New Luck Toy Insists It's a Bar, but the Food's the Charm

Ma‘ono chef Mark Fuller is the guy behind the menu of updated honey pecan prawns, barbecued pork, and the best General Tso’s chicken to ever come in contact with disposable chopsticks.

By Allecia Vermillion March 20, 2017 Published in the April 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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Dishes arrive at the table in takeout containers; drinks arrive with all manner of garnishes.

As bars go, it’s not entirely correct to say New Luck Toy is a dark one. Sure, the onyx walls and painted booths plunge you into encompassing blackness. But glowing red paper lanterns canopy the ceiling over the muted incandescence of table sconces shaded in faded chintz. The Skee-Ball machine radiates cool violet beneath a tidy phalanx of gleaming gold maneki-neko, Japan’s ubiquitous cat talismans, their upraised paws bobbing in syncopation.

This place has been open for months and still people wait outside for doors to open at 4pm, beneath the faux pagoda roof, against the equally faux stone facade painted an unabashed gold. Inside, a red Baskin-Robbins–style ticket dispenser has remedied the anarchic process of securing a table, and the General Tso’s chicken recipe got a reboot since frying it to order was chaos.

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This enthusiasm stems from two beloved West Seattle figures. One is the original New Luck Toy, a shuttered Chinese American restaurant that’s totally unrelated, but was a 60-year fixture up the road in the Alaska Junction. The other is co-owner Mark Fuller, the chef of nearby Ma‘ono, which was previously the upscale Spring Hill. Here he riffs on Chinese American food and taps into a nostalgia Seattle didn’t know it had for things like honey walnut prawns, upgraded with candied pecans, or those General Tso’s chicken thighs, a feat of fried food that manages to be both crunchy and sticky.

Despite these two culinary guideposts, New Luck Toy isn’t a destination for leisurely dinners of fried rice and shrimp dumplings. Both are on the menu; and like much of the food here, they’re great. But orders arrive swiftly in compostable containers, bereft of any utensils save the (also compostable) chopsticks and flat-bottomed Asian soup spoons in a tabletop caddy. There’s water, if you ask for it, but hospitably hustling servers are more about taking drink orders. 

See, New Luck Toy is unapologetically a bar, eschewing minors even in this family-riffic pocket of the city, and offering Skee-Ball, pinball, and karaoke, but no takeout (unheard of for a casual Chinese joint, and ironic given the disposable dishes, but a concession to the crowds). 

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Both the dining room and the bar in the back room are festooned with lanterns.

The actual bar in the back room is tricked out with bamboo, mirrors, more lanterns, and luminous slushy machines swirling piña coladas, hurricanes, and Singapore slings—all tropically refreshing, but not overly sweet. If sweet is what you’re after, the rice crispy treat–flavored soft serve channels the life-changing magic of famed Momofuku Milk Bar pastry chef Christina Tosi.

Fuller says customers order comforting, accessible fare, not the spicier Sichuan dishes adored amongst food circles; he no longer serves the salt-and-pepper shrimp with their heads on. This resolutely casual setup sidesteps some of the challenges that come with a proper restaurant (more staff, thinner margins, dishes to wash), but it also “lets people have fun and party and misbehave,” says Fuller’s business partner Patric Gabre-Kidan. “When was the last time you really had fun in a restaurant?”

New Luck Toy may identify as a bar, but patrons seem more into dinner than into Skee-Ball (though they’re plenty interested in drinks). Whatever the nomenclature, Gabre-Kidan’s right—this house of red lanterns and loud laughter amplified by mai tais in kitschy tiki glasses feels like a portal into the sort of night you wish you had more often. 

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