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Olympia's dining scene changes constantly. Old favorites move on, new ones open, restaurants with views are everywhere but chefs change, etc. Olympia's dining scene provides a lot of variety and originality.
The Spar, an historic site, has been taken over and reopened under new management. The food is not as good as before and most locals report that there is a major problem with service. By removing the tobacconist shop and counter and adding more tables, the old kitchen, always small and slow, cannot function. Lunches take much longer than one hour and there are food quality problems. The new owners have many Oregon and WA locations, hopefully they will recognize what is not working and restore the SPAR to its former glory days--their stated intention.
The Waterstreet Cafe and Bar is noteworthy for consistently good food near the Capitol building with ever-changing specials to accommodate the freshest ingredients, a wonderful semi-formal to semi-casual atmosphere, and a wonderful wine selection complemented by local micro-brew beers on tap. Meeting rooms small and large are available for special events.
For a Parisian-style patisserie, visit The Bread Peddler on Capitol Way just north of State Street. Pain-au-chocolat never fails to please, or try seasonal offerings with your espresso, and get a baguette to go. Walk off the calories by heading a few blocks north to the Farmers Market (in season), where you can continue to stuff yourself with Mexican, German, Asian, and other food-stall fare, as well as fresh fruits (free samples!) and veggies, and locally made gifts to remember Olympia by.
WATERFRONT and VIEWS:
Gardner's is another old standby, special occasion restaurant in Olympia. It is adjacent to the Hilton Doubletree, formerly Phoenix Inn. No view and only open for dinner. It is pasta oriented, famous for its desserts and has a good menu selection of seafood, steak and poultry. Fresh seafood selections are limited. Its expensive. They have added a full bar.
Some people like The Mark. This restaurant offers mostly organic food, but presents it in a unique way that is both creative and delicious. The service and prices are also favorable, and the vintage feel of the restaurant completes a great experience.
There is the funky and excellent Fish Bowl Brew Pub. For Sandwiches you cant beat the Fifth Avenue Sandwich shop. There is also Merconi's which features quasi-east coast subs.
Italian restaurants downtown include Trinacria, Casa Mia (always popular and crowded for lunch--arrive early or late), and Basilico.
If Thai is more your style the Lemongrass is the best but if it is too busy pop around the corner to Mekong. It is a little cheaper and the food doesn't quite have that extra something the Lemongrass does. Lemon Grass has opened a second location in Tumwater on Capitol Blvd and now a third at Hawks Prarie. The menu and food are the same as downtown. Tumwater location is usually very crowded and the noise level in unacceptable. Stick with downtown if possible. However, Hawks Prarie is very luxurious in decor with a faux Chihuly ceiling affect and waterfalls.
For some quality Mexican food, Peppers South of the Border is a great place to visit. The service is excellent, and the food is all made to order, so special orders are not a problem. The chicken chimichangas are extremely popular, and despite their low prices, the portions are quite hearty. You can also eat in the bar where there is a salsa tasting sampler.
El Sarape, which has three locations in Olympia on the westside near the Mall, Tumwater, and Lacey, is also a popular spot for decent Mexican food.
Probably the best Chinese food in town is Emperor's Palace. They have two locations, one in Lacey on Martin Way; the other on the westside near Capitol Mall. However, a new place called The Shanghai has opened in Lacey near the brand new Holiday Inn on 6th Avenue. It is a Mongolian grill place, but the menu items are extensive and good. The vegetables are very fresh, service is friendly, and there is ample parking. They are closed Sunday. They also offer an inexpensive lunch menu popular with state workers and others.
There are three chinese buffets--one in Tumwater (Best Buffet), one in Lacey (Main Buffet), but the best is Super Buffet at Hawks Prarie. Lunch is the best price and they offer a punch card for frequent dinners.
Traditional chains like Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster are also popular dining spots. The Olive Garden's unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks are hard to resist, and Red Lobster is known for serving up adequate seafood dishes. Red Robin for burgers. Most are located near Capitol Mall on Olympia's westside.