We’ve already gone over one of the essential stops for any trip to Seattle, Pike Place Market. But for those of you who prefer to follow the less obvious route, spend a day exploring Ballard. It’s a located in a former Nordic fishing village that was swallowed up by the urban sprawl of Seattle — soon achieving trendy suburb status [see it on a Google map]. “A sleepy little drinking village with a condo problem” read a t-shirt we found in one of the neighborhoods excellent bars, which we stumbled upon during a weekend of drinking both old fashioned and new fangled. Here are the highlights.

► See photos from our eating and drinking adventures in Ballard

Chuck’s Hop Shop
When we were figuring out where to start, a friend of a friend of a friend told us about a little spot out on the edge of the hood, and we mean the very, very edge. Chuck’s Hop Shop is a beer shop that turns into a bar with a food truck at night. They advertise the largest selection of bottled craft beer in the Pacific Northwest, and a rotating selection on tap that are available by the flight, glass or growler. We arrived too early for the crepe truck that was due in that night, but we grabbed a bottle of local coffee stout and watched the Seattle rain mist down 656 NW 85th St. Seattle, WA 98117 chucks85th.com

Paseo
When a New Yorker hears “this place has the best sandwich ever” outside of New York, the world sort of stands still. After all, we’re used to being the best of the best in virtually all “things between bread” categories. Ladies and gentlemen, we may be willing to cede this one. Paseo’s version of a Cuban, the Caribbean Roast, may just be the best sandwich ever. Who cares that it isn’t really a Cuban — when you’re turning out something this good, you can call it whatever you like. It’s loaded with roasted pork so juicy and messy, be ready to just throw your shirt away when you’re done; napkins aren’t going to help you here. Make sure to bring cash, an empty stomach and come early, they run out of that pork daily. 6226 Seaview Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107 paseoseattle.com

Sloop Tavern
We stumbled over to Sloop’s in a food coma after Paseo’s — and really, there’s nothing better after a mountain of pork than a bucket of beer. Sloop Tavern has been a Ballard mainstay since 1953 and these blue-collar hangouts are a dying breed in the neighborhood. If dive bar charm is your thing, then Sloop’s should be on your list. The guys at the bar assured us that the burger here was a good one, and they looked pretty tasty, but as we had a belly full of pork we only had room for a “Sloopersized” beer. With a rude hand gesture to Mayor Bloomberg, we downed our 33.8 oz mug of Budweiser and paid only $4.50 for it. 2830 Northwest Market Street, Seattle, WA 98107 theslooptavern.com

Café Besalu
Cafe Besalu turns out some of the flakiest French pastries we’ve ever seen Stateside. Faced with a pastry case full of decisions — we couldn’t decide between sweet or savory —  we took one of each. Onions and Gruyere for breakfast? When it’s this good, why not. The pastry is golden brown and so flaky, it’s like edible stain glass when you grab a seat at one of the tables in the window. 5909 24th Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107 cafebesalu.com

King’s Hardware
King’s Hardware is owned by Seattle bar legend Linda Derschang. It’s a convivial place for a nicely crafted cocktail and hearty, rib-sticking bar snacks. We opted for The Bradley, which promised Branca Menta, iced coffee and walnut bitters (did we mention all that pork and all that beer earlier). King’s Hardware also has a garden when the weather is better. 5225 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107 kingsballard.com

The Sexton
The fine folks at King’s Hardware sent us up the road for our next stop. The Sexton has been open on Ballard Avenue for less than a year and exactly the kind of spot everyone wishes would open in their neighborhood. Inventive, but not overwrought cocktails. Thoughtful service. Tasty and downright whimsical food. And bourbon flights. We had a spicy, Serrano chile-infused tequila cocktail, Daisy’s Last Stand, paired with cornbread prepared in a waffle iron, with chipotle cheddar and roasted red pepper honey butter. Boom. Delicious.  5327 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107 sextonseattle.com

Hazlewood
Hazlewood is a tiny little boite on Northwest Market Street, and probably the original Ballard craft cocktail joint (over 10 years and counting). By the time we cozied up to the bar, we needed to hit the re-set button on our digestive system and asked the bartender what he recommended. This was the moment Hazlewood became our new favorite bar. We are booze nerds, it’s a fact, the sight of rows and rows of booze-filled bottles makes our hearts go pitter pat, so when he pulled out a bottle of something we’d never seen before we were intrigued and then impressed. It was a bottle of Mexican Fernet Vallet — a mysterious fernet with inky color and viscosity. We poured some into a tumbler over ice with a splash of soda and an fancy orange peel, handed it to us and said, “There you go.” It was that and the fact that there was a suit-clad DJ on the upper balcony playing all our favorite punk rock made us instantly think this would be our regular if we lived in Ballard. 2311 Northwest Market Street, Seattle, WA 98107

The Walrus and the Carpenter
The Walrus and the Carpenter is one of the most celebrated and lauded restaurants in America right now, a champion of the new style of American fine dining. Much younger than you would expect, casual, confident and laid-back, if you have the time and the gumption to deal with their no reservations and their one to two hour wait times you will be treated to a perfect time capsule of dining in 2013. Mainly billed as an oyster bar, order a selection of whatever they’ve got going; they helpfully rank the oyster list in order of brininess if you prefer not to gamble. The menu is built on small plates — order lots to share around. The signature dishes are the grilled sardines dressed with a pesto of walnut, parsley and shallot, the smoked trout architecturally stacked on top of lentils, with walnuts, onions and creme fraiche, the deep colored dish of house cured duck prosciutto with pickled huckleberries and pistachios, and a superlative steak tartare served with a whole infantry of toasted bread. 4743 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107 thewalrusbar.com

Ballard Smoke Shop
Our new best friends at Sloop’s told us that the Ballard Smoke Shop is the place everyone ends up after they’ve been thrown out of everywhere else, so naturally we thought that would be the perfect place to end our night. Another classic dive bar, with an ancient jukebox and a saucy gal named Linda behind the bar. If you’ve had one too many she’ll put a bowl of soup in front of you, and you’d better eat it or else. The night we were in, a guy from the 90’s grunge scene was buying everyone in the bar round after round of drinks, and one of the regulars was slipping the tongue to a younger patron…much to his dismay. This place was the tops. 5439 Ballard Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107


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