It’s no question that Seattle has become a popular foodie destination. With fresh fish slinging in the Market, iberico creeping onto the scene and various other gourmet restaurants making a name for themselves, Seattle has been in the spotlight for Northwest dining for years.
Restaurateurs have flocked to Capitol Hill and Fremont to set up shop, creating unique neighborhood joints and options. A walk down Broadway will offer a world of different cuisines that are open late and fit to the neighborhood. Creative kitchens and niche menus are bringing in foodies from around the area, and boosting Seattle’s reputation as a major gastrology area.
But what constitutes a foodie destination? Creative menus, distinctive dining and local chefs? Flavorful creations, underground reputation and a “cool-before-it-was-cool” vibe? Having a dish so unique no one else has ever heard of? Personally, I think the variety, creativity and thought that goes into a menu really makes a restaurant or city. Top that off with “something-no-one-else-has” and that spells foodie to me.
Would the International District hold up as a foodie destination? The often overlooked area southeast of downtown Seattle is characterized by the flamboyant cultural ties and abundance of restaurants, grocery stores and bakeries. It has also been a long-standing favorite food spot for me. Who wouldn’t love cheap bowls of egg noodles, decadent dim sum, Vietnamese sandwiches to go and BBQ duck at any time of the day?
The area certainly has variety. The ID has evolved from a small-time ethnic Chinatown to a multicultural treasure trove of foodie delights. Cuisine from Korea, Japan, China, India, Vietnam, Thailand and more pack the streets with tasty treats for all types of diners.
Creativity? Maybe. While there are many different types of food available in the ID, I would argue that much of it is similar and has stayed the same. Not to say that I don’t love it, but not much has changed in the way of dishes. I have been frequenting Hing Loon Seafood Restaurant for more than 10 years for my favorite dish of all time: Clams in black bean sauce. Ten years and it’s still great. Ten years and it’s still the same. There have been many recent restaurants that offer fusion and/or modern takes on ethnic food, but the true traditional flavors are what steal the scene.
A look at any menu in the area will show that passion and thought went into it. The laborious dishes require a certain amount of dedication and preparation—something you wouldn’t create unless you really loved it. The mom-and-pop shops all have close-knit teams needed to run successfully, and work hard to achieve that.
Despite the delicious and affordable dishes I love to order, the ID still has a ways to go before becoming a true foodie destination. The small restaurants and family-run joints have all become comfortable in what they serve, knowing that their customers will cultivate a preference for their food. That’s not to say that there aren’t unique and creative foods being served, but that not enough chefs and restaurants are being daring.
Further south, Rainier Valley has grown in niche restaurants and daring tastes. Especially popular for their more exotic cuisines, the area has become popular due to foodie landmarks such as Rainier BBQ, Tutta Bella and Columbia City Bakery. Unlike the ID, it fulfills the variety, creativity, thought and unique tenets of a foodie destination. The city is still relatively unknown and obscure, which allows the restaurant scene to push boundaries and try new things, in terms of cuisine types, adaptations, innovations and more.