Best restaurant openings of 2021 in Tacoma & Pierce County – a year in review
2021 was a great year for culinary gains. While we had fewer restaurant openings than past years – understandably so – we did get:
Our first full-service Colombian restaurant – with fresh-juice cocktails!
A Neapolitan pizza joint – with great amoro-based cocktails!
A retro-themed cocktail lounge – with the area’s best assortment of classic cocktails and barware!
So …. it was a good year for food and booze.
And here’s another bright side: 15 restaurants opening in 2022 will bring even bigger culinary gains to the area: a new birria joint from a family that had to close one of their restaurants during the pandemic. A new Chicago deep dish pizza stop. Not one, but two barbecue spots, a classic diner getting a fresh start with new owners and a pancake house that’s expanding across the bridge. And there’s more.
Let’s do a quick revisit of 2021. Below, find my top 10 openings for 2021. They represent restaurants that specialize in underserved cuisines, offer something nobody else is doing around here or are just generally really interesting restaurants and spaces. Give them a try.
I’ve also got a summary of 27 other openings I wrote about in 2021, as well as a look ahead at those 15 restaurants to look forward to in 2022.
Dine local! Support local! As I write every year: One way we can all help restaurants thrive – and survive this – is to eat local. If it’s in your budget, try a new locally-owned restaurant once a month.
BOOM BOOM ROOM
3016 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253 235-9204; http://theboomboomroomtacoma.com/
In April 2021, the mid-century themed Boom Boom Room opened in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood with a vibe unlike anything we’ve had here in modern years. Owner-artist-electrician Robert Stocker’s vision is heavily weighted in the mid-century decor of 1960s-era Vegas. There’s a little bit of the Miami spirit in there, too. The name is an homage to the yesteryear lounge of the same name from the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. The retro-themed lounge operates next door to Stocker’s other restaurant, Beefy’s Burgers. As you’d guess with a mid-century concept, the cocktails are gussied up Prohibition-era classics. There’s a little bit of tableside theater thrown in for good measure. Be sure to give the bar’s version of a Paper Plane a try. Full details here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/03/30/boom-boom-room-in-tacoma-opening-on-6th-ave-heres-a-look-inside/
Slow-braised meats are a specialty at Taco Street Tacoma, which opened in June at Point Ruston. If you order anything, make it the barbacoa taco punched with chile and aromatic spices and tucked into warmed, doubled up corn tortillas. Diners can taste the high desert climate in the chiles grown for the restaurant in the region of Chihuahua where co-owner Marteen Perez is from. Elonka and Marteen Perez are the duo behind the restaurant (they also own another in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, which they opened in 2017). What made this such a great addition to the Mexican food scene here is that Ruston is an area short on taquerias of this style, plus restaurants featuring the cuisine of Chihuahua are unusual here. Beyond barbacoa, there’s also queso, for which Chihuahua is known. Taco Street delivers with its own version that fans of gooey cheese will hoover. Read a first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/07/06/taco-street-now-open-on-tacoma-waterfront-get-the-barbacoa-tacos/
4314 Portland Ave. E., Tacoma; 253-301-2022; https://www.facebook.com/My-Philly-100887755550086; https://www.instagram.com/myphillytacoma
My Philly, which opened in June in Tacoma’s Salishan neighborhood, nails their cheesesteak formula: Thinly-shaved ribeye that’s well seasoned, Amoroso’s rolls and a tangle of sweet-and-hot peppers make these Philly sandwiches some of the best in town. Dwane Butler and wife Victoria Hunter opened the shop with Butler’s cousin, Dalita Kalehuloa and her husband Torrence Moffett. Their daughter Imani Moffett also works at My Philly. This Black-owned business is a multi-generational dream from a family with roots in Philadelphia. Butler and Kalehuloa point to their grandpa, Ernest Tackett, as one of the inspirations for their Salishan sandwich shop. Don’t sleep on the hoagie sandwiches, either, but a first visit must include a cheesesteak or you’re doing it wrong. First-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/07/12/my-philly-now-open-and-serving-cheesesteaks-in-tacoma-ribeye-amorosos-gooey-cheese/
