Despite living in Portland for the past year and a half, I hadn’t made the drive up to Seattle since I moved here. In fact, it had been over a decade since the one and only time I visited Seattle, so a trip was long overdue. I booked myself an Airbnb, enlisted the help of a couple of local food-loving friends, and made an itinerary that consisted of a few activities—and a ton of eating. I drove up for lunch on Friday and departed after a late lunch on Sunday, making it my mission to eat as much as possible. Here’s what I ate as I tried to get a sense of the current food scene up north in just a couple of days—and some places you might want to add to your list if you’re planning a trip.
Friday Lunch: Tomato-Cheese Katsu at Kobuta & Ookami Katsu and Sake House
“Isn’t that just chicken Parmesan?” a friend texted me as I detailed my dining plans. But as I found out, the tomato-cheese katsu here, made with your choice of protein (I chose chicken) is something even better. The tomato sauce, complete with a snowstorm of Parmesan on top, gets enriched with a dab of miso, making it silky, sweet, and deeply savory. The katsu’s lofty crunch rises to an ethereal level I’ve never tasted before. No drop of tomato sauce was left untouched. You should try the other curries, too, including the katsu curry made with a hint of chocolate and the Iberico premium quality pork cutlet topped with grated daikon—but the tomato-cheese is the must-order.
Friday Dinner: Nigiri Omakase Dinner at Sushi Kappo Tamura
The memory of a sushi dinner I had at Shiro’s Sushi 10 years ago still buzzes in my brain. At first, it was at the top of my list for this visit—but then I heard that sushi chef Shiro Kashiba, trained by the famous Jiro Ono of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, was no longer associated with his namesake restaurant. His current restaurant at Pike Place Market, Sushi Kashiba, was a little too spendy. Enter Sushi Kappo Tamura, headed by chef Taichi Kitamura, who studied his craft with Kashiba. The $90 nigiri omakase dinner gets you 12 pieces of sushi selected by the chef, some thoughtfully garnished with a dab of things like ginger, scallions, or yuzu kosho and others left pure and simple. Ask the sake somm to help you pick a bottle to pair with your dinner. Particularly memorable pieces of my meal included kombu-cured Alaskan halibut, Japanese mackerel, and a finale of tuna that started with lean bluefin and ended with beautifully marbled chu-toro. For dessert, don't miss the crispy-chewy millet mochi fried in brown butter and garnished with sweet adzuki beans.
Saturday Breakfast: Cardamom Croissant and Melon Panfried Egg Sandwich at Saint Bread
This house of carb worship along Portage Bay, complete with bread-themed faux-stained-glass windows, serves up super-fresh pastries, including a lightly sweet cardamom croissant made from a zigzag of flaky dough. On the made-to-order menu: a fried egg sandwich on a cookie-crusted melon pan, complete with gooey American cheese and your choice of bacon or a gingery, lemongrass-fragranced Thai sausage patty (I chose the latter, much to my satisfaction). Saint Bread also reps Portland’s coffee scene by brewing Proud Mary Coffee, one of only a couple cafés in Seattle to do so.
Saturday Lunch: Daily Bento at Made In House
After taking a walk through Gas Works Park and doing some Christmas shopping at the vintage stores in the Fremont neighborhood, I headed to Korean-inspired deli Made In House for a daily bento, which boasts a rainbow of veggies, protein, and carbs. Slippery, sesame oil–coated japchae, juicy sliced rib eye, and a jammy half of a soft-boiled egg sit atop a bed of purple rice. It’s sided by tempura kale, a fried mandu, a cheery piece of purple rice kimbap, and a Technicolor spicy slaw of purple cabbage, carrots, cilantro, and apples.
Saturday Snack #1: Vietnamese Yogurt Coffee and Vegan Pandan Waffle at Phin
Seattle Met food editor Allecia Vermillion and I met up for a midday caffeine boost at Phin, one of two new Vietnamese coffee shops in the Chinatown-International District. (The other, Hello Em, uses coffee beans from Vietnam, much like our own Portland Ca Phe.) We ordered two of Phin’s signature items: the Vietnamese yogurt coffee, in which coffee is brewed using the traditional phin, stirred into tangy Vietnamese yogurt, and served over ice; and the hot, fresh pandan waffle, its St. Patrick’s Day–green, vegan dough full of vanilla-like scents with a chewy middle and crisp edges.
