Seattle Is A Hot Spot For Delicious Teriyaki

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the United States is the cuisine that each state is known for, with neighbors of any given area arguing over where to find the best version of a city's signature dish. South Philly is all about cheesesteaks, with a longstanding rivalry between Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's Steaks. Across the country, a different dish reigns supreme: Seattle is a hot spot for delicious teriyaki.

Known for its rainy weather, Seattleites are often in need of comfort food, and they often head to their neighborhood chicken teriyaki joint, where they can enjoy chargrilled chicken coated in a sweet and smoky teriyaki sauce. The tender chicken is usually thinly sliced and served with steamed white rice, a vinegar-based coleslaw, and a side of teriyaki dipping sauce, served in a white Styrofoam takeout container. 

This inexpensive meal is as popular amongst college students in the city's U District, home to the University of Washington, as it is in the city's affluent Broadmoor neighborhood. While traditional teriyaki is a Japanese cooking style of creating grilled meat lacquered with sauce, the type of chicken teriyaki served in Seattle is decidedly American.

The history of teriyaki in Seattle

Seattle hosts one of the country's largest Japanese populations, influencing the city's fast-casual dining scene. The prevalence of teriyaki in Seattle is credited to Toshi Kasahara, a Japanese immigrant who introduced teriyaki to the city in 1976. Kasahara sold chicken teriyaki platters for $1.85 near the city's iconic Space Needle. Still in business today, with various locations dotting the city, Toshi's original chicken teriyaki meal is now $12.

While teriyaki is the area's signature dish, most restaurants serve other proteins like beef and salmon, plus an eclectic mix of dishes like gyoza and donuts. For those who don't want to sit and eat, teriyaki is also found on a bun. Although you can't miss the dozens of casual spots serving this beloved dish, upscale restaurants that also feature teriyaki, with steakhouses basting expensive cuts of meat with the popular condiment. Seattle Mariners fans can even choose between a traditional ballpark frank and chicken teriyaki at T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field). Both are delicious with the stadium's garlic fries.

Before you dig in, know that Japanese-style teriyaki sauce is less sweet and thinner than Seattle's version. It is made with soy sauce, sake, and mirin (Japanese sweet wine). In contrast, Seattle's teriyaki sauce is usually sweet and thick. It carries influence from Korean immigrants, like John Chung, who run most of the teriyaki kitchens today. White sugar, garlic, and ginger are often added to the umami-rich marinade, thickened with cornstarch or even peanut butter.

Other teriyaki gems in Seattle

If you are headed to Seattle, there are many other delicious teriyaki joints in almost every neighborhood, but a few are particularly worth seeking out. You would be remiss if you didn't try the aforementioned OG, Toshi's Teriyaki Grill. After almost 50 years in business, customers are still raving about the food, calling the sauce "orgasmic" and the friendly staff "outstanding." Outside of Seattle, you can find Toshi's products at select California farmer's markets, or order its famous teriyaki sauce online to make dishes at home.

For a more modern approach to Seattle teriyaki with an "aloha vibe," head to Grillbird in West Seattle. Seattleite J.Kenji Lopez-Alt called Grillbird's juicy chicken and beef dishes "worth a trip if you're in the mood for something exceptional." Patrons can customize their meals from various proteins, sauces, cold salads, and Hawaiian-themed side dishes, with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

If you're looking for a place to linger over your delicious teriyaki and pick up a few groceries, try Choice Deli and Grocery. This mini-mart/liquor store in Ballard has been remodeled, adding dining tables for customers to enjoy spicy chicken teriyaki along with over 30 beers on tap. Its impressive menu includes Korean fried chicken, sandwiches, noodles, and combo platters, if you can't decide. Before you head home, you can shop for laundry detergent, chips, lottery tickets, and more. Bonus!