DUNAGAN IRISH PUB & BREWERY
When it opened in August, Dunagan Irish Pub & Brewery captured a bunch of concepts under one roof – a restaurant, a bar with a full cocktail menu and broad whiskey selection and a brewery operation with 20 taps featuring house brews, guest taps and the greatest hits of Irish beer. They’re the only Irish brewery in Pierce County and also one of few live music venues in the area. Did I mention the Scotch eggs, shepherds pie, bangers and mash made with Uli’s Sausage and fish and fresh-cut chips? This is a destination like no other in Pierce County and it comes from longtime local brewer Jesse Dunagan, who opened his first Irish brewery, Dunagan Brewing Co., in downtown Tacoma in 2015, it seated 35 and was cut into an oddly-shaped space. His new Gig Harbor brewery and restaurant is three times the size and all the fun you can fit under a roof. Get yourself there. A first-look report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/08/25/dunagan-irish-pub-brewery-opening-in-gig-harbor-a-first-look-inside/
PARKLAND PLACE BAKERY & BISTRO
14906 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma; 253-301-4658; https://www.facebook.com/Parkland-Place-Bakery-Bistro-102592438526216/; https://www.justcallsusan.com/
Like a lot of food businesses opening in 2021, Susan Krogh’s bakery and bistro was born out of a pivot during the pandemic. Locals will know her as the Susan behind Just Call Susan Catering, but catering dried up in the pandemic, so she shifted to a retail space and commissary kitchen business. Now she’s the force behind Parkland Place Bakery and Bistro, which she opened last summer in Parkland. It’s open for lunch most days, with weekend breakfast and occasional weekend dinners. Krogh turns out beautiful breakfast plates. Real magic lives in the bakery case. Her sublime cheesecakes are worth the trek to Parkland. Her whole menu is designed to appeal to both dairy/meat eaters as well as those who stick to a plant-based diet. Cheesecake lovers must pay a visit. Plus, Krogh features baked goods from lots of other local bakers, including Girl Loves Cake Desserts and the Art of Crunch biscotti. Read a first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/08/18/parkland-place-bakery-bistro-now-open-get-the-croissant-french-toast/
16116 Meridian Ave. E., Puyallup; 253-904-9490
If Hello Pho had opened elsewhere in Pierce County, I might not have paid as much attention to the higher-end Vietnamese restaurant when it opened in October. What makes it so special is its location amidst a sea of chain restaurants. South Hill has made phenomenal leaps in supporting more locally-owned restaurants, but it’s still a community with two Applebee’s, two Red Robins and I don’t know how many McDonald’s. When a restaurant with local owners using upscale ingredients and a lovely dining room opens, it’s a celebration for a community in need of elevated dining experiences. If you rate a restaurant based on its pickled veggies and delicious Vietnamese crepes, then Hello Pho should rise to the top of your list. The menu and atmosphere of Hello Pho are a nice addition to South Hill, especially considering it’s tucked into the same strip mall featuring two interesting locally-owned restaurants: Charm Thai and Picazo’s Taco Zone. Read a first-bite look here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/10/23/upscale-vietnamese-hello-pho-now-open-in-south-hill/
CRAB KING CAJUN BOIL AND BAR
3111 S. 38th St., Tacoma; 253-301-1688; crabkingtacoma.com
We have experienced a lot of expansion with Cajun seafood boil places opening here in recent years. The biggest thus far in Pierce County is Crab King Cajun Boil and Bar, which opened in October at the former Outback Steakhouse at 3111 S. 38th St. in Tacoma. Find a list of seafood that’s dozens of items deep: probably the biggest seafood menu in terms of offerings and combos in the area. There’s also a full cocktail bar, all the accessories you need to enjoy Cajun seafood boil (we’re talking crab crackers, picks, bibs, gloves, wipes, an unending supplies of napkins, and everything else you need). Bring a group of friends and plan to get your hands dirty in this 200-seat restaurant. This is a sit-and-sip place with gracious table service and deliciously flavored butter sauces. Read a first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/11/08/crab-king-now-open-in-tacoma-where-outback-steakhouse-recently-closed/
MILL HAUS CIDER CO.
