Like most North American cities these days, many of Seattle’s most exciting Xi’an noodle restaurants and Yunnan’s healing soup purveyors are in the suburbs, but the traditional home of Chinese cuisine, the Chinatown-International District, remains relevant and still holds the highest concentration. excellent restaurants. Big-budget modern regional Chinese chains share streets with old-school chop suey restaurants, and take-out dim-sum counters are interspersed with all-you-can-eat upscale hot pot vendors. That’s a far cry from a generation ago, when most Americans outside of the Chinese diaspora barely understood the difference between Americanized Chinese cuisine and Chinese cuisines.
Food writer Hsiao-Ching credits more people with traveling, or even exploring other cultures from their couch. “What’s on TV, Tony Bourdain… even people on YouTube, broadcasting from wherever they are,” she says. “It opened up access to these regional cuisines and ingredients, created a wider demand and customer base.”
When Chou’s parents first moved to the United States and opened a Chinese restaurant in 1980, traditional dishes were not selling. The author of Chinese vegetarian soul food jokes that “cashew chicken paid for my college education” and notes that customers preferred Americanized options and only tried the more traditional dishes his family cooked, such as refried green beans, when they were served buffet style.
Now, Chou relishes the variety and doesn’t even like the idea of picking her favorites. “There are different types of restaurants, and they will cater to different types of needs and the type of food you want,” she says.
Any list of favorites can only scratch the surface of all the places and styles in the International Quarter that are worth enjoying a meal, especially when it comes to honoring the neighborhood’s long history. “Any cuisine in particular, being able to run a business for decades in that market is something to be celebrated,” Chou says. So think of this as a pupu platter of Chinese restaurant options in the International District: a few tastes before diving deeper into the nearly endless menu.