About-to-be-devoured Dochi doughnuts. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
My restaurant nightmare is the pretentious dinner where the plating is exquisite but the portions are so teeny-tiny that you are still hungry when you leave. Eating out in the International District is my busy family’s dream come true: We get large servings of yummy food — for cheap. The one thing these restaurants tend to skimp on is the ambiance, which is fine with me. I have hungry kids and a Seattle mortgage. I want to pay for full bellies, not for pretty décor.
Plus, even as restaurant dining rooms may be open, takeout is still the best option for many families.
In my 15-plus years of pigging out in Seattle's International District — the ID — I’ve seen this neighborhood shift. There are still lots of little mom-and-pop shops, but now they're neighbors with trendy newcomers such as Iron Chef Morimoto’s Momosan Seattle.
Here I'll reveal my favorite old hole-in-the-wall spots along with some interesting newcomers.
1. Dough Zone Dumpling House
Dough Zone is a Seattle-area chain that specializes in dumplings. This is a good place to start if you’re new to eating in the ID. It is modern and reassuringly clean — and the food is authentically tasty. You can even buy frozen pre-made dumplings to take home (a lifesaver on a busy weeknight).
While Din Tai Fung is the gold standard for the xiao long bao (soup dumplings), Dough Zone is a little less expensive and almost as good. In addition to the ID location, find Dough Zone restaurants at 9th and Pine by The Paramount and in six Eastside locations, including recently opened Kirkland Urban.
Find it: 504 5th Ave. S., #109, Seattle
2. Hood Famous Cafe + Bar
The ID's swanky Publix building houses a triple threat: It's home to Dough Zone, Momosan and the Filipino-inspired Hood Famous Cafe + Bar. Hood Famous offers coffee and cocktails, but we’re all about the mini cheesecakes: purple ube, coconut pandan, mango calamansi, white chocolate guava and Vietnamese coffee cheesecake? Mmmmmmm. You won’t find these flavors anywhere else.
Tip: The Ballard outpost of Hood Famous is currently closed to the public, but keep your eye out for reopening info.
Find it: 504 5th Ave. S., Ste. 107A, Seattle
3. Saigon Vietnam Deli
I debated about whether to put Saigon Vietnam Deli on this list. The place has somewhat sketchy surroundings, as in burglar bars on the windows and the occasional used needle in the parking lot. Fancy Vietnamese ladies squish into the tiny shop right next to workers on their lunch breaks and families with kids. But we’re all there for the same reason: a delicious and filling $4 bánh mì sandwich. Put in your sandwich order at the tiny service window; everything else is laid out on the counter on Saran-wrapped foam trays. We always pick up fresh spring rolls, glutinous rice cakes, flan and wide rice noodles with chả. Saigon Vietnam Deli has always been takeout only, so take your feast home or to the park to enjoy with kids!
Find it: 1200 S. Jackson St. #7, Seattle
When the Japanese mochi doughnut stand first opened inside Uwajimaya, you were looking at a two-hour line for fried rings shaped like a baby teether. Thankfully, the wait is now down to a kid-friendly two minutes. Dochi doughnuts are made from rice flour, which gives them an unusual chewy texture. Toppings include intriguing pairings such as matcha Oreos, strawberry Pocky and taro pebbles. They’re easy to break apart and share, so no fighting over who gets to taste which flavor. Dochi is now (thankfully!) open seven days a week, but note that the goods sometimes sell out before the posted closing time so don't go at the last minute. (Tip: There's a second local spot to pick up your Dochi — inside Lam's Seafood Market in Tukwila.)
Find it: 600 5th Ave. S., Ste. 102, Seattle (in Uwajimaya's food court)
5. Ton Kiang Barbeque Noodle House
I love this place! Ton Kiang has the juiciest meat you can get for your money in the ID. Buy barbeque pork, roast duck, roast chicken and roast pork by the pound. The woman at the front counter is fast and friendly. You can pick up house-made zong zi (sticky rice dumplings) here, too. The eating area is small, and when it was open, it was always filled with elderly Chinese people eating — a mark of excellent quality and value! Huge portions, great prices, authentic food — for me, Ton Kiang hits the spot every time.
Find it: 668 S. Weller St., Seattle
6. Northwest Tofu
In Taiwan, we start every morning with fresh soy milk and fried dough. Breakfast of champions? Unlikely, but it’s tradition. I have searched for the perfect soy milk in Seattle for years; most of it is cloyingly sweet or oddly thick. The soy milk at Northwest Tofu is the real deal and it’s made fresh daily. Ask for a half-gallon of the lightly sweetened soy milk to go (cash only).
Find it: 913 S. Jackson St., Seattle
7. Bambu Seattle
Bambu went through a renovation a couple of years ago and now their menu is heavy on the chè — a Vietnamese dessert drink filled with chunky jelly bits. My recommendation: Ask for their roasted milk tea with boba — it might not be posted on the menu anymore, but maybe they’ll make it for you. Bambu’s version is the classic drink at its very best.
Find it: 516 7th Ave. S., Unit A, Seattle
Bonus: SUSU Dessert Bar
The pandemic has messed up a lot of things, but it didn't stop SUSU Dessert Bar from opening a walk-up window in the ID at the beginning of this pandemic. There's no menu — every day is chef's choice, and each pastry is like one of their babies. SUSU is open just three days a week (Friday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.) and everything is first-come, first served. The pastries regularly sell out. There's always a long queue of people waiting outside for first dibs before the bakery opens.
SUSU offers durian desserts for the daring; a crowd-pleaser is the kouign-amann (a caramelized croissant). It's on the pricier side for the ID, but tasty.
And where, you might wonder, does the name SUSU come from? Chef Muhammad Fairoz A. Rashed is from Singapore, and “susu” means “milk” in Malay. (The business started out as an ice cream stand at farmers markets in 2016.)
Find it: 665 S. King St.
More tasty eats for families
Editor's note: This article was originally published in early 2020 and just updated for 2022.