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Seared hamachi at By Tae. (Image: Frank Guanco)

Award-winning Seattle lunch spot serves only 24 people a day, & it's gonna be your new fav

When it comes to lunch, you have a few options. Eat al desko with whatever leftovers you brought from home. Go to the nearest deli or salad bar, bring it back to the office and again, eat al desko. Or be awesome and go to Capitol Hill’s By Tae. Clear your lunch schedule and go to their counter in Chophouse Row and sign your name onto the list for lunch. Because you are about to discover your new favorite lunch spot in Seattle.

Before we get into why you should go to By Tae, let’s get it out of the way on HOW you go to By Tae. The location of this eight-seat sushi spot is tucked away in Chophouse Row. This counter was once home to a juicebar, but it took something like By Tae with its singular vision and voice to take hold. You’ll walk up and see a sign-up sheet with slots for each of the seatings. Sign up and you’re good to go. The sign-up sheet will be out each weekday morning (I'd recommend getting there before 9am) , when chef-owner, Sun Hong, and his wife, Erin, will be preparing for the day. There are three seatings at By Tae; 11:30am, 1pm, and 2:15pm. In those three seatings, there are eight seats per. So only 24 total slots for the day.

But in that contained capacity, something magical occurs. It’s like you’re at a lunch party amongst friends with Sun and Erin as your hosts. You’ll converse with your fellow seatmates; you’ll cheers and toast to any milestones or celebrations amongst the eight. And you’ll be in for a pretty delicious lunch through the lens of Sun’s history with food.

Here’s a by-the-numbers glance at what to expect from a lunch at By Tae. A few bites to get rolling and then three handrolls. All for $29. The drink list is small (I’d go with the makgeolli or sake). But that’s it. And you give into this as you’ll be in for quite the ride. Sun will converse and chat about what’s for lunch, his background and inspiration, all while he and Erin make you feel comfortable for what will probably be your new favorite lunch in Seattle.

During your lunch at By Tae, you’ll take in the sights, sounds, and smells. The board that lists out drinks and what’s on the menu for ‘Drinking Hour’; Sun’s version of happy hour where he’ll decide day-of if there will be a drinking hour (be in the know by following their Instagram), they’ll take out the counter seats and it’s a standing room party at By Tae with dope food and good drinks. Music is a part of the festivities. Sun is clearly a 90s kid as pop, hip-hop, and R&B are in constant rotation. Color Me Badd’s C.M.B. and UB40’s ‘Red Red Wine’ where on the loudspeakers one visit. And the smells. From the broth that could be bubbling for a dumpling soup, or the kimchi mung bean pancake to the seared scallops, or hamachi coming up in a handroll; your senses get in on the fun too. The three bites and three handrolls share a through line, but also diversity. You may get different parts of the loin of a tuna. You may get Sun’s Gyeran Jim (his Grandma’s speciality) that was sublime; it featured padron peppers, rice crackers, and hamachi collar. And when it comes to the rolls, you’ll get three distinct styles and rolls to hit the apex of your lunch. In a few of my visits, the rolls featured toro, negihama, tuna midloin, and seared scallops. The variety was a part of the experience and should make for a unique experience each time you go.

That’s the long of it. Here’s the short of it; go to By Tae. Unique and small places like this are vital to Seattle. They add color and dimension to our dining landscape. Where the vision is so specific and unique while executed with fun and personality that never takes itself too seriously. Get out of the house a few minutes early on your way to work, put your name on the list, block out your lunch hour and lean into what will be your new favorite lunch spot in Seattle. Don’t just take my word for it. The good people at Bon Appetit were so taken by it, they’ve featured By Tae a few months ago and noted it as a Top 50 Nominee for America’s Best New Restaurants of 2019 earlier this month.