Kaisho's mural is huge. It goes from the kitchen all the way across the back wall, then wraps around a corner to the bar. You can imagine the meeting about the concept: "Something really URBAN. You know—very street, very now." "Yes, but RETRO—retro and now. That's the tip of the spear for Capitol Hill." Then they made a word cloud that included Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. The mural is graffiti-style; a local artist described it as "'80s street, plus anime, plus my-cousin's-pretty-good-with-a-spray-can." The Stranger's Charles Mudede looked at it and said, "Second-rate. If you're gonna do something indoors, you gotta take it downtown." The bosom of the sexy anime babe near the door to the restrooms is all wrong, and once you notice, you can't stop looking at it.
Kaisho is a "refresh," as they say, of the Boom Noodle space at 12th and Pike. (The company owns the Boom in University Village, plus the six Blue C Sushis in Washington and three in California, with more reportedly planned; the original Kaisho, more upscale in Bellevue Square, closed after just five months, reportedly to become a private events space.) The room is now lacquered in glossy black; the seating is more private and more comfortable than Boom's was, with some to-be-coveted semicircular booths. Stakes of bamboo create a slight screen from the street, and the bar features a central tree bearing a number of flat-screen TVs as flashing fruit. You can watch Seahawks games here while eating/drinking "Boozy Brunch"—breakfast tacos, dim sum, "Hangover Noodle Soup"—which seems perfectly suited to the clientele. Kaisho is made for the marauders of the Pike/Pine party scene, for large groups that will inevitably sing "Happy Birthday," for the bros' nights out (the kitchen's open until 1 a.m.). The music comes from the '70s and '80s, like an instrumental version of "White Lines" or Michael Jackson—safe and fun.
Kaisho's pan-Asian menu also feels like a safe, fun piece of time-traveling; they're calling it, of course, "street fare," but when's the last time someone ate a hanger steak ($21) on a sidewalk? But the food is way better than it needs to be on party row, where an entirely mediocre (and not inexpensive) place like Poquitos stays packed. Kaisho's food is actually good. If you were drunk, it'd be great.
Chef Kalen Schramke cooked at lauded, high-end Rover's for two years, then spent a year at Tamara Murphy's great Terra Plata; he traveled and ate in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam for a couple months before starting at Kaisho. He's cast off the arguably boring bonds of authenticity, and the most inauthentic thing he's making is one of the best: a potato cheddar dumpling, with the wrapper folded into a round well that's filled up with pierogi-style goodness, topped with a float of crème fraîche and crumbles of house-made bacon (three for $6). For the tipsy, these will be nuggets of best-ever ballast; if you're stoned, welcome to heaven, better order some more.
Kaisho's chicken and waffle is also bound for boundless popularity. Conceptually, it's a bit of a stretch—it's purportedly Thai style, but the only detectable difference from the now-trending American version is a yellow tint to the waffle. But the fried chicken itself approaches excellence: crunchy, deep-brown exterior; tender, not-at-all-dry flesh; just the right amount of grease. The price is right, too: 14 dollars for a generous, four-piece, local, and hormone-free half-bird ($27 whole). It's served in a cute cardboard bucket with a cheery drawing of a clueless chicken on it, and it comes with coconut butter (barely coconutty) and five-spice syrup (sweet, not spicy, with lots of star anise) for the waffle. The waffle needs work. Mine was cooked until hard on the outside—you could bang a fork on it, forcefully, with possibly more danger to the fork—and dry inside, with that mysterious yellow tint un-tastable. (Can one place actually make both good chicken and good waffles? Hopeful fans should go try Nate's Wings and Waffles, which opened about five seconds ago in Rainier Beach. Nate is the basketball player and Seattle native Nate Robinson; Darren McGill of Happy Grillmore is in on Nate's, too.)
The house-smoked brisket gyoza ($7 for three) will also go big at Kaisho. The fat dumplings taste good on their own, but they're incredible with the smoky, spicy, sweet house-made red dragon sauce. Kaisho should sell the sauce by the jar, or just douse the world in it. Two big barbecued pork steam buns ($6) were sandwich-sized, sharing their pillowy buns with coleslaw (they'd be great with red dragon sauce, too). Pork belly moo shu tacos ($7) were tasty, too, with edamame hiding aboard the delicate, thin wrappers. Both a peanutty bowl of coconut-braised beef short rib noodles ($14) and shrimp and salmon noodles with citrus-soy sauce ($15) also hit the spot—though more noodles (and a few more shrimp) would bring them in line with the anti-stingy portions elsewhere at Kaisho. A long skewer of crispy-fatty pork belly, tender octopus, and one little piece of calamari ($14) was prettily presented, fresh-tasting, easy on the Thai fish sauce, and pretty great. And if you like salty, crunchy, oceanic-tasting things, you must order the off-menu nori chips.
Kaisho's cocktails are, unsurprisingly, built for partying—they're sweet things with slight Asian leanings that go down easy (though they're only $8 or $9, relatively cheap for Pike/Pine). It's the food that might surprise you—that and the mural.