Three Seattle restaurants, Archipelago, Communion and Paju, have been selected by The New York Times food staff as part of its 2021 Restaurant List, released Tuesday. It’s a compilation of what the newspaper’s food staff termed the nation’s “most vibrant and delicious restaurants,” and they’ve dubbed the list “the 50 places in America we’re most excited about right now.”
The list, compiled by New York Times critics, reporters and editors, isn’t ranked, but choices “reflect the rich mosaic of American dining,” the Times wrote. It includes long-time favorites and up-and-coming stars in the restaurant world.
Food critic Tejal Rao had high praise for Archipelago, the 12-seat Filipino American tasting-menu restaurant in Hillman City that’s been celebrated for its combination of Filipino flavors and techniques with Pacific Northwest ingredients. Rao lauded it for also being a restaurant that tells important stories.
“You could easily get lost in the deliciousness of the modern Filipino food, but Aaron Verzosa and Amber Manuguid do more than send out excellent food,” Rao wrote. “They tell complicated, expansive stories about the Pacific Northwest and the many ways that Filipino immigrants have shaped it, using words, pictures and even some unexpected dance moves behind the pass.”
Archipelago is part of a wave of restaurants showcasing Southeast Asian cuisine that have sprung up in the Seattle area in the last few years. In 2019, former Seattle Times food critic Providence Cicero termed her dining experience at Archipelago "as much a cultural odyssey as a culinary adventure."
"We are so humbled to have this opportunity, as the children of immigrants, to be a creative part of life. To show that the often forgotten and overlooked stories of the marginalized and underrepresented are as valuable as any ingredient on a plate, perhaps — even more fulfilling," Manuguid and Verzosa said in a text message to The Seattle Times on Tuesday. "We are incredibly thankful for our city's support, giving us the fuel to showcase the diversity of our beautiful region."
Rao also complimented the “warm and welcoming” atmosphere and Kristi Brown’s cooking at Communion in the Central District. Though Communion is known for dishes like “Hood Sushi” that combine soul food ingredients (like catfish) with elements of popular Seattle cuisines (like sushi), Rao praises Brown’s more classically Southern neck bone stew for its “crisp-edged strands of smoky meat, the big tender lima beans and the deeply flavored broth.”
Earlier this year, Communion was named one of the 12 best new restaurants in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. And Seattle Times food critic Bethany Jean Clement included the restaurant’s vegan corn chowder as one of her favorite soups in Seattle for comfort food, describing it as “luxurious in texture yet also earthy, sweet and slightly smoky, spicy but sneakily so.” Brown is also known for using the restaurant to educate Seattleites about the redlining and gentrification in the Central District that’s pushed Black residents out of the historically Black neighborhood.
Rao was also wowed by Bill Soo Jeong and Chung Jeong's “elegant and expressive” modern Korean dishes at Paju in Queen Anne. Rao wrote that when she dined there, her group planned to share the whole menu but wound up hoarding a bowl of fried rice that was “black with squid ink, beautifully chewy, with a gentle smokiness and a soft, lingering flavor of kimchi.”
Seattle Times food critic Clement wrote in 2019 when Paju opened that it was some of Seattle's most exciting food and loved the willingness to take risks in the cooking, even in the few cases where she felt it didn’t work out. She also appreciated the creative, modern twists to Korean classics, like making rib-eye bulgogi with crisped quinoa and truffle paté.
Bill Jeong said he’s “grateful” to be included in the list. He said the restaurant is still slow on weeknights and struggling from the pandemic.
Jeong is happy his take on Korean cooking is being recognized, especially because it's not what most Americans think of when they consider the cuisine.
“Korean food doesn’t always have to be Korean barbecue or bibimbap,” Jeong said. “A wide variety of Korean ingredients and food is out there.”
Two restaurants in Portland, Oregon, also made the list: Eem, which combines American barbecue and Thai flavors for dishes like white curry with brisket burnt ends, and Coquine, a fine-dining French-inspired restaurant that uses almost entirely local, seasonal ingredients.