Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Ask any expat what their favorite part of going home is and they will most likely say “the food.” If they don’t, they’re lying. (Unless they say “free babysitting by the grandparents,” in which case they are probably telling the truth. Of course, they’ll most likely go out to eat with that spare time, which takes us right back to food.)

And so it is that whenever Fernando flies back to Seattle for work the first thing I ask him when he returns—salivating all the while—is “where did you eat?” And when Luca and I get to join him, I start my trip planning by listing all the places I want to eat. (And in case you think it’s ONLY about the food, once I know where I want to go, I make a list of the people I will invite to join me.)

Photo by Casey Lee on Unsplash Photo by Casey Lee on Unsplash

We just returned from our most recent trip and at least in this respect, it was no different than any other. There were some new-to-us places that we wanted to go, but there were also a few places that we always want to go. And some specific dishes that we absolutely have to eat every time we go back.

So what are those dishes, you ask? They aren’t the things that Seattle is known for. As much as we love the salmon in Seattle, I don’t think we had it once during our most recent trip. Nor did we get any teriyaki, Seattle’s famous homegrown “Asian” specialty.  Instead, we indulged in these less well-known, but just as enticing, dishes.

Tom’s Big Breakfast at Lola

If you’ve ever been to Seattle, you’ve probably heard of Tom Douglas. I like to think of him as Seattle’s original celebrity chef, a James Beard award winner who currently has 16 restaurants in the city (along with a cooking school, event facility, and nearby farm). Once upon a time, I told visitors to the city to go to Etta’s or Dahlia Lounge for some typical (and delicious) Northwest seafood, but now I’m all about Lola.

For the last five years that we lived in Seattle we were fortunate enough to live right across the street from this gem, making it our go to spot for weekend breakfast.  And our go-to dish? Tom’s Big Breakfast (currently named “Tom’s Favorite Breakfast,” but old timers that we are, we continue to stubbornly call it “Tom’s Big Breakfast”). Although the full list of ingredients changes monthly with the seasons, the heart of the dish stays the same: octopus, yogurt, and poached eggs. Some months the veggies are better than others, but we’ve never regretted ordering Tom’s Big Breakfast.

Muhammara at Mamnoon

Photo by Mamnoon Photo by Mamnoon

When Mamnoon first opened five years ago, it was THE place to go. Opened by techies with no restaurant background, it was named Seattle’s restaurant of the year in 2013, an honor it very much deserved.

I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad dish at Mamnoon, but one appetizer stands out above all else: the Muhammara, a walnut pomegranate “hummus” that is absolutely to die for. We love it so much that we were devastated that they did not include it on the menu at the Mamnoon Street that opened up near our old condo. (Are you listening Mamnoon? I know that Mamnoon Street is just supposed to be a casual falafel place but add the Muhammara to your menu and I promise you will see your sales explode. Or at least you would have when we lived there.)

Pho at Than Brothers

Seattle has so many pho restaurants I wouldn’t dare try to say that one was the “best.” But I have no hesitation in naming my favorite: Than Brothers.

My love for Than Brothers’ enormous bowls of pho began in college, when slurping up the noodles at their location on the Ave was a Friday night treat. Dinner at Than Brothers is perfect for college students. After all, where else can you get a bowl of soup big enough to bathe a dog in AND dessert (each bowl comes with a cream puff) for under $10?

Than Brothers isn’t just for college students, though. The soul-warming soup is my favorite thing to eat when I have a cold, and grabbing a bowl for Sunday lunch was a regular part of our routine for years.

I didn’t really appreciate Than Brothers until we moved to Europe, though. I didn’t think finding reasonably good pho would be an issue, especially in the Czech Republic where Vietnamese make up the third largest ethnic minority in the country. But the pho there just isn’t the same. The noodles are too wide and the broth is usually pretty weak. Every time the craving hit, we’d try a new place only to come back a little disappointed.

After our experience in Prague, we haven’t really tried to find a good pho place in Oslo. But that means that when we go back to Seattle—sick or not—a big bowl of soup is a must.

What are your favorite (even if not “typical”) things to eat where you live?  

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