As a writer, I’ve always been drawn to things that tell a story.
An old typewriter in a thrift store. A man with a heavy pack in a train station. A city like Federal Way. Crammed between all these other cities in this crowded state in constant flux, Federal Way could just be another one of those places that you pass through. It could be a few stoplights and a tangle of chain restaurants. It could be an impersonal gaggle of strangers who are just here when they’re not elsewhere.
But instead, Federal Way is magic.
The first few times I found myself in this city, it was with people smarter than I. People who saw this place for what it was and what it was going to be. People who wanted me to see it too. I found myself in strange restaurants with unusual names and menus that I didn’t understand. I found myself talking over counters with passionate people who had skills that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. I ate and I ate and I ate. Foods from far flung places that had their own histories and cultures built around them. Food with stories to tell. Somehow, I was lucky enough to get to tell some of those stories.
Here are a few of my favorites.
31840 Pacific Hwy. S., Federal Way, WA 98003
Koharu is to Washington Japanese food what Bowie is to knives. Old school, curated, salt of the earth type of food that has no rival, does no wrong. Every sauce is made in house, every dish poured over with care and affection by a man who has been making sushi since 1968. Sometimes I drive by other Japanese restaurants in other cities, and I look in the windows at all the people sitting at their tables and I think, “what are you doing in there? Don’t you know about Koharu?” The only logical answer is: no, you don’t.
Well, now you do. Try the Chirashi bowl.
East India Grill
31845 Gateway Center Blvd. S., Federal Way, WA 98003
Steam rising off the buffet and the smell of Indian cooking spices like a pheromone in the air. East India Grill has the goods and you most certainly want them. However, this restaurant doesn’t just have heart-fluttering food (although it does have that). It also has Kabal Gill, a self-made, belly laughing man, who fought his way through this country’s toughest times and places and brought with him every lesson and recipe that he picked up along the way.
Try the vegetable pakoras.
Pimienta Bistro and Bar
34029 Hoyt Road SW, Federal Way, WA 98023
Pimienta, all by itself in the dark like a lighthouse on a stormy night. There are no gimmicks to this place. No views of the water or other attractions nearby. Just Pimienta, churning out crazy high-end delicacies, drawing ships to its glow. Blanca Rodriguez makes this all possible, pouring her years of skill and experience into making traditional South American food with a twist. Walk past the gas station, shut the door on the traffic sounds and let yourself slide slowly into a world of reclaimed wood and flickering candles. A world of soft Latin music and food you won’t forget.
Try the Paella Valenciana.
Mi Bella Honduras
29500 Pacific Hwy. S. j, Federal Way, WA 98003
The owner, Wendy Suazo, immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras when she was 16. She sold baleadas from a street cart in the Bronx until she made enough money to buy this place, here, in our city. Her food is home cooking. Grandma in the kitchen, two-stepping to a song in her head over a stockpot. Oxtail, tortillas, fried plantains and magic.
Try the baleadas.
2200 S. 320th St., Federal Way, WA 98003
Toppokki Pocha specializes in unbridled weirdness. Eggs and blood sausage rolling in a pot of broth, breaking the ramen noodles apart, spitting heat up into the rafters. Korean hot-pot that will set you right, whether you’re on a lunch break or just staggering in with last night’s pants on and a hint of spin in your cerebellum. With the amount of crazy delicious Korean food in Federal Way, it can be hard to find anything different. This is different.
Try the blood sausage.
Kellen Burden is a local novelist and lunch enthusiast. More of his work can be found at goatfederation.com.