It’s a strange time to open a restaurant, you say? Well, the reality is that many on this list sealed their deals with landlords in pre-COVID times. As the adage goes, when life gives you lemons …
With Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent ban on indoor dining running at least through mid-December, the newcomers below are doubling down on takeout. Others plopped plastic chairs and picnic tables along the sidewalks with awnings and heat lamps. Wind chill be damned. On with our roll call.
Katsu-ya, the Los Angeles sushi chain, where Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga have dined, has opened near the Amazon campus. With nine locations around Southern California, this hot spot has become such a big hit with celebrities that management banned paparazzi from its properties in Tinseltown. Katsu-ya was fortunate to launch 22 years ago across from CBS and Universal Studios as the L.A. sushi scene started to explode, said Katsu-ya spokesperson Alan Semsar. Investors are now bullish on new money in Seattle. Katsu-ya opened across from Whole Foods partly to cash in on the busy lunch rush from Amazon and Google’s planned expansion. A pandemic made its debut less splashy, but management says they’re in this for the long haul, with plans to expand to Bellevue next year and an eye toward a third Seattle-area branch in the future. Its restaurant in South Lake Union includes an outdoor dining area with heat lamps (management only seats 12 diners outside, spaced apart, under the state’s social distance rule). The rice cakes topped with spicy tuna are arguably the best thing on Katsu-ya’s signature menu, though if you want the best bang for your buck, get the $18 lunch bento box with various sushi rolls and seafood noshes or the $28 Rakumori, a sampling of Katsu-ya’s greatest hits. Look for ramen and sizzling short rib platters to be added on the menu.
Near Katsu-ya sits the New York City chain Halal Guys, which was also looking to cash in on the Amazon lunch rush with its rice bowls, gyros and falafel platters. It’s gonna be a long winter for both chains. Thousands of Amazon workers now work remotely and won’t return to the South Lake Union complex until July 2021. Ruh-roh.
Communion Restaurant & Bar, one of the most anticipated openings in the Central District, will debut on Nov. 28 under Kristi Brown, who runs That Brown Girl Cooks! catering. Her first restaurant — soul food with a Northwest tweak, she calls it — will feature 21 dishes, from black-eyed peas hummus to a fried catfish sandwich that’s a play on a po’boy-banh mi. Brown, who has been planning this soul food café for four years, plopped down 20 seats outside under cover with heat lamps in hope that locals will come out and support her small business during the ban on indoor dining. “I’m ready to go. It’s our time. Hopefully it will work out,” she said.
Chengdu Taste, another L.A. chain, was one of Seattle’s most anticipated openings before COVID. Six years ago, when Chengdu Taste debuted in San Gabriel Valley to rave reviews from the Los Angeles Times’ late, great restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, the wait for a table was up to four hours. That’s not a misprint. Part of the buzz then was the novelty of Sichuan dishes and those tingling, numbing peppers, which many casual diners of Chinese takeout weren’t used to seeing. These days, toothpick cumin lamb and fish fillets simmering in a spicy, pickled pepper broth, specialties at Chengdu Taste, are common in many Chinese restaurants. Trying to stay ahead of the trend, Chengdu Taste has added original dishes including “Guess Shrimp” with prawns and french fries spiked with fermented veggies. The restaurant debuted in the Chinatown International District in October with a skeleton crew and limited hours because management couldn’t find enough kitchen help. But it’s now open six days a week (off Tuesdays) for takeout and expanded hours (from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Talented pop-up baker Christina Wood has found a permanent home since partnering with Broadcast Coffee Roasters to open Temple Pastries, near the elbow of South Jackson Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. Prior to the pandemic, this historical Central District community had evolved into a lively restaurant scene, thanks in part to the hundreds of apartments and town houses sprouting up within a six-block radius. This commercial drag hosts Standard Brewing, which has an underrated food and cocktail menu, Reckless Noodle House, which does lobster fried rice, and the anchor Wood Shop BBQ, which makes some of the best Central Texas-style brisket in Western Washington. Wood Shop BBQ’s encore is Oaky’s Tex Mex, set to open in late winter 2021 in the new building next to Temple Pastries. As for the bakery, Wood offers croissants and two dozen other pastries on weekdays. But weekend is where she shows off with a larger, more ambitious lineup with cronuts and cruffins. The bakery offers mortadella and other sandwiches with plans to add flatbreads, beer and wine. There’s outdoor seating. On weekends, the socially distanced line stretches at least a block long. (If that long line scares you, three blocks east sits the pastry pop-up Sweet Nothings and More, which offers cookies, croissants and other baked goods on weekend mornings at Central Pizza.)
Speaking of sweets, about 1.5 miles north of Temple Pastries sits Alexandras Macarons.
