Columbia City Takeout: The Good, the Bad and the Super

Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood had some good restaurants before the pandemic and those that are still with us survive, for now, by offering takeout. Going to describe food only here - I know about the restaurateurs and their backstory and the history of the South Seattle restaurant scene but we want to examine the meat here - not the butcher. Bruce Lee ate at Tai Tung a long time ago but that doesn’t make the place any good now, you know?

Delivery Trek Wars

Restaurants are hurting. The business model - packing them in on a Friday night to offset losses the rest of the week while selling lots of booze – is broken. Governor Jay Inslee’s new 25% capacity indoor dining thing is homicidal - not only is the pandemic not over but a new more deadly is here. If neighborhood joints can survive this craziness doing takeout only - more power to them because that is the immediate future. And the predatory gig economy delivery services like DoorDash, Grubub and Uber Eats that they are forced to rely on? Well-heeled customers love them. Restaurants (extortionate fees) and delivery drivers (low pay, scant benefits) hate them. And shame on you Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart for starring in those Uber Eats commercials! You guys really need the money? Enough to get paid millions of dollars to spend a weekend shooting some TV spots for a corporation that is transparently evil? Where have all our good space war role models gone? The ones who won’t sell their souls to the next Silicon Valley as sponsored by Wall Street scam? They don’t exist. Sigh.

A Not-Evil Food Delivery Service

South Seattleites who want to get restaurant food delivered by a locally-owned business can reach Robert at 2Go Services, which is based in Renton. Robert was one of the original kings of the Seattle punk rock scene in the 1980s. DISCLOSURE: I worked for him for years doing graphic design whatnots (the logo I scrawled on a cocktail napkin is now on his fleet of over a dozen cars) until he figured out that he could buy an Apple Macintosh and just have an in-house person do the same thing for a fraction of the the price I was charging.

Ordering Food from Columbia City

THE GOOD: Ezell’s Famous Chicken is not actually good but fabulous! Relatively inexpensive, the kids love it, the fried chicken is done perfectly. I learned one of their secrets after observing a delivery to their place - cases of Crisco vegetable shortening. “Cooked in pure vegetable oil, using our proprietary process,” Ezell’s says. The spicy version is great too, as are the chicken tenders. The sides are not perfect but I think that’s what people want or at least expect after all these years. Weirdly, this is a fried food that travels well.

Pagliacci Pizza is acceptable in a pinch and the salad with the red pepper and salami in it has been a favorite of mine for decades - although I always adulterate it with my own vinegar and other stuff. I also always put on my own ingredients when reheating slices. Wait, how good could this be? Not that good. The founder – from a family of Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise owners – sold Pagliacci to an investor group, and the quality of ingredients reflects that. It’s all about the bottom line. Flying Squirrel Pizza Company in Seward Park was great but lost some steam, quality-wise, towards the end - perhaps due to owner burnout after over 10 years killing it in the pizza business. They closed when the pandemic started. You can still order from their Georgetown store. DISCLOSURE: Yes of course I worked there, long ago.

THE BAD: Seattle’s International District is very close to Columbia City if you crave Asian food. Tai Tung, as I mentioned, is all history and no soul. Not great. An order from Fortune Garden was a horror - beef and egg chow fun that had not been wok-fried came in a mucilaginous mass that contained nothing but egg and low end meat. Not the traditional beef chow fun dish one would hope for. Fried rice also didn’t have the wok hei - that special flamed on high heat wok taste. Rice with frozen peas and carrots thrown in and perhaps microwaved. Awful!

Weirdly, Ho Ho Seafood Restaurant (the next block over from Fortune) has the exact same website and menu as Fortune Garden. Ghost kitchen? Joint ownership? To be fair, the interior of the Fortune Garden was a horror. A dining space empty for a year being used as storage, fine, but it was filthy. Dirt built up around doorknobs, like you would find in an insane asylum. A tank of lobsters looked more like a murky torture chamber for sluggish crustaceans. No smells came from the kitchen, and the only guy back there was wearing street clothes with a tie.

Questionable food experiences also happened at a poke place and also with more than one downtown Columbia City spot but no need to mention them here. These locally owned, often family-owned small businesses are all struggling, and cutting corners was the business model long before the pandemic. I can empathize with restaurant owners who are mad at the Governor for shutting down small shops while allowing corporate giants like Amazon to not only continue unhindered but to profit from the pandemic. An upward flow of capital to the one percent, as usual.

THE SUPER: Like every other local chain of chow palaces, the owners of Super Six are struggling and closed at least one of their other places last year. They seem to have a steady flow of takeout orders (and one of the larger outdoor ten setups - don’t get me started on these pandemic era “outdoor” atrocities).

We ordered pulehu ribs - meltingly tender pork ribs with mac and cheese. The ribs had a pleasant five spice taste. There was no kimchi in the mac and whack as advertised. The Ritz cracker dust was a nice touch. A tofu bowl with egg and Korean style rice was fine. The Char Siu Burger with cheddar, with a side of decent fries, got wolfed down by privileged small children - their parents have money for food, unlike millions of other Americans. No crispy onions but again - give these places a break - they run out of stuff. The finely sliced cucumbers in sweetened rice vinegar were sliced so thin they could have been prepped by a mafia guy with a razor blade - nice.

Sichuan pork noodles with “Portuguese sausage ragu” was just what I expected, and wanted. Small clumps of spicy ground pork in some thin and flat rice noodles that had the taste of - wok hei! Nice touches of shimeji mushrooms, fiery Serrano peppers, daikon.

I will continue to write about South Seattle restaurants in the weeks ahead.

Nirvana Wok: Ghost Kitchen

We are all set up with a Patreon page but please don’t donate - we’re not ready and are not exactly feeding too many hungry people as of this year, so far. If do you want to give to a good cause send some love to the Athens County Food Pantry in Athens, Ohio - they got a bump after hometown quarterback Joe Burrow mentioned Athens County poverty in his Heiseman Trophy acceptance speech. DISCLOSURE: We donated $20.

Nirvana Wok: Looking Forward

What kind of organization that promises to “feed hungry people” would blog about expensive takeout food? We would. And no board of directors will stand in our way - Nirvana Wok is becoming an LLC - NOT a non-profit! Full control!

Being that we are a still a no-budget operation, the funds needed to hire an online service to take care of that annually ($150) and the State filing fee for an LLC ($200) were raised on January 28 by speculating in Dogecoin. That’s right, a joke cryptocurrency named after a dog meme helped us raise money. Anything is possible this year!

–Alex