(Re)Making a Classic

Tacoma’s Cliff House is back

Photos by Jeff Hobson

After several closures over the past few years, it seemed like The Cliff House, the Tacoma restaurant with the iconic view of Commencement Bay, was set to be nothing more than a piece of nostalgia, a place that people spoke fondly of proms, anniversaries and birthday dinners. But chef and restauranteur Peppe Nappo wants to make sure The Cliff House remains more than a memory. He bought the property and the restaurant in 2011, shut it down for major renovations for about a year, and reopened quietly in March of this year.

“I think a lot of people have been waiting for this … we’ve been really busy, but it’s all just been word of mouth. No advertising or anything like that. We’ve done great business with the neighborhood,” Nappo said. The owner and operator of several other area restaurants, including Verrazano’s Italian Restaurant in Federal Way and Al Lago Ristorante in Lake Tapps, Nappo hopes to remake The Cliff House into a South Sound institution.

His dedication to the restaurant’s return to glory is marked by extensive renovations he’s done to the building. Nappo had to replace the building’s underground plumbing and its entire electrical system, replace all the equipment and appliances and remodel much of the interior. He created a new bar upstairs (previously there was no bar space upstairs), installed new bathrooms and added new finishes throughout the restaurant. His take on the finishes was unique — rather than creating an ultra modern look, Nappo opted to update the finishes without taking away the old look and feel of the place. “I wanted to keep it like it’s been here forever,” he said.

Nappo is a chef by trade. He was born and raised in Naples, Italy, where his family restaurant, la Sirena in the Gulf of Naples, had been passed on for four generations. He worked there as a young boy, and grew up around food, so owning restaurants and cooking was a natural profession for him. He designed the menu, which highlights seafood, steaks and Northwestern cuisine with an Italian flair. The Cliff House only serves Certified Angus and USDA Prime steaks, a rarity in this area. Nappo explained that he received incredible value on the purchase of the property, and so he’s eager to pass on that value to his customers. “I know I could have priced higher, but I know that we’re in a downturn. I want everyone to be able to afford a nice night out,” he said.

Expect appetizers such as blackened ahi ($11) served over arugula with avocado, pickled English cucumbers finished with a soy demi and wasabi and the antipastino ($9), a plate of toasted bread, grilled eggplant, marinated olives, artichokes, fresh mozzarella and imported Italian meats. The peppered scallops ($27) is one of the most popular dinner entrees, and with four monstrous sea scallops sitting on a bed of spinach and bacon lardoons, it’s also a great value. Also popular are the salmon entrée (always wild), and believe it or not, Nappo claims the fish and chips are some of the best out there.

The Cliff House runs several specials throughout the week, including prime rib on Fridays and Saturdays, and a special brunch menu on Sundays. And of course, private events can be held in the restaurant’s lower level, with a view that might even rival the one found upstairs. Nappo hopes to start having live jazz or acoustic music in the restaurant soon.

With a new owner committed to success, a revamped menu, and that breathtaking view of Commencement Bay, The Cliff House seems poised for a return to prominence. So far, the word-of-mouth buzz has been a help. Nappo believes more and more diners will return to The Cliff House as that buzz continues to trickle out into the South Sound’s dining community, and so time will tell whether or not this Tacoma icon will regain its luster.

When You Go

The Cliff House
6300 Marine View Drive, Tacoma
cliffhousetacoma.com, 253.927.0400
Hours: Monday to Thursday 11am to 10 pm;
Friday and Saturday, 11am to 11pm;
Happy Hour, daily, 3 to 6pm and 9 to close

is a contributor to South Sound magazine.
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