A Collective Slurp

 

 

 

If you’re looking for good ethnic food in Seattle and in the course of your travels, you should wander in any place where, as soon as you walk in, everyone stops eating and looks at you like, “The fuck is this guy doing here?” there’s a good chance you’ve found it.  Or you’ve wandered into an opium den. Either way, have fun. They’re both equally addictive.

Outside Mikes

Mike’s Noodle House is a fabled Seattle mainstay. I’m not sure whether it sets its roots in the international district as the area was still up and coming or if it opened its doors and the district became spontaneously international in its wake, but whatever the order, it’s there.  My co-conspirator for this blog first brought me to this place in October of ‘15. Before we walked in the door, fresh off some pseudo-violent escapade involving shoplifters and a steady repetition of the phrase “quit being a dick”, Krishan looked at me and said, “You ready? Shit’s bomb.” Which is a pretty stellar review. Our scale works like this: at the high end, you’ve got: “Holy Shit” followed by stunned silence and a reevaluation of your entire life up to that point. Then it’s “Shit’s bomb.” ,“This place is legit,” and slightly below that, “ I fucks wit it.” At the bottom there is only uncomfortable silence and the kind of disappointment reserved for dogs who realized that you didn’t actually throw the ball and children as they transition into every stage of life that isn’t childhood.

Mike’s Noodle House sits comfortably in the “Shit’s bomb” category and all the locals know it. 2pm on wednesday and the place is nut to butt with contented, concentrated looking people. We get looks coming through the door, but the smell of broth grabs them by the nose and shoves their faces back into their bowls like in a cartoon. The hostess/waitress comes charging out of the back with food in hand and motions us at a half cleared two top with her head before either of us can throw her the obligatory peace sign to indicate that it’s just us two dudes eating lunch.

Mikes noodle house interior

We get hot tea in a plastic glass while we look through the menu. It’s a little English, lot of Mandarin, couple pictures that just don’t do justice. Around us, the waitresses are whirring. Dumping food on tables, filling cups with tea while the tick and clack of spoons hitting bowls and chopsticks dancing over plates fills the warm air. And slurping. So much slurping.

“What you want?”

I get the number 8, a Wonton Sui Gai soup and Krishan orders the Congee.

“You want donut?”

Hell yeah we want donut.

Donuts at Mikes

If you want to know more about the history of Mike’s Noodle House or the biography of the people who own it, get in line. Get in line behind 8 or 9 pages of Google search pages full of zagat reviews, Seattle Times articles, Stranger reports and food blog posts slanging “sweet baby G. you need these noodles in your life.” and not a goddamn thing about who owns it or where they got started. Like the Bible or Banksy street art, Mike’s Noodle House is just there. Gather ‘round.

Food hits the table with a rattle and slap, waitress barely slowing down. The savory donuts first, which, “I fucks wit”, followed by the main orders.

Let’s talk about Noodle soup. If you’ve ever tried to make something like it at home, and you’re not a michelin star chef or descended from a long line of home cooking savants of Asian ancestry, you know that there’s a certain mastery required that supercedes a lot of other DIY meals. If you’ve ever tried to make good noodle soup, you’ve sat on your couch with a luke warm puddle of sadness water in a bowl. You’ve gone into sodium shock or thought to yourself,’why’d I put these noodles in my chamomile tea?’ You’ve poured that car accident in a bowl down the drain.


This bowl of soup though…IMG_0707

Oh you shut your mouth. No wait don’t shut your mouth. Leave it open. Put soup in there.

Everything just makes sense for a moment. You get the jokes that didn’t understand when you were a kid. Inception? child’s play. What people see in Justin Bieber? Well, that one’s still confusing but everything else is crystal clear. Especially, everything you did wrong with your soup at home. Wonton’s floating in all that business chewy and soaking in the broth, just drinking it. Noodles just a pinch al dente, giving texture to the whole deal. The broth is a nuanced masterpiece of balanced flavors just grooving like a jazz band.

Silence falls over the table as we eat. The silence of hungry people eating really good food, adding to the collective slurp of the room like cicadas in the woods. A guy walks in and a bell dings over the door. Krishan and I look up thinking, “The fuck is this guy doing here?”
Months later I brought my dad back to Mike’s Noodle House as a thanks for raising me from infancy. We’re even now. Not really, but close.

