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'Plate Of Nations' Highlights Rainier Valley As Cultural Melting Pot

Mark Arehart
Tina Gashe is the owner of Cafe Ibex. It's one of 14 restaurants participating in the Plate of Nations.

What if you could try food from around the world by driving down just one street? Several South Seattle restaurants along Martin Luther King Jr. Way have banded together to launch “Plate of Nations” — a dining event designed to highlight the cultural richness of Rainier Valley.

Head south on Martin Luther King Way into Rainier Valley and you’ll see dozens of restaurants.

Sarah Valenta helped organize the sixth annual “Plate of Nations.” “We have Vietnamese, Chinese, Cantonese, Japanese, Lao and Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian, Eritrean,” Valenta said.

She said Rainier Valley is full of hidden gems.

“We’re seen as, if anything, where they drive through to get to the airport or take a light rail through to get to the airport, and there are places to stop and have some fabulous and authentic and unique food,” Valenta said.

According to the MLK Business Association the valley is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the country, with over 90 different languages spoken.

Participating restaurants offer special menus for the two-week event, including Foo Lam, which serves up traditional Chinese food in the Othello neighborhood.

Ping Ma said she sees an uptick in business and a lot of times those new customers come back.

“They say, “Oh, yeah next time I come I’ll try other stuff. I’ll try this, I’ll try that.” Yeah, they want to try,” Ma said.

A few miles north on MLK is Café Ibex, a traditional Ethiopian eatery. Owner Tina Gashe stood over a stove mixing several simmering dishes.

“I cook everything like spinach, yellow beans, beef and fresh coffee,” Gashe said.

She said the passport event has brought customers in from Spokane, Olympia, and Portland.

Some items found on menus include whole deep-fried catfish, Kahlua bread pudding, Halal roasted goat, and a variety of dim sum dishes which are some of Sarah Valenta’s favorites.

“And what better way to experience a culture than through food. I mean we all love that and that tends to bring people together in any culture,” Valenta said.