From plump shrimp dumplings served in a bamboo basket to crispy banh mi baguettes filled with barbecue pork to artfully arranged raw fish sashimi, the culinary delights of China, Vietnam, Japan and other Asian cultures all come together when you visit Seattle’s International District.
Once known as Chinatown, the neighborhood between downtown Seattle and the sports arenas was designated the International District in the late 1990s. Today, the district includes areas such as Japantown and Little Saigon, along with the original Chinatown.
On my recent trip to Seattle, I tried to sample as much of the city’s Asian cuisine as I could, and found many spots in the International District that catered to locals and visitors alike. One of the beauties of the neighborhood is that the varied Asian cuisines are all quite close together. You could easily enjoy an authentic Vietnamese appetizer, a Chinese entree, and a dessert from the Philippines, all within a few blocks of each other.
Here are nine Asian dishes to try in Seattle’s International District.
1. Seafood Hot Pot
Happy Lamb Hot Pot
For a hot lunch on a chilly Seattle afternoon, there are few options more satisfying than hot pot. As the name implies, the hot pot cooking method involves a heating source in the center of the table where a pot of hot stock is placed to simmer. Diners order their favorite broth, along with various meats, seafood, tofu, and vegetables. After the stock has come to a boil, everyone cooks their choice using the handy utensils provided.
On a rainy afternoon in November, my family visited Happy Lamb Hot Pot, a cozy restaurant on the second floor in the International District. We opted for the all-you-can-eat option, which allowed for multiple courses and a seemingly endless combination of meat and vegetables.
I like hot pot not only for the nicely cooked food that comes out of the broth but also for the social aspects. It makes for a great family meal, with everyone contributing and choosing their favorite combos.
While Happy Lamb is known for its tender lamb and beef, I’ve also enjoyed the varied seafood dishes, including mini octopus, shrimp, and fish.
2. Har Gow and BBQ duck
Honey Court seafood restaurant
Dim sum – the traditional Chinese meal consisting of small portions of dumplings, steamed buns and fried delights – is available at many places in the International District. A quick internet search yields a variety of choices, each with its own specialties. For classic choices with a seafood focus, my family likes the Honey Court Seafood Restaurant, an unassuming spot in the middle of the International District.
One of the things I love about a dim sum brunch or lunch is the opportunity to try small bites of countless dishes. Honey Court has an extensive menu with shrimp, crab, sole, oysters, spare ribs, duck and tofu. We tried a variety of dishes including the barbeque duck served with small fluffy buns, walnut prawns and taro cakes. For me the highlight was the gosha steamed shrimp dumpling coated in delicate rice flour dough.
Honey Court allows guests to check off their choices on a paper menu and the various dishes come out of the kitchen when they are ready. Traditionally served with tea, dim sum makes for a relaxed and relaxing meal.
3. Garlic Shrimp And Cabbage Soup
The International District’s venerable Tai Tung restaurant has a number of claims to fame that set it apart. One is Tai Tung’s spot as the oldest Chinese restaurant in Seattle, and the other is the restaurant’s history as a favorite dining spot of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
Those two characteristics—along with the restaurant’s classic Chinese cuisine—make Tai Tung an iconic stop in the International District. The Visit Seattle website states that the restaurant has been serving “incredible Chinese food since Grandpa Quan opened in 1935.”
Tai Tung commemorates his bond with Bruce Lee with a booth at the back of the restaurant that was Lee’s favorite. Fans of the martial artist and actor may also want to try Lee’s two favorite dishes at Tai Tung: the garlic shrimp and oyster sauce beef, both served with cabbage soup.
4. Sashimi And Peking Duck
For a tour of Asian cuisine all under the same roof, the flagship location of the Asian market and grocery store Uwajimaya is the place to go in Seattle. The complex in the International District features more than 35,000 square feet of Asian specialties, which, along with its 93-year history, make the store “a must-see destination in Seattle,” according to the store’s website.
I love going to Uwajimaya not only for its great selection of Asian groceries such as high quality sesame oil, noodles of virtually any variety and remarkable selection of fresh seafood, but also for its fun dining area with nearly a dozen individual restaurants serving cuisines from all over Asia.
