Some of the most exciting movements in Seattle’s evolving culinary scene are happening well beyond the city center and in less-explored neighborhoods—among them Seattle Southside, which includes Tukwila, SeaTac, and Des Moines. Often overlooked as an area near the airport dominated by fast food chains, the Southside has become a haven for Pacific Northwest produce, with farmer’s markets showcasing the region’s freshest organic bounty, while local chefs are launching new businesses that reflect the area’s multicultural community in compelling new ways.

Some of the most exciting new concepts can be found at Spice Bridge Food Hall, which opened in September 2020 as a way to help women of color and immigrants in South King County launch their businesses. At Spice Bridge, visitors can taste the food of various chef-owners while getting to know the owners themselves. They include Taste of Congo, created by Kinshasa, Congo-born Caroline Musitu and one of the only places in the region where you can eat Congolese food (on a rainy day, try the hearty, garlic-spiked poulet a la moamba, a chicken stew and rice). Theary Cambodian Foods owner Theary Ngeth, who fled Cambodia with her family to escape the Khmer Rouge when she was five, now creates Cambodian comfort food dishes like oxtail and beef back rib soup. 

“One of the unique things that I see happening at Spice Bridge is this exchange, this conversation and relationship building, between the customers and the entrepreneurs,” says Kara Martin, program innovation director of the SeaTac-based Food Innovation Network (FIN), which runs Spice Bridge Food Hall as the base of operations for its Food Business Incubator program. “They’re talking about the dishes with the chefs and they’re learning how they’re prepared and the cultural meanings behind them.”

At Jazze’s, an Afghan-American fusion concept, Nasrin Noori uses her heritage to inspire such dishes as mantu (beef dumplings), ashak (a vegetarian dumpling), and burani (braised eggplant). “Spice Bridge has allowed me to experience what it will take to run a successful business in the future and the skills that are needed to become a restaurant owner,” says Noori, who has lived in South King County for most of her adult life, and whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in the 1990’s. “It’s been incredible to have support and encouragement from customers from all walks of life, from as far as North Bend and Olympia, and locally in the King County area, too.”

Just a few miles away down International Blvd. in the neighboring city of SeaTac, Copperleaf Restaurant inside the Cedarbrook Lodge is on the other end of the spectrum — offering sit down dining, featuring farm to table cuisine. They specialize in ingredients from carefully chosen Washington state farmers, fisherman and ranchers, known for responsible, sustainable, and fair-trade practices. Sources for this fine dining experience include grass fed beef from Gleason Ranch, smoked salmon from Lummi Island Wild and seasonal produce from Whidbey Island’s Willowood Farm.

Another 10-minute drive south in Des Moines, the community is anchored by the Des Moines Waterfront Farmer’s Market, which started 15 years ago and fills with some of the region’s best produce every Saturday between June and September. “The community of Des Moines thoroughly supports the market but with the Light Rail and a possible shuttle ferry coming, I see a great many more people visiting the market,” says Susie Novak, the manager of the Marina-based farmer’s market. 

Some of the most popular stops include Snohomish bakery, which is “like Nordstrom as your anchor store,” explains Novak, for fresh-baked goods like cheesy bread and double-baked almond Croissants. At Skinny Kitty Farms, Mount Vernon-based owners David and Bonnie Mackie grow seasonal vegetables and also sell organic pork and sausage. At Sidhu Farms, which has had a presence at the market since its inception, owner Chet Sidhu sells lower-sugar jams and jellies made with berries from his 90-acre organic farmland in Puyallup. 

“Big bonus: they make their own pita bread,” says Novak. “It’s a great grab-and-go option for the visiting boaters.”

Spice Bridge Food Hall is closed Mondays. Copperleaf Restaurant is inside the city of SeaTac’s Cedarbrook Lodge. Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market is open Saturdays between June 5 and September 25.