Submitted by Carolyn Martin
Though not nearly as large as the more well-known Chinatowns in San Francisco or New York City, Seattle's International District/Chinatown can still feel like you're leaving the United States behind. Everyone in Seattle has their favorite International District restaurant and eveyone will tell you to head to Uwajimaya. These recommendations are not to be ignored but don't limit yourself to the tried and true. This is a great place to be adventurous.
Yes, Uwajimaya is a must see where you will find an array of foods and household items as well as a food court, but don't forget this isn't the only food and variety store. Inside the same building as Uwajimaya is the Japanese bookstore, Kinokuniya. This store is located in just a few cities here in the U.S. Here you will find more than just books. You'l find items similar to other stores in the district with such things as pencil pouches, stuffed animals, and stationary with the familiar cute characters often associated with Japanese culture. The bookstore includes videos and games as well. Here you will find the perfect gift for your fans of anime and manga. Kobo is a wonderful place to peruse beautiful and unique items, many made by local artisans. There are two locations but the one in the International District is in the old Higo Variety Store run by the Murakami family for 75 years. Next door is Momo. This little shop offers a variety of clothing, housewares and other items. Momo is considered a "hapa shop". Hapa, for those unfamiliar with the term refers to mixed ethnic heritage. In the case of Momo, it is a mix of Asian and European influences. You might find just the perfect and unique gift for that special someone or just for yourself! Daiso Japan is a great little store that is packed with both people and stuff. You'll find all kinds of items from dishes, stationary, household items, snack foods, and more all with a "Asian". It's all so adorable you've just got to have it! (Daiso also has a location in Westlake Center close to the Convention Center.)
Two important places to visit are the Wing Luke Museum and the Panama Hotel. Both provide history regarding the Asian influence and history in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest was not kind to its Asian immigrants and racism existed (and still exists) in many forms. You can get a taste of this history by visiting both the museum and hotel, located in the International District. Here you will learn about the newly arrived laborers who came to work on the railroads, in the canneries and in the lumber mills. At the Panama Hotel, you can take a peak at some of the belongings that were never retrieved after the exodus to the internment camps during WWII. If you are a fan of the book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, the Wing Luke Museaum offers a tour where you can see the places mentioned in the book.
Don't forget to eat while here. The International District has some great restaurants. Feel free to ask Seattleites what their favorite is or just pop into one and enjoy. You'll find Pho, noodle bowls, BBQ, dim sum, and even pizza. The oldest Chinese restaurant is Tai Tung. It opened in 1935 and was even a favorite of Bruce Lee's. The food is served to share and is considered a favorite among many here in the Emerald City. Mike's Noodle House is also a favorite. It's inexpensive and delicious but it can be crowded. Be ready to wait for a table. Szechuan Noodle Bowl is my favorite. You won't have to wait as long. Though the interior is wanting, the food and service are very good. I recommend the dumplings, the noodle beef bowl and the scallion pancakes. You can definitel tell the food is homemade. And be aware that they take cash only. If you're wanting to try a little higher end dining, try Maneki. It is one of the older Japanese restaurants here in Seattle. As a colleague of mine put it so well, "Order the black cod collar miso. You can feel like a high-falutin' foodie without spending too much money!" The menu can be a little difficult to navigate but you can always ask the waiter to help. Reservations are highly recommended. And for dessert, stop by A Piece of Cake, which offers a variety of cakes and pastries. The cakes can be bought whole or by the slice. They are beautifully decorated and are a great way to end a meal or just as a snack.
The International District includes a vast array of shops and eateries well beyond what is mentioned here in this post. The further out you go, the more you'll feel immersed in the "international" experience. Typically, going past 8th Street, under I-5 and beyond, you'll hear less English spoken. Take some time to wander the area and pop into the various shops and restaurants such as Viet Wong, Hou Hou Market, and Lucky An-Dong. You'll experience more and probably pay less for similar items as you would closer to the entrance gates of Chinatown.