Christian Carvajal from The Weekly Volcano went on an international dining adventure in Seattle Southside.
A gate to the culinary globe
By Christian Carvajal on June 16, 2016
Travelers can fly directly to places as far away as Beijing, Dubai and Hong Kong from Sea-Tac International Airport, so it only makes sense that exotic fare should be available nearby. Yet most passengers are regrettably unaware of anything more challenging than a 6 a.m. Cinnabon in the Seatac area. That's a shame. Our party of six was recently squired around that neighborhood on a dining tour that'd plaster a grin on even Anthony Bourdain's grizzled mug.
Washington has a knack for fine dining in otherwise spiritless strip malls.Bai Tong in Tukwila, for example, seven minutes from the airport, is a member of a family of prestigious restaurants that includes Noi in Seattle and Honolulu. The chain was founded by Chanpen Lapangkura, a flight attendant for Thai Airways, who created a menu that'd remind fellow nationals of home. The South Sound is blessed with an abundance of killer Thai food, but even so, this airport location is a standout. Every dish sings a chorus of harmonious flavors. In many Thai joints, larb is little more than lime-drenched ground beef on a cabbage leaf. Here, the salad deftly blends lime juice, fish sauce, chili and fresh herbs. Bai Tong's garlic crispy chicken ain't your daddy's McNuggets: Its tender meat deploys a deliciously savory burn. We were most taken with the green curry, an irresistible paragon of Thai comfort food.
Readers who only know ramen from 17-cent bags consumed in college are in for a surprise at Arashi Ramen. One member of our party, Salty's chef and restaurateur Josh Green, said he's flat-out addicted to the place, and it's easy to taste why. The black garlic ramen, redolent with perfectly calibrated notes of miso, is heaped high with wheaty noodles and tender pork belly. We were treated to a tour of the kitchen, where four different cauldrons of broth bubbled away, carefully drizzled with fresh water to avoid over-reduction. Arashi is Japanese precision at its best.
We intended to sightsee, not eat, at Seafood City Supermarket, but manager Emil Santos had other plans and would not take "please, no" for an answer. Instead, he piled our table high with crispy lumpia, fried pork, stuffed monkfish and quezo (yes, cheese, a mild cheddar) ice cream. Then Santos' staff unloaded the fruit course, beginning with pear-like dragonfruit and refreshing mango juice. We were groaning from pleasurable agony when the jackfruit arrived. It's the bright, juicy flesh of a hefty fruit larger than a watermelon, and it's good enough to fall into the "Where have you been all my life?" category. (I spotted wheels turning in Chef Green's head.) Seafood City is aimed squarely at Filipino-Americans and those who love them. It's part grocery store, part social hangout, part Pinoy theme park, and all entertaining. Look for silly-cheap prices on the catches of the day.
We finished our epic feast at Star Coffee & Restaurant, a laudable purveyor of Ethiopian cuisine. If we'd had room, we'd have happily tucked into lamb tibs and kitfo. Instead, we split the veggie combo - hearty and colorful, prepared with obvious pride. Our after-dinner lattes boasted Ethiopian coffee as potent as Saturn rocket fuel.
Tell us that's not an impressive world tour on a weekday afternoon.
BAI TONG, open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Mondays to Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays; noon-10 p.m. Saturdays; noon-9 p.m. Sundays. 16876 Southcenter Parkway, Tukwila, 206.431.0893
ARASHI RAMEN, open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays. 17045 Southcenter Parkway, Tukwila, 253.220.8722
SEAFOOD CITY SUPERMARKET, open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. 1368 Southcenter Mall #100, Tukwila, 206.316.4258
STAR COFFEE & RESTAURANT, open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 16005 International Blvd., Seatac, 206.941.8805