Anyone who follows Seattle food coverage is well aware of the many dining maps published by sites such as Eater Seattle, a food news site that's part of a national media group that runs similar websites in 24 cities across the United States. The guides include the Eater Heatmap, a collection of 12 of the "buzziest" new restaurants in Seattle; Eater 38, which Eater calls an "elite group [that] covers the entire city [and] spans a myriad of cuisines"; and the Asian noodle map.
As an avid diner, Lisa Mei Yook Woo regularly uses these online guides to find new places to eat, but she felt that many great restaurants—especially those owned by people of color—tend to get left out. "I'm on Yelp all the time and I use the Eater Heatmap, but they just don't have the restaurants that I love. I wanted to strip away the traditional, mainstream idea of what a foodie is," she says.
So Woo created her own map and called it "Our 30+ Favorite Seattle Eateries Owned/Operated by People of Color." Within a day of posting it, it was shared more than 200 times on Facebook, reaching a much wider audience than she had ever anticipated.
The interactive map includes restaurants all over Seattle, from the University District to White Center, covering a wide range of cuisines. There are restaurants I know and love—Chili's South Indian Restaurant, Ma'ono Fried Chicken & Whisky, Tsukushinbo, and Moonlight Cafe—but also places I've never been to, such as Farvahar Persian Cafe in Pike Place Market and Ramen Man in Wallingford.
"A lot of people ask me for recommendations of where to eat," says Woo. "It was really just a fun way for me to share these places I love. And because there were no maps or popular spaces on the internet that intentionally focus on communities of color, I wanted to create that."
Woo is a fourth-generation Chinese American whose grandfather owned and operated a butcher shop and convenience store. "Food is a great entry point into the US economy," she says. "Whenever I go out, I try to direct my money in that way."
She's also the founder of the Foodways Project, which describes itself as "a grassroots effort to build community around food through shared learning, storytelling, and organizing in an effort to celebrate racial identity and undo racial injustices." Woo posted the map on the Foodways website, and she says she's received more positive responses and feedback from the map than from any other post. Until she created the map, she had no idea how many other Seattleites were interested in putting their money into businesses owned by people of color. "It's really heartwarming to know there's a community out there that has the same intentions," she says.
But her criteria for the map were primarily based on the food. "These are places I love because I love their food. It's just good food," she says, growing excited. "Some are higher end, but they are still places where what you're paying for is the food experience—not the fancy tablecloth or the fresh paint on the wall. You're paying for the food and the love that goes into it."
Sara Jones, the editor of Eater Seattle who's in charge of regularly updating the Eater Heatmap and Eater 38, says she thinks the Foodways map is valuable. "I really admire the Foodways map and appreciate how it gives us a lot more to think about," she wrote in an e-mail. Her job requires balancing input from numerous contributors under the guidance of Eater's parent company.
"We don't set quotas [for maps]," Sonia Chopra, national managing editor of Eater, told me via e-mail. "But we make a very concentrated effort at Eater to make sure our Eater 38 maps showcase a wide range of restaurants in the city—in terms like price, geographic location, and cuisine."
Jones points out that the current Eater 38 map includes four of Woo's picks (Ma'ono, Tsukushinbo, Revel, and Tilth). She also says that Eater does its best to represent a range of ethnicity, ownership, and price points, noting the site has maps that highlight Ethiopian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean restaurants, and affordable restaurants in the South End and White Center.
But Jones also acknowledges that there is room for improvement and that it is "a goal to try to do so in the future." (After this interview, Jones announced that she is leaving Eater Seattle next month.)
I do my best to cover a diverse array of restaurants in The Stranger, but, like Eater, our publication does not have a specific policy dictating coverage of certain types of restaurants. It seems to me that most food media outlets in Seattle want to be inclusive, but I wonder how well we are doing and how we can be better. Paying attention to maps and lists put together by readers like Woo—as well as the community's response to it—feels like an important place to start. There should be an ongoing conversation within our community of diners.
After talking with Woo last week, I'm excited to try a new Rainier Valley restaurant called Carnivores and Herbivores and Such, which specializes in both vegan and meat-based barbecue. Woo added it to her list of restaurants to visit after someone sent her a message urging her to check it out. It's one of the many things she's learned since creating the map.
"I need to get a second job so I can try all these different places," she says, laughing. She's already added two more restaurants to her map and hopes to grow it into a tool that could be even more useful. "I really want community input and feedback. Perhaps one day we can grow it into a directory, so it's a place where people know they can go."
This article has been updated since its original publication.