Mill Haus Cider Co. in Eatonville opened its first tasting room and restaurant – with one of the most gorgeous outdoor spaces I’ve seen in Pierce County in November. I was blown away by the sprawling grounds that include fire pits, a pond, bocce ball courts, cornhole pits and an outdoor stage. Uncovered picnic benches and bistro tables are situated throughout the grounds. Find a huge covered fire pit area with seating for close to 40 at the back of the property. Inside, find a cozy space with a stage in the corner that hosts live music. The cidery, which has operated since 2017 as a distribution only cidery, showcases its own cider lineup, has a menu of smoked meat sliders that are as good a value as they are delicious. Get yourself there before the Mt. Rainier tourists overtake it this summer. Read a first-look story here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/11/28/mill-haus-cider-co-opens-gorgeous-outdoor-indoor-space-with-menu-of-smoked-meats/
We have an abundance of pizza styles here, but Neapolitan-style pies are the kind we can use more of. Bar Rosa, a 21-and-older cocktail lounge and pizza den, opened in November in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood in an area rich in great bars/lounges: The Eleven Eleven, Zodiac Supper Club and 1022 South J among them (not to mention all the other great nearby eateries in that neighborhood). The menu is micro focused: Wood-fired pizza in a Mugnaini oven fueled only by apple wood. Operators Meghan Seale and John Bracey Rogers (former owner of Seattle’s Bar Sue) nail the essentials for Neapolitan-style: a beautiful crust with perfect chewy resistance, and built from double zero flour, plus a sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. The cocktail menu uses aperitifs and amaros for intense flavor profiles. Bar Rosa is date-night ready and longtime cocktail watchers will appreciate this: much about this spot reminds me of the old Hilltop Kitchen. Give it a try. Read a first-bite report here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/11/16/bar-rosa-opens-in-tacomas-hilltop-with-wood-fired-pizza-flavorful-cocktails/
6324 E. McKinley Ave., Tacoma; 253-507-8517; https://www.elparchecolombiano.com/; https://www.facebook.com/elparchecolombianorestaurantseattle/
El Parche Tacoma owner Mario Medina has a few things to say about Colombian empanadas: They’re the chips and salsa of the Colombian restaurant world and should start every meal. A-g-r-e-e-d. I took his advice on my first trip up to El Parche Tacoma when it opened in November. Oh wow – one dip of a beef empanada into the restaurant’s aji sauce – a garlicky, spiced green salsa – made me such a fan of his food. This Colombian restaurant opened in East Tacoma with the greatest hits of Colombian food: arepas, patacones, yucca frita, three kinds of steak, arroz con pollo, sancocho and catfish stew. Get a little taste of everything in the meat extravaganza plate, the bandejas paisa. Also, find a list of fresh juices everybody has got to try. Here’s a fun fact: Medina is a huge fan of Colombian food, but he was born and raised in Mexico. His love of Colombian cuisine came from his travels. This is his second restaurant with the original El Parche in Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood. Read a first-bite look here: https://dinepiercecounty.com/2021/11/23/el-parche-tacoma-now-open-on-mckinley-get-the-empanadas-mojitos-and-steak/
MORE OPENINGS IN 2021
Forbidden City opened in Parkland in January 2021 the longtime home of Lieu’s Chinese. It brought with it a menu of Chinese wok classics, dumplings and, eventually a hot pot menu. Read more here.
Kvlt Mead opened its new location in January 2021. It moved from the Dome District to a sprawling industrial space in one of Tacoma’s most interesting eating neighborhoods along South Tacoma Way. Find handmade meads and a metal soundtrack with two owners, Jen Otis and Brian Sprouse, committed to creating an inviting space for all. Read more here.
Mission Mountain Meadery is a production-only meadery selling direct to consumers and a few select local watering holes. The meadery comes from Steve Taylor, formerly of nano brewery, Brewgenix. It also got up and running in early 2021. Read more here.
Bliss Small Batch Creamery: This delightful scoop shop and frozen dessert destination expanded in February with a second location. The ice cream counter is tucked inside Top Pot Doughnuts in the Proctor neighborhood in Tacoma. Read more here.
Mingle is a concept flip for the former Flanagan’s in downtown Puyallup. Co-owners Tim and Kari Carson Mellema reconfigured the space to be an all-purpose cocktail lounge. It opened in March 2021. Read more here.
Forward Operating Base Brewing Co.: This DuPont brewery debuted a pop-up barbecue restaurant in April. It’s a beautiful collision of barbecue styles: the brisket is Central Texas style and mesquite smoked, plus there’s Memphis-style ribs and Carolina-style pulled pork. Their taco Tuesday game is spot-on. Read more here.
Bon Bon Bakery: This Lakewood bakery opened in April with a menu of French-Korean delights: chewy mochi doughnuts, macarons, chestnut bread, luxurious egg tarts and classic cream puffs. This really hits the sweet spot after hitting a favorite KBBQ restaurant in Lakewood’s Korean dining district. Read more here.
Jet City Pizza, the small regional pizza chain known for its dough made with brew, opened a Sixth Avenue location in May. It’s the first Pierce County location. Read more here.
Jake’s Burgers: This Sterino Farms burger truck opened in May with the freshest berry milkshakes one can get. That’s because the truck operates in a field near where the berries are picked at Sterino Farms. The truck makes stellar burgers with produce from the farm, too. Read more here.
