There are so many good restaurants in the International District that picking one can be about as overwhelming as deciding between 25 nearly identical frames at the sunglasses store, or choosing the best Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. Our guide will help you figure out the perfect spot for every scenario, whether you’re looking for hand-shaved noodles, lazy susans, free soft-serve, a sushi spot that’s older than velcro, or a vegan banh mi. So just take a look at all 23 spots, pick one that looks good, and start planning your meal.
Maneki has been open since 1904, making it older than any other restaurant in the International District (as well the pogo stick, the Model-T, and the talking picture). When you walk inside, you’ll notice a sheet of paper taped to the host stand that lists the next available reservation that night. Usually, it’s something late, like 9:30, which goes to show that Maneki is still making some of the very best Japanese food in the city. The menu is huge, but you’ll want to stick with the fish and seafood dishes, from reasonably-priced sushi to fried takoyaki balls stuffed with octopus.
The grilled pork banh mi at Saigon Deli is the greatest banh mi in the city, let alone the ID. A lot of this has to do with their aioli, which we’d happily eat by itself on a crunchy baguette. But here, it cuts nicely through the pickled vegetables and the juicy barbecued pork. When you need a quick takeout lunch and aren’t sure where to turn, just turn directly into the front door at Saigon Deli.
Pho Bac Sup Shop is a fun restaurant that serves a bowl of slow-poached chicken pho so good that we regularly pose for pictures with it to hang on the fridge. That’s because they have a photo booth by the bar, but also because the chicken is slow-poached in the broth. Supplement your soup with some of the small plates, like Vietnamese sausage sliders and fries with cilantro mayo.
To get to Seven Stars Pepper, you have to ride an elevator up to the second floor of a strip mall full of restaurants and the law offices of one Gary Grotz. But once you’re in, you’ll find a large space that’s perfect for a last-minute group meal. This Sichuan spot has everything from personal hot pots to plates of crispy pork, but the specialty (and most delicious thing here) is the homemade hand-shaved dan dan noodles. Someone will toss them around in a spicy peanut sauce tableside, and serve them to you in individual bowls.
Bush Garden doesn’t serve any food. But you’re not here to eat, anyway. You’re here to drink beer with your friends while singing like a fool at the best karaoke bar in the city. This is the kind of karaoke bar where every table and chair faces the stage, where the entire room sings along with passion, and where the owner will pick up a tambourine and sing harmonies with you if you’re nervous. After your performance, don’t be surprised if random people hug you or scream, “You’re so good at singing!”
If you’re avoiding meat, check out Chu Minh, a vegan banh mi spot that loads their sandwiches with tofu and different plant-based imitations. The best of the eight banh mis on the menu is the barbecue pork, which has a great sweet and sticky sauce. We also love that Chu Minh feeds the homeless every Sunday.
Tai Tung was Bruce Lee’s favorite restaurant in Seattle. It’s why there’s a shrine to him set up in “his booth,” complete with a cardboard cutout of Bruce himself. This place is the oldest Chinese spot in the city, and you could probably bring their menu on a beach vacation as reading material. Come with a big hungry group and order the family-style wonton soup, a big plate of almond chicken, and whatever else calls out to you.
When you need to impress someone with excellent dumplings, take them to Dough Zone. It’s a small Seattle-based chain that’s serious about xiao long bao, buns, and noodles, and it’s also important to note they plate their pickled cucumbers to look like a slinky. You can’t go wrong with any of the dumplings here, but the best are the Q bao pork buns. Five come with an order, so it’s inevitable that there’ll be a fight over the last one.
You may have heard about the crunchy cream donut from Fuji. It’s a fried dough ball stuffed with pastry cream and coated in Frosted Flakes. But we’re here to tell you that the cereal puff is a distraction from the greatest chocolate chip cookie in the entire city. It’s barely undercooked in the middle, crispy on the outside, tastes like toasty caramel, and the flat chocolate discs make everything a huge gooey mess we’d sacrifice a white shirt for.
If you don’t feel like waiting for a table at another Chinese spot in the ID, you’ll be in good hands with Chinese barbecue at Kau Kau. This spot is perfect for a huge family-style meal that will involve a spinning lazy susan. They’re most famous for their barbecue pork, which we especially endorse with a pile of fried rice and potstickers, but the lemon chicken is truly not to be missed.
The first time we sat at Tsukushinbo’s sushi counter, we overheard someone tell the chef that he was moving to Tokyo the very next day. At first we thought this guy was a little nuts for having sushi the night before relocating to Japan, but after trying it for ourselves, we understood. This is the best sushi in the neighborhood. The menu is short, but there are things you might not see at other spots in town, like barracuda or smoked kinmedai. Come for a solo meal (when you can really appreciate how the yellowtail melts like Crisco) without any distractions. Tsukushinbo also happens to serve the ID’s best ramen, but it’s only available on weekends.
