Enter the Void
Four Great Places for Asian Food
in the Fifth Level of Hell on the Eastside
My name is Katherine Long, and I live on the Eastside. No matter how much I try to hide it—I didn't tell anyone at The Stranger for fear that my unpaid internship would be rescinded—the truth always comes out. But I swear I'm a Seattleite at heart: I was born at Swedish Hospital, and I lived in Wallingford until I was one and a half! I know your buses better than you do! I'm only in Bellevue because Seattle schools suck! LAY OFF!
I've heard every kind of criticism about the Eastside: It's a pretentious Republican stronghold (accurate). It's a principality ruled by Kemper Freeman (true enough). There are more cars than people (a slight exaggeration). It's the diarrhea of Satan (spot-on). The only stores are in malls.
Ah. This is true. But what most of you bike-shorts-tanned, small-business-patronizing city dwellers don't know is that beyond the Bellevue Collection and Lincoln Square, there are even more malls—smaller malls, seedier malls. Strip malls. Tons of them. And hidden in the Eastside's strip malls are some pretty amazing restaurants—Asian restaurants, to be precise. According to the 2010 Census, Bellevue is more diverse than Seattle; it owes that diversity, in large part, to a thriving Asian community. You have the International District—on the Eastside, we're just international.
Seattleites: It's time to take your mouth on a trip to the Dark Side. From me (someone who knows) to you (resenting the entire premise of this article), here are four of the best Asian eateries on the other side of the lake.
YEA'S WOK in Coal Creek Shopping Center, Newcastle: The interior of Yea's Wok is a cross between Boeing-nerdy and pastel-cutesy. Model airplanes top the tropical aquariums; paintings of horses alternate with photographs of aerospace engineers. This is where Boeing employees come to party—why that is, nobody knows. The restaurant has one menu in English and one in Chinese (with many, many more items); if you are not Chinese, the staff will pretty much force you to order off the English menu. But even their Americanized items are damn good. The General Tso's ($10.75), bathed in a sauce that is almost lemony, pleasantly acerbic, and absorbingly complex, is served on a mountain of fresh veg. The chilies in the Pepper Beef ($10.75) are more than just a spot of color on the plate: Smoky and overpowering, they're meant to be devoured. You do earn mad respect if you order off the Chinese menu, although expect to run the gauntlet to get ahold of it: Your best bet is to insist that you used to live in China and you know what real Chinese food is, DAMNIT! But this is probably not a good idea if you can't read Chinese and you are afraid of pig's blood. (6969 Coal Creek Pkwy SE, 425-644-5546, www.yeaswok.com, $$)
NOODLE BOAT in a nameless strip mall, Issaquah: Noodle Boat, serving some of the most authentic Thai food in the area, is cozy and familial. It's packed with Buddha statues, elephant kitsch, and banners from Thai temples; How I Met Your Mother loops in the background. Owner Kunticha Komonwanich employs her mom as head chef and friends as waiters. Their jocularity is the perfect backdrop against which to inhale the no-nonsense food: The curries are thick, citrusy, and hope-you're-carrying-Kleenex sinus-clearing spicy. The Kow Ob! Gai Tod ($10.25) is a packed hillock of curried rice with overtones of turmeric, garlic, and coconut milk, studded with chicken katsu, cucumber, raisins, carrots, beans, and peppers—our waitress pulled up a chair and rhapsodized about it for 10 minutes. Eat at Noodle Boat and you are family, too. (700 NW Gilman Blvd, 425-391-8096, www.noodleboat.com, $$)
FACING EAST in Belgate Plaza, Bellevue: Facing East is the antithesis of strip-mall dining. It is set away from the street and it is—there's no other word for it—sleek. Rustic maple tables with unfinished benches are screened from one another by rice-paper-like glass; the color palette is understated. The service here is top-notch: One waiter took many patient minutes to explain the proper way to prepare oolong tea ($5.95 for a pot). But this is all superfluous. The reason you're at Facing East is the pork burgers ($3.25), for they are divine: unabashedly fatty, supremely musky, delicately spiced. The meat falls apart at a hint of pressure; the bun, a bland distraction in lesser incarnations, puts in work here as the dish's backbone. It is impossible to eat just one. (1075 Bellevue Way NE, 425-688-2986, $$)
SEOUL HOT POT in Overlake East, Redmond: One thing's for sure: You're not here for the ambience. Seoul Hot Pot resides in an avocado-green strip mall on a busy thoroughfare, and dishwater-peach walls, plastic tables, and cold-shouldered service for non-Koreans do not a welcoming setting make. It is a good thing, then, that Seoul Hot Pot makes such good seafood soon-dubu ($7.95)—the chef here used to rule the kitchen at Hosoonyi up north, and she's brought with her all the greatness of that place. Tofu melts in the mouth and the shrimp are a delight; each bite through the tender shell is an explosion of shrimp meat and broth. O! The broth! In all its zesty marine glory, it is spiritual: evoking grim days by the seashore spent in a watertight, well-lit cabin, rain trickling down the windowsill, the gusting saltwater wind rattling shutters. Close your eyes to get away from the utilitarian space, and you might just be there. (2560 152nd Ave NE, 425-885-3355, $$)