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(Image: Sunita Martini / Seattle Refined)

Hood Famous: Cafe by Day, Cocktails by Night

Hood Famous Cafe and Bar is located in the Chinatown - International District. Customers delight in the beautiful baked goods and desserts created by Chera Amlag, which features ingredients popular in the Philippines. Geo Quibuyen is Chera's partner in the biz and life. The husband and wife team first met as teens.

Quibuyen gave us the 411 on a few of the exotic flavors that they use, like calamenci (tarter than lime), coconut, and ube.

In fact, it was ube (a purple yam) that started their journey, in a sense. The year was 2013.

"I wanted to do an ube cheesecake," said Amlag. "I made the first one and it was disgusting."

"Yeah, it was not good - first two or three, sorry," chimed in Quibuyen. "He’s very real," said Amlag with a laugh.

At the time, she was working in education. But the self-taught pastry pro always loved baking.

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"I think I generally had an interest at a young age," she said. "I immigrated over her from the Philippines with my family. I never took it too seriously - and then we did the pop-ups - and then I had to get serious about learning the technicalities of baking. I just tested out a lot of New York style cheesecakes until I got a recipe that worked for me and then started incorporating the ube into that, serve that at the pop-up and it just took a life of its own after that."

Soon folks were clamoring for ube cheesecake. Uwajimaya started to carry it. The couple realized that it might be time to open their own place. They opened the first Hood Famous in Ballard. You may be wondering... what's with the name?

"I think it went from somewhat of a joke to play off of, you know in the food industry, we’re definitely poking fun at just the word 'famous' itself," said Quibuyen. "And we thought we’re definitely not on that level, I mean we’re 'hood famous' in the sense that people know who we are in this pocket and then just kind of went from there."

The 'hood' (as in 'neighborhood') is a big part of this bakery. Their newest location in the Chinatown International District (CID) has special significance.

"It's always had a personal special place in our hearts," said Amlag. "But also just historically, the Filipino-American experience in Chinatown International District has deep roots."

Even the structure they're in is special.

"We’re in a historical building. Upstairs would house small one room apartments that agriculture workers, migrant workers would come in, stop in Seattle as they are making their way from California to Alaska - and wait to get called on to go up to work the Alaskan canaries. And while they are waiting here, they are in the pool hall and the dance halls and this is the time they got to rest and hang out - build their own community."

Photos from that time are proudly displayed. It's a celebration of this neighborhood's past and present. The CID has been the heart of Seattle's Asian American communities for centuries. But for over the past decade, there's been a dearth of restaurants serving Filipino food - until now.

"There's a lot - it’s both historical, personal and it's also I think the one place in the city where we feel the most at home," said Amlag. "Especially in a neighborhood where our community has history and could potentially be erased in this generation or the next one."

"To claim this space through the vehicle of food and coffee and drinks means a lot," added Quibuyen.

Along with the amazing food, there's a new offering. In the evening, this location also serves cocktails. One of the house faves is a 'daiquiri with a twist' - it's made with ube syrup.

"It’s a simple syrup that just happens to have a little bit of ube flavor in it and (purple) color in it," explained Quibuyen - who loves handcrafting the drinks.

"Kind of like what we were talking about with Chera. She has it her way, I have it my way. This is one way where we get a full expression of both our personalities in one space."

At Hood Famous Cafe and Bar, Filipino food, culture and local history are celebrated. And savored.

Seattle Refined has been following Hood Famous from the start. Check out our other stories here and here.