The owners behind two fast-casual Seattle favorites have joined forces to open a new spot on Capitol Hill—one that could fill the hole left by recently shuttered neighborhood institutions like Vios, Cafe Presse, and Cafe Pettirosso. Money Frog arrives with a menu of memorable dishes like cacio e pepe with yakisoba and chicken-fried frog legs.
Khampaeng Panyathong is part of the trio (and much of the Lao flavor inspiration) behind Taurus Ox on Capitol Hill. Across town in Greenwood, Joe and Lucy Ye run Hangry Panda, blending Seattle staples like teriyaki with Taiwanese street snacks, including salt and pepper fried chicken.
The three took over the former Vios space at 903 19th Avenue East to open a spot that’s resolutely relaxed, even with table service and a menu full of culinary ambition. Panyathong describes it as a “place where you can go on first dates…where you can take your grandparents to go eat…that you want to show off to your friends when they come from out of town.”
Though don’t expect too many grandparent-age patrons. Money Frog general manager Jin Hee Lee says, “We basically just wanted to create a place where we wanted to hang out when we're not working, and a place for our friends that are in the industry.”
Panyathong filled the menu with many of his own go-to meals, like the curry ketchup fried rice that he’s been perfecting since middle school. It’s seasoned with yellow curry powder and sprinkled with shredded nori, a freewheeling combo that reflects a chef who likes “to showcase a lot of different Asian cultures and how they go well together.”
"We really want to just exude Pan-Asian," says Lee. "I'm Korean. Our line cook is Korean. Joe and Lucy come from Taiwanese Chinese backgrounds; Khampaeng’s Laotian…[Money Frog] was meant to kind of reflect our identities.”
Chicken-fried frog legs–an entree you’d be hard pressed to find at other local Asian restaurants–send the same message, dressed down in cajun spices and a side of dill-y lemongrass ranch.
Brunch is part of the long-term plan, and Money Frog should have its liquor license any day now. Once that’s squared away, look out for cocktails made from Asian grocery store drinks, like basil seed or pennywort leaf juice. Panyathong hopes that "all Asians when they see it, they'll be like ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that…I can't believe he's making a drink with this stuff.’”
Panyathong first met Lucy when she was a culinary student at Seattle Central, and he a substitute teacher. Under Panyathong's mentorship, Lucy worked in the Taurus Ox kitchen before opening up Hangry Panda with Joe in late 2020.
Panyathong knows better than anyone that opening a new spot can be demanding, but it’s hardly the only thing on his plate at the moment. His fiance and Taurus Ox business partner, Jenessa Sneva, is due to deliver their first child within a fortnight. And in a few short months he’s also opening a new pizza joint, which will occupy the First Hill space where Primo Pizza Parlor once was.
No word on baby names, but for the pizzeria, Panyathong is considering a name along the lines of Pineapple Pizza Co: “Because I want to piss off everyone. And I also want to create a safe haven for people who like pineapple pizza without being judged.”