A Night Out in White Center
Perfectly gritty 🐀
August 18, 2022
📸: Full Tilt + Southgate Roller Rink | Hoa Hong
So you want a hot date in White Center. I don’t blame you. Most of Seattle slept on this neighborhood just outside the city limits until just recently, partially because of its alleged sketchy reputation. But there’s so much to love here, from longtime restaurants and shops, many immigrant and minority-owned, to brand-new creative spots filling in along the main drag.
This playful night in Rat City starts with a couple of slices before moving on to arcade games at the neighborhood ice cream shop. Then you get to show off your skating skills—or at least see some cool outfits—at the roller rink. If you’re feeling it, you’ll wind down with a fresh and tasty vegetable treat.
It was honestly a little heartbreaking not to include 50 more places on this itinerary, so spend a little time walking around while you’re there. Maybe you’ll make an unplanned pit stop that makes your evening perfect—perfectly gritty.
The pizza that allegedly made White Center famous 🍕
This neighborhood pizza joint serves up New York-ish super-thin, puffy-crust slices and pies in an all-ages pizzeria up front and a cozy 21+ bar in the back. There’s usually an assortment of classic slices like cheese, pepperoni, and margherita available at the counter, but you’d be missing out on the full menu of house pizzas, which is where Proletariat really shines.
Their Hawaiian pizza uses SPAM, an extremely Hawaiian choice, for the pork element, but you can upgrade to prosciutto if you want to get fancy. For those into an olive oil base, the simply-named Potato has, of course, thinly-sliced potatoes with just a little bite—think of a just-right, non-mushy dish scalloped potatoes—with gorgonzola cheese to add some sharpness to the starch-heavy slice. The Favorite is either Italian or Field Roast sausage, fresh garlic, and Mama Lil’s peppers.
It’s this unique combination of unpretentious and elevated that has gained Proletariat such a cult following over the years, deservedly so. I do have one quibble: Their motto is “the pizza that made White Center famous,” even though the legendary pupusas at Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant, another fabulous dinner or anytime option, came along more than a decade earlier. The pizza is so good that it’s hard to stay mad at it, though.
📍 Proletariat Pizza: 9622-A 16th Ave SW, Seattle
Open Monday through Thursday from 4-9 pm, Friday and Saturday 12-10 pm, and Sundays 12-9 pm.
Get very fast, very furious 🕹️
If you’ve only seen Full Tilt’s products on store shelves—and never thought about the name too hard—you might not know that pinball and other arcade games are kind of their thing. In addition to sweet treats like ice cream and milkshakes, both vegan and otherwise, you’ll find a bevy of pinball tables and arcade cabinets, including the fantasy epic Gauntlet, Simpsons Pinball Party, and the always-incredible Monster Bash. A selection of offbeat comics and local art doesn’t hurt, either.
There’s usually some kind of canned adult beverage selection, along with a selection of sodas, so even if you’re not up to full-on ice cream you can hang out and race each other on the pair of The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift driving cabinets. But if you have a sweet tooth, you can also throw a scoop of ice cream in there for a beer or soda float. Ice cream flavors include some solid basics for traditionalists, but they usually have a weirdo or two. Last time I was in there they had one with marshmallows, fruit loops, and oreo pieces in it. These are the brave souls who dare to make a black licorice ice cream; they’re capable of anything.
Full Tilt was one of several businesses disrupted by a few devastating fires last year, but ended up being one of the first to open back up. Keep an eye out for its neighbors as they get the lights back on, including Huong Xua Deli, one of the area’s best banh mi spots, right next door.
📍 Full Tilt Ice Cream: 9629 16th Ave SW, Seattle
Closed Mondays, open Tuesday – Thursday and Sunday from 12-9 pm, and Friday and Saturday 12-10 pm.
Roll on in the rink 🛼
Southgate Roller Rink has all the trappings of a skating venue, including kids’ and family stuff, but it spends most of its open hours as an adults-only punk rock roller disco. Show up after 8:30 pm (9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays) for stiff drinks, hot jams, and beautiful people wearing wild outfits. Fridays, when they host full-on live punk shows that you can skate to, are really what sets this rink apart, along with its iconic Wednesday Pride Skate. It’s open and 21+ every night of the week, free on Mondays, and $10-$15 admission the rest of the time. Each night has a different theme, so check their website while you’re planning your day (and your wardrobe).
Skate rentals, the classic hi-top heeled skates you’d expect from a roller rink, are $5, or you can bring your own, subject to a very brief safety inspection at the front counter. I ended up switching to my own cheap flat pair after coming here a few times for the sake of my poor feet, but far better skaters than me rent them and do just fine. Regardless, there will be people with customized light-up skates or rollerblades doing backflips around you. That is just a reality for everybody except the people doing the backflips.
Navigating the place is half the fun. You can bring your drinks rinkside (not on the rink!), but to fetch them, you need to navigate to the back bar, which is down a decently carpeted ramp with, blessedly, a handrail. Climbing back up with a drink or two with wheels on your feet is a skill of its own. You could also just finish your drink down below—there’s live comedy on Mondays and karaoke Tuesday through Thursday.
📍 Southgate Roller Rink: 9646 17th Ave SW, Seattle
Lil elote nightcap 🌽
There are a couple of options here. You could just skate (or sing karaoke in the back bar) late into the night, or, if you call it quits or need a break before 10 pm, you can have a lil elote nightcap at the aptly-named Best Roasted Corn. For the unfamiliar, elotes, sometimes called “Mexican street corn” (not wrong!), are grilled corn on the cob with toppings that typically include mayo, cotija cheese, and chili powder, although there’s some variation.
Best Roasted Corn makes wonderful elotes—also available in Hot Cheetos and Takis flavors, swapping the chili powder for either spicy snack dust—but is not limited to them. Other offerings include “American Corn” (with butter, salt, and pepper), “Central American Corn” (with mayo, cheese, mustard, ketchup, and chili powder), “African corn” (with lemon, salt, and chili powder), and “Asian corn” (completely unadorned). Chicharron is served a few different ways. One of my favorite things to get is the Mango con Pepino, a beautifully-cut whole mango with sour sauce and Tajin seasoning.
Beloved taco truck Taqueria La Fondita is right next door. As a vegetarian, I highly recommend their horchata—but meat eaters tend to come out with rave reviews about the food, too. It’s open until 11 pm.
📍 Best Roasted Corn Stand: 9811 15th Ave SW, Seattle
Open every day from 11 am to 10 pm.
Sarah Anne Lloyd is a writer and lifelong Seattleite whose work has appeared in Seattle Met, The Stranger, Seattle Weekly, KNKX, and others. She lives on the outskirts of West Seattle with her partner, an absolutely perfect dog, and six terrifying chickens. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahannelloyd.