Vienthong’s epic squid salad with green papaya.
SeattleMet Magazine is always publishing a top or best of list of some kind, but when they printed a story on the “Best Asian Restaurants” in 2011 it captured my son Douglas’s (then 12 years old) and my attention. Since we live near the Rainier Valley and Seattle’s International District, the hub for all things Asian, it seemed responsible to investigate the hood. We already had favorites, but were willing to expand our horizons and hopefully identify gems we were missing. I have traveled extensively through out South East Asia and was also hoping to find those meals that would instantly transport me back to the alleys and shacks simply by the taste and smells, a sign of true authenticity. I should note that I did not make it to China, as a brief visit was on my itinerary at the time in 1989, but the Tinaman Square incident just a week before prevented Americans from entering the country for a spell.
Katharine Robinson began her Met article “Northwest by FarEast” by stating “Where Dallas has it’s steaks, Memphis its barbecue, and LA its Mexican – Seattle has Asian food.” And what a trip it is visiting most all the spots. It took us over two years; some needed a second and sometimes a fifth chance. Most restaurants on our list are convenient to Seattle.
I finally motivated to publish this list because my favorite restaurant, Sea Garden, was forced to close due to a fire. It’s a reminder that good restaurants are transient and need to be highlighted when around. When it returns, Sea Garden will be my goto again! If you are craving both seafood and Chinese, this was the spot. My suggestion is Shrimp in Lobster Sauce, not on the menu, but the best in town.
Hing Loon on Weller in the ID is consistent, but easily the least sexy, fluorescent flooded room for food. Take Robinson’s advice and order from the sheets on the wall.
Chiang’s Gourmet, right off of I-5 at Lake City, Douglas’s favorite! He doesn’t even check the menu: Szechuan noodles with pork, 5 star chicken. I’m always adding an experimental dish, of which there are many, but they don’t always work out. Skip the drunken chicken, stuffed tofu skin with mushrooms, tough, even for a diverse palate.
663 Bistro in the ID is great. Fortunately it was just remodeled so it’s easy to just focus on the food. Actually Doug and I had a hallmark night eating along side Fred Brown and Bill Russell of Super Sonics lore. Definitely get the Salt and Pepper Chicken, up there with the best wings in town. They made us a special beef rib and wide noodle stew that was great, and the green beans with ground pork is consistent.
Mandarine Chef in the University District wins for best noodles and dumplings. Order the chow mein to get the noodles.
Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant on Jackson is awesome! I mean they keep bringing you food to throw into your table top hot pot until you explode. We stopped just shy of becoming a mess. Come hungry. Place is a dive.
Red Lantern was very good, especially the fermented black beans and pork.
Din Tai Fung is an absolute favorite and worth a wait. Soup dumplings are the bomb!
Gourmet Noodle Bowl in Chinatown is another all you can eat hot pot restaurant, and highly recommended by a huge number of regular Taiwanese students.
Dave Lowry wrote the other half of the Best Asian list with his article “the True Taste of Asia” and nailed the best Dim Sum:
Joy Palace. Huge Asian crowds fill this hall with the food to support. Dave recognizes that “the shrimp dumplings are perfectly translucent, the shumai are resplendent umami, pork ribs are deliciously unctuous and they even have chicken feet.” Douglas and I ordered the chicken feet once and that was enough. Too much gnawing on little knuckles. Lowry also suggests skipping the standard oolong tea for Pu Li tea.
Jade Garden, We didn’t have the patience to wait in line.
Kawali Grill in Columbia City. Doug’s chicken was tinged with a little coconut and was great. The stews looked good. I ventured into the deep fried meat and will stick with the stews next time.
Jae’s inventive roll with tempura jalapeño
Douglas and I are huge fans of Japanese, just wish I could afford it all the time, but it has led me to cooking it myself.
Nishino’s is our first choice if we are offered our pick of restaurants in Seattle. Everything is good from the sushi to the squid, asparagus and shitake mushroom stir fry, which I’ve come close to knocking off.
