Yes, it’s smaller and pricier than the original, but it’s got a lot going for it.
Hey, South Lake Union: Don’t hate Kai Market for what it’s not. As some are grousing on Yelp, this little offshoot of the massive, magical Uwajimaya in the Chinatown International District (and in Bellevue, Renton and Beaverton, Ore.) has overall higher prices than the original. But as one defender notes, “They’ve gotta pay rent, ya know,” and SLU is doubtless a pricey place to pay it.
And there’s so much to love at Kai, starting with the wall of tanks of Dungeness crab and lobsters — fun to watch (looks like they’re playing rugby in there!), even more fun to cook and eat (the messiness brings people together!).
Also: live oysters, gorgeous fresh fish, an in-a-pinch selection of veggies, refrigerated make-at-home ramen packets (way better than the Top kind), several shelves of sauces (soy, sriracha, peanut, fish, oyster, hoisin and more), sushi-making supplies, miso paste, tons of flavors of Hi-Chew, Pocky galore and so much more … But you’re here to grab lunch or a take-away dinner. Lucky you!
400 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle; 206-957-1060; kaimkt.com; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
Poke, sushi and more: Kai Market has a dozen(!) kinds of poke (two scoops with rice, $12.99). Also — pro tip! — they’ll let you sample whatever you want. Everything we tried tasted super-fresh, and the rainbow version’s a fun one, with different kinds of fish as you eat your way along. Skip the lobster poke: The flavor’s sadly eclipsed by fake crab, shrimp and spiciness.
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Sushi here surpasses grocery-store-counter standards, but, notably, prices aren’t higher: $6.99 for an eight-big-piece California roll, spicy tuna for $7.49. A “sushi shrimp burrito” ($8.99) — still-crispy tempura shrimp, rice, cucumber, lettuce, a modicum of mayo and lots of tobiko for color/texture/flavor pop, all snug in a nori wrapper — would make an Edomae master weep, but made a pretty great lunch on a hot day.
The hot roast-duck bowl actually comes in a generous bento-box format, with seaweed salad, crunchy-creamy slaw and lots of rice (get the gingery sweet-and-sour sauce on the side). A roast-pork bowl/box goes for the same price ($12.99).
Love it or hate it: Kai Market stocks Japanese-style, white-bread crustless sandwiches (made by Bellevue’s Sandwich House TRES), with fillings both savory and sweet. They’re squishy-soft, and a shrimp cutlet and egg-salad version ($4.99) was itself, oddly, both savory and sweetish (let’s just say I’d try a different kind next time). Another adventure in eating: musubi (around $2.99), a fat pad of rice topped Hawaiian-style with the traditional Spam (much better than it sounds) or, here, shrimp tempura, unagi, pork, sausage or cheeseburger (I liked the unagi; orange-greasy cheeseburger, not so much).
The drinks: If you’re fond of emptying your wallet at Starbucks for cold, sweet coffee drinks, check out the canned selection here for way cheaper (like $1.69), still satisfying options. Also good: a can of Pokka brand unsweetened oolong iced tea (99 cents). More excitingly, there’s tons of beer and sake, and to-go growlers of both. The beer’s a deal at only $13 for 64 ounces of Sapporo, Two Beers IPA or Fremont Summer Ale.
The scene: The high-ceilinged, ultracontemporary premises get swarmed during weekday Amazon lunch hour, but otherwise make for tranquil browsing. A stark corner for eating-in features, depressingly, lanyarded solo diners absently chewing while swiping at phones, and (at least for now) no beer may be imbibed in here — get it to go.