Neighborhood in Flux

Little Saigon Is at a Literal and Figurative Crossroads

New housing developments are bringing a flood of residents to the neighborhood.

By Allecia Vermillion February 26, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Seattle Met

Quang Lam oversees the action at his family's market.

At Hau Hau Market, instant noodles and packages of sweets move from incoming trucks to outdoor pallets to the unruly checkout line with uncommon speed. Grandmotherly women with baskets, even the occasional suitcase in tow prowl for the best-looking citrus among the rows of enormous boxes beneath a tarp roof out front.

“We’re definitely not targeting millennials,” Quang Lam jokes of the business his parents started decades ago, where brisk volumes cater to lower-income shoppers and aggressive bargain seekers.

In the early 1980s, refugees from Vietnam established a business district east of Chinatown. Wholesalers and markets like Hau Hau flourished in the area’s larger industrial buildings and helped cement Little Saigon as a destination for Vietnamese immigrants from across the region.

Now, the neighborhood that occupies a very literal crossroads at Jackson, 12th Avenue, Rainier, and Boren is on the cusp of a major demographic shift as well. There was a time when fewer than 100 housing units existed in Little Saigon. Soon, though, a fistful of housing developments will introduce hundreds of low- and mixed-income residents to an area that spent the past four decades establishing its own distinct culture.

“We want to make sure we expand along with the neighborhood,” says Lam. “But we don’t know what’s going to happen, exactly.”

His family is part of another shift that Quynh Pham, executive director of the Friends of Little Saigon, says is shaping the area—children taking over family businesses founded by immigrants from Vietnam (many of whom are Chinese). You see it in the scratch banh mi at Lan Hue, owned by the same family as Hue Ky Mi Gia, and most visibly at Pho Bac.

“We’ve been so focused on the traditional, but this new generation has grown up,” she says. “There’s a lot of opportunity to define culture and identity within the neighborhood.”

3 Grocers That Anchor Little Saigon

Viet Wah

The supermarket that helped establish Little Saigon in the 1980s now counts plenty of non-Asians among its customer base. Customers old and young roam the aisles of food and housewares to stock up on Vietnamese herbs, chicken hearts, live Puget Sound oysters, and innumerable types of fish sauce.

Lam’s Seafood Market

The name harkens back to its seafood-centric origins, but the produce section offers rarities like purple star apples and seasonal specialties like jackfruit and rambutan, plus ferocious bargains on humdrum grapes or potatoes. One longtime employee describes it as “a miniature Pike Place Market with dry goods attached.” It’s a fitting summary of the cheerfully hectic atmosphere, seafood tanks, and almost stall-like layout—a vibe that will carry over when Lam’s opens a second, much larger location in Tukwila later this year.

Hau Hau Market

Zero frills, aggressive bargains, and an adventure-filled underground parking garage characterize this market in the back of the Ding How Center, where boxes of produce and dry goods lined up beneath a tarp roof out front lend the feel of an open-air market. 412 12th Ave S, 206-329-1688

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