Plus, Uwajimaya’s deli has an impressive selection of favorites like sushi rolls, pork rolls, and pokes. Two of the highlights for me were the freshly roasted Peking duck and the raw fish sashimi which is available beautifully sliced and packaged at sashimi island.
5. Ube (Purple Yam) Cream Puff
One of the Asian specialty spots at Uwajimaya Food Hall is Beard Papa’s, the Japanese puff pastry chain that has become a popular dessert staple in locations around the world. Heralded as “the best cream puffs in the world,” Beard Papa’s began in Japan nearly 25 years ago and has since grown to more than 400 stores in 15 countries.
What sets Beard Papa’s apart is the unique flavors available. You will find green tea eclairs, crispy almond donuts and cream puffs filled with vanilla, green tea or chocolate. For a decadent, delicious treat, try the ube cream puffs that were filled with a fluffy cream flavored with the purple yam (ube) that originated in the Philippines.
6. Pan De Sal And Ube Latte
Hood Famous Bakeshop/Cafe + Bar
A taste of the Philippines is available at several eateries in the International District and in the area also known as Filipino Town. For a traditional breakfast or late-night snack, head to Hood Famous Café + Bar, a bakery-cafe during the day and cocktail bar that serves Filipino bar fare at night.
Hood Famous is located in the International District’s Publix Building, which was originally built for migrant workers and was home to Filipino canneries and farm workers, according to the cafe’s website. “Since opening our Café + Bar in 2019, we have reclaimed this history through our cuisine, Filipino-style hospitality, storytelling and outright visibility,” he adds.
The daily menu focuses on desserts, pastries and light snacks, along with Asian-Pacific coffee. It’s hard to beat a breakfast on the go with Hood Famous’ pan de sal sandwiches, baked fresh all morning (also available in a breakfast sandwich with sweet pork, egg, mayo, and butter lettuce), and a hot ube latte.
7. Shrimp Spring Rolls And Banh Mi
From pho to stir-fried noodles to banh mi, diners will find all the traditional Vietnamese favorites at the Saigon Deli, a mainstay in Seattle’s International District.
Saigon Deli is known for its flavorful barbecue pork banh mi, served on a crusty Vietnamese baguette and filled with shredded carrots, cucumbers and cilantro. For a perfect accompaniment, consider the deli’s freshly made shrimp spring rolls (telephone call) filled with rice vermicelli and lettuce and served with peanut sauce, or the hearty pho (noodle soup) with beef, chicken, tofu or shrimp, and served with bean sprouts, basil and lime.
8. Hot clam miso soup and gyoza
Fans of traditional Japanese cuisine should pay a visit to Seattle’s oldest Japanese restaurant, Maneki, a Japantown favorite for over 100 years. When it opened in 1904, Maneki was the city’s first sushi bar. tatami rooms (private rooms with mats) and a karaoke bar.
Maneki is known for its authentic atmosphere and cuisine, and its menu includes everything from black cod collar miso to udon noodle dishes to beef teriyaki-and-tempura to nigiri sushi with yellowtail, shrimp, octopus or scallop.
For a warm and nourishing entrée, consider the plain miso soup or the steaming miso soup with clams served in an iron pot alongside an order of Maneki’s homemade gyoza (pot stickers). Maneki’s website states that the restaurant offers dining by reservation.
9. Japanese Taiyaki
Another Japanese comfort food found at Uwajimaya Food Hall is taiyaki, a fish-shaped wafer traditionally filled with red bean paste and sold as a street food. The BeanFish restaurant in Uwajimaya makes its waffles to order using cast iron pans, flames and homemade batter.
The filled waffles are served both sweet and savory. BeanFish’s sweet fillings include unique flavors like the original sweetened organic azuki bean or classic smooth vanilla custard, along with choices like matcha green tea or strawberries and Nutella. Among the savory fillings are bacon, eggs, tater tots, cheese, green onions or mushrooms and garlic sauteed in sesame oil with wasabi peas and Swiss cheese.
BeanFish’s website states that the company started as a food truck appearing at street fairs, business parks, and markets before becoming a permanent restaurant in Uwajimaya.
Pro Tip: The International District is one of the main stops on Seattle’s efficient light rail system, and many of the district’s dining options are within walking distance of the International District/Chinatown Station.