INTENTIONALIST: Where to Eat for Lunar New Year

by Kristina Rivera

Intentionalist is built on one simple idea: where we spend our money matters. We make it easy to find, learn about, and support small businesses and the diverse people behind them through everyday decisions about where we eat, drink, and shop. #SpendLikeItMatters

Lunar New Year has begun, and we have officially entered the Year of the Ox (and made a much-needed exit from the Year of the Rat).

Lunar New Year is a significant holiday in many cultures across Asia — such as in China, Vietnam, South Korea, and Malaysia — and marks the first new moon of the lunar calendar. The celebration lasts up to 16 days with food, festivities, family, and fortune at the center of it all.

In-person festivities will be limited this year, but that won’t stop us from enjoying some food to ring in the new year. Here are three Intentionalist suggestions on where you should eat to celebrate the Year of the Ox:

From left to right: Nien, Quynh, Khoa, and Yenvy Pham and Cat Vu of Phở Bắc. (Photo: Phở Bắc)

Phở Bắc

Nien Pham and Cat Vu opened the first iteration of Phở Bắc in 1982 in the iconic International District red boat building. Initially, they sold American sub sandwiches with phở available on the weekends, but their soup became so popular they switched to selling phở within six months of opening, becoming Seattle’s premiere phở restaurant. Phở Bắc is now owned and operated by Nien and Cat’s children, Quynh, Khoa, and Yenvy Pham, who have kept up the restaurant’s unfussy, casual atmosphere and expanded their business into multiple locations across Seattle, including Little Saigon and Rainier Valley.

Yenvy likes to call her restaurant the “Costco of phở” because there’s something for everyone here. If you want to eat phở like a pro, Yenvy’s go-to order is a small beef phở with beef belly, brisket, meatballs, tendon, steak on the side to maximize medium-rare potential, a side of hanh dam — Vietnamese vinegared onions — for dipping, and topped with fatty broth or nước béo.

For Lunar New Year, Yenvy and her family will have a Year of the Ox-themed Tết photo background at Hello Em, Yenvy’s newly-opened Vietnamese coffee shop.

“Having a small business is also your network, it’s also your social life — it’s completely embedded into who you are. When you are a small business owner, when you’re in this environment, it’s your identity in a lot of ways, especially if you really love it. People have different ideas of what a small business is, but a lot of the time, it is part of your identity and it inspires you in everything.” — Yenvy Pham

Little Chengdu owner Emily Zhang filling orders inside her restaurant. (Photo: Little Chengdu)

Little Chengdu 

Szechuan street food meets the streets of South Seattle at Little Chengdu in the Mount Baker neighborhood. Emily Zhang opened her restaurant in 2018 out of her love for food and desire to share authentic Chinese cuisine with the Greater Seattle area. Here, you’ll find typical dishes offered on the streets of Chengdu, where Emily’s from, like handmade garlic noodles and the house garlic dumplings — both of which are city staples. The Szechuan restaurant also offers American Chinese food and uses ingredients native to Chengdu for an authentic taste of the region.

Emily’s favorite dishes at Little Chengdu are the house garlic noodles and roasted whole rabbit, which may sound daunting at first, but Emily has introduced the dish to rabbit skeptics with great success.

For Lunar New Year, Little Chengdu is offering 12% off online orders placed through their website and dine-in orders, which are reservation-only, through the end of February.

“In Chengdu, if you want to eat the really good food, you’re not going to those fancy restaurants. You just want to look for the local street food restaurants. That’s how I first wanted to introduce my food [as] those street flavors. We’re trying to create the vibe that you could easily find in Chengdu streets.” — Emily Zhang

Stacey Van, co-owner of Rainier Restaurant in Rainier Valley. (photo: Stacey Van)

Rainier Restaurant & BBQ

Stacey Van and her family took over Rainier Restaurant & BBQ in 2018, building on the 25-year legacy of the business’s previous owner. Known for its fusion and exotic entrees, Rainier Restaurant brings authentic, fresh Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine to South Seattle in a family-style setting. The restaurant is a true family-run affair — Stacey’s sister is the manager, her brother cooks, her other siblings are the waitstaff, and her mom helps with inventory. Stacey and her family have maintained the rustic charm the business always had while adding their own spin on the menu with a focus on using fresh, local ingredients. Plus, Anthony Bourdain visited Rainier Restaurant on an episode of “The Layover,” so you know the food has to be good.

One dish that Stacey craves constantly at Rainier Restaurant is the sizzling crepe, or bánh xèo — a crispy, savory crepe filled with shrimp and pork served with a side of fresh herbs and lettuce. The restaurant is now open for limited dine-in, and Stacey said she’s happy to help point out her favorite dishes on the menu, like the sweet and sour soup with catfish and braised pork.

For Lunar New Year this year, Stacey’s mom and brother are selling Lunar New Year flowers at Rainier Restaurant & BBQ.

“My family used to eat at Rainier all the time, my husband’s family used to eat here all the time before we even thought about taking over. It’s a staple to a lot of the Vietnamese and Chinese communities and families. So, to make sure Rainier succeeds is definitely something we have high on our priority list and make sure it sticks around.” — Stacey Van

Featured image: Bowls of chicken phở and short rib phở and a plate of summer rolls from Phở Bắc. (Photo: Phở Bắc)

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