Pops at Mike's

 

Written By:

Kellen Burden

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Hoo-Hoo on Ihop and Somalian Spaghetti

The plane ride into Seattle was a Fuckin’. Nightmare. Flickering cabin lights, flying through a rainstorm, water slashing at the windows and lancing through the lights on the wings. Kind of  flight that leaves you white knuckled all the way to the runway. Plane rattling like an old train car, skipping like a rock across the blasts of wind and people holding hands. Pilot on the intercom, wrestling with the controls and the quaver of fear in his voice, saying, “Everyone please sit down. If you are up right now, sit down, there is no reason for anyone to be up right now. Please sit down.”

Then all the sudden my wife and I are just standing on floor 4 of the airport parking garage, bags in hand, pelted by the same storm that made a pretty respectable attempt at swatting our jet out of the sky. Its too late to catch the lightrail and there aren’t any Uber drivers within a 20 mile radius, because fuck us that’s why, so we hail a taxi as it passes by and a big Somalian guy waves us into the back of his Prius, smiling a smile that is impossibly bright and cheery for the deluge and the darkness. We’re going to call him Hoo-Hoo.

Hoo-Hoo drives his taxi like he won’t have to pay for it if he totals it, slipping between semis and skipping it over puddles. Digital readout on the dash says 77mph, and the other cars whipping past us like they’re standing still tell me that it’s probably doesn’t need any calibration. Hoo-Hoo’s talking the whole time. Talking about how dangerous Seattle has become and about murder and drugs and homelessness. I stab a detour into one of the silences.

Me: Had any good food lately?

Hoo-Hoo: Huh?

Me: Good food, lately? Eaten at any restaurants or anything you’d recommend?

Hoo-Hoo: Oh yes, my fried. My wife makes perfect Somalian food.

Me: Know anyplace to get good Somalian food around here?

Hoo-Hoo: There is a place in Tukwilla. Called Juba

Me: YES! I love Juba!

Hoo-Hoo: No Shit!

Me: Yeah! I get the Goat Federation at that place! Everyone looks at me when I walk in.

Hoo-Hoo: (laughing) I would look at you. The goat there is perfect. I have an ulcer so I can’t have it all the time, but sometimes…

Me: Sometimes you gotta have it.

Hoo-Hoo: Yes, my friend. The rice there… Oh it is amazing

Me: I love that they serve it with spaghetti on the side!

Hoo-Hoo: You know why they serve Spaghetti?

Me: Yeah-

Hoo-Hoo: The Italians colonized Somalia for some time. My friend, we make more kinds of spaghetti than you can count. Fried Spaghetti, Lasagna, (he rattles off five or six more). The Italians gave us food, but they left us with terrible government. Italian government is like the mafia. They are not out in the streets stealing. More sneaky. Very sneaky.

Me: Really?

Hoo-Hoo: Yes.  The British Colonize all over too. They don’t leave us with any good food, but they give us rules. (he makes a fist and waves in the air.) No one is above the law. The laws are very important. The British like wherever they go to be just like Britain. If you drive around in some parts of Nigeria, you would swear you were in London.

Me: When did you come here?

Hoo-Hoo: I’ve been here for 26 years. When I came, it was all open land between Tukwila and South Seattle. All built up now. Amazon and Starbucks and all that. Nowhere to go now.

The silence that follows is strange and contemplative. Rain falls steadily on the windshield and water runs down the roads and pools in big deadly puddles in the fast lane.

Me: What other kinds of food are you into? Where else do you go?

Hoo-Hoo: If I eat American food, I always eat at Ihop.

Me: Ihop?

Hoo-Hoo: Yes, I love Ihop.

When people from Mexico hear white people say that they love Mexican food and they only eat at Taco Bell, I bet it feels like that. Not that American food is that notable or worthy of pride, but Ihop? Goddammit Hoo-Hoo. I don’t say anything about it.

Me: Anywhere else?

Hoo-Hoo: My friend, there is a place in China Town called Hoo-Hoo. So good. You have to eat there.

He starts to wax poetic about it for the better part of 5 minutes and it sounds amazing. I decide that I need it in my life. That I’ve got to eat there. Before I can ask him where it is, we’re in front of our place. The rain drums slowly and steadily on the roof of the car, a much more rhythmic tune when you’re not driving desperately into it. We pay the fare and Hoo-Hoo wishes us well and I tell him that I hope to see him sometime at one of his local haunts, (hopefully not Ihop.) When he’s gone, and I’m standing there on the curb with my wife, 50 bucks poorer than when we stepped into Hoo-Hoo’s cab, I think: Worth It.

