Seattle is home to a vibrant community of Turkish immigrants—a little city within a city populated with supportive, friendly folks. One of the epicenters of this community is Fremont's Cafe Turko (754 N 34th St, 284-9954), a retail store that sells Turkish food, jewelry, books, and fabric, and also a restaurant featuring a full kitchen and dining room with all-day table service. The retail aspect nods to the storefront's past as a Turkish import store, but the location has long been—and continues to be—a meeting place for Turkish-speaking people young and old.
The staff is very friendly and prone to upselling; when I tried to order a couple appetizers on a recent visit, my server's beaming smile turned to a frown of consternation—"aren't you hungry today?"—as she tried to direct me toward a dinner item. We finally reached a compromise of one appetizer alongside a döner kebab pocket ($8.50).
The döner kebab was delicious, a pita stuffed with lettuce, grilled eggplant, feta, and paper-thin strips of seasoned beef topped with a tomato sauce. It's a more satisfying sandwich than a gyro—no sweaty pillars of rotating pressed meat are involved, which is always a relief. Every bite brings a different flavor combination; the tangy yogurt sauce complements the sweet tomato sauce perfectly.
But I'm glad my waiter didn't coax me into getting the entrée, because then I probably wouldn't have ordered the beet hummus appetizer ($6). Supermarkets and restaurants are packed full of so much mediocre hummus that a bowlful of this bright purple dip feels like a revelation. It's earthy and rich and not at all garlicky (garlic is what makers of bad hummus cram into their dish to cover a multitude of sins). It's drizzled in olive oil and served with piping-hot triangles of pita bread to scoop it up. You will want to lick the bowl clean.
Cafe Turko's menu features a full page of nonalcoholic beverages that overlap complex flavors—sour cherry juice, say, or a cardamom green iced tea. I tried the sage sultanate ($2.75), a sage iced tea with lemon. It's thick on the sage but surprisingly refreshing, and it makes a perfect pairing with a little plate of five pieces of Turkish delight ($4) that completes the meal. Like every young book nerd, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe left me obsessed with the idea of Turkish delight. Decades later, it's still an enchanting dessert—chewy cubes of flower-tasting sugar with a not-quite-taffy-and-not-quite-fudge consistency that leave your breath sweetly perfumed for hours. Cafe Turko isn't Narnia, but it's certainly alive with its own magic.