The Totem hash — homemade corned beef, potatoes and onions, topped with fried eggs — at Totem Family Diner in Everett. (Mark Carlson / The Herald)

The Totem hash — homemade corned beef, potatoes and onions, topped with fried eggs — at Totem Family Diner in Everett. (Mark Carlson / The Herald)

Rediscovering the Totem, an Everett food landmark

This bustling diner has been filling hungry bellies since 1953 — and it’s still going strong.

Is the restaurant busy?

That’s my No. 1 rule for picking a place to eat.

Sadly, I disregarded that rule not long ago when a friend and I visited a Chinese restaurant for lunch. The place was deserted — unless you count a dozen or so day drinkers in the cocktail lounge.

Sure enough, the food was some of the worst stuff I’d ever put in my mouth.

I’ll bet the drinks were strong, though.

Thus chastened, I’ll never ignore rule No. 1 again.

There’s no danger of breaking my rule at Totem Family Diner, an Everett institution since Ike was in the White House and diner waitresses wore nurselike uniforms. It’s a really busy place — for good reason, as I soon learned.

The diner’s named for a 60-foot-tall pole created by Tulalip carver and cultural leader William Shelton in 1923. The pole stood near the restaurant, at the corner of Rucker Avenue and 44th Street, for decades. By the 1990s, the elements had taken their toll, and the pole was removed and preserved for safekeeping on the Tulalip reservation.

The pole may be gone, but a very cool neon sign with a totem motif greets passersby on Rucker.

In a world where even good restaurants usually die after a few years, the Totem’s a true outlier. My family drove by the place and its striking namesake pole countless times on road trips to Seattle on U.S. 99 in our 1957 Plymouth Fury.

More recently, I’ve been working a short walk from the diner. Despite all this, I’d never eaten there before this week, when I decided to rectify the situation.

Waiting to be seated, I checked out a vintage menu from the diner’s early days, displayed by the door. A clubhouse sandwich cost you 95 cents — about $9 in today’s money.

Not wanting to monopolize one of the four-person booths, I took a seat at the counter, where I watched the staff greet the regulars — they were equally friendly to the newbie.

The place was packed with folks of all ages, from elders reading newspapers to kids Snapchatting their friends across the table.

I enjoyed a close-up view of the busy short-order cooks flying out plates stacked high with omelettes, pancakes, waffles and all kinds of tempting diner chow from the restaurant’s extensive menu (there are 40 breakfast choices, and 10 more on the weekly special list).

Slurping black coffee from a mug as heavy as a cobblestone, I chose the Totem hash off the breakfast specials menu for $13.95. Before long, I was presented with a plate of house-made corned beef hash with potatoes, onions and peppers and topped with a couple of fried eggs. The corned beef banished unhappy memories of the salty canned glop from my youth. That’s because the Totem does its own in-house barbecue and smoked meats. With the eggs, potatoes and two slices of thick toasted sourdough, the hash was a perfect diner breakfast.

The Totem’s lunch menu is as extensive as its breakfast offerings. My neighbor at the counter chowed down on a burger with strips of bacon protruding like pig whiskers from beneath the bun, with a mountainous pile of seasoned fries beside it. Clearly, the portions here will please everybody, except perhaps your personal trainer and your cardiologist.

My breakfast order was followed by another order, this time to go: the Joe’s Special ($12.95), off the breakfast special list. I wanted to bring something back to the office for my deskbound workmates to sample. My professional server was not fazed in the least by the odd request. I’m sure Jack Nicholson would have had no problem getting his plain omelette with toast at the Totem.

The scramble was made with Italian sausage, Parmesan, spinach, bell peppers, onions and garlic. It came with a side of roasted potatoes and toast.

Don’t be fooled by the Average Joe name. The sausage, Parmesan and garlic combination puts this scramble well above average.

“It’s given me a new appreciation for scrambled eggs and reminded me just how hungry I was,” colleague Sara Bruestle said. “You can’t go wrong with eggs and cheese, but there are so many delicious ways to enjoy them. The toast and potatoes were just what you’d hope them to be. Toast: Fresh, crunchy and buttery. Potatoes: Perfectly seasoned and hearty. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside.”

Sara also duly noted that the Joe’s Special would be ideal hangover fare. I concur.

And so too, presumably, would the bar denizens at that Chinese joint.

If you go

What: Totem Family Diner

Where: 4410 Rucker Ave., Everett

When: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

More: 425-252-3277 or

Talk to us

More in Life

Follow these step-by-step directions to plant all summer long and never lose one to the heat. (Getty Images)
Gardening pro shares 7 steps to successful summer planting

When a landscape contractor in the Sacramento Valley, he planted all summer long and never lost a plant.

Evan Thompson / The Record
The Shifty Sailors performed at the Celebrate America event on July 3 at Freeland Park.
It’ll be concerts ahoy! on Whidbey Island this weekend

The Shifty Sailors and the Saratoga Orchestra will perform two pop-up concerts. They’ll do the TikTok sensation, “The Wellerman.”

"Betty Corning" clematis' lavender-blue petals dangle from long flower stems, which look like ballerina skirts floating in the air. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ aka viticella clematis

This clematis’ lavender-blue petals dangle from long flower stems, which look like ballerina skirts floating in the air.

This large, enameled copper plate is decorated with a stylized rooster, fish and three star-like designs. The back is textured enamel with the mark "Karamu OH Hykes." (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Enameled bowl by talented Karamu artist should fetch thousands

The shallow bowl with a stylized picture of a rooster on the front was signed “Karamu OH Hykes” on the back.

This year's Quilts on the Beach is scheduled for July 31 at Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island. (Cama Beach Quilters)
Home and garden events and resources around Snohomish County

Home and garden events and resources around Snohomish County

The Pilchuck Boyz will release their new album "Leisure Village" on July 23.
Snohomish’s Pilchuck Boyz release new album of ‘mossy reggae’

With their silly, hooky tunes and willingness to make fools of themselves, the duo have been compared to the Flight of the Conchords.

At The Landing, prime rib is also sliced and served as sliders and a hearty English-cut sandwich. (Quil Ceda Creek Casino)
Taste of Tulalip: Prime rib with horseradish sauce and au jus

Now you can roast Quil Ceda Creek Casino’s classic prime rib at home. Pro tip: Turn it into sliders or sandwiches.

A double smash burger with cheese is messy to eat, but easy to make. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Eat This: Double-decker smash burgers with secret sauce

This recipe calls for stacking two burgers between three buns, so it’s messy to eat. Be sure to have a stack of napkins.

LeRoy Bell 

LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends will rock the Edmonds Center for the Arts on July 24.
All about music: Schedule of concerts around Snohomish County

The listings include Historic Everett Theatre, Edmonds Center for the Arts and Thumbnail Theater shows.

Most Read