by Kris Kendall
“Maybe it’s the time of day, but the old King Donuts had a larger selection,” Ira Sacharoff said between bites, “but this is really good.”
It’s late afternoon on a Monday, and customers are finishing up laundry in the compact, clean laundromat portion of King Donuts, the iconic Rainier Beach triple threat, where you can get your teriyaki fix while waiting for your clothes to dry, then take a bear claw to go.
Sacharoff is a New Jersey native who came to Seattle in 1978. These days he’s a real estate broker, but before that Sacharoff worked for Metro Transit for “twenty-something years on the now-defunct waterfront streetcar.” He’s lived on the border between Skyway and Renton since 1999. It should be noted that Sacharoff possesses a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the restaurants and cafes in South Seattle and beyond.
We were strangers before Sacharoff volunteered to join me on a field trip to try out the new King Donuts. While we waited for the rest of our group, Sacharoff bought a donut to try out the new recipe.
When Heng Hay and Chea Pol announced in July, 2016 that they were closing King Donuts, the news stung Rainier Beach residents particularly hard. King Donuts is the kind of local business that helps define a neighborhood. That it was simply closing, rather than being pushed out by development, was even more agonizing for many.
But when a buyer stepped in this past December, and the doors to the pastry-box pink building re-opened after the start of the year, the larger concerns about neighborhood integrity fell away as fans of the original King Donuts wondered: Would the new donuts be any good?
If you ask Sacharoff, and I did, the answer is a solid yes.
“These are reasonably priced donuts, and remain so,” he said. “I like them better than Top Pot. Top Pot is so overrated.” Read that declaration again and revel in it, South Seattle.
The other two members of our party arrive—musicians Frank Lukas and Scott Granlund, who I’ve known for nearly a decade. Both live in Rainier Beach, and like Sacharoff, recall the specifics of the Hay-era King Donuts. I asked them to keep that in mind while we order.
Thai food is a new addition to the King Donuts menu, so we dove in with panang curry, pad thai, stir-fried vegetables with tofu, and, because somebody had to, chicken teriyaki.
After the Sriracha was passed around, we dug into our food and the conversation flowed easily. We compared the changes to Rainier Beach to the even faster development happening in Belltown, where Granlund’s woodwind repair shop hangs on despite construction projects that have pushed out smaller businesses like his.
Through the magic of a shared meal, the conversation flowed naturally, and eventually circled back to the task at hand: How’s the food?
“There’s no salad,” Granlund said of the chicken teriyaki. “Usually there’s some sort of vegetable.” Later, I’d note that a couple of Yelp reviews called out the same detail about the new King Donuts teriyaki—the missing vegetable has been replaced by more rice.
The fried rice I’d ordered was more of a sautéed vegetables and tofu—lightly seared and plenty of it—atop a huge pile of steamed rice. As the designated vegan in our group, I was pleased at how simply they’d accommodated my meat-free requirements.
Both Granlund and Lukas noted that the chicken in their meals was cut into fairly large pieces, requiring a little finessing with the chopsticks, but certainly nothing to complain about.
“I’ve never seen shredded carrot on top of pad thai before,” said Lukas as she pushed the tangle of orange ribbons aside to get a better approach at the pad thai noodles.
Ira Sacharoff gave the panang a solid thumbs-up. He lamented that there were no coconut-topped donuts available, but we were assured that the selection was wider earlier in the day. A subsequent visit confirmed that.
My three dining companions agreed that the new menu is different both in content and execution. That’s expected, since Hay and Pol sold only the name and equipment, not the recipes. King Donut 2.0 will never be the original. But that’s okay. We still have King Donuts.
The donuts crafted by the new owners lived up to Sacharoff’s expectations. Judging by the crowds I’ve seen here most mornings, the local treasure status of King Donuts’ signature pastry is not in jeopardy. Plus, it’s tough to beat the Herculean portions of the teriyaki and Thai menu items considering none of us paid more than $10 for our food.
Based on the ambling conversation we had while we ate, I now have a longer list of restaurants in South Seattle that I need to try, and I’ve met and spent time with another neighbor.
Kris Kendall is a Rainier Beach resident
Featured image: Kris Kendall