MagoGuide Winter Tour 2013

Towards the end of each year we pick an area of the US to visit and review.  Last year we chose a region that included three cities: Chicago, Cleveland, and Louisville.  You can read all about it in the MagoGuide Winter Tour 2012. This year, we’re concentrating on the Pacific Northwest in general and Seattle in particular.  We made posts along the way, but now it’s time to count the votes.

Following is our list of top 10 restaurants in Seattle:

  1. RockCreek – Our very favorite.  It was well worth the bus ride to Freemont.
  2. Quinn’s – This had it all: Belgium beer, fancy drinks, and great small plates like popcorn with bacon.
  3. Poppy – Although there are plenty of folks who disagree, we loved Poppy and highly recommend it.  It is on the expensive side.
  4. Monsoon – This was a great Sunday brunch with innovative dishes.
  5. Lark – Another really good small plates restaurant.
  6. Salumi – This little place has a big reputation and it lived up.
  7. Skillet Diner – We went back several times.  What better recommendation is needed.
  8. Purple – Interesting food with an atmosphere to match.
  9. 5 Spot – Just what one wants in a diner.
  10. Cactus – A bit uneven but overall good. It had a great dessert.

So that’s it.  Get thee to Seattle and try out some of these places.

Leaving the North Fork

Runners in Le Grizz north of Polebridge

Leaving the North Fork is never easy, in more ways than one.  It’s beautiful this time of year, so leaving the turning larches seems like a mistake.  Where could we be going that’s any more beautiful.  And this year departing for the Winter Tour was a special challenge because the Government shutdown caused a 50 mile race called Le Grizz to be moved from a national forest to the North Fork road above Polebridge.  This meant that as we were driving out on Saturday morning we had to weave in and out of panting runners.  After passing Polebridge, we were able to focus on the beauty of fall in the crown of the continent.  We were soon on the road to Spokane, our overnight stop before moving on to Seattle.


Spokane is not a city so much as a really big town. It is a nice place to spend the night, but not a week much less a serious chunk of your life. The downtown area is clean, split by an eponymous river, replete with a very nice park and associated trails that run 37 miles east to the Idaho border, and kind of boring. Residents, like their polis, are basically friendly and fairly non-descript.

Given that Bing Crosby is Spokane’s favorite son, none of this should come as a surprise. That it did is the responsibility of The Lonely Planet Guide. I decided to switch guidebooks on this trip because I have become so disappointed by the decline in the quality of the Rough Guide series. Even accounting for that once indispensable publication’s fall from grace, however, Lonely Planet sucks even more.

According to Lonely Planet Spokane is “one of the state’s latent surprises” as well as “understated yet confident”. Readers are warned to “prepare yourself for some interesting revelations; there’s more to this modest metropolis that meets the eye.” Perhaps this phraseology is Lonely Planet’s way of saying boring? More likely Lonely Planet seems to be continuing in its bad old ways of paying its authors so little that they never visit the area in question, but rely on Internet hype and acquaintances that no longer live in the city to write their guidebooks.

Outside the Hotel Ruby

Based on Lonely Planet, we chose Hotel Ruby, a repurposed Rodeway Inn that is already deteriorating. The “funky color accents” are interesting for about five minutes until you try to make things work. Our refrigerator did not function, but it did make a lot of noise. The friendly but pretty much clueless staff offered to move us to another room, but we made do with our cooler for the night. We did have to spend 15 minutes figuring out how to unplug the fridge, which then became an obstacle to navigation for the rest of our stay. The WI Fi was free but hardly high speed. The attached bar (the Sapphire Lounge) specialized in fancy mixed drinks and was a nice place for a nightcap, but unless you really, really liked hard boiled eggs the continental breakfast was meager. Although less expensive than the famous Hotel Davenport across the street, in general the Hotel Ruby did not live up to the Lonely Planet’s hype of an “unbeatable downtown location.”

Steelhead Bar and Grill

Address:  218 N Howard St, Spokane, WA 99201
Phone:  (509) 747-1303)
Hours: Every day from 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM

We eschewed the guide book for a restaurant choice and ended up at the Steelhead Bar and Grill (Address: 218 N Howard St, Spokane, WA 99201, Phone: (509) 747-1303), which is an independent restaurant that tries in every way possible to be a chain. The place was packed at 5:30 PM, but that did not turn out to mean that the food was good; rather it seems that Spokaneans do not like to stay up late on Saturday night. We sat at the bar and were entertained by the amiable and clumsy wait staff who kept breaking glasses right in front of us for our amusement. It turned out that we were seated next to Kalispell Ken and Barbie, who had made a special effort to dine at the Steelhead because it was “even more awesome than Chilis.” The food was mediocre at best and the micro brews nothing to write home, or anywhere else, about.

The best part of the stay in Spokane was the 3D Imax at the downtown AMC 20. Since we had made the 4.5 hour trip from Hootersville to Pixly, it seemed only right to go to the Bijoux for a pitcher show.  Patti was a bit shocked when it cost $32 for two tickets and another $10.50 for a small bag of popcorn and small bottle of water, but then again we don’t get out much.  We both enjoyed the movie Gravity, though.

On the way back from Seattle to the North Fork we are going to stay in Cour d’Alene, but in the future MagoGuide is going to take the train from Whitefish to either Seattle or Portland and skip Bing’s modest metropolis altogether. As for The Lonely Planet, I would urge readers to check out MagoGuide instead. We go where we write about and we tell the truth.

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Morgan Hart was launched in 2011 as a website and virtual storefront to showcase Patti’s software and Morgan’s content. Dedicated to slow travel, culinary excess, and ripping good yarns, MagoGuide is the digital scriptoria for the Mago Scrolls, Morgan’s historical fiction series about the Punic Wars in general and one Mago of Syracuse in particular. Although Morgan has written a great deal of non-fiction over the years in the form of specialized journal articles, book reviews, op-ed pieces, and (his personal favorite) the most unpopular coffee table book in the history of the planet, he always viewed himself as a happily frustrated novelist. Get more information about Morgan’s novel and travel writing at our Products page.