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Author Lindy West / Credit: Kyle Johnson

Creativity, technology and progressive thinking reign in this Pacific Northwest metropolis. Seattle companies such as Amazon and Microsoft may be changing the world, but locals live for its inclusive culture and beautiful backyard. Snowcapped mountains cradle the heavily forested metro area on the Salish Sea, an inland body of water inhabited by orcas and the world’s biggest octopuses. And don’t be fooled by the rumors of rain: The Emerald City has a Mediterranean climate perfect for year-round urban exploring and outdoor adventures. Here, a chef, author and artist show us around their lovely, leafy hometown.

For more on Seattle, see our city guide here.

Louie Gong
Artist and Entrepreneur

Cultural Heritage in the South End

Never judge a Seattleite by their clothes. The skateboarder in cargo shorts could be a tech tycoon. That yoga ensemble might belong to a world-class filmmaker. And the relaxed guy in a plaid jacket may be Louie Gong, founder of Eighth Generation, the country’s largest Native-owned art and lifestyle brand. Gong draws on his Chinese, Nooksack and white heritage as inspiration, hand-painting Vans and other shoes. His entrepreneurship led to thriving shops online and at Pike Place Market. The flagship store features more than 30 artists’ creations on products including jewelry, apparel and wool blankets.

We meet in the Central District, a historically Black neighborhood two miles east of downtown, where Gong has lived for eight years.

“The places we’ll go today are not conventional cookie-cutter businesses,” he says. “They’ve developed organically based on the life experiences of the families who run them."

"That’s why you have a bakery serving Salvadoran food and rugelach [a crescent-shaped Jewish pastry].” He gestures at the Golden Wheat Bakery Cafe, owned by Jalisco-born Angel Rocha, on East Cherry Street.

We weave through a coffee klatch of seniors debating public policy in the spring sunshine and head inside. As we examine the menu, one of the political wonks slips past, victory arms aloft, cheering, “Empanadas!” We laugh and add a few to our order, even though Gong’s favorite—mushroom and Gorgonzola—has already sold out by 11 a.m.

After fueling up, we head southwest to the Chinatown-International District, passing another of Gong’s haunts, Meng’s Dream Foot Massage, which offers reflexology in a communal room. Then we pause on the Dr. José P. Rizal Bridge above the Seattle Indian Health Board, where Gong once worked. One of the state’s oldest steel-arched spans, it bears the name of a Filipino patriot and physician. “You get a view of a cross section of Seattle here,” he says, “from expensive downtown to industrial SoDo [south of downtown] to The Jungle, where a lot of our houseless people spend time.” The vista rivals Instagram hotspots such as Kerry Park, but we only see one photographer along the 420-foot-long bridge.

“As an Indigenous person, occupying space in an old INS building has special meaning.”
-Louie Gong, @louiegong

Gong’s “gritty pretty city” tour next leads to his studio at the Inscape Arts cultural center, where Eighth Generation began. This 1932 neoclassical building once housed an Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) station. Now it stands on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as the city’s largest arts enclave. More than 125 tenants create work from painting and sculpture to music and dance there. Exhibitions and studio tours offer access to the old recreation yards, where visitors can view the graffiti of former detainees. They wrote the names of their home countries on the yellow bricks with roofing tar. “It gives a sense of the different immigration waves in this area,” Gong says, as we spot places like Taiwan, Guatemala and Jordan.

“As an Indigenous person, occupying space in an old INS building has special meaning,” he says. “I’m also a resident alien—I moved about 10 miles from British Columbia to Washington as a kid, a shift my people made seasonally for thousands of years before the border existed. In my early 20s, I traveled to Mexico and didn’t have the proper ID to return. I was detained and then had a deferred hearing right here.”

We drive half a mile northeast to The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, which houses more than 18,000 artifacts. A “source of inspiration and opportunity” for Gong, it’s also a cultural heavyweight, affiliated with the Smithsonian and the National Park Service.

“I spent a lot of time trying to really understand who I was and how I was perceived,” he says. That led to national-level activism about the mixed-race experience and also Gong celebrating his heritage through art. “I discovered my complex identity was legitimate. So I put that on shoes, which critics thought were too lowbrow for cultural art. But everyone responded to it.”