Saturday Snack #2: Crab and Pork Soup Dumplings at Dough Zone
I spent the rest of the afternoon roaming the Chinatown-International District, including a visit to the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. By then, I’d worked up an appetite for something warm and comforting—and what better than a steamer full of six soup dumplings from this Bellevue-born chain, whose location near Portland State University is scheduled to open in spring 2022? The flagship soup dumpling puts a twist on the traditional pork-filled ones by adding kurobuta pork and crab meat. Mix your own black vinegar and soy sauce into the wisps of fresh ginger, dip your dumpling, slurp, and enjoy. (While I thoroughly enjoyed my soup dumplings, I don’t think they stand above my two favorites closer to home, Duck House near PSU and Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese chain with multiple Seattle-area locations and, since 2018, an outpost at Washington Square Mall.)
Saturday Snack #3: Squid Ink Cheese Hot Dog from Chungchun Rice Dog
I can never turn down a corn dog, nor can I turn down a Korean snack—so Chungchun Rice Dog, a Korean chain that serves Korean rice dogs, was high on my list. I chose a half mozzarella, half beef hot dog option coated in black squid ink batter, then opted to add crushed crunchy ramyeon noodles to the exterior. After a considerable wait (though there wasn’t much of a line), my number was called, and I headed to the sauce station, where a dozen squeeze bottles with labels like Cheese, Gochujang, Honey Mustard, Garlic Parmesan, and Ketchup awaited. After a few artful drizzles, I stepped outside and took a bite—and was sorely disappointed. The batter, as they’d say on The Great British Baking Show, was stodgy and flavorless, though the cheese melted nicely and the beef was flavorful. Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing—the versions coated with chunks of potato and sweet potato looked tempting. For now, I’ll stick with the Korean corn dog at the Ko Sisters cart on N Williams.
Saturday Dinner: Taku
After a nightmare of looking for parking, my friends and I finally rolled up to Taku, the karaage spot from chef Shota Nakajima, one of my favorite contestants on Top Chef Portland. (Yes, I did manage to catch a brief glimpse of him behind the counter.) You can choose from tons of flavors of nuggets—the curry powder flavor was our clear favorite, while the bonito-soy and teriyaki flavors were lackluster. The Japanese tartar sauce is a must-get accompaniment. But the surprising hit? The Japanese mac salad, made with tangy-creamy Kewpie mayo, sweet slices of crisp apple, and sizable chunks of ham.
Sunday Brunch: Arroz Caldo, Short Rib Kare Kare, and Pickled Bittermelon Scramble at Musang
Filipino food, as we’ve discussed, is on the rise in Portland. The same goes for Seattle, where Musang was named Seattle Met’s 2020 Restaurant of the Year. The starter-size, garlicky arroz caldo had me scraping the bottom of the bowl; the pickled bittermelon and tomato scramble made me fall even deeper in love with the vegetable that was once my childhood nemesis; and the Jif-laden short rib kare kare falls right off the bone.
Sunday Shopping: Ballard Farmers Market
I was still behind on my Christmas shopping, so when I happened to walk by the Ballard Farmers Market, I stopped by to pick up some food gifts. My purchases: the Seattle Stick, a cacao nib and coffee-infused salami from local maker Salt Blade, and a jar of beach plum jam from Ayako & Family, a stand whose offerings consist solely of shokupan and about a dozen varieties of plum jam, made using fruit that the family grows.
Sunday Lunch #1: Kebap at Hamdi
Ready to have your mind blown by a kebap wrap? Enter Hamdi, a Turkish pop-up at the farmhouse ale–focused brewery Fair Isle (where I also had an excellent roasted beet and carrot saison). Here, male lambs only (preferred for their less gamey taste) get hand-chopped and molded around metal skewers, then cooked over a smoky charcoal grill. The lamb remains the focus even after it’s wrapped in a thin homemade lavash and garnished with a vinegary tomato, onion, and herb salad, ideal for cutting the fat of the super-juicy meat.
Sunday Lunch #2: Grilled Mackerel at Taste of Congo
My last stop was conveniently located a half-hour south of Seattle in Tukwila: Spice Bridge, a food hall and business incubator that helps women of color and immigrants get their food businesses up and running. (Note that it's takeout only for now, so wait for a non-rainy day to eat at one of the outdoor tables, or take your food to go.) Out of the three stalls that were open that day, I chose Taste of Congo for its whole grilled mackerel, a beautifully cooked fish with crispy skin topped with onions and served with a thimble-size yet potent side of hot sauce. The fish supposedly serves two, but it was just what I needed to get me through the 160-mile drive and straight into bed after a weekend full of fantastic eating.