A rare place that makes its own fresh rice noodles—a four-day ordeal of soaking, grinding, waiting, and extruding—for vermicelli bowls, pho, and other noodle soups like the fragrant, seafood-rich hu tieu. Dong Thap’s pure-tasting broths are too light for some, perhaps; there’s always hoisin and sriracha. But oh man. Those noodles. The difference is apparent almost down to a molecular level. (Noodles are also sold by the pound to take home.)
A family-owned poke shop that makes an incredibly dead-on version of Hawaii’s raw fish salad, mixed in batches, so it’s lightly marinated. But don’t sleep on the frosty pineapple Dole Whip (yep, the same stuff people line up for at Disneyland) topped with the salty dried plum powder known as li hing mui, an Aloha state obsession.
This Taiwanese hot-pot chainlet brings a bevy of soups, both spicy and non, to the hungry masses lined up out the door. Sink-sized bowls arrive tableside, bubbling and brimming with such things as pork meatballs, fish cake, enoki mushrooms, sliced beef, or fermented tofu. No matter your chosen spice level, take comfort in the complimentary iced tea that comes with each boiling lunch.
This storefront treasure isn’t fancy, but it is revered among Vietnamese for serving unheralded specialties from around the old royal capital of Huê, the epicenter of Vietnamese cuisine. And it’s stayed focused for two decades on turning out some of the very best Vietnamese food in town, using impeccably fresh ingredients, for no more than $10. Of particular note are soups, especially thâp câ’m, a clear pork broth with egg or glass noodles, a full brace of squid, shrimp, sliced pork, and quail eggs; and (weekdays only) mî vit tiêm, a rich star-anise-teased duck and vegetable broth with egg noodles and black mushrooms and a braised quarter bird. Great sweets and candies.
No frills and insanely popular, Jade Garden is one of the best of the city's lot of dim-sum-by-the-cart options, running 40-minute lines most weekends. The reason? A huge selection, from standards like fluffy barbecue pork buns and uncommonly flavorful pan-fried daikon radish cakes to exotics like chicken feet, arriving steaming hot where hot is warranted. (Arrive before 10:30am and you won’t wait.)
The crowd at this International District restaurant and bar often skews young, but in fact, it does not get more old-school in Seattle than the century-old Maneki, a homey haunt of homely delights kept in line—and lines—by a couple of no-nonsense aunties and traditional Japanese cooks. Regulars know to look to the whiteboard for exceptional daily specials, which may include monkfish liver in season, either braised or sliced cold over shredded daikon with ponzu sauce. Yep, there’s a sushi bar, but Maneki shines brighter for its bar snacks and home-style entree combos.
The Thai couple who run this crammed lunch joint near the corner of Fifth and Jackson discovered the secret to success in their New York restaurants: Use curries made in Thailand, with native lemongrass and galangal, from Grandma’s own recipes. The distinction is evident, particularly in the green curry, which you can augment with crazy-fiery hot sauce (one is labeled “No Kidding”), only if you’re, well, not kidding. Frugal lunch-goers pack the joint, digging the $5 lunches and sweating out their eye sockets. For dessert try roti, the panfried flatbread of Thai street culture, drizzled with condensed milk and lavished with whatever sweet toppings are listed on the wall-size chalkboards.
The history of a transplanted culture is still evocatively fragrant in International District spots like the homespun Tsukushinbo. While sushi’s solid here—fish expertly sliced, rice perfectly seasoned, prices an unfailing bargain—the home-style Japanese fare is the reason to go. Chicken gizzard kushiyaki, rice vinegar–marinated smelt, whole grilled squid. Salty-sweet mozuku seaweed salad. Hearty bowls of curry rice. Crunchy fried pork cutlet with piquant sauce. Light, lacy golden fingers of tempura. And yes, the hand-lettered signboard is worth learning Japanese for. The interior hasn’t changed since Soichiro Honda invented the motorcycle. Beware the odd hours; don’t expect instant service.
This spacious noodle house has been serving up Cambodian food since 1986. And no wonder—steamy, hot bowls of egg or rice noodles come served in a pristine, savory broth topped with everything from sliced pork to prawns to roasted duck. Beyond noodle soups, dishes like mee katang, curries, salted fish, lemongrass beef, tamarind sour soups all nod to the intermingled cuisines of southeast Asia.
Come for the classic beef noodle soup, stay for the half-foot-tall honey toast: thick bread hollowed out and filled with its own sweet toast, ice cream, and topped with fruit, cookies, and chocolate. Pun be damned, this Taiwanese spot off 12th Avenue may just be your new jam.
Like its seafood boil brethren, crab, clam, mussels, and crawfish come with potatoes, corn, and sausage all splayed upon the tabletop, where things can get wonderfully messy—don't worry, they give you gloves and a bib. But here, its Vietnamese–New Orleans roots take hold offering a range of spice options, such as Cajun, lemon pepper, garlic butter, or the Big Easy house special, which is a combination of them all.
Editor's Note: After 30 years in business, Phnom Penh closed on May 28, 2018.