I Luv Elotes: This pop-up street corn truck debuted in June in the Oakland neighborhood with a menu of fancy street-style Mexican corn with all kinds of modern twists. Read more here.
Camp Colvos: This Vashon-based brewery expanded across the water to open a New York style pizza spot and tasting room in Tacoma’s Brewery Blocks. Do not sleep on the cup-and-curl ‘roni pie. Decent cocktails, too. Read more here.
ZamZam International Market: This grocery store with Middle Eastern staples opened in the summer with a dizzying selection of hard-to-find ingredients. Be sure to check out the fresh meat selection that’s also halal. Read more here.
The Redd Dog U-Pour It Pub: This pour-your-own-beer spot opened this summer in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood. Diners pull their own handles and order food at a window. It’s built for families with squirmy kids who don’t want to dawdle too long. It’s also a place to sample beer to find out what you like – and don’t. Read more here.
The Roadhouse Bar and Grill: The longtime South Hill neighborhood spot with terrific bar food (those sandwiches, tho) hopped south to Graham in the old Pour Me Bistro space. The menu and concept changed and expanded slightly when it reopened in October. Read more here.
Stadium Thai: This fun neighborhood Thai spot opened in August in the former home of the Burger Bar. The great little hole-in-the-wall opened with something tough to find around Tacoma: Thai breakfast. Get the noodle dishes, you won’t regret it. Read more here.
Altha’s Louisiana Cajun Seasonings & Spices: This Kent-based destination for Cajun groceries opened an outpost in downtown Puyallup in August. Find a long list of staples you might miss from home if you grew up on the bayou. Read more here.
Ice Cream Social: This ice cream emporium duplicated itself again with dual openings. The Hilltop location, which serves as the company’s home base for making the ice cream, opened in the spring. A Proctor location opened in October. Read more here.
3uilt Tac Ave: 3uilt Tacoma, the popular destination for sandwiches, charcuterie and fresh oysters inside 7 Seas Tacoma, expanded in October to a second restaurant in downtown Tacoma. And this one specializes in breakfast. Read more here.
Buddy’s Chicken and Waffles: He didn’t open in the storefront downtown that he’s continuing to work on, but Buddy Brown did open a pop-up restaurant inside South Tacoma’s Whimsy Kitchen in November. Read more here.
The Art of Crunch: Longtime biscotti bakery The Art of Crunch opened its very first retail location in November. Find the little shop tucked next door to Wildside Wines. Packaged biscotti, cookie bars and more. Read more here.
Stanford’s: Tacoma’s newest steakhouse opened in November in downtown Tacoma in the former home of Pacific Grill. Find a restaurant specializing in steak at decent prices, plus a decent cocktail list and, of course, happy hour. Read more here.
Krab Kingz: Another seafood boil restaurant opened in November in Parkland and this one comes with a fast-casual concept where diners order at the counter. This spot is for crab lovers and those who don’t mind a low-tech atmo. Get the crab cakes. Read more here.
Mix Poke and Sip + Spoon: These dual concepts from the same local owner opened simultaneously in December in South Hill’s Sunrise Village. The options for build-your-own poke bowls are endless and the dessert drinks/boba tea concoctions are exactly what the neighborhood needed. Read more here.
Bros Burger: This South Hill burger stop focuses on char-broiled fat patties that are a third of a pound and are companions to high-quality ingredients, such as thick-cut bacon, green leaf lettuce and onion rings that are shattery crisp and panko breaded. It opened in December in South Hill’s former Quizno’s location. Read more here.
Incalmo: The fresh pasta and Roman pizza restaurant opened inside Tacoma’s beloved Museum of Glass in December. The cafe comes from the same team behind The Table in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood. Read more here.
Crisp Greens: This keto/paleo/vegetarian/whole foods salad-and-soup spot finally reopened in December after six months of knuckle-breaking work to move six blocks in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood. Look for new proteins and other additions, including vegan frozen desserts. Read more here.
Lost Woods Brewery: A companion brewery and tasting room to the Lost Woods Bonney Lake tasting room is now open. Find the combo brewery-taproom in Buckley close to another great home-grown brewery – Elk Head. Read more at my website next week!
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2022
Chi Town Pizza: Tacoma is set to get a highly coveted Chicago deep dish pizza restaurant in the first quarter of 2022. The restaurant also will serve Chicago dogs made from Vienna beefs and Italian beef sandwiches served wet, dipped or dry. More details here.