But when I scrambled to my laptop that night, frantic to find the incredible sounding Chinese restaurant that Hoo-Hoo  was so enthralled by, I found diddly. No such place.  A night of danger and intensity and disappointment in as many variations as Somalian spaghetti.

Written By:

Kellen Burden

 

 

 

Toes in the Sand, Butter in the Pan

I mean, yeah, there’s the Zika virus. And sure, the water isn’t super clean and the cops are dirty and drug lords are waging war on one another to snap up all the territory that the last one forfeited when his Looney Toons escape plan went tits up. But all that being said, when the food looks like this,


or this,

 


It kinda makes sense that everything else in the shitter. How do you have time for anything else?
We went wheels down in Mexico on a thursday to the tune of douchy techno music blaring through a battery operated speaker that was being dragged through a customs line by a dude who looked like he might have been distantly related to all of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The groupies bobbing their heads around him with their burnt, woven straw hats and their diced shorts filled me with a sense of hope. I hoped they were from a different country besides America. Otherwise, I was out. Good game evolution of culture, we gave it our best shot, but bring on the asteroid. No such luck.
Do you have anything to declare?

Sorry about that guy with the speaker.

S’okay

Nah, its not.

Si, pero we live with it.
When that’s all said and done we collect our bags and we venture out into the grease fire heat of the Mexican sun, overdressed and overjoyed. Link up with my father in law just beyond a pack of colorfully attired timeshare salesmen, with slaver on their jowls and a hunger in their eyes. One taxi ride and some paperwork later, We’re ripping ass across a very Mad Max highway in an extremely not Mad Max Chevy Astrovan. Color: Maroon. Year: 1989. Ass: Whooped.Halfway through our trip, some of the wiring starts to go cockeyed on us. We have to punch the left headlight to get it to turn on. The low fuel light likes to come on while we’re in the middle of fucking nowhere and gives everybody a heart attack only to turn suddenly off and stay off for 30 more miles. There at the rental agency, I check our hobbled chariot super hard for bindles of cocaine that might be strapped beneath the bumper. Again, No such luck.


If you’re looking to buy a bunch of cheap shit, take a picture with a guy in a sombrero and have a hamburger with american cheese and no ketchup (because that’s too spicy), keep your ass in Cabo San Lucas. Its not only that shit, but it’s there. Lots of resorts, lots of Cabo Wabo, bunch of bros and brosephinas pounding mezcal and buying leather bracelets. If you’re feeling something a little less spring break ‘16 and a little more Rick Steves, mosey a bit north to Todos Santos.
According to a plaque on the Nuestra Senora del Pilar de la Paz, ( the mission that the city essentially sprang up around in 1723),

 Todos Santos, was a small agricultural village that made most of its income from sugar cane farms, which were extremely profitable until WW1, when sugar prices dropped and an earthquake sucker-punched the aquaphor that supplied the town with water. Things were bleak for the better part of 30 years until the aquaphor finally reopened and the town had water again. Mexico paved a highway out to it (the 19) and started thumping the tourism drum real hard. Then came the artists and the surfers and much later the developers and the developers and the developers. And hunkered down in there amongst the ever changing tide of artisans, ethereals and moguls, good honest people, cooking their asses off.
Which brings us back to my wife, her father and me screaming through the desert in an Astrovan that saw two Bushes, a Clinton and an Obama, scrub brush slipping past us in the heat shimmer. My father in law, Steve, is on sabbatical from his very complicated finance related job at a well-known software company. A string of words like that all in a row might cause you to imagine that this vacation would read like a technical manual.

No.


In the first 48 hours, Steve plucks a pufferfish off a coral reef one handed, I get my shit-rocked so hard surfing that I should probably get checked for STDs and as a group, we capture a spider that’s gotta be partially responsible for controlling the local dog population out here. But this isn’t about that. This is about the food…

Breakfast has been pretty consistently the same place. A garden oasis within a red brick compound, planted at the edge of a slash of palm trees through a valley. La Esquina is painted on a big barn door at the entrance and there are artfully made tables scattered through a courtyard dotted with cacti and birds of paradise. A rogue chicken prowls the grounds.


