Owner Ryuichi Nakano ran one of the most beloved sushi spots in North Seattle, Kisaku, for 16 years before he surprised patrons last fall by announcing that he was leaving Tangletown.
He’s back with the 32-seat restaurant SanKai — though you have to head farther north, to downtown Edmonds, to get his omakase, nigiri (11 pieces for $42; 14 for $53) or sashimi (14 pieces for $51).
Addressing the disappointment expressed by fans who no longer see him behind the sushi bar in Seattle, Nakano said he didn’t intend to sell his Seattle restaurant last year; a commercial real estate agent walked in “out of the blue” one evening and asked if Nakano “was willing to sell” to a client he had. It was an offer Nakano couldn’t refuse.
“It was enough money to give me some time off and open another restaurant,” Nakano said. The Richmond Beach resident said he thought downtown Edmonds, with its water vista, had the potential to be a great scene for dining and drinking. Apparently, he had no trouble finding big names for his project: Investors behind two popular Edmonds restaurants, Bar Dojo and The MAR.KET, have a minority stake in SanKai.
Two strip-mall Mexican spots to keep an eye on: Birrieria Tijuana in Burien is arguably the most talked-about newcomer in the South End with its “taco queso,” where globs of melted mozzarella blanket the mound of shredded beef tucked inside the two fried tortillas. Birreria Tijuana has been packed, especially on weekends (I waited 20 minutes for my order on a recent Sunday). If yours is a to-go order, it helps to know Spanish, because your food order will be yelled out in that language. The wife-and-husband team, Genoveva Arias and Fredy Zavala, said they have been floored by the long lines; they have to drag out more chairs and tables for the weekend rush. They have also opened a branch in Lakewood and plan a third store in Everett after Christmas. Two miles north sits another promising debut, El Catrin. Headed by Jared Velazquez, the former chef at the acclaimed Fonda La Catrina and El Sirenito in Georgetown, the restaurant showcases the “guisados” stew with pork and beef. Also popular are Velazquez’s $1.80 tacos (from beef cheek to carnitas).
In Renton, Yummy Kitchen offers a broad range of Asian food, including chicken katsu, kalua pork, loco moco and the always-popular Korean fried chicken wings.
Speaking of which, Vons in Federal Way specializes in Korean fried chicken and, for the health-conscious, Korean oven-fried chicken, with sides like kimchi fried rice and rice cakes. Less than two miles south, Jin Kook Korean Restaurant specializes in bibimbap and “Korean pan-fried sausage” in the shop’s secret chili sauce.
In Kent, Main Garden offers all the classic Chinese American takeouts, like General Tso’s chicken, along with a $6 cheeseburger-and-fries deal.
In Bellevue Square by The Lodge, executive chef Clara Gutierrez Carroll, who also runs Tablas Woodstone Taverna in Mill Creek, has opened the ambitious, 146-seat spot Castilla Restaurant and Tapas Bar. There’s the prized Jamón ibérico, of course, but the big hits have been the paellas (served between 5-10 p.m.) and the croquetas (three choices: truffle mushroom, shrimp with fennel or Serrano ham with chicken and manchego cheese). A half-mile southeast sits FogRose Atelier, the dessert-centric spot inside Soma Tower South that features sweets from French and other cuisines, both traditional and fusion, including the classic baked Alaska with Asian tweaks of matcha ice cream and black-sesame sponge cake. Dinner is also served with a “Duck Duet” — duck confit and a seared duck breast — or charcoal capellini, as well as a bar with craft cocktails. At Lincoln South Food Hall, What The Pho has replaced the ramen shop Fat and Feathers.
Also in Bellevue, the wave of Chinese restaurants continues: Taste of Xi’an, which offers arguably the busiest weekend brunch around The Ave, has opened another location in Asian Family Market, serving its signature hand-pulled noodles along with the staples of mapo tofu and hot pot. Under new ownership is Shanghai Shanghai, which does dim sum daily. At 3 p.m., the menu shifts to Shanghai cuisine, with its signature crab-pork meatballs and braised pork shoulders. Check out the private room — with a disco ball and a wild, floral-themed, aqua-blue color scheme, it’s become a big hit for karaoke get-togethers. New York City chain Mango Mango Dessert makes its Washington state debut with Hong Kong-style fruits and sweets.
In Redmond near Microsoft, Shaburina runs an all-you-can-eat Japanese/Korean hot pot (read the fine print: 2 ounces of the Miyazaki A5 Wagyu beef is $25 extra). For hot pot, there are five broths, ranging from sukiyaki to spicy miso.
In Woodinville, Pierre Tumlin — a former sous chef for cantankerous bad-boy celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay — heads the food program for the gastropub Wheelhouse, in the Hollywood Station campus. Also in town is Bobae, which showcases high-end tea leaves for its bubble teas.
In Bothell, Brick Oven Pizza Lounge has opened a block from McMenamins Anderson School. Besides its namesake pies, there are arancini, other bar bites and — for more substantial fare — sandwiches, including grinders, and American Italian dishes like spaghetti and meatballs.