China in Seattle

Taste, shop, and make friends in Chinatown's International District

Steven R. Lorton

It's Monday morning, and South King Street in Seattle's Chinatown is buzzing. Behind the counter at the Ten Ren Tea Co. (506 S. King St.; 206/749-9855), Jennifer Wong is instructing patrons on the qualities of green tea―it's best, she says, when brewed at 180°; otherwise it becomes bitter.

A few doors down, at A Piece of Cake (514 S. King; 206/623-8284), Mindy Shi describes the traditional fillings in Hong Kong-style pastries―winter melon, red bean, lotus paste―before advising me to stick with the walnut and date―probably the tastiest for my palate, she says knowingly.

Across the street, Nancy Tang presides over sales at a curio shop called the Jade Bamboo (507 S. King; 206/381-8870). Among her store's shelves are little Chinese characters known as mud men, collectible clay figurines representing fishermen, scholars, and musicians.

Centered at the south end of downtown Seattle, the Chinatown/International District is the fulcrum of the Northwest's Asian American culture. The district spans more than 40 blocks and is home to Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Laotian, Thai, and Vietnamese immigrants and their descendants.

It's an area worth visiting not only for its food and shopping but also for the rich array of human encounters. "It's like being in another country," says Ann-Marie Stillion, an assistant editor at the Northwest Asian Weekly, whose Chinatown offices house an information center. "You come here to eat, to experience, to learn."

Dim sum, dinner, and more
Set aside a day to wander the Chinatown/International District where huge, colorful dragons coil around the lampposts. Enjoy a huge selection of dim sum ― served every day ― at the House of Hong.

Next, visit the Wing Luke Asian Museum, whose changing shows and permanent exhibits celebrate Asian American culture. The museum was the first Northwest affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and was named for a Seattle City Council member, the first Chinese American elected to public office in the Northwest.

Spend the afternoon shopping, strolling, and chatting. Have dinner at Tai Tung or the Sea Garden Seafood Restaurant. Afterward, if the house lights are on at the Northwest Asian American Theatre, take in a live performance. The company produces plays, readings, and musical performances and also hosts a film festival, all based on the experiences of Asian Americans.

Other pockets of Asia in Seattle

Though the Chinatown/International District is home to Seattle's largest Asian American population, other Chinese American Communities merit quick visits if you happen to be nearby. Ten minutes from downtown Seattle at South Seattle Community College, the 6-acre Seattle Chinese Garden is a work in progress. Here, the Song Mei Pavilion, a tranquil place to sit and relax, is surrounded by more than 100 kinds of plants native to China. The pavilion is the first of many structures planned for the site. The garden will enter its second construction phase in early 2004.

About 20 miles south of Seattle, near the town of Renton, is the Great Wall Mall. Many Chinese immigrants have recently settled in this area, now home to a large Asian market, restaurants, and an excellent bookstore with a great collection of Chinese greeting cards. Within the mall, an exotic-looking herb shop, AA Pacific Herbs (415/251-8257), sells everything from antlers to ginseng.

Culinary and cultural tour

Chinatown extends from Fourth Avenue South east to Interstate 5, and runs from Yesler Way south to South Dearborn Street. Adjoining this district is an area that has become known as Little Saigon, extending under the freeway east to Rainier Avenue South, and from South Jackson Street south to South Dearborn Street.

An information center is located in the offices of the Northwest Asian Weekly (9-5:30 Mon-Fri; 412 Maynard Ave. S.; or 206/223-5559). Visit for more details and an area map.


The Great Wall Mall. 18230 E. Valley Rd., Kent; or (425) 251-1600. From Seattle take I-5 south to State 167, then take East Valley Rd. and drive south about 1/2 mile.

Northwest Asian American Theatre. No shows were scheduled for April at press time; call the theater to find out about upcoming programs. Housed in the Theatre Off Jackson, 409 Seventh Ave. S.; or (206) 340-1445.

Seattle Chinese Garden. 6000 16th Ave. S.W.; or (206) 282-8040.

Wing Luke Asian Museum. Playing for Keeps: Asian Pacific Americans in Sports will run April 18-November 16. Closed Mon; $4. 407 Seventh Ave. S.; or (206) 623-5124.


Excellent restaurants abound in Chinatown. Many serve dim sum on weekends; a few serve it daily. Here are four of our favorites.

Honey Court Seafood Restaurant. Feast on fresh crab taken live from the tank, deep-fried black cod, or steamed tilapia, with a generous side of Chinese greens. 516 Maynard Ave. S.; (206) 292-8828.

House of Hong. Brunch served daily. 409 Eighth Ave. S.; (206) 622-7997.

Sea Garden Seafood Restaurant. The baked crab in black bean sauce and the lobster with ginger and green onions are said to be the best this side of Shanghai. 509 Seventh Ave. S.; (206) 623-2100.

Tai Tung. Try the ja jang mien, a bowl of thick, deliciously spiced noodles. 655 S. King St.; (206) 622-7372.

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