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.
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.
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.
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…
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.