The Vietnamese iced coffee at Tan Dinh Deli is worth going out of your way for. It’s the best out of all the banh mi delis in the area, and the stuff is so strong it could probably resurrect King Tut if someone splashed a little on his tomb. Grab a banh mi to go along with it - the charred bits on the grilled pork won’t disappoint.
Most of the banh mi spots in town are known for their barbecued pork. Saigon Vietnam Deli is no exception - but you don’t need it. Their roasted pork is even better, and the pickled daikon is the tangiest in the neighborhood. They also have other options, like rice plates topped with various stews, but you want this roasted pork sandwich.
If you have plans to go out on a Friday night in the ID (and your plans don’t include eating noodles and dumplings on repeat until it’s time for bed), a trip to Dynasty Room is in order. You might think you’re in the wrong place when you walk in, because the front room is entirely empty aside from a cardboard wolf and a busted-up display case. But around the corner is a loud room of people drinking great cocktails and waiting for you to join them. You’re here mostly to drink, but if you skipped dinner, there are plenty of Taiwanese snacks, like spicy popcorn chicken, as well.
If REI opened a pizzeria, it would be Humble Pie. The plates are compostable, the ingredients are local, and there’s a chicken coop on the patio full of eggs that’ll eventually make their way onto a pie with arugula and mushrooms. Show up for a late lunch of margheritas and cider tallboys after hiking in head-to-toe Eddie Bauer gear.
Harbor City is a Seattle dim sum institution. Bring a big group to fill up one of the round tables, and then give your undivided attention to the dumplings. The pork potstickers and shrimp and chive ones are best. But, there’s plenty of other stuff to try here, too (don’t skip the General Tso’s chicken). It works well for a brunch with out of town guests.
If you don’t have any friends but you’re in the mood for dim sum, you either have to order very selectively, or go home with a ton of leftovers that may or may not reheat well. At Dim Sum King, everything is priced per piece, so you could get a potsticker, two siu mai, three rice rolls, a chicken bun, and call it a day. But the best things here are the superb egg tarts. The greatest way to use this place is to swing by in the morning, grab a dozen of those, and be the hero of the brunch party.
We love Tamarind because the entire operation is so fast that you could be in and out in under an hour, having eaten some of the best Vietnamese food in the city next to a firepit or waterfall. You might be tempted to order the seven courses of beef, but the chili lemongrass beef noodle bowl (and the lemongrass grilled tofu) are the best things here.
Say it’s one of those weekend nights when you’re out drinking until the bars close at two, and there’s no way you’re going back home to the baby carrots and Kraft singles in your crisper drawer. Instead, spend your last hour out at Hong Kong Bistro eating made-to-order dim sum. Stick with the fried pork buns and the soup dumplings, and add on some of the delicious honey walnut prawns. Don’t forget a mango freeze with coconut milk and sago for the ride home.
Sometimes going to places where you’re expected to order two to three small plates gets stressful. That’s where Little Sheep comes in. It’s a hot pot restaurant that serves perfectly portioned combos for groups, so you can enjoy the process of cooking and eating your meats and vegetables instead of fighting over the last shumai. It gets pretty busy in here, but even if you roll in with a party of six, you’ll probably be seated immediately. Just make sure you save room for a couple cones from the all-you-can-eat self-serve soft serve ice cream bar.
At Musashi’s, you can get an impressive amount of raw fish and pay an impressively low amount of money for it. Sure, the selection is limited, and you’re not going to find things like toro or uni. But you will find great quality tuna and seared salmon for around $2 each. Head here before a night out at the very few bars that exist around here, and pay $14 in exchange for 24 pieces of a specialty roll.
Hood Famous specializes in Filipino desserts, mainly mini cheesecakes like white chocolate guava and matcha. While we endorse standing on a street corner with a fork, eating five flavors at one time in a takeout box, the purple ube cheesecake everyone’s obsessed with is not only the best thing here, but it’s the best cheesecake in the ID. If you’re not feeling the street corner, eat it inside for lunch chased with an iced ube macchiato, in case you wanted more ube. Ube for president.
Sometimes you need to be alone with a hot bowl of ramen and no other humans, and Samurai Noodle, a tiny spot with about 10 seats, understands this. You’ll want the tonkotsu ramen, which is made with pork broth that’s simmered for 48 hours and topped with tender pork slices. Always add a side of the gyoza dumplings, which are held together by a sheet of crispy batter.