If you're wary of bacon but still need a heaping dose of pork to get your morning started, you have other options. Dim sum, a sort of Chinese equivalent to the classic greasy sausage-bacon-and-eggs American breakfast, is just as pork filled and far more satisfying.
Despite everything you've heard about steaming carts of chicken feet and entrails, dim sum need not be an intimidating experience for the uninitiated. It's simple: Sit down at a table; pour yourself a cup of tea; wait for carts loaded with bite-size dumplings, pastries, and barbecued meats to roll by; politely point, gesture, and look hungry. The experience is wholly different from any hangover-filled Sunday breakfast you've ever experienced—more like hailing a cab or signaling an airplane's landing—but it's not difficult to master.
You can't walk through Seattle's International District on a weekend without practically tripping over a restaurant serving dim sum, but there are a few places that stand out from the pack. House of Hong (409 Eighth Ave S, 622-7997) is one of the busiest dim sum spots in the ID. On weekends, the restaurant is almost always packed, but there's rarely a long wait for a table in the cavernous main room.
House of Hong's kitchen has had its ups and downs over the years, but it appears to be back in form. The shu mai ($3.05)—pork, shrimp, and mushrooms, wrapped in thin dough, steamed, and topped with crab roe—are plump and juicy. The hum bao ($2.50)—like a barbecued-pork-filled doughnut—are crispy and sweet. Chinese broccoli ($5.45) is salty, delicious, and one of the few vegetables you'll see float by on a cart. And House of Hong's fist-sized, ginger-spiked pot stickers ($3.35)—pork, shrimp, and cabbage pan-fried in a perfectly crispy yet chewy dough wrapper—are arguably the best in the city. Everything comes on small trays or plates, in groups of three or four, for a few bucks—so you can pick and choose and not feel ripped off if you pick out something you hate.
House of Hong is probably one of the more accessible spots for dim sum newbies. The staff is helpful and patient with picky eaters—they probably won't even offer you chicken feet—but the food is considerably greasier and pricier than a number of places in the ID.
If House of Hong is beginner's dim sum, Jade Garden (424 Seventh Ave S, 622-8181) is the logical next step. Jade Garden's dim sum arsenal goes a little bit deeper than House of Hong's, and the menu seems to put an emphasis on seafood, specifically shrimp. Aside from the carts of traditional dim sum fare, waiters wander the room offering up plates of shrimp with walnuts, shrimp-stuffed peppers, shrimp and onion wrapped in pastry dough, shrimp in shrimp sauce, etc.
But there's more to be found at Jade Garden than just shrimp. Again, for two or three bucks a plate, you can pick out a steaming bowl of spareribs, which are spicy and meaty, if a bit too sweet; heaping plates of perfectly cooked clams, unfortunately drowning in sauce; and peanut and pork dumplings, which are lightened up by a surprisingly powerful cilantro kick. Jade Garden also makes a mean har gow—steamed shrimp dumplings—which are light, not overly shrimpy, and not gummy as they can be elsewhere.
Jade Garden is fairly cheap—two people can fill up for around $20—but it's often busy and can take a while to get a table.
Outside of the ID, there aren't a lot of dim sum options—only one that I know of—but Chiang's Gourmet (7845 Lake City Way NE, 527-8888) is worth the trip for a different take on dim sum. Chiang's serves "northern-style" dim sum—rather than the Hong Kong–style that you get at most restaurants—but sometimes change is good. Chiang's dim sum is made to order—you pick things off a menu instead of chasing down carts of food—and while the food takes a bit longer than most places, the lack of clattering carts makes the atmosphere a bit more relaxing.
While you won't see shu mai on the menu, Chiang's still has the standard bao, or filled buns. Leek buns ($2.75) are moist and oniony, although not particularly complex, but the "crispy biscuit-wrapped pork with white pepper" ($2.95) is wonderfully messy—the flaky pastry crust disintegrates while you eat—and the pork meatball inside is surprisingly spicy. The dumplings in sweet chili sauce ($6.95) are floppy and bland—the sauce is better than the dumplings—but any failings are completely made up for by Chiang's poetry- worthy pan-fried noodles. The noodles are thick, ropy, and chewy, covered in a salty soy-based sauce and studded with greens and slivers of meat (beef, pork, or chicken).
While Chiang's may be out of the way, and its menu may be limited when compared to other dim sum haunts, you will not find a better noodle anywhere else. It's worth the drive.