Gong grew up in a house without running water and went to school with farm kids. “Like other people in my tribal community, I wasn’t exposed to thinking big. You can’t really imagine things you’ve never seen before.”

Young Louie did have a Bruce Lee poster that he believed would protect him from ghosts, though. Gong also watched his father travel the world as a champion kickboxer and Muay Thai fighter, and trained at the martial arts school his father ran.

“The ideas—when to be strong and when to flex—were all really useful. Also, when you’re not afraid of getting punched, it’s easier to speak up for yourself.”

His childhood enthusiasm resurfaces in the museum’s Bruce Lee exhibit, a constant theme among the shifting community-curated displays. “Here’s a guy who was kicking butt, getting the girls, and making political statements in the ’70s. Only in the last couple of years have other Asian males been able to do that. He was way ahead of his time.”

We encounter more ground-breaking a third of a mile downhill at Hood Famous, run by Geo Quibuyen and Chera Amlag, a couple who opened the café in 2019, specializing in Filipino and Asian-Pacific flavors. Our quarry: the legendary cheese-cake made with ube (bright purple Japanese yams). Manager Anton Coleman beams and wryly catwalks for us, showing off his Eighth Generation phone case and a shopping tote with Gong’s Guardians design, the fu dogs and Coast Salish elements representing the artist’s mixed heritage. Then, getting back to business, Coleman says, “I helped start the coffee program here and get the word out about the specialty scene that includes growers and roasters in the Philippines.” Customers now flock to Hood Famous for lattes drizzled with house-made ube syrup, among other treats.

Gong and I make one more stop, at Bopbox in Georgetown, which serves scratch-made modern Korean cuisine. As we wait for our kimchi pancakes and bulgogi bowls, Gong says, “It has healthy curated options for everybody. I appreciate the artistry of the meals, the aesthetics of the space, and the energy of the owner’s entrepreneurial journey. It reminds me of my own path from drawing on shoes to business success.”

Lindy West
Author

Natural Balance in East Seattle

“You’re so famous! people are surprised you still live in Seattle,” I remark, as Lindy West and I stroll through Kubota Garden in the city’s diverse Rainier Beach neighborhood.

A bold, scrappy journalist, West published her memoir, Shrill, in 2016. The best seller prompted The New York Times to call her “one of the most distinctive voices advancing feminist politics through humor.” The next year the newspaper hired her as a columnist. West also helps write and executive-produce Hulu’s eponymous adaptation of the book, which debuts its third and final season on May 7.

“I never needed to relocate for work,” she explains amid the park’s evergreens, waterfalls and ponds. “I grew up here and feel like a deeply Seattle person. Geographically the city’s just beautiful. It’s also small and sort of manageable, and there are still lots of weird little businesses. I want to live in a diverse place—in every sense of the word."

“Seattle has a real underdog vibe,” she continues. “Like, we’re up here in the corner, separate from the rest of the country, and we’re kind of dorky.”

This 20-acre park blends Northwest native plants with Japanese landscaping fashioned by horticultural pioneer Fujitaro Kubota. The immigrant began transforming a waterlogged swamp in 1927, when Asian residents couldn’t own property in the U.S. (a friend signed the title). After internment during World War II, Kubota naturalized and eventually could openly own his passion project. Seattle declared the garden a landmark and rescued it from developers following his death in 1973. “It’s so stunning and peaceful,” West says. “You can’t see the city and you feel so immersed in nature.”

We push off, driving past another local sanctuary: Seward Park, a peninsula jutting into Lake Washington with 120 acres of old-growth forest, inhabited by barred owls and pileated woodpeckers. As the city grew, the Olmsted Brothers—the landscape architecture legends behind Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and St. Louis’ Washington University campus—fought to retain its beauty. It forms part of an “emerald necklace” of parks, playgrounds and boulevards.

“With the paved loop, you’re along the water the whole way,” West says. “There are turtles everywhere. My husband [the musician and comedian Ahamefule J. Oluo] once photographed a turtle a day—spring, summer and fall. It was a fun ritual, and a way to get out and engage with the lake. Honestly, it was the greatest year of my life.”

A half-mile northwest stands another of her special spots: Third Place Books, whose name references sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s notion of a necessary gathering space beyond one’s home and workplace. “When we first lived here, it was our grocery co-op,” West laughs. “Now it’s this perfect indie bookstore with a really warm sense of community. And it’s gorgeous.”

