Just eight people per seating file in from Rainier Avenue to sit at Aaron Verzosa’s kitchen counter. What follows is a 10-course meal that breaks Filipino flavors down to their essence—in both flavor and cultural context—and builds them up again using only ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. That might mean a bread course of heirloom wheat pandesal with shallot butter, miki noodles with Dungeness crab and bacon marmalade, and clever shape shifts, like sinigang whose tamarind flavor profile gets replicated with puckering accuracy thanks to Oregon cranberries. Verzosa introduces each course with a bit of backstory, but in this tiny Hillman City storefront, with a group of fellow diners small enough to share an elevator, the result is more magical than precious.
Inside a quirky split-level space, formerly home to a teahouse, Brian Madayag melds the cuisines he and his cooking cohort grew up with, which range from Hawaiian to Filipino to a playful blend of the two. Upstairs: a handful of tables, a bar serving tiki drinks, and a mural of a tentacled octopus. Downstairs: a long table, tons of games. You might start with a Filipino-style ceviche, a tombo tuna kilawen with fish sauce and calamansi, served with big rounds of airy shrimp chips. For something heartier he’s co-opted his Aunt Belen’s pork adobo recipe, a sure departure from tradition, here made with apple cider vinegar, braised pork shoulder, and pineapple served with white rice.
At Darren McGill and Kryse Martin-McGill's scoop counter, find a case of rotating flavors with an Asian street food bent, like smoked sweet tea, ube strawberry, salted duck egg, or pineapple li hing mui—stuff that begs to be held aloft in a waffle cone for maximum Instagrammage. The husband-and-wife duo recently consolidated two concepts under one roof, with Central District Ice Cream living on at burger joint Happy Grillmore. That, of course, means one really great thing: we will have fries with our shakes. And more Filipino-bent ice cream flavors—but of the soft serve variety—can be found at their Georgetown spot, Seattle Freeze.
For the uninitiated, ube sounds more like a car-sharing app than the sweet, violet yam that it is. Yet, it’s the exact ingredient that helped amass a cult following for Hood Famous Bakeshop, a small, subterranean bakery off Shilshole Avenue in Ballard. Owner Chera Amlag bakes cheesecake, but tempers its classic Americana with a Filipino touch. She makes them with ube, which lends its jewel-toned hue and subtle, earthy sweetness to baked goods. The result, a perfect specimen of Instagram bait that’s topped with ripples of ube jam and sits on a coconut-butter biscuit crust. In 2016, Amlag opened a permanent home for her heretofore “hood famous” cheesecakes, which these days are known citywide. She bakes a whole slew of flavors beyond the signature ube that are rooted in the Filipino palate: white chocolate with rosy-pink swirls of guava, mango with calamansi (ubiquitous citrus in the Philippines squeezed onto just about anything), and a whole lineup of other non-cheesecake delights. A new cafe in Chinatown keeps up the favorites and by evening adds cocktails with tropical notes of the Philippines.
Now that they’ve expanded their space and Filipino-tinged food options, this semi-speakeasy—you still must ring the doorbell on a residential looking building and should probably make a reservation—is a tad more inviting for the midday set. What’s very inviting is $3 off certain food, like the steak tapa bowl (marinated and seared steak with garlic rice and roasted red peppers) and half off some cocktails. The specials change frequently, but the Apriscotch with Famous Grouse scotch, apricot liqueur, honey, orange bitters, and lemon is a frequent favorite.
From the owners of Knee High Stocking Co. (and just around the corner from the East Olive Way speakeasy) comes a walk-up window doling out Filipino-style American comfort food to the bar crowds of Capitol Hill. Lumpia come stuffed with all kinds of meat fillings (or cheese, or veggies) alongside sweet and sour, garlic honey, or cilantro sour cream dipping sauces. For those recovering from a late-night binge, more substantial sammies are to be had—steak smothered with Velveeta, cured pork tocion, pork adobo, grilled cheese—all served on traditional pandesal buns. Spuds come with all matters of toppings (sriracha mayo, duck fat, mushroom gravy, pork). Open late.
Taken at face value, Ludi's is seemingly your standard diner: kind, swift service, strong coffee, unfussy decor, breakfast classics served all day. But a closer look reveals the downtown spot on the corner of Pike and Second has Filipino spirit imbued throughout the menu. Beside a list of usual morning meals—your chicken fried steak, a combo of eggs, bacon, and toast—there's Filipino Breakast. It's a rundown of silogs (a dish of garlic fried rice and fried eggs, typically paired with a protein) like longsilog, which is longanisa sausage with the aforementioned rice-egg duo, Spam-silog, one with pork chops, another saddled with corned beef. And while you sip on that drip coffee—a steal at $2.25—turn your attention to the Tagalog slang section if you want to learn how to say "delicious" (it's masarap!).
This one's not quite open, but hear us out: After three years, Filipina chef Melissa Miranda's popup Musang—fondly named for her father who’s inspired her culinary ambitions—is morphing into a proper brick-and-mortar restaurant this fall. The undercurrent of the whole project, from the beginning, has been about preserving and growing community. With that in mind, Musang will be a 48-seat space casual enough for a family meal but intimate enough for date night, with a menu fueled by Miranda’s childhood memories and culinary bona fides. And she'll bring along some of the dishes she's spent years perfecting: garlic fried rice, arroz caldo (savory rice porridge) with poached chicken and delicata squash, roasted eggplant with salted duck egg, and dungeness crab kare kare, which is a rich peanut stew often made with oxtail and pig parts. Elmer Dulla, Edouardo Jordan’s beverage director at his trio of Ravenna restaurants, will develop Musang’s cocktail program and install a menu of drinks complementary to Miranda’s food.
Past tables of trinkets and souvenir knickknacks awaits Filipino comfort food; pancit noodles and braised chicken or pork adobos steam and simmer at the counter, but it’s the tangy tamarind sinigang soup of salmon collar and fresh vegetables that cement the homey lunch-only eatery as quintessential market dining. And while the fare may be comforting, a collage of hand-scrawled signs nod to Oriental Mart’s cutting sense of humor—“If you are reading this…who are you blocking?”