Obbar Pocha Brings Change to the Chinatown-International District

Inside Obbar Pocha...

Inside Obbar Pocha…

Obbar Pocha symbolizes the slow transformation of Seattle’s International District. This new restaurant is in the space formerly occupied by Hing Loon. While some (myself included) miss the long-standing Chinese restaurant with handwritten signs of ongoing “specials” plastered all over the walls and windows, the sight of something new is intriguing and exciting.

Owners Bach (Michael) Nguyen, Kurbien (Kurby) Untalan, and Chinnakrit (Jack) Rojanasingsawad enjoy food and travel, combining their Asian backgrounds with immersion in Western culture. According to Nguyen, “When we three met, we all wanted to open a restaurant that reflects the current trend of culinary in Asia…and after a year of analyzing, we decided to go with fusion Korean street food.” The name itself is a tribute to Korean street food, with Pocha short for pojangmacha (“covered wagons”), which are street stalls (sometimes on wheels) selling cheap snacks like tteokbokki (rice cakes) and drinks like soju—Korean rice liquor. (Obbar references obba, a term of respect for an elder male. The chef I met at Obbar Pocha attempted to tell me that a brother of one of the owners has a street cart in Korea.)

Step inside Obbar Pocha, and it’s far from a street stall experience. The interior glistens with artistic touches, diners sip bold-colored blue lemonade soju, and K-pop in the background clearly calls out to a younger crowd. The menu is fascinating, with appeal to those who like Asian flavors but not an adherence to authenticity. And it’s whimsical, with dishes such as “When Bacon Meets Pumpkin.”

The (ramen) noodle burger

The (ramen) noodle burger

Most noteworthy is the Noodle Burger, celebrated elsewhere in the country as a ramen burger. It’s impressive how the noodle bun stays together. (The cooking process is also impressive: boil dry ramen noodles, add egg to bind, shape into disks, cool, marinate, freeze, fry.) The burger is fun to try, though a more conventional bun is ultimately my preference.

Mama's home-made pasta

Mama’s home-made pasta

Better is Mama’s Home-Made Pasta, which comes with eggplant, bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms—along with bacon and shrimp. It’s creamy and slightly spicy, making this a rich, guilty pleasure. The dish comes with a side of pickles to cut the richness. (If you’re looking for something spicier, Whelk Noodles get the nod.)

Fried tteokbokki

Fried tteokbokki

The Fried Tteokbokki have a chewy texture that’s compelling, made even better with the crunch that comes from a sprinkling of crushed peanuts. The sweet and spicy sauce is more sweet than spicy (I’d tilt it the other way), but the dish brings me back to the ubiquitous street food I enjoyed in Seoul. Meanwhile, the Shake Shack Box consists of white rice along with a fried egg, sausage, sweet spicy pork, yellow radish, and kimchi in a dosirak—a Korean lunchbox made out of metal. The server presents it, then shakes it to stir everything together. (The effect is basically the opposite of a beautifully composed Japanese bento box.)

Shake shack box

Shake shack box

It will be interesting to watch and see if Obbar Pocha shakes things up in the Chinatown-International District…

Originally published on EthnicSeattle.com on 9/29.

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