Birrieria Gourmet: Opening in downtown Tacoma in early 2022 is Birrieria Gourmet, an outpost of a Federal Way food truck, but locals will recognize the local owners who were the masterminds behind Tacoma’s beloved Mexican steakhouse, Ta Carbon. There’s already a great collection of birria here and this will be a terrific addition since the focus will be on premium beef. More details here.
Kelly’s Olympian: One of Portland’s oldest bars, Kelly’s Olympian, is expanding to Tacoma. The restaurant and bar, known for its motorcycle theme, burger menu and live music venue, plans to open another Kelly’s Olympian in Tacoma at 950 Broadway. The motorcycle-themed venue will be a must-visit destination for live music and delicious burgers. More details here.
13 Coins: The beloved regional supper club chain is still on the hunt for a home in Tacoma. The restaurant known for its captain’s chairs at the bar and its menu of solid American classics hopes to find a venue in a high-traffic area near an event center. More details here.
Jack + Adeline: Leanne and Paul Franetovich will open the doors to their 11,000 square-feet combination sourdough bread bakery and woodworking studio in downtown Tacoma. They’ll operate in the former home of Malarkey’s Pool and Brew. Hot tip: Leanne’s fabulous bread is currently available for purchase at the Point Ruston Public Market, if you can’t wait for the opening. More details here.
Fusion Bistro: This combo Asian bistro will have a merge of Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and whatever strikes the fancy of the owners who operate another restaurant in Federal Way. Built into the former Grassi’s (and Affairs before that) in University Place, the restaurant will have 100 seats and banquet space for 30. More details here.
BK’S Barbecue: When it finally opens, BK’s Barbecue will specialize in prime brisket rubbed with salt and pepper and smoked over mesquite and/or post oak – Central Texas style. Until then, follow the restaurant’s social media for adventures in barbecue. More details here.
Best Coast Barbeque: The plan is for this barbecue spot to open two locations simultaneously, if all goes as planned. If you call the barbecue style at Best Coast Barbeque anything, call it Northwest backyard style. More details here.
Tacoma Pie: The Detroit pizza pop-up that operated out of The Gourmet Niche in Tacoma plans to open a brick-and-mortar location this year. Stay tuned for more details. Background story here.
George’s BLT: The old Bonney Lake Tavern will turn into a family-friendly destination and the great news is that it comes from a restaurant owner plenty of locals already know and support – George Filiss of Al Lago and Island Lodge by Al Lago, both popular Lake Tapps restaurants. It might be ambitious to open in 2022 with the remodeling that’s expected, but here’s hoping. More details here.
Discovery Cider Co.: The former Tin Hat Cidery has rebranded to Discovery Cider Co. and it will open a tasting room in early 2022 in the upstairs space that used to be home to Stonegate Pizza on South Tacoma Way. More details here.
The Pine Cone Cafe: The staple diner in University Place will keep its name and concept, but will have new life under new owners Dana Claar Verellen and Dave Verellen, who co-own Zodiac Supper club and Dusty’s Hideway. I can’t think of two better caretakers for this beloved diner. More details here.
Original Pancake House: This terrific pancake stop known for its sourdough starter for its fluffy pancakes is expanding across the bridge to the old Harvester Gig Harbor space. More details here.
Cider + Cedar: The downtown Tacoma cider tasting room is getting a new home in another part of downtown. More details here.
Flying Tomato: Graham’s longtime family-friendly Italian joint closed up shop and is now headed to Spanaway where it found a new home at the old Little Park restaurant. More details here.
Uncle Thurm’s: We lost a gem this year when longtime soul food stop Uncle Thurm’s closed in the Lincoln District. But co-owners Thurmond and Linda Brokenbrough are open to a relocation.
Grit City Ciderworks: We lost this nano cidery 18 months after it opened in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.
The Main Ingredient Pizzeria operated for just over a year in the former Stonegate space on South Tacoma Way. They just couldn’t make it through the pandemic woes.
Pizza Studio: The kid-friendly pizza joint closed after four years operating in Lakewood.
Gateway to India: The Gig Harbor location of the popular Indian restaurant didn’t make it in 2021. But the owners aren’t ruling out a relocation. The Tacoma location lives on.
Steamers Seafood Cafe: The Titlow Beach fast-casual fish and chips restaurant closed in April after 30 years at its perch on the waterfront. But the owners of Steamers remain in Tacoma – they purchased Lobster Shop in December. Read more here.
Costella’s: The excellent family restaurant serving delicious piles of pasta closed after a year in its South Hill location, but a new restaurant is expected to open in the space.