Ben Nivison, editor
The sheer number of teriyaki restaurants in Seattle and King County has inspired others, in recognition of this peculiar regional phenomenon, to label us “Teriyaki Connoisseurs”. As the New York Times commented on January 6, teriyaki has become to Seattle what the “Chicago dog” is to Chicago.
The origin of the phenomenon in our region is sometimes credited to Toshi’s Teriyaki (8050 161st St., NE, Redmond, 425-869-9638), which opened its first location in Redmond in 1976. Today, everyone has a favorite and each establishment prepares its teriyaki a tad differently.
Variety is the spice of life and there may be some teriyaki restaurants that you should consider trying the next time you want a quick, economical lunch. To help make some sense of the myriad choices available for the aspiring Teriyaki Connoisseur, the Dining Out crew selflessly set out to systematically evaluate several area teriyaki establishments using several categories.
Each of the restaurants was rated using eight factors, in a transparent effort to cloak our subjective impressions with the air of scientific analysis. We cannot claim to have reached an especially large percentage of the (very) numerous teriyaki places, but here is a summary of our findings for those we did visit more often:
Happy Teriyaki (1522 Fifth Ave., Seattle, 206-348-8888) has tasty, fast food, but can feel claustrophobic. The basement premises feature a low ceiling. It is accessible via narrow stairs from Fifth Avenue.
This venue does a large take-out business, but there are tables as well and they always seem to be full during the lunch rush. The service is best characterized as businesslike. No frills, no conversation; just your order please.
The teriyaki is very good. The chicken has just the right amount of char, is flavorful and juicy, and the teriyaki sauce is nicely caramelized on the outside. The all-important sauce is sweet, as it should be, but not overpowering. The spicy chicken can sometimes be very, very spicy, so consider the half-and-half.
Portions are generous, with plenty of cabbage served alongside, although some may find the cabbage to be too salty. Price is about average, with a typical meal running between $6 and $8. Food comes relatively quickly after you place your order, but there is usually a line. If you need to grab a really satisfying meal and eat at your desk, this is a place to go. If you want to dine out, however, keep reading.
International Teriyaki (601 Stewart St., Seattle, 206-223-1153) is a stone’s throw from the federal courthouse and is a solid choice for quick, no-frills teriyaki while pondering your next move at trial. Although this place does not have the best food of those we tried (we encountered occasional gristle in an otherwise solid beef teriyaki, for instance), it certainly holds its own. The spicy chicken was good on each of our visits, with its kick-catching up with us about halfway through the meal. There is plentiful hot sauce at each table if you find the alarm bells a bit too quiet.
The menu is respectably diverse, and service came quickly and with a smile, considering the lunch rush. Windows and mirrors are plentiful at International Teriyaki, which alleviates the claustrophobia associated with dining at its competitor establishments. Proximity to the courthouse and quick service remain the chief reasons to return.
Mililani (105 Pike St., Seattle; 206-587-0862) is recently under new ownership and sports a greatly expanded menu – so much so that it might now be considered more of a Chinese restaurant than a teriyaki spot.
The service was friendly, but not as fast as the more purely teriyaki establishments. A carbohydrate-conscious diner substituted his rice for salad and the waitress followed by asking whether he wanted to hold the dressing. While nothing to write home about, it is that level of courteous service that wins Mililani “the thought that counts” award.
Just up the street from the Mililani is Osaka Grill Teriyaki (128 Pike, 206-340-1793), reviewed in the July 2009 Dining Out column.
The Logan Deli (500 Union St. #B004, Seattle; 206-622-5880) is an establishment unlikely to be found if the Teriyaki Connoisseur is not told where to look. Hidden in what might be mistaken for a maze in the basement of the Logan Building, this establishment is noted for its friendly atmosphere (regulars are greeted by name and order their “usual”) and its somewhat lower prices.
There is wide variety in the menu compared to most teriyaki places, with daily specials, sandwiches and many non-teriyaki options. The deli offers smaller portions for those of us who need to avoid falling asleep after lunch.
On the Eastside, Tokyo Stop Teriyaki (1504 145th Pl. SE, Bellevue; 425-653-3577) is located in a neighborhood strip mall close to a QFC. You can nurture yourself and yours on a busy evening by picking up something from its reliable menu, which is complete with photos. The service is fast and pleasant, and the food is exactly what you would expect it to be.
No surprises here. Tokyo Stop also does catering for the next time you want to skip the barbecue with the neighbors and mix things up a bit.
After reading The New York Times article, we decided to branch out from our regular University District teriyaki (Nasai on 25th – the favorite of many Huskies) and try Tokyo Garden (4337 University Way NE, Seattle; 206-632-1588) instead. Tokyo Garden has a wider menu than a traditional teriyaki restaurant. It offers sushi and a variety of “special” dishes, including curry, udon noodles and tempura. Of course, we had to try the corn dog teriyaki (as discussed in The New York Times article).
There is a reason why Tokyo Garden is the only place that serves corn dog teriyaki. That said, it is certainly an experience worth having, if not necessarily repeating. The corn dog has traditional teriyaki sauce and, fortunately, is mixed with vegetables. Its downfall is the sauce. It is only average, and a little too sweet and thick. We also tried the yakisoba, which was lacking in flavor too, until chili sauce was added.
Conspicuously absent from this review is a teriyaki place by the King County Courthouse. We searched and pestered colleagues in the Columbia Tower, but no one seemed able to name a favorite teriyaki spot to review. The one suggestion that repeatedly emerged was Beba’s Deli & Chutneys Express (722 Third Ave.; 206-341-9000), a Mongolian BBQ spot. On the basis of frequent reference by those based in the Columbia Tower, we give it an honorary mention, but remember you do not read The New York Times talking about Seattle as the city of Mongolian BBQ for a reason. As the article states, quoting a local entrepreneur: “In Seattle they eat teriyaki…It’s American, it’s cheap and it’s good”.
Originally published in the July 2010 issue of the King County Bar Bulletin. Reprinted with permission of the King County Bar Association.