Seattle does not exactly have a thriving street food scene. Skillet recently got temporarily closed down, while Maximus Minimus is now open for business (the truck is shaped like a pig!!!). City regulations make it a difficult challenge (though I hear that may be changing). What many people don’t understand about quality street food (the best example of which can be found in Bangkok IMHO) is that at its best, it’s a singular example of one dish done perfectly. The focus, the freshness, the immediacy all help increase the odds that the food you’re getting is good.
And this is why I have no problem falling in love with a restaurant over one dish. One. Perfect. Dish.
A thriving street food scene would not only enrich our city for tourists, it would make the downtown Seattle lunch options much richer. Your choices today are basically fast-food, soup/sandwich/salad, cafeteria quality ethnic food, and the businessman’s sit down lunch. Not a delectable assortment. There are a few exceptions, and while it’s not “street food” as it has its own small establishment, my favorite lunch spot is Red Bowls on Third near Columbia in downtown Seattle. Open only for lunch, five days a week, and run by a sweet Korean couple, Red Bowls is a beacon of focus and freshness in the otherwise overcooked lunch landscape. It’s not that they only make one dish. It’s that they only make one dish that I have fallen in love with. It’s possible the other items on the menu are great. One of my co-workers assures me there are. And they cover a range of Korean protein/rice/veggie bowl combos (as well as some Udon bowls to boot). Despite my constant efforts to expand my experiences, I can’t help but order the same thing every time I go into Red Bowls.
Imagine a thick layer of rice (brown at your option but I always get white). On top of the rice is a heaping helping of fresh vegetables. Carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli. Crunchy, filling, raw, healthy, tasty vegetables. And then a generous portion of chopped raw fish — tuna and salmon combo for me. On top some spicy korean sauce as well as sesame oil and chopped scallions. And finally, because I ask for it every time, some avocado slices on top.
I’ll admit, the slivers of pickled ginger do complete the sushi-ness of the dish, and I do like pickled ginger, but I always leave it on the side. For some reason, I think the dish is complete without it.
For under $10, this bowl of fresh spicy deliciousness pleases every single time. It’s like a huge bowl of Spicy Tuna Roll (without the roll). I’ll admit, that if you put a pile of rice, raw fish, and spicy sauce in front of me I’ll have a hard time not liking it. But the freshness of all the ingredients, the combination of the sesame oil and the scallions, and the value have me in love.
And while it doesn’t affect the way the food tastes, the fact that the proprietors of Red Bowls are absolute sweethearts doesn’t hurt. And if a bowl of spicy (or not spicy) raw fish doesn’t make you happy, I’m assured by many of my dining companions that there are plenty of other delicious dishes on the menu that employ the same core values of freshness and focus. Maybe some day I’ll even try one of them.
If I could wave a magic wand, I would replace 90% of the lunch establishments in downtown Seattle with single dish carts/restaurants focusing on one item, and delivering it consistently and with super fresh ingredients day in and day out. But since I don’t have that magic wand I’ll have to keep eating at Red Bowls and wait for a real street food scene to develop in Seattle. We’re having some fits and starts so now may be the time after all.
Administrative note: Our local formerly print and now web only newspaper has been going without a restaurant column since they dumped the dead tree edition. Since we have an obsession with finding quality restaurants and writing about them, it seemed like there might be a good match. As of today, we’ll have regular Seattle restaurant reviews appearing on Tastingmenu and the Seattle PI simultaneously. We encourage readers of the PI to visit the rest of Tastingmenu where we have other food writing beyond just Seattle restaurant reviews, and we encourage readers of Tastingmenu to check out the rest of the PI. Apparently there’s more to life than food, and they do a good job covering that stuff as well. : ) Should be a fun experiment.