Tomorrow, June 11, Little Uncle officially transitions from Capitol Hill walkup to two-location empire (well, a mini empire, anyway). When I stopped by this afternoon, owners PK and Wiley Frank were in the midst of one million tasks that must be completed by 11am, when they will unleash their wildly popular (and crazy good) phad thai and nam tok on the good people of Pioneer Square.
“I feel like we’ve already opened 10 different restaurants,” says Wiley Frank of their Thai restaurant, which started as a popup, expanded into a popular site at the Columbia City Farmers Market, as well as the closet-sided takeout counter on Madison. But this will be the first time Little Uncle has a full-size kitchen, plus actual seating to call its own.
PK and Wiley took over the former Marcus’ Martini Heaven space at 88 Yesler Way, a subterranean space in the thick of Pioneer Square. A bar lined with empty rice sacks will serve beer and wine (once the liquor license comes through) and provide some seating. There are some tables along one of the old brick walls, counter service, and a “lounge area” that may one day serve as a lounge, but right now that’s a fancy term for the space where people can wait for their takeout orders. It’s bright and decidedly spartan, which feels just right for street food that migrated indoors.
Right now the six-item menu is a mix of greatest hits from Capitol Hill (Frank is curious whether the vegetarian, gluten-free phad thai will be as big a hit in this neighborhood) and dishes that are too complicated for the other location’s limited equipment. I’m excited to try the hoy tord, a big, crispy rice crepe done on an oversized flattop with mussels, egg, and bean sprouts.
The kitchen is large enough to accommodate some toys, like the coconut milk expeller that transforms whole coconuts into a milk that “isn’t super viscous,” says Frank, a boon for dishes like the noodle-and-curry khao soi. There’s also the army-green torture device, complete with a wheel and rows of tiny spikes, for making a proper Thai-style shaved ice with fresh rhubarb or cherries or basil seeds.
Wiley Frank says Little Uncle joined the great Pioneer Square movement, quite simply, because the space was affordable and he and PK wanted to do lunch. They’re a fan of the work-life balance, especially as parents, and Wiley says the hours were definitely a selling point with assembling staff. Yes, the Capitol Hill walkup will remain open; I'm eager to get up there for David Gurewitz's awesomely named Sunday brunch popup.
Little Uncle will be open weekdays from 11 to 3, at least for now. Keep an eye on Facebook for menu updates and be patient if you go this week (um, I will be there tomorrow); it takes a while for a new place to find its groove.