We were supposed to be in Seattle last week. We'd planned to fly up Saturday morning and stay until Thursday. It was to be our daughter Gianna's first flight. However, since my dad worked for United Airlines, we fly standby and for the first time in twenty years we missed our flight. It's our own fault, since we neglected to determine that the week in question is quite possibly the busiest week of the summer in which to fly. Needless to say, we were disappointed, as much for the fact that we're missing out on a long-awaited opportunity to visit with family and friends as for the fact that Seattle is an awesome town of culinary wonderment.
Here's what we planned to eat while in the Emerald City:
I admit to being a newbie to the food truck scene. I think my only experience with them prior to trying out Marination is the seemingly dozens of roving trucks that patrol Redwood City, California, doling out awesome and inexpensive "street tacos"; and the catering truck that parked itself at my junior college in the foggy summer of 1996, where I occasionally purchased the unhealthiest of foodstuffs between my evening class and my night class. Neither of these compare, however, to the high-end eating establishments on wheels that are currently all the rage in cities like Los Angeles and New York. I don't live in a sprawling metropolitan area where such trucks are prominent, and I tend to prefer to eat with my rear end touching a chair of some sort. Of course, given the opportunity, I'd gladly eat standing up if the food was as good as the delicious offerings found at Marination, easily the best venue in Seattle for Hawaiian-Korean fusion. Recipients of an award for best food cart in America courtesy of Good Morning America, Marination serves up spam sliders, rice bowls, and (my personal favorite), tacos packed with kalbi beef, miso ginger chicken, kahlua pork and, according to their website, sexy tofu (the one variety I've not yet tried). I was lucky to stop there during my previous Seattle trip in December, and I can say without hyperbole that I've craved these tacos every day since.
I suck at embedding video. Click this link to check out video from Good Morning America's website, and try not to be tempted to book a flight to Seattle just to visit Marination.
Uli's Famous Sausage
Of the many reasons to come to Pike's Place Market, Seattle's famous public market - flying fish, local handicrafts, the world's first Starbucks location, an array of quaint shops and eateries - Uli's Famous Sausage is the one that keeps me coming back with each visit. Uli's probably carries more different sausages than you've heard of, beyond the standard bratwursts, hot links and Italian sausage (of which they carry mild and spicy "Vesuvius" varieties). At Uli's, the spectrum includes boudin blanc, boerewors, English bangers, and several kinds of chorizo, as well as almost twenty others. They ship to the continental United States in five pound increments up to twenty pounds, though the extent of my experience with Uli's consists of ordering sausage from their Pike's Place Market storefront. For a low price, especially considering the touristy location, you get a delicious, cooked-to-order sausage of your choosing, on a roll topped with mustard, onions and sauerkraut. Oddly, they have no relish, but I never miss it.
Blue Fire Mongolian Grill
I've been a fan of Mongolian barbecue for years. My first experience with it may have been at Toucan Charlie's, the award-winning buffet at the Atlantis Casino and Resort in Reno, Nevada; where I ate before I was old enough to legally gamble. For some reason, the blend of crisply-cooked vegetables, juicy meats and exotic seasonings has always electrified my palate. Blue Fire is located in Monroe, about an hour's drive northeast of Seattle. While visiting friends last December, we went to lunch there, and although there are Mongolian barbecue restaurants where we live, we were hoping to come back with our friends. In retrospect, there really wasn't anything notable that set Blue Fire apart from other Mongolian places, but as long as the guy working the grill washes his hands and switches from your original bowl to a clean one to avoid cross-contamination, I can't imagine any Mongolian BBQ restaurant not being worth a visit.
(Note that the above link is for the Maple Valley location, as I couldn't find a link for the Monroe location.)
My love of beer knows no bounds. I'm not much of a pilsner drinker; in my opinion the fizzy yellow stuff that passes for beer in this country is a joke. No, I tend to stay away from your big name brewers as much as possible. The smaller the market share, the better the chance that I'll like the beer, and Pyramid is right in the middle of the scale between the big guys and the tiny microbrewers. Theirs is one of my favorite hefeweizens, and in my opinion nothing I've had there is bad. And yes, I know that there are no fewer than three locations in California, including one a short drive away in Downtown Sacramento, but for some reason I'm more likely to visit the Seattle location. This brewery, in the shadow of Safeco Field, is a must-stop. The menu consists of burgers, sandwiches, and other all-American favorites, and it's pretty good - I just don't happen to go there for the food.
The Lockspot Cafe
Walking distance from the Hiram Chittenden Locks, where tourists and locals alike come to watch watercraft transfer from salt water to fresh and vice-versa, this hole-in-the wall offers a menu featuring seafood, as well as burgers and the like. I haven't been there since 2005, but upon my last visit the food was good, the service was prompt, and the place was fairly quiet. Then again, they charged for refills, and the parking lot was packed, necessitating that we park at a meter. Now that I think of it, we probably would have skipped the Lock Spot, which I remember not so much for the food, but for their salmon chowder, which was so good it nearly drove my aunt Lindy insane. (Buy me a round sometime and I'll tell you the story.)
The Burger Express
Having planned to spend some time with family in nearby Federal Way, there was no way I was going to miss out on a trip to this small but awesome restaurant, where I've been eating since the early 1990s. One of the first independent burger joints I ever ate at, Burger Express features a fairly complicated menu that includes not just numerous variations of the hamburger and cheeseburger, but also shrimp, chili dogs, and deep-fried mushrooms. During my last visit I was dismayed to find that the burgers weren't quite as huge as I remembered them, and the service slower than I'd have liked, but everything tasted great, and their milkshakes were somehow even better than they were on previous visits. Burger Express makes them with honest-to-goodness milk, ice cream, fruit and/or syrup, in flavors including cherry, pineapple, banana, root beer, peanut butter, and apple. I'd normally never use a cliched expression like "Heaven in a cup", but it's the only one that fits.
You'll notice the lack of higher-end, upscale dining choices like The Capital Grille, Rock Salt, and The Met. Even though I love these establishments - can't go wrong with a good steak - the truth is that when I'm in Seattle I am far less likely to find myself at a dressy, upscale restaurant than I am a casual, lesser-known dive. I can get a delicious medium-rare steak and a baked potato in San Francisco, Sacramento, or any of a number of cities to which I travel more often than I do Seattle. But Marination, though on wheels, doesn't travel to me, so I must travel to it.