We recently visited small business in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District (C-ID) with OL Reign players Angelina, Lauren Barnes, Marley Canales, Alana Cook, Jess Fishlock, Sam Hiatt, Tziarra King and Olivia Van der Jagt.
The C-ID is comprised of multiple neighborhoods, and is the longtime cultural and historical hub for the Asian-American community in Seattle. The small businesses throughout the C-ID are as diverse as the neighborhood’s residents.
Asked for a quick assessment of their visit, Olivia shared that she had some of the best food of her life in the matter of hours.
“From the dumplings, to the bubble tea and the ube cheesecake, I was so amazed every single restaurant we went to,” Olivia said. “Since Chinatown[-International District] is so close to Lumen [field], I know where I’ll be getting my post game meals at.”
Here are the businesses we visited, plus a few historic and/or under-celebrated small businesses we think should be a part of any C-ID tour.
Through ups, downs, and relocations like the Great Seattle Fire and city regrading projects, Seattle’s Chinatown has persisted since the 1870s. The name Chinatown-International District refers to the area’s diversity and also to its historic Chinese origins, according to American historian Walt Crowley via HistoryLink.
At Gan Bei, owner Yen Ma serves Chinese comfort food in a comfortable and casual neighborhood bar. Gan Bei has the trifecta of great food, great drinks, and great service. Yen and each member of her staff are kind, welcoming, and sure to greet you with a smile. Gan Bei is the perfect place to stop by and relax after a stressful day at work or to meet up with friends on the weekend. Visit Yen and Gan Bei to see why customers are raving about the food, drink, and ambiance.
Ping Liu’s dumplings are made using a recipe from her hometown Qingdao, in northern China, that has been handed down over three generations. At her small restaurant, Ping’s Dumpling House, she serves homemade dumplings at an unbeatable price.
“I have always been a fan of dumplings, and Ping’s are hands down the best I’ve ever had,” said Sam Hiatt after she visited during her C-ID tour. “I took my whole family there two days after we went, and they were obsessed too!”
Lydia Lin and Joe Hsu are steeped in knowledge at their International District store, Seattle Best Tea. One of the oldest tea houses in the city, Lydia and Joe opened their shop in 1996 and have been educating people on the health benefits of tea and providing some of Seattle’s best tea ever since. In addition to selling premium loose-leaf varieties, Lydia and Joe sell bubble tea that lives up to the shop’s name. And if you stop by and have any questions about how to steep, store, or pick the right brew for you, Lydia is more than happy to spill the tea.
Tai Tung Restaurant opened in 1935, making it the oldest Chinese restaurant in the International District. Third generation owner Harry Chan has preserved much of the restaurant’s appearance and menu and has continued to use the freshest ingredients available so their quality is second to none. Its history — along with its delicious spareribs and chow mein — also earned it a spot in a 2017 documentary, “Taste of Home.”
Vietnamese refugees in Seattle found Asian grocery stores and familiarity in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. In the 1980’s their own commercial center, Little Saigon, bloomed. Referred to as “the Seattle neighborhood that government forgot” by The Seattle Times, residents of the neighborhood have kept the neighborhood and its history alive without much help from the city.
Did you know that Phở Bắc was Seattle’s first pho restaurant? Theresa Cat Vu and Augustine Nien Pham opened the restaurant after their flavorful pho unexpectedly became the most popular dish at Cat’s Submarine sandwich shop in 1982. At Phở Bắc, Cat and Augustine’s children — the Pham siblings — have taken the helm. While known for its pho, Phở Bắc also serves traditional Vietnamese dishes like banh mi, vermicelli, com, and more. You can also get your pho fix at Phở Bắc’s Downtown and Rainier Valley locations!
Yenvy Pham, the co-owner of Phở Bắc, opened Hello Em in 2021, specializing in Vietnamese roasted coffee, pressed banh mi, and other tasty treats. The cafe is located in the Little Saigon Creative Space, which includes beautiful installations highlighting the history of Little Saigon and Vietnam’s coffee production regions. Hello Em roasts their own coffee with beans sourced directly from Vietnamese farmers. Enjoy your coffee while admiring Vietnamese art and learning about Vietnamese culture.
While the players didn’t have an opportunity to meet Yenvy, she made sure we sent them home with a sample of Hello Em’s signature beans!
Japantown was originally developed in the 1910s, but original, thriving neighborhood was decimated as a result of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although the neighborhood never fully recovered, the area is still full of historic buildings and Japanese culture.
Maneki opened its doors in 1904, making it Seattle’s oldest Japanese restaurant. Jean Nakayama began waiting tables at Maneki in 1974 and is now the president of the historic restaurant, which is officially owned by InterIm CDA — a nonprofit committed to preserving the International District. In addition to serving stellar sushi, Maneki serves other Japanese dishes like black cod collar miso, sukiyaki, udon, and more.
In the Fall of 1995, after moving back to Seattle from Tokyo, Binko and John Bisbee opened up a gallery and shop called KOBO in the historic Loveless Building, on Capitol Hill in Seattle. In 2004, Binko and John realized their dream of opening a second location of their artisan gallery in the historic Higo Variety Store. Both shops feature art, fine crafts, and design from Japan and the Northwest. Items are thoughtfully curated and include a variety of items from local artists and makers.
Note: Despite not being a food destination, this shop was a big hit with the OL Reign players, who purchased jewelry, accessories, clothing and more!
While today, Filipinos in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District aren’t as visible as other cultural groups, they are still integral to the C-ID’s history, a history that has faced erasure. In 2017, SeattleMet reported the Seattle City Council deleted a reference to “historic Manilatown” in a resolution aiming to preserve the culture of the C-ID. The Filipino community in Seattle pushed back against this erasure, which led to the council re-including Manilatown in the resolution.
Look at any local specialty market’s dessert section and you’ll likely find a shockingly purple ube cheesecake, the trademark of Chera Amlag’s and Geo Quibuyen’s Hood Famous Bakery.
If you want to sip a coffee and nibble a slice of your own, swing by their café and bar, which opened in 2019. Feeling something lighter? The café serves up a bevy of delicious Filipinx-inspired bites, including sweet and savory mochi waffles and bitter melon quiche.
Seattle’s Chinatown-International District: Player Reflections
“Connecting with and learning the stories of some of the many incredible small business owners in Chinatown[-International District] was an absolute joy,” Alana Cook said. “You can feel the immense cultural pride and passion that they pour into their stores, and I cannot wait to go back to support them.”
Olivia Van der Jagt also reflected on how much she learned through speaking with small business owners and how she was inspired to learn more about Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.
“We got to hear amazing stories from the local business owners about how they started their business, what hardships they have gone through, and how they persevered through those hardships,” she said.
Sam Hiatt, a Seattle local, said she learned so much about the history of the C-ID and its business owners from the small-business tour.
“Everyone had such inspiring stories that showcased the determination and hard work that they poured into their businesses,” Sam said. “I really enjoyed hearing those stories firsthand.”