Shiro’s Sushi is often recognized as Seattle’s best sushi, but it is strictly sushi and sashimi.
Shushi Kappo Tammura I met the owner, Taichi Kitamura when he was hosting a Slowfood event at his former Fremont address and he espouses the locavore touch. Super jolly chef too, makes you appreciate the dear cost of a meal there.
Jae’s on Madison is a good sushi spot for a reasonable price, and he is game to invent fun and tasty rolls.
Maneki is great old school Seattle Japanese. Not our favorite sushi, but lots of broiled and oddball things to eat.
Tsukushinobo is another classic hole in the wall joint, some odd items, slow service and hard to find, but the fifteen minute wait on Friday morning for one of 50 bowls of shoyu ramen is worth the experience at least once.
Samurai Noodle has very good bowls of ramen if it’s not Friday and you don’t want to wait in line for an early lunch. Buttery tonkatsu is the perfect belly warmer for an average Seattle day. We’ve enjoyed slurping all the varieties of ramen with home made noodles.
Kaname Izakaya and Shochu Bar great Japanese bar food and beef sukiyaki. The shochu was right up my alley.
Most of the best Korean Places are just north of Seattle in Shoreline, and they are generally the only restaurants with grills installed in the tables. Kids love these places and Douglas even learned to grill like a pro. Newer restaurants in Seattle are starting to take Korean to a fusion new level.
Original Sul Lung Tang, Old Village Korean, and Grill King are some of our favorites in Shoreline, but the Grill King seemed to have a little smokiness added to it’s cabbage kimchee which made it our favorite Banchan. Be sure to go hungry, Grill King has an all you can eat platter for $18.
Korean Tofu House near the University of Washington is a fun place to eat with the droves of students and is no watered down, or less substantial as other places in Seattle.
Joule and Revel in Wallingford are a bit fusion, especially with the specialty cuts of beef rib they get. So good!
Tanakasan is still on our to do list, but another example of Korean picking up steam in Seattle, and it’s a Tom Douglas establishment!
In 1987 I worked with Louis Richmond to introduce Seattle to Thai food by swapping Seattle Sheraton’s chefs with Sheraton Hotel’s Bangkok chefs, and it worked! We won an international public relations award! Unfortunately, it makes me a bit of a thai food snob.
May Restaurant and Lounge in Wallingford gets the award for best Phad Thai, and Katharine Robinson, from the Met article, agrees calling it the “prettiest rendition” too! You’ll eat banana blossoms in this version.
Thai Curry Simple on 5th avenue across from the train station is a transporting experience. If you need a trip to southeast Asia eat here. They even have fresh packets and multiple varieties of curry to take home. I successfully married salmon and red curry sauce, Douglas even enjoyed it, but not as much as the shrimp.
Siam on Broadway used to be my favorite, but some have been giving me pushback. Things do change…
Tamarind Tree is the place to impress. Every item is so good, and fun atmosphere.
Green Leaf is a more reasonable solution, and still very good. I’m personally hooked on the duck Pho and bahn xeo, the shrimp and bean sprout pancake, very messy.
Pho Bac is a pho staple around the corner from us, a total dive, but the beef broth is so good!
Monsoon and BaBar are two of the very best fusion Vietnamese restaurants in Seattle. They are going to be the most expensive Vietnamese restaurants in this category but they take pride in their ingredients. The owner of BaBar appeared so proud describing to me how he injected the rotisserie chickens instead of brining so that he could achieve the perfect crispy skin, a victory achieved through trial and error. Monsoon for brunch or dim sum makes for a very special date ;n)
Viengthong a bamboo dive shack and oh so good! Squid salad is awesome, the most beautiful deep fried whole chili fish…The food is more tangy than Thai. We brought fresh spring rolls from this establishment to a dinner party and they immediately disappeared. I’m very worried about the location as it is in an area being developed around the Mount Baker train station, so get there soon if you want Lao.
Please note, we did not list every restaurant in the Met “Best Asian Restaurants” article, as Douglas and I didn’t think they deserved to be on our list, or they were too far away, but we did add some favorites too.