Photo by Anna Erickson
Irbille Donia has a lot going on. Locally, the cook and entrepreneur is known as part of the Seattle Kraken Congee pop-up and the Lahi Filipino pop-up, in addition to his job as line cook at Aragona. Nationally he is now recognized as one of the successful participants in CNBC’s Restaurant Startup, where he won financial backing for Kraken Congee. So what does he do with his imagined spare time?
Best Romantic RestaurantI have to say I don’t have one. That stuff is really not my style. I did work at this one restaurant in Eastlake that’s always voted as best romantic restaurant, but dim lights where I can barely read the menu scare me. I almost feel like these joints are dimming the lights to hide something in my food. I say this jokingly, but there is truth to that.
Best Place to Indulge/Overeat/SlumIndulging is my thing to do. Let’s be frank: I’m a big guy with a big appetite. Really no matter where I go, if the food is awesome I’m indulging. I would have to give a shout-out, though, to two joints that go in tandem, one of which is unfortunately now closed: Dot’s Delicatessen and Paseo. In the Fremont area they were across the street from one another. I live in Beacon Hill, so if I’m making my way there, I’m paying homage to both. Dot’s did an awesome porchetta sandwich on sourdough with a sweet slaw that I loved. Then I would run across the street and grab that famous Caribbean with pork. Not to say I don’t want the pork (which is fantastic), but the sandwich doesn’t need it when the star for me is the onions. #yum! Oh, by the way, there’s also one place to go to for late-night dim sum: Harbour City in the International District! That joint speaks “You want this, Phat boy!”
Best Underrated RestaurantFor me, Green Leaf. That food is more than the typical Vietnamese dishes you see around town.
Best Place to Send an Out-of-Town FriendRevel/Joule, to taste the dope twist of Korean and French influences. Rachel and Seif are local heroes to a style of cuisine that just speaks to my Filipino immigrant/American upbringing. It’s the perfect melting pot of flavor and style.
Best Pike Place Market Food StallThe Oriental Mart. Tita Lei and her family are trailblazers for us as one of, if not the first, Filipino entrepreneurs in Seattle. That stall is your quintessential Filipino mini-mart. Buy some soap, buy some clothes, buy some FOOD. The traditional turo-turo
(point point) street-food stall has all the classics of one-pot mastery, like adobo and sinigang fish collars fresh off the boat. No pun intended.
Best Dish in SeattleThere is this little shop on the second floor of this Asian strip mall on MLK which I can’t pronounce, but I feel it’s the best bowl of pho with meatballs in town. No bells or whistles, but you can find me there every other day, even in the heat waves of Seattle summers. I’ll sweat it out, no problem.
Best AmbienceHas to be Revel. You walk in and notice that beautifully long butcher-block table as the chefs do their dance to plate up your meal. To the right is a big, bright, sparkling art piece of Macho Man Randy Savage, and Drake is blasting on the speakers. The whole style and vibe is bright, upbeat, and unassuming as they assault your palate with explosive flavors.
Best BarWant to know what bar you can find me in? Just listen for the Hawaiian reggae jams at Ohana in Belltown. The drinks are cheap and so is the food. You can pretty much see me there with friends just having a good time. It’s nothing but love, so if you see me, say hello and let’s toast. By the way, the karaoke there is dope; there are some serious talents that get on that mike.
Best New RestaurantNone other than Aragona. I had the honor to help open the place with an amazing team of chefs. It was an awe-inspiring experience to open and in such a short amount of time make the James Beard long list of nominations. That was a great accomplishment for us. For the first time in my career I cooked, tasted, learned what it meant to cook at the highest level. Learning an amazing array of techniques to create flavor and the attention to detail each ingredient is given was so eye-opening. I have never worked with so many talented people, both front and back of house. I’m excited to watch them continue to grow and represent for the Northwest.
Best Locally Produced Must-Have Picnic StapleSummertime sunshine means picnic/barbecue time! When I think of that, there is one item that I have to have with me: longanisa. The place to get it is just across the street from where I live on Beacon Hill right on the corner of Beacon Avenue South and South Columbian Way, Fou Lee Market. It’s the Filipino one-stop shop—not that big joint in the mall which I’m not even going to name. Fou Lee makes their own sausage that brings the islands to me. Boil it, fry it, grill it. There is nothing like that sweet Filipino spiced sausage. Being just across the way, you can find me there every other day.
Read all of our picks for Food & Drink, and explore the rest of this year’s edition of Best of Seattle.