“Every inch of this city is beautiful. There’s so much shoreline."
-Lindy West, @lindywest

We hop to the Central District for lunch on the planter-fringed patio of Cafe Selam, a family-run Ethiopian restaurant celebrated for its fresh ingredients. I order my usual veggie combo, while West goes for ful—pureed fava beans topped with tomatoes, chilies, feta and egg, served with crusty bread. “My friend group has been coming here since 2005 and having ful every weekend,” she says. “The staff saw my kids grow up and now they come here on their own.”

As we chat and eat alfresco, West gasps. “Is that an eagle? It looks huge and it has a white head. Yeah, that’s a bald eagle! Hello, buddy!” The bird wheels over us—a more common sight lately, as U.S. populations have quadrupled since 2009.

“Every inch of this city is beautiful,” she adds. “There’s so much shoreline."

"You can grab a blanket and a cooler and spend the whole day sitting on a dock where you can see Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. If it’s hot enough, you can even jump in and swim.” She’s particularly fond of the nearby T docks in Madrona Park.

Given the clouds skittering in, we head a mile south to Two Big Blondes instead. Lisa Michaud has owned this plus-size consignment store, which recycles fashion, for the last third of its 24 years. “I’m just the current host of this amazing community,” she says. West loves to shop and sell there, enough so that the boutique has a section—online and in real life—called Lindy West’s Closet. Michaud strokes a silky chartreuse dress. “All of her fun pieces and bright colors go so fast.”

West adds, “People tag me in pictures of what they bought and I love it! I’m such a fan of this store.”

Next we stock up at Deep Sea Sugar & Salt, a cake shop with subtly sweet layered confections. A cashier loads heavy slices—vanilla-bean custard and chocolate with 9lb Porter from nearby Georgetown Brewing Company—into takeaway boxes for us.

We finish our day in Columbia City, where West has lived since 2012. “I deeply love Island Soul,” she says as we pass the cheerful restaurant, which fuses the flavors of the Caribbean and Louisiana bayou. “One of my first dates with my husband was here. Everything’s good, but if you want to do it right, get the goat curry, greens, a coconut muffin and a tropical cocktail.”

We pop into Coffeeholic House, a giant in the city’s burgeoning Vietnamese coffee scene. Co-owner Chen Dien describes the signature Coffeeholic Dream flavor as nutty with cheesy foam. “It’s like tiramisu in a cup. It took me a year to get the right ratios.”

Balance can be hard to find in a rapidly changing landscape like Seattle, which ranked as the country’s fastest-growing metro area of the last decade. But West takes comfort in her neighborhood and the ones around it. “This is my favorite Seattle,” she says. “You still have big immigrant communities and small businesses that don’t feel quite so designed for Instagram. You actually feel like you’re in a place with roots and character. It’s all hits, no misses.”

Brady Williams
Chef and Restaurateur

New-Wave Dining Throughout the Emerald City

As chef Brady Williams and I meet in funky Fremont, a man races out of the Aslan taproom and hands us six-packs of organic craft beer. I receive a sampler, and one of the region’s top chefs scores ... classic light lager? “Are you a big pilsner-malt fan?” I ask.

“No. I like cheap beer! My friend said that was lazy, so he’s trying to turn me on to respectable light brews.”

That answer’s delightfully down-to-earth—and not what I expected from 2019’s James Beard Best Chef: Northwest. Williams won while at Canlis, a fine-dining icon in Queen Anne, overlooking Lake Union. He led the kitchen for six years, but now is on to his next challenge: starting his own restaurant in July.

“This is the next wave of talent doing things sustainably and ethically, not just sourcing principles, but business practices, too.”
-Brady Williams, @williamsbrady

We head into the seafood restaurant Local Tide, where chef Victor Steinbrueck joins us for shrimp toast and a za’atar-roasted butternut squash sandwich with chermoula (Moroccan herb sauce). On the weekend, we could have caught the buzzy $27 roll made with Dungeness crab, brought in live, then cooked and cracked in-house. It once sold out in 24 minutes. The restaurant opened in August, after about three years of pop-ups. Steinbrueck, a Seattle native, wanted to strike a balance between fine dining and fast-food fish and chips. Spoiler: He’s succeeding.