The coffee here is chocolatey and smooth and hot as balls (solid dating profile ABOUT ME: description) and despite the heat I drink it every morning because it just tastes too good to stop and because, as I said, there wasn’t any cocaine under the Astrovan. I found my niche on the first day with a plate of eggs and chorizo next to a pile of refried beans and avocado. Wrap that up in some fresh, warm tortillas and you’ve got yourself a makeshift breakfast taco that’ll hit the spot so hard that the spot starts bruising. I get it every. Single. Morning. My companions are more adventurous and help themselves to a variety of smoothies, egg dishes and pancakes. Steve feeds some of his pancakes to the prowling chicken, much to Melissa’s chagrin.
Dinner and lunch have been more up in the air, depending on where we are and what’s around, and sure, there have definitely been some groaners. Couple of so-so burritos. One or two half-assed taco plates. For the most part though, if you stay away from the tourist fly-paper (big hotels, tour bus drop off points, and chain restaurants) it’s hard to find bad food. Some of the standouts for me:
Posada La Posa is the hotel just down the road from the Air BnB we had rented for the week. We had to ring a doorbell to be let into the property through a pedestrian gate fronting a dirt road. An extremely courteous waiter led us past a Dr. Seuss garden to hotels restaurant. Pink. Everything is pink. Splashed with lots of other festive colors and adorned with area paintings, but mostly pink. Not complaining about it, just observing. I ordered the Plata Arracher, which consisted of grilled steak on a bed of dijon and onions with polenta and grilled vegatables on the side.


the steak was tender and flavorful and complimented perfectly by the dijon and onions, the veggies had some snap to them but not enough to turn your head around and the polenta was perfect. Just perfect.

We drove down a bone dislocating, bowel loosening dirt road to reach the downtown portion of Todos Santos from our rental house. There, we found ourselves wandering down mostly dark streets, nipping at each other over directions and the speed at which the others were walking like a ravenous pack of street dogs. Then Los Adobes waved us in and kenneled us real good. The inside of the place is all about historical authenticity.  Slap a Spanish-American war soldier into a time machine and dump him into that place and he’s just going to sit down and order some food. I have the Especial de Dona Chuy, which according to the menu, is a nod to the chef’s mother and a dish she used to make. It was steak atop puff pastry, slathered with red sauce and a melted white cheese. As they say, you had me at puff pastry. I truly believe that I would wander into a blast furnace in short shorts if someone hinted that there might be puff pastry in there. I was licking the plate when it was all said and done. An added bonus came after in the form of flan, which was a new experience for me. I’ll let the photo below do the explaining on that one…

Didn’t even think to take a picture until we’d already eaten it.

La Fonda is a cafe by day, and restaurant by night. Just up the street and around the corner from Los Adobes, tucked between a couple of brick buildings. The place is essentially an outdoor bar in a courtyard with tables around it. Branches and palms for walls and ceilings, stars up above and mariachi on the speakers. Their breaded shrimp call to me and so I answer and when it’s out and on my plate, Ay dios mio I’m glad I did. It’s a pretty simple set up. In fact it looks fairly underwhelming until I’ve popped one of those suckers in my mouth and the harp music starts playing in my head. It all looks simple because that’s all you need. The breading is tangy but not overpoweringly so. The shrimp is fresh and meaty. No dips, no garnishes no problem. It carries itself. Side of spring salad and some mashed potatoes and you wash all that down with some negro modelo straight out of the bottle. “Can I get some ranch dressing?” You can get the fuck out.

There was more. There was a rooftop patio that overlooked the ocean with a saltwater infinity pool.


There were boats screaming up on a beach between two rocky cliffs, sunburnt men jumping out and dragging hammerhead sharks down onto the sand, cutting their heads off with hooked knives that were just plain not fucking around. There were dogs in the streets and Reggaeton in the bars. Some of the friendliest people you’ve ever met. But this wasn’t about that. This was about the food…

Written By:

Kellen Burden

‘Wich I Knew How To Quit You

I’m as foot on the floor and untethered as I’m willing to get in a rental car, pulling asphalt beneath me on 23rd Street. Still In Love With You, by Jahkoy, bass-y and imperative on my borrowed speakers, thumping to the beat of my reckless heart. Talking about that 31 in a 30, safety cushion of only 3 car lengths kinda rental car reckless. I speed up to beat the light on John Street like I’m not going to have a running gunfight with Enterprise rental car if I bring this Hyundai back with a scratch on it. It’s not my fault though. I’m barely even behind the wheel. If a cop pulled me over right now I’d motion at the passenger seat and he’d take one look at it and tip his hat at me. Tell me to have a nice day.

