Hours: 12-7 p.m. until its permanent closure on March 31, 2021. Update: They’ve extended service until April 11, 2021.