The owner used to run Setsuna near Northgate Mall, and now he brings the Karaage chicken his customers craved to Belltown.
During lunch time, the smell of fried chicken fills this sidewalk, wafting by a few store fronts. You have to walk to the corner of Second Avenue and Wall Street to get to the source: Karaage Setsuna. There, you’ll find some of the best Japanese fried chicken in the city.
Have you been? Come in. The man greeting you between the stacked plates in the open kitchen is chef and owner Yoshi Matsumoto.
Maybe you’ve seen that face before. Maybe it was in North Seattle.
2421 Second Ave., (Belltown) Seattle;
11:30- a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch Monday-Friday and 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. for dinner Monday-Saturday; closed on Sundays (206-448-3595 or karaagesetsuna.com).
Matsumoto used to run Setsuna, the izakaya near Northgate Mall, a 200-seat Japanese restaurant that he recalled was “stressful, very stressful.”
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After six years, he got “tired” of doing sushi and tempura and closed shop in December 2014. “I want to do something more fun,” he said.
Welcome to his second act, Karaage Setsuna, a Japanese-Hawaiian mashup with only 24 seats. He opened this small spot in barhopping Belltown last fall. Younger crowd, more energy.
He changed up the menu but kept the karaage chicken that his longtime customers loved. That fried chicken had to stay, he said.
The menu: It’s a Japanese-Hawaiian-inspired lineup of “spam rolls,” loco moco and trendy poke bowls. The signature karaage-chicken pieces are served regular or spicy and come in three sizes: $5 for small portion (four to five pieces), $8 for medium (eight to nine pieces) and $16 for large (20-plus pieces). Order them with one of eight sauces from mango BBQ to curry ketchup.
Most dishes cost $13 or less. Most entrees are $2 cheaper during lunch.
Don’t miss: Karaage are deep-fried pieces of dark meat in a light, crunchy batter; the semisweet thigh meat is redolent of sake and also marinated in bonito, soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Squeeze some lemon on top or shell out 75 cents for the Setsuna red sauce, a spicy miso. The chicken can also be ordered as an entree with rice and macaroni salad, but better to order a large portion and wash it down with a Sapporo.
For starters, a simple serving of green beans will do, boiled but still crunchy, coated in an addictingly nutty and sweet sesame paste.
The poke bowl comes with copious amount of yellowfin cut into cubes, slick with soy sauce and sesame oil and citrusy from the yuzu dressing glazing the green salad and seaweed.
What to skip: The take on the loco moco is lighter and less salty than the real deal, and thus lacks all the gluttonous joy and purpose of this Hawaiian classic. The gravy is more a tangy tomato base with a soft-boiled egg instead of a traditional fried one.
Prices: Green-bean gomaae appetizer ($5), a large order of karaage chicken with dipping sauce ($16.75), loco moco ($11) and poke bowl ($15) totaled $52.34 including tax, enough to serve three for lunch or two for dinner.