On Capitol Hill, Cornelly showcases pastas and pizzas, similar to the playbook of restaurateur Ethan Stowell. No surprise since one of the owners, Brett Phillips, worked in the kitchen at Stowell’s Tavolàta and How to Cook a Wolf. Phillips and business partner Sam Carroll use a sourdough-crust pie, and on Sundays the duo does deep-dish, Detroit-style pizza. It’s the newest addition to a rapidly evolving Seattle pizza scene. They just added two picnic tables out front and plan to add a cover overhead soon.
Also on Capitol Hill comes Remedium Island Grill, which took over the Adana restaurant space, featuring island-inspired fare including its signature Hawaiian cheeseburger topped with a teriyaki-glazed pineapple slice.
Two new Indian takeouts: On Capitol Hill, Spice Box runs a large biryani, tandoori and vegetarian menu, though the best deals are the lunch combos (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily), which include two veggie or meat entrees with sides for $11.95-$13.95. In downtown, Spice King specializes in meat and seafood curries.
In Columbia City, Taco City Taqueria has a large outdoor dining area with eight tables (the prime real estate are the two picnic tables under a canopy with heat lamps).
More sushi: Sumo Express Japanese Food comes to Broadway East on Capitol Hill; O Maki Rolls + Teriyaki opens in Greenwood. And Musashi Newsroom Ballard makes its sales pitch: “We’re a one-stop-shop. Grab a coffee with our Newsroom team, order your sushi with Musashi, do your shopping at Target and come back in to pick up!”
On the Ave in the University District, Tanuki Izakaya offers sushi and rice bowls, but its signature yakitori or grilled meat will not be offered until indoor dining is allowed, a spokesperson said. About a half-mile south, students get another Korean wing option with bb.q Chicken UW.
True to its name, the kitchen staff behind Secret Congee are keeping mum on their identity other than to say their résumés included stints at “Congeez, Pestle Rock and Agrodolce” and that this project is their second act after being laid off from their jobs. Some souped-up congees include miso-roasted squash and garlic blue crab. My colleague food writer Bethany Jean Clement has more details on the rice porridge in this takeout roundup. Secret Congee shares a commissary kitchen with Nit Thai Dessert, which does mango sticky rice and the trendy flavor pandan.
Tutta Bella brought its wood-fired oven inside the QFC supermarket at University Village to do its signature Neapolitan-style pizza. In addition to its pasta and salads, the Seattle chain will debut its “take-and-bake” pizza on Nov. 30 at the U Village locale, a spokesperson said. The pizza gets baked in Tutta Bella’s 800-degree oven then is “blast chilled” and packaged as a take-and-bake pizza for carryout. Management admits its fresh pizza is better, but the take-and-bake pie is the next best thing if you’re jonesing for a Neapolitan pie in your jammies at home.
Phin, the Vietnamese coffeehouse, has opened in the Chinatown ID, following two other fancy Vietnamese coffee shops: Sip House in the U District and Coffeeholic House in Columbia City. The latter has been one of the recent surprise hits in Seattle, drawing a flood of orders for its Vietnamese iced coffee topped with a salted cheese foam. These swanky Vietnamese coffee shops are popping up all over the country, and Seattle, with its coffee culture and one of the largest Vietnamese American populations in the United States, is no exception. Rumors are circulating that more will pop up around Seattle and the Eastside once COVID-19 gets under control. The new wave of Vietnamese coffee shops are run by mostly millennials who want to make the case that their French-press-style, robusta bean coffee can be as complex in taste as espresso drinks. At Phin, owner Bao Nguyen features his own bean blend and makes his own condensed milk for the iced coffee. He also makes the best flan in Little Saigon, topped with iced coffee flakes. Some industry analysts predict Vietnamese coffeehouses will be the next bubble tea.
Speaking of bubble tea, new spots include Meetea Cafe on Capitol Hill, TP Tea in the Chinatown International District and Meraki TEA BAR in the U District.
In North Seattle, along Aurora Avenue North, Hangry Panda does milk tea but also offers an extensive roster of poultry dishes, from teriyaki to spicy chicken sammies.
Not new, but here are restaurants that have changed up their menus or concepts due to the pandemic: The Octopus Bar now runs a sandwich takeout window called The Salty Shack. In Ballard, the cocktail bar The Gerald now focuses on Korean bar food, and nearby Bastille Café & Bar has pivoted from being a French café to Sabine Café Bar and Market with a larder, hawking wines, pickles and jams. The Middle Eastern-inspired menu includes toast, salads, sandwiches, rice bowls and roast chicken ($14 for half, $25 for a whole chicken). The poultry is served with five different sauce options. (The whipped garlic dip is the way to go).