At a glance, the area of 152nd and 153rd streets between First Avenue and Ambaum Boulevard in downtown Burien might not seem like much. Strip malls line the wide streets, hardly a building standing over three stories. But look closer and this handful of blocks is chock-full of restaurants, bars, markets and more. Take a stroll and you could find just about anything your heart desires — down to specifics.
There are a few familiar faces: Grand Central Bakery has a prominent location and Bakery Nouveau’s shop — complete with a window in the floor showcasing a massive chocolate refining machine — is the bakery’s largest and its headquarters for chocolate and gelato making. You’ll also find an outpost of the Korean fried-chicken specialist Bok a Bok and Smarty Pants Garage, a sister location to the Georgetown sandwich specialist.
But single-location, family-run restaurants are the bread and butter of this area. To try and identify some of the tastiest options, I decided that I needed some local expertise. Emily Inlow-Hood and Lorraine Chachere are, respectively, the communications officer and economic development specialist for the City of Burien. I met with them recently at the Burien Fish House (which might be familiar to some readers, as the restaurant was on our list for best fish and chips) to get their recommendations for places I should try.
Every time she’s at Burien Fish House, Chachere always orders the same thing: grilled salmon tacos with apple-mango salsa, and she just can’t seem to kick the habit. “I do love those salmon tacos,” she says laughing.
People should also check out the incredibly creamy shrimp mac-and-cheese and save room for the crème brûlée. Chachere says to keep an eye out for the key lime pie.
Both women are staunch advocates for the restaurants in Burien — my notes from our conversation quickly go from full sentences to just names of restaurants. When Inlow-Hood says there has been an “explosion of restaurants,” she isn’t joking, mentioning that there have been more than a dozen openings over the past two years.
“It’s a lot for a city of 50,000,” Inlow-Hood says.
While that encompasses the city as a whole, I was most interested in exploring the blocks I’ve dubbed Burien’s “eat streets.” I came back with my family a week later armed with a list from the duo. We discovered the best way to explore this explosion was on foot. There’s enough here to keep you happy (and happily full) for a while, but here are a few highlights.
Dukem Restaurant consists of a cluster of tables on one side of the Ethiopian market of the same name. On the market side, there are green coffee beans; spice blends; bags of rice and flour; a small cooler with fresh vegetables; and a tiny, almost hidden meat window with a butcher selling fresh beef a few mornings per week. There’s also a little hot case with deep-fried savory goodies and fresh bread — but go early if you want bread because by the time we got there at 11:30 a.m. they were sold out.
The restaurant side is extremely casual. Just tell the person working the front counter at the market you’re interested in sitting down and he’ll alert the cook in the kitchen to come take your order. Dishes are large and meant to be shared, and each comes on a piece of traditional sour flatbread called injera. The vegetarian combo ($13.99) with gomen wot (collard greens) and lentils prepared two ways — misir alicha wot and misir key wot — offers wonderful textures and rich flavors. Adding half an order of tibs ($17.99 for a meat/veggie combo) — a dish of chopped beef mixed with onion, green peppers and seasoned butter — really kicks things up a notch. The portions are substantial even when shared, and each dish comes with two additional injera.
Located just a few stops down in the same strip mall as Dukem is this breezy island spot, dishing out a fusion of Hawaiian and Korean. Peep at the poke bar before making your choice; there is regular and spicy salmon or tuna, plump edamame, seaweed salad, masago eggs and cucumber kimchi.
The plate lunches are a mashup of traditional white rice and mac salad, with the addition of cucumber kimchi and a healthy tangle of sesame-tinged japchae. I ordered the chicken katsu ($11) plate lunch, which featured a juicy dark-meat chicken cutlet, deep fried and coated with panko. The cucumber kimchi is a sour, spicy, crunchy flavor bomb that cuts the richness of the katsu wonderfully. The mac salad was a little sweet for my taste, but I had forgotten how much I love glass noodles and sesame japchae.
If you can’t get enough Ohana while there, you can grab mac salad, seaweed salad, or even lilikoi or POG cake from Patrick’s Cafe & Bakery in White Center.
Taqueria Casa Mixteca
Chachere called out a lot of taco shops and Mexican restaurants in this little stretch; each has a specialty. Taqueria Casa Mixteca specializes in Oaxacan cuisine and imports everything from bread and large crispy tortillas called tlayudas to cheese and chapulines (tiny, seasoned grasshoppers) from the Mexican region. The chorizo and tortillas are made in-house. The menu here is quite expansive, but once I saw the word “memelas” I was sold. Memelas are large, fat corn tortillas griddled and topped with a smear of refried beans, fresh cheese, onion and cilantro. They’re often eaten as snacks, but they are filling. An order of two ($12.99) comes with the option of adding meat, and I went for pork. The thin pork steak was marinated and grilled and managed to be crispy and juicy despite its thinness. We also grabbed a few tacos, the tortillas soft and pliable. Each table has a caddy with escabeche and two salsas; the red is by far the spiciest, but the green has its own sour kick.
Two visits and I feel that all I’ve done is scratch the surface of what Burien has to offer. My head on a swivel, I spotted many of the spots Inlow-Hood and Chachere pointed out during our meeting; an Australian meat-pie shop, the Burien Press coffee shop, Maven Mercantile (I’ve heard it’s the go-to spot for granola), the Burien Greek House and a handful of Italian restaurants to check out.
Plus, I’ve heard from many impassioned readers about their favorite spots in Burien that lie outside this small swath of city blocks. From memelas to tibs and all that’s to come, I can’t wait to get back to Burien.
Burien Fish House; 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 133 S.W. 153rd St., Burien; 206-294-3506, theburienfishhouse.com
Bakery Nouveau; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; 426 S.W. 153rd St., Burien; 206-717-2100, bakerynouveau.com
Ohana Kitchen; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 241 S.W. 152nd St., Burien; 206-246-3501, ohanakitchenwa.com
Dukem Market and Restaurant; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday; 215 S.W. 152nd St., Burien; 206-453-3699
Taqueria Casa Mixteca; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday; 452 S.W. 153rd St., Burien; 206-244-2572