The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Seattle’s Asian Food Scene This Year

islamanila-flipsum-600-2765In my restaurant research for a recent trip to Richmond, British Columbia, I stumbled upon one of those menu items that shows the challenge in translating from Chinese to English: Diversity of Flavor Tastes.

I won’t hammer you, yet, with accolades about the amazing dim sum, xiao long bao, and other Chinese food you can find just north of the border. Nor will I subject you to stories about ramen that rises to a level far higher than what you’ll find here in Seattle.

But after visiting 21 Asian restaurants in 72 hours in Richmond, I started thinking about Asian food back home. I have my favorites, but is there anything new and exciting? In the past half-year or so, I’ve tried to explore some lesser-known places, some places that are new to me, and some that I simply hadn’t yet hit.

In the process, I ate funky sushi, fermented bean paste, and something called “flip sum.” Some of it was good, some of it bad, and some of it simply forgettable. Read on for a “diversity of flavor tastes” found in the Seattle area.


At Isla Manila, near the Northgate Mall, $13 (a buck more on Friday and Saturday nights) buys all-you-can-eat Flip Sum, which is small plates of Filipino food served in Chinese baskets. A good deal for some delicious flavors of the Philippines.


One of the baskets at Isla Manila may be an adventurous choice: dinuguan. I love this savory pig blood stew made with various pork parts.


Cho Dang Tofu Restaurant is part of the tiny food court inside Lynnwood’s KS Mart. (Think H Mart, but smaller.) After my May trip to Korea, I came here to go grocery shopping and to have this seafood chigae (with lots of banchan) for dinner.


Also at Cho Dang, a decent bowl of mul naengmyeon.


Not far from KS Mart is SanMaRu Grill, which purposely puts two extra letters in uppercase form. Pictured is yook hwe, which is essentially beef tartare. Per tradition, it’s served with Asian pear, along with a sprinkling of pine nuts. Bright and slightly chewy.


SanMaRu’s nakji (bokkeum) mal yi gook soo (also spelled guksu) was a fascinating experience. As with the yook hwe, the noodles are rounded out, indicating a bit of a ball fetish at this restaurant. The stir-fried octopus with vegetables lacked the chili paste and powder I expect in a Korean spicy sauce. It turns out the staff was afraid to serve it “Korean” spicy. The dish got sent back to the kitchen a couple of times, and never came back as spicy as I was seeking.


Nothing against the restaurant, but eating at Peking Wok in Bellevue made me realize I don’t particularly care for hyphenated Chinese food. Japanese-Chinese, American-Chinese (ugh), and in this case Korean-Chinese food continually disappoints me, as the flavors seem too compromised. Here’s Peking Wok’s jajangmyeon. The sauce is thick, rich, and earthy. The sliced cucumbers I’ve seen in other presentations of this dish would help counter the heaviness of the noodles and sauce.


Tokyo Dog serves some interesting Japanese-style hot dogs out of a food truck. I caught up with the truck at the Fremont Sunday Market. Out of this sampler, I liked the Shibuya Dog best: an all-beef frank with teriyaki sauce, butter teriyaki grilled onions, miso mayo, and nori. I recommend eating this quickly, before the nori gets too soggy. (Or get the Ginza Dog, with bonito flakes that dance on the hot dog.)


Speaking of bonito flakes, you’ll find them dancing on this takoyaki that’s made to order on weekends at Tako Kyuuban in Bellevue’s Uwajimaya. Kudos for making takoyaki fresh, but I wish they were a little crisper and contained more octopus.


Gaba Sushi makes me wonder whether a Japanese national would be proud to prepare such food, let alone eat at a place like this. I call this the “baby food” of sushi, perfect for people who want to say they eat sushi but despise fish. You get thin, flat pieces of fish covered in green onions, cucumbers, and more. As for gaba itself, I find the brown rice too soft and not right for sushi, at least for me.


Need another visual aid to understand the problem with Gaba Sushi? Check out the sauces. Most of it is stuff I wouldn’t want in a salad, let alone on sushi. (Strawberry, anyone?)


With due respect, the main thing I remember about Bai Pai is that the latest winner of “The Bachelor” was affiliated with the Thai restaurant, and was hosting the night I ate there. I’ve forgotten her name, much as I’ve forgotten about the food I ate, other than telling you that pictured is a vegetable phad Thai. This isn’t a knock on the restaurant, as I find so many of Seattle’s Thai restaurants to be serving the same forgettable food.


Lebanon is in Asia, which makes Mamnoon an appropriate restaurant to include in this round-up. Breads and spreads are a smart start for a meal here. I especially liked the muhammara, made with walnuts, pepper paste, pomegranate, and cumin. If you’re like me and don’t know much about Lebanese food, you’re in for an adventure at Mamnoon, where I sampled a wide range of dishes and learned a lot about a new cuisine and its flavor profiles.


Crepes are French, but Just Crepes in Belltown has a Japanese vibe to it. There are sweet and savory options, with a ham, cheese, and egg crepe pictured. I also sampled one with Nutella, bananas, almonds, and whipped cream. Not a place I’d return to, but those who go nuts over things like Nutella might get a kick out of Just Crepes.

Cho Dang Tofu Restaurant on Urbanspoon

SanMaRu Grill on Urbanspoon

Peking Wok on Urbanspoon

Tokyo Dog on Urbanspoon

Tako Kyuuban Takoyaki on Urbanspoon

Gaba Sushi on Urbanspoon

Bai Pai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Mamnoon on Urbanspoon

Just Crepes on Urbanspoon



2 Responses to “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Seattle’s Asian Food Scene This Year”

  1. Radhika
    August 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Hi jay would you be able to share some of your favorite Chinese restaurants in Richmond ? I’m going to be there next week ! Thanks

  2. Jay
    August 20, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

    Radhika, I tried to reply to your email address, but it failed. Will cross-post here soon, but just posted to Serious Eats is my article about Richmond:

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