The Chinatown-International District right now is experiencing a reboot of sorts. While some old and reliably tasty restaurants are still hanging on (many of which, can be found on the Likewise app), the neighborhood is still being reinvented. Last year the once longstanding Cambodian restaurant Phnom Penh Noodle House closed its doors after over 30 years of business. Pho Bac— the first pho restaurant in the city received a very hip rebrand. New local chains like Great State Burger and Dough Zone Dumpling House have been popping up left and right. These new developments have shown that even one of the oldest (and often most neglected) neighborhoods in the Emerald City just can’t stay out of reach from the “Midas touch of Tech” that’s felt throughout the new Seattle.
One such restaurant that’s poised to make inroads in the Chinatown-International District is the Hood Famous Café and Bar—although, it would be more fair to describe it as a homecoming. Owner/Chef Chera Amlag and her husband/business partner Geo Quibuyen spent many of their formative years in the C-ID and after the success of their Hood Famous Bakeshop in Ballard, they are branching out to open their new café in their old stomping grounds. These pastry experts provide the city with one of the most unique dessert operations around. The Ballard bakery is known (some would argue “hood famous”) for Filipino-inspired delicacies like ube cheesecake and other Filipino-influenced baked concoctions. The new and recently opened Hood Famous Café and Bar in the C-ID features those distinctly unique baked treats, but now providing actual seats, coffee, and even more goodies from their extensive menu.
However, it’s important to frame the Hood Famous Café as not a mere addition to the Chinatown-International District, but a homecoming of the Seattle and Filipino cultures that were once one and the same. According to Anton—the Barista Lead and Trainer in Hood Famous Café, “There used to be a lot more of Filipino presence and Filipino owned businesses in the C-ID. Now the Hood Famous Café is the first one in a while and it’s still the only one.”
In the last decade or so, many U.S. cities have undergone their own renaissance and Seattle is certainly no stranger to this cyclical change of city dynamics. From the Alaskan gold rush in the mid-19th century, the Lumber boom at the turn of the century, the WWII boom of Boeing creating planes for the war effort, to the dot com boom in the 90s, Seattle has had many phases of boom to bust to boom again economies. No city or neighborhood is immune from it. Pioneer Square was where all the frontiersman hung out before seeking their fortune in the Yukon. Now it’s host to several office buildings—many of which contain Fortune 500 companies. Historical Ballard catered to many longshoreman and fisherman of the area. Now it’s thriving local beer scene has created many craft and microbreweries. The Chinatown-International District is now experiencing its own version of this process.
While these seemingly whiplash-inducing changes can feel abrupt to longstanding residents of any neighborhood, they shouldn’t be viewed as the end of an era but the beginning of a new one. After only opening a mere two months ago, Hood Famous Café is thriving and showing no signs of slowing down. Even it’s opening alone has inspired many longtime Filipino residents to frequent the café with fervent regularity. It’s seen more as a community center with families and grandparents than just a straight up café business. It’s doing so well that later this year they’re looking to add a full bar menu with Filipino inspired cocktails and liqueurs sourced from authentic Filipino ingredients. It’s nothing short of impressive from the only focused coffee shop in the C-ID.
After all, Hood Famous is only returning to their Filipino-Seattle historical and cultural roots. Much like an expertly baked cake, the form and construction has been trite and true for centuries. It’s only the ingredients that lend itself to reinvention. A tasty cheesecake will always be tasty, no matter what goes inside of it before it’s baked.
If you want to check out other new and awesome restaurants making a splash in the C-ID, take a peek at this new restaurant list on Likewise.