With each passing season, Seattle morphs into more of a melting pot of cultures and languages. It only makes sense, then, that the city’s culinary scene reflects this exciting shift, too. Sure, talented chefs long ago mastered a distinctive “Pacific Northwest” style that speaks to locals and visitors alike. This genre expertly features regionally sourced meats and seasonally inspired produce plus, of course, the main attraction—fresh-from-the-water seafood. Luckily for Seattle-area diners, though, the multicultural population and an increased global interest among natives have jazzed up the culinary circuit in a most scrumptious way.
Vietnam and Beyond
In light of the city’s large Asian community, it should come as no surprise that Seattle excels when it comes to tureens of pho, platters of sushi and steaming bowls of bibimbap. Whether diners crave a friendly, no-frills hole-in-the-wall or a trendier spot with a happening “scene,” Asian fare reigns supreme.
Brother-sister chef team Eric and Sophie Banh have become staples on the Seattle culinary scene, gaining loyal fans at their trendy, Vietnamese-inspired spots—Ba Bar and Monsoon. Many credit Monsoon, which opened in 1999, for introducing modern Vietnamese fare to this city.
When asked to describe his culinary “genre,” Eric said that he and Sophie have always gone directly to the source for ingredients, long before the farm-to-table craze became trendy. This was simply the culture in which they were raised—strolling daily to the market in Saigon with their mom and aunt. “We value and cherish ingredients that we have in our backyard,” he said. He doesn’t describe their food as “fusion,” instead, “It’s local, it’s fresh.”
When the Banhs relocated to the Pacific Northwest from Edmonton, Alberta, they were ecstatic to find a bounty of seafood here—gems like salmon, Dungeness crab, even geoduck. They began experimenting with local riches, substituting chanterelle mushrooms for pork in a popular corn dish from Central Vietnam, for example. This is now one of their proudest creations, served at both Monsoon locations in autumn months.
Eric finds Seattle’s urban diners incredibly adventurous, while some of the restaurant’s more exotic menu items aren’t as well-received at Monsoon’s Bellevue location. Monsoon often serves vegetable-heavy dishes, including heirloom tomatoes that star in late summer and early fall. At Ba Bar, vermicelli bowls and noodles in broth shine.
Cuisines evolve over time, said Eric, and “what’s ‘authentic’ is very subjective.” Instead of labeling, he’d rather ask his diners two crucial questions: “Was it good? Did you love it?”
For another interpretation of Asian cuisine, head to Pioneer Square, next to the stadiums, to enjoy hot spot Girin Steak House & Ssam Bar—a Korean-themed steakhouse concept from the owners of Momiji, Umi Sake House and Kushibar. Here, authentic flavors with a contemporary twist complement refreshing makgeolli drinks and creative cocktails in a Zen-meets-trendy setting. The menu features a selection of ssam plates, as well as dishes like gochujang chicken wings, fried Pacific oysters, ssamjang-marinated skirt steak and kimchi jjigae (spicy kimchi stew, pork belly and tofu).
Europe and the Mediterranean
Italian and Mediterranean dishes abound in this city, thanks to flavorful gems like Eastlake’s Serafina, Cicchetti and Pomodoro, where friendly servers deliver sensational pastas and tapas in cozy, tucked-away spaces. At downtown’s Tulio Ristorante, a welcoming venue inside Kimpton’s Hotel Vintage, chef Walter Pisano delights with boldly flavored northern Italian dishes like sweet-potato gnocchi with sage butter, Kurobuta pork shank and “Pesce del Giorno” (the fish of the day). Tip: To truly get in the Italian spirit, explore Tulio’s extensive grappa menu, which features 20 styles of this fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy.
In Magnolia’s Mondello Ristorante Italiano, soothing turquoise hues and beach-inspired decor whisk guests to the shores of the Mediterranean. Named for a small Sicilian fishing village near Palermo, the family-run restaurant features top-notch hospitality, a joyful ambiance and scrumptious fare that follows recipes passed down from generation to generation. Showstoppers include the fresh caprese salad, braised-octopus starter, lasagna and fettuccine con polpette.
In Fremont, Café Turko has become a spirited hub in which to relish authentic Turkish fare. Hospitable owners Gencer and Süreyya Gökeri expanded their Istanbul Imports shop (established in 1991) to include the charming café and authentic Turkish experience for all of the senses.
Menu options include starters like the lentil soup and the can’t-be-missed “rainbow hummus” (a colorful medley showcasing beets and yams). Other must-eats include döner kebab pockets and eggplant moussaka, plus pide—pizzalike dishes with toppings ranging from lamb and meatloaf to eggplant, peppers and Turkish olives. Specialty drinks transport guests to an Istanbul bazaar; try the pomegranate tea, iced sage tea, rose mocktail or famed Turkish coffee.
In Pioneer Square, the city’s multicultural flair can be savored within the yellow walls of Manu's Bodega, a vibrant café with upbeat tunes and flavorful Dominican dishes like beef empanadas and puerco asado sandwiches. In Wallingford, Caribbean flavors—from callaloo and curry roti wraps to Sorrel punch—rule at Pam’s Kitchen.
Marination Ma Kai brings Hawaiian-Korean cuisine and happy, casual island vibes to a stunning beachside setting in West Seattle. Loyal fans rave about the kimchi-fried-rice bowl, spicy pork tacos, award-winning pork katsu sandwich and special tangy "NUNYA" sauce, plus the shave-ice bowls and, last but not least, killer water and cityscape views.
Though no passports are required on this culinary journey, Seattle’s abundance of cultures and flavors are sure to take visitors on a most delightful and delicious ride.