Seattle's 45 Best Global Dishes: Asian

The dish that delivers the best of multisensory Lao food: Kao Nam Tod from Amazing Thai Lao Kitchen on Beacon Hill

Bánh Cuôn 
Ba Bar 
It makes sense that chef/owner Eric Banh’s temple to Vietnamese street food includes bánh cuÔn—rice noodle rolls filled with a mixture of ground Carlton Farms pork, wood ear mushrooms, yellow onion, fish sauce and black pepper, and then topped with herbs, shallots and thin slices of chà lua, a pasty pork sausage made in house. It’s a street-food favorite from Banh’s childhood days in Saigon. The Capitol Hill location only sells the dish on weekends; the new South Lake Union restaurant always has it on the menu. $11.50

Pair it with: A Vietnamese iced coffee. Banh runs Starbucks Reserve beans through an espresso machine to get that dark, bitter flavor needed to stand up to the sweetened condensed milk. South Lake Union, 500 Terry Ave. N; 206.623.2711;

Khao Soi Gai 

Little Uncle 
Anyone who has ever found solace in a bowl of pho should expand their noodle soup repertoire with a trip to this reputable little Thai restaurant, where almost everything is made in house. Try the khao soi gai, a boldly flavored northern Thai red curry and coconut milk soup with egg noodles, shredded chicken, pickled Chinese mustard greens and fried shallots. Owners Poncharee Kounpungchart and Wiley Frank return to Thailand every two years—they even invite their crew to join them—to understand the nuanced flavors of traditional Thai food. Can we come? $12. Capitol Hill, 1523 E Madison St.; 206.549.6507;

Kao Nam Tod
Amazing Thai Lao Kitchen
Don’t be swayed by the Thai classics on the menu—pad thai, massaman curry, pineapple fried rice, etc.—even though this homey restaurant (formerly Thai Savon, but the recipes haven’t changed) has versions that are better than most. Head straight for the Lao menu, which includes kao nam tod (sometimes pronounced as nam kao tod): a cool dish of crispy fried bits of rice, sour pork sausage, onion, fish sauce and lime, meant to be dressed with herbs and peanuts, and folded into lettuce leaves before being eaten. It’s sour, salty, funky and spicy, chewy and crunchy and all the things that are best about Lao food. $9.31 Beacon Hill, 6711 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S; 206.556.2949;

South Korea

There’s not much in the way of ambiance at this casual spot inside the Boo Han Market, but that doesn’t stop hungry diners from grabbing a table and ordering from the picture menu of soups and dishes. Babsarang is best known for its soondae, Korean blood-and-noodle sausage—slightly chewy and with a deep iron taste—cut into dark disks and accompanied by salt, intended as a dip. $9

While you’re there: Check out some of the other amazing Korean restaurants along SR 99, such as Sam Oh Jung, Old Village Korean BBQ and Hosoonyi. Edmonds, 22618 State Route 99; 425.776.7290

Tokwa't Baboy 
Traditionally served as an appetizer or a side dish, the tokwa’t baboy—fried bits of tofu and crispy skin-on pork doused in a pungent combo of soy sauce, vinegar and garlic—at this family-run Kent hangout is so addictive, you may want to make it your main meal. Keep an eye out for the FilCuisine bakery that’s soon to open two doors down, on the other side of the laundromat. $7–$16

Don’t miss: The all-day Filipino breakfast, which includes fried Spam-si-log ($8): Spam served with rice and a fried egg. Kent, 23843 108th Ave. SE; 253.239.4429; 

Many diners champion Asian cuisine for its tasty cheap-eats options—precisely the reason chef Shota Nakajima closed his pricey kaiseki (or Japanese tasting menu) restaurant, Naka, at the end of January and reopened as Adana in late February. The menu there presents a choose-your-own-adventure-style 3-course meal ($37), plus a bar menu of even more affordable, drink-friendly options like katsu (pork cutlet) sandwiches and yakisoba (the Japanese equivalent of chowmein). Thankfully, though, fans of Nakajima’s refined Japanese interpretation of seasonal Pacific Northwest ingredients can still experience his 10-course kaiseki (see page 74) when he offers it a few times a year. The first event will be held this spring, when guests can look forward to dishes featuring some of the chef’s favorite ingredients: devil’s club, fiddelheads, aralia sprouts, ramps and more. $120–$170. Capitol Hill, 1449 E Pine St.; 206.294.5230;

A Southern India staple: Kerala Fried Fish from Aahaar in Snoqualmie

Southern India
Kerala Fried Fish 
There couldn’t be two more disparate climates than tropical Tamil Nadu, the southern Indian state where chef Ajay Panicker grew up, and Snoqualmie, the woodsy town where his popular Indian restaurant sits. Panicker’s menu changes every year or so (and a specials menu changes every six months), but you’ll always find dosas, a regional crêpe-like dish served with a lentil soup known as sambar and various chutneys. There also is the pan-fried whole trout from the coastal state of Kerala (next to Tamil Nadu), which is marinated overnight in a recipe that includes turmeric, salt, pepper, coriander, chili powder, ginger paste and a few other ingredients. The recipe is so secret that only Panicker and one member of his crew know the ratio of the ingredients. $15.95. Snoqualmie, 7726 Center Blvd. SE; 425.888.5500;

Kabab House
Many staples of Indian food in America pepper the menu at Kabab House—samosas, saag paneer, tandoori chicken—but what sets this strip-mall spot apart is the menu’s “chef's specialties” section, where the restaurant’s Pakistani roots show through in dishes like the nihari. A smooth, long-cooked stew, with a consistency almost like that of a soup, the nihari is studded with big chunks of beef shank. Though the shank bone has been removed, it clearly donates valiantly to the sauce. The bright ginger flavor offsets the richness of the dish.

Pair it with: Temper the spice in the dish by asking for the off-menu salted lassi. The simple yogurt drink does double duty: quenching thirst and putting out taste-bud fires. $11.95. Kirkland, 13108 NE 70th Place; 425.202.7513;

One of the most popular Afghan dishes, Qabili Pallow from Afghan Cuisine in Bellevue

Qabili Pallow
Afghan Cuisine 
Glass goblets and dark tablecloths dress up this family-run eatery, operated by a Kabul-born father and his charming son, but the food is home-style cooking at its best. The most popular dish is, incidentally, also one of Afghan’s most notable: qabili pallow, or seasoned basmati rice topped with plump raisins and thinly sliced carrot, and served alongside the most tender, flavorful bone-in lamb shank. $15.99. Bellevue, 14320 NE 20th St.; 425.641.4020

Food for Thought
Chef Ajay Panicker of his restaurant’s (aahaar) policy of not offering star levels of spiciness: “When an American is ready to eat Indian food, that means he’s ready to try spices. I’m not going to kill him with spices, but I’m going to offer him a very flavorful dish.”

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