The Best First Date Restaurant Anywhere - Cactus Restaurant in Madison Park
Cactus Restaurant in Madison Park-- the best first date restaurant anywhere. Why? Well, when my sister Sheila and I were single gals in our 20s, we were convinced Cactus had all the perfect attributes of a place that would put any guy at ease, which is important when meeting anyone you don’t know well. This strategy even applies to a first business meeting. The Setting First off, the restaurant is easy to find and in a lovely residential neighborhood that has great street appeal, with charming shops perfect for walking by before or after your date. It’s where Madison Street meets Lake Washington.
Once you arrive, this hotspot is bustling and sending good vibes, from the Latin music to the Crayola-colored exterior. You see a mix of trendy twenty and thirtysomethings crowding the entrance, parents with children, and gal pals getting together for a girls night out. On warm days, everyone begs to be seated in the coveted outside dining area so they can people watch. No reservations except for parties of six or more. Frequent diners know to arrive before seven; after that it’s a 45 minute wait. But if you are faced with a wait, there is no need to worry, simply get on south-of- the-border time, grab a pager and wander over to the Attic Tavern to pass the time. Have a cold beer, watch the ballgame or ask if Colleen is in and allow her to give you a hard time; it’s part of the neighborhood lore.
In or out, once you are seated you can look around and see the who’s who of Seattle and Bellevue. This is where Bill and Melinda Gates courted, Howard and Sherri Schultz sightings occur and local TV anchor talent from every news station in town can be spotted. I actually had a Kevin Bacon moment there, so now I have am one degree to Kevin Bacon, all thanks to Cactus.
The Service The waiters and busboys have been there for at least 10 years, so the service staff is swift and very professional. Warm chips and the best tasting salsa anywhere arrive and it’s now up to you to choose between some of the most creative cocktails in town. Personally, I like a bit more tequila in my margaritas than theirs have, so I keep it simple and order beer or sangria. Or test the bartender’s knowledge and ask for a “hot mandarin love;” spicy and sweet, it’s the perfect bracer. There are so many “man” pleasers and “lady” killer menu items that anyone you bring as a date will be happy.
The Selections While they have specials and change the menu frequently, I am a traditional Cactus gal that sticks with the original item such as Guacamole, Grilled Jalapenos (herb goat cheese, bacon and buttermilk crema) and Camarones D’El Diablo (crispy white Mexican prawns, spicy Diablo sauce). After years of pressure, the ownership added Nachos and Quesadillas, and while they are fantastic, they are a meal in themselves and I would rather get them at happy hour price (M-F from 3-6pm, Sat-Sun 3-5pm).
As crazy as this seems, sharing a Fajita order with their skirt steak or chicken is much more fun that trying to stuff yourself with a huge entrée each. That way you can enjoy the Tortilla Soup (shredded chicken, ancho chiles and fire-roasted tomatoes topped with fresh avocado, chopped cilantro, blue corn tortilla strips). If sharing food is not something your date is up for, then I suggest any of the Tacos with house-made white corn tortillas served with Spanish rice and cumin black beans. Carnitas Yucatecas, Pollo, Pescado, Carne Asada and Camorones are all worthy choices. The Chimayo Enchilada is my favorite item; blue corn tortillas, house-made chorizo, chicken, spicy green chile sauce and jack cheese. If memory serves me correctly, it was the owner Brett Chatalas who made that up one day for himself to eat and it has now become a classic menu item.
How people leave room for dessert is beyond me, however the The Milk Cuban Flan and Bananas Dulce are superb.
There is nothing like a walk along the lake shore or some late night window shopping to close out the evening - it’s romantic and gives you a chance to just chat. My sister has been married for almost 15 years to her guy that she took to Cactus on a first date they still love to go back and recall that first night out. I visit often and can still pick out those couples who are just discovering Cactus for the first time.
4220 East Madison Seattle, WA 98112 206-324-4140
Open for lunch 11:30 – 4:00, Dinner Sunday – Thursday 4-10 Friday and Saturday 4 – 11 Happy Hour in the bar only Monday – Friday 3-6 Saturday and Sunday 3-5