I find an underground parking garage beneath a Safeway on the corner of 23rd and Madison, only signal for 20 minutes before making the turn like I’m that hillbilly from Tokyo Drift, and I feel the saliva sloshing back and forth in my mouth. Jahkoy is still feeling me on the speakers. Putting words to my woes as I descend into the semi-darkness of the Safeway Subterranean.

I remember when you lit me up with your touch, the fire within me, when I’m feeling empty you fill me right up baby, you fill me right up….

I throw it in park in front of a pressure washed wall beneath a burnt out light. We’re finally alone…

It’s a sandwich. Before you bust out the Lubriderm or light any candles, I’m alone in my car with a sandwich.

Notice, though, that I didn’t say it was JUST a sandwich.

To call this just a sandwich would be like calling Justin Beiber JUST a douche. Blasphemy. It’s an end-all, be-all, Megalodon wrestling a Titanboa, Chuck Norris with a fist in the air type of sandwich.

If a surgeon prefaced this sandwich with “Justa” right before scrubbing up to pull a foot of rebar out of my chest, I’d refuse the procedure, wait for somebody with some common sense to free some time up for me.

A paper bag and a layer of wax paper can’t contain the smell of it. Simmering meaty smells wafting through the car, soaking into the seats and fogging the windows. They’re going to owe ME money when I turn this rental in.

As I’m hefting it out of the bag, Spotify cuts out on me. The signal bar tells me that I don’t have any bars down here in the garage, but my heart tells me God himself is trying to say, “Yo hold up. Enjoy that miracle in silence.”

That miracle is the “Tusk” sandwich from a place called Mammoth.

Let me Tarantino this shit for a moment.


15 minutes earlier, I’m parking in a cute little neighborhood in Eastlake, walking through the front entry of a shop on a hunch and the moment I’m through the doors, I know, somewhere deep and prickly where I keep the fight or flight and the fire=good, this sandwich is going to be legit. That these dudes are most certainly not fucking around and that I’m going to remember this. There are beer taps lined up against the wall, chalkboards with exotic sounding beer names scrawled on them like they change them a lot. Soft white pine walls and hipster lightbulbs with the coils dim and discernible in their glass tubes. Before he ever comes out of the back, I can pretty much guess that whoever takes my order is going to have some ironic facial hair, and goddammit, you say what you want about hipsters, but they throw their weight around when it comes to food. How couldn’t they? How could you spend that much time cultivating hat styles, record collections and knick knacks and then go around spreading Velveeta on people’s sandwiches? You couldn’t, that’s how.

The menu painted on the tiles behind the counter is the kind of shit that has Anthony Bourdain waking up in a cold sweat fully sprung. Turkey and havarti and aoli? Fried chicken and pork belly? You beautiful bastards.

If I didn’t have to work, I would have stayed there to enjoy my meal in the gentle throes of the classic rock ripping through the sound system. Instead I scuttled out like a squirrel with a nut. Buckled it into the passenger seat of the car that I had to hop off a bus to rent because my Volvo shit the bed so hard that the mechanic offered me Hagans coupons for the pink slip.

Anyway, that brings us to here, sitting in the cavernous darkness of the Safeway parking lot, brick of steamy gold in my lap.

I peel the wrapper off with the feverish care of a bomb technician. The paper sticks to the cheese that’s been panini pressed into it, threatens to pull the top slice off the bread. Steady now, Burden, easy does it. Then it’s done, two halves with cheese stringing between them, steam wafting off it under the overhead lights. This particular sandwich is stacked to the crispy bread ceiling with turkey and pork belly, peppered with tomato and lettuce and then drizzled with a homemade ranch dressing that makes you wish the Hidden Valley would stay hidden.

Valhalla. I’m going in.

You fill me right up baby, you fill me right up.

Now I realize that as I’m rattling off these ingredients and waxing poetic about something I had to pull out of wax paper, some of you are rolling your eyes. What you don’t understand is that this sandwich is the Ryan Gosling of the food world…

Sandwiches aren’t some people’s forte. They’re not everyone’s type. Maybe they’re against your values and you think it’s unnatural for two pieces of bread to join in holy matrimony with that many meats and cheeses. Maybe you just don’t swing that way. But if you found yourself across a table from one of these sumbitches…hard boiled egg dribbling down the edges, pork belly sizzling seductively beneath a blanket of bread…you’d lay your Hamophobia aside…you’d eat it.

 

Written By:

Kellen Burden