Williams says, “You associate Seattle with seafood. But beyond here and Taylor Shellfish, there aren’t many places where it’s handled well from the boat to the plate.

“This is the new Seattle dining,” he continues. “This is the next wave of talent doing things sustainably and ethically, not just sourcing principles, but business practices, too.”

We finish and plan our route, leaning against his 1994 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. “It’s kind of a cult surfer vehicle in Japan, where my mom’s from,” he explains. We drive past De Laurenti, a Pike Place Market gourmet pioneer. “The wine selection’s versatile and vast,” Williams says. “It also has really good artisanal meats and cheeses. This place is a must.”

We arrive in the Chinatown-International District (C-ID), listed on the National Register of Historic Places, where Williams and I sit under Mount Fuji cherry trees at Kobe Terrace Park. Had we climbed higher, the clear day would have revealed Mount Rainier, the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S., 86 miles southeast of the city. Few local sights can compare to when “the mountain’s out.”

“It’s such a beautiful area,” Williams says. “When you’re a chef, you’re the beneficiary of that landscape. We have such incredible products. To me, the Northwest is second to none.”

This bounty also benefits one of the nearby restaurants he loves: Tsukushinbo. “We’re second-generation owners,” Marin Caccam says. “My brother [Shota Caccam] is the main sushi chef. He’s following our late father’s legend, while I keep alive our mom’s authentic recipes, including a curry sauce that cooks over five days.” Other standouts include the omakase, especially if it involves saba (blue mackerel) and spinach ohitashi (steeped in dashi broth). This elegant hole-in-the-wall has no signage but many fans, including Williams. “This is the food I grew up eating,” he enthuses.

But he and Caccam worry about developers and big chains pushing into the neighborhood. “A lot of the small family-owned restaurants are disappearing,” she says. “It scares me. It’s always nice to have that comfort food and that comfortable place.”

One addition strikes the right note, however: Gift Shop, little sibling to the upcoming Pylon market. The owners sought to respectfully add to the C-ID without being redundant. The result? An eclectic “New World convenience mart” that serves craft-roasted espresso and sells everything from records to hot sauce to Spanish tinned octopus.

Despite crushing it on the haute-cuisine front, Williams doesn’t stand on ceremony off-hours. His favorite hang-outs include Billiard Hoang, a Columbia City pool hall serving pho and banh mi. For watering holes, he often heads to Loretta’s Northwesterner, a “cozy dive bar serving arguably Seattle’s best burger” in hip blue-collar South Park. It sits a block from Left Bank, a natural wine shop and bar. On warm nights, this stretch of 14th Avenue South feels like a big street party.

The chef also likes Taradise Cafe in lively, diverse White Center, 2.5 miles west. “Whether you’re stopping by or coming off a graveyard shift, it’s a welcoming place with communal tables on a back patio. You don’t just keep to yourself,” he says.

Our culinary expedition ends at another of Seattle’s pop-up-turned-powerhouse eateries, Musang on BeaconHill, which serves Filipinx cuisine. Chef/owner Melissa Miranda joins us for cocktails: an Isa (apple- and allspice-infused bourbon with panutsa palm sugar) and Tatlo (spicy tequila with Earl Grey and calamansi citrus).

An unexpected dish arrives and Williams lights up. “My dad caught this squid on the pier downtown,” Miranda explains. “He supplies all our squid, which currently go into paella negra with cuttlefish ink and smoked milkfish.

“When my dad immigrated, he moved to this historically Filipinx neighborhood,” she continues. “After living in Italy and New York City, I was driving down Beacon Ave n u e and realized we have no space anymore!” So she crowdsourced more than $90,000 and launched in a lavender Craftsman house, site of a former Asian community center. Seattle Met magazine immediately crowned the result 2020’s Restaurant of the Year.

“I think of it more as a community space,” Miranda says. “It has inspired a lot of pop-ups to start sharing their stories and incredible food. For a while restaurant owners were really disconnected and insular. Now we are all supporting each other.”

Williams agrees: “This new wave’s not just about delicious food and sustainable sourcing, but also community outreach and heritage reclamation. And it’s about treating people well, whether they’re guests, neighbors, staff, peers or industry members.”

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