How Seven Stars Pepper Transformed Seattle’s Chinese Food Scene

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After two decades of enticing Seattle diners to eat more spicy pickled cabbage, hot fondue and hand-shaved noodles, Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan restaurant last closed its doors in February. For those familiar with the bright buzz of Sichuan peppercorns, it was inaugurated in 2001 as one of the first and best places in town to rekindle their love for it. For those less familiar with non-Cantonese Chinese cuisine or Chinese cuisine in general, the bright lights, friendly service and sweet options quickly won them over, giving the rest of the lengthy menu a chance to grow. And, along with creating a city of Sichuan food lovers, Seven Stars has laid the foundation for a Sichuan food scene in Seattle that now punches above its weight.

Seattle has locations of major international Sichuan hotpot chains, like Hai Di Lao, and was one of the early outposts of Southern California’s Chengdu Taste, widely considered one of the best restaurants of the country’s Sichuan, both opening in 2020. But many local restaurants in Sichuan show a more direct connection to the revolutionary place: when original chef Cheng Biao Yang and co-owner Hoang Ngo opened and then sold restaurants, they left a trail of kitchens, many of which were sold to employees or family, serving up the dishes fans already loved.

Yang had cooked in Sichuan for 20 years before opening his first restaurant in Seattle. And in 2002, within six months of opening the short-lived original location in North Seattle, Seattle Times Restaurant reviewer Providence Cicero called it “Greenwood’s hot new option” and fellow food writer Nancy Leson declared it her “favorite new Chinese find”. Less than two years later, it moved to 12th and Jackson, establishing one of the most powerful culinary corners in Seattle restaurants.

Cookbook author Hsiao-Ching Chou, in her former role as food editor of the Seattle P.I.praised Seven Stars Pepper in an article that primarily asked people to go to Vancouver to eat Chinese, saying that this and Jade Garden “give me hope that the level of Chinese cuisine in Seattle will reach a new standard”.

In an interview with Eater Seattle, Chou said Seven Stars Pepper was one of his three “sub-offices” at the time. “I used to bring visiting foodies there for hand shaved noodles, green beans and pork with spicy tofu,” she says. “People always left with full bellies and nostalgia that they didn’t live closer.” (Although Leson points out that one of the things she – and a lot of people – liked about the restaurant’s location in the Ding How Mall was that there was parking for those who didn’t live closer.)

Seven Stars Pepper’s now closed space in the Ding How Center in Little Saigon.
Jade Yamazaki Stewart / Eater Seattle

Hand shaved noodles were a big selling point for the Seattle radio personality and podcast host your last meal, Rachel Belle too. “This is the dish that has kept me coming back year after year,” she says of the thick, chewy, irregularly shaped noodles. “There was no better noodle dish in town.”

A few years after that first article mentioning Seven Stars Pepper, Chou wrote a second, noting a difference Seven Stars was making in the culinary scene — large groups of white people eating dishes beyond what she calls “old stereotypical devotees”. She says the experience has been encouraging. “If people don’t know more about traditional Chinese cuisine, especially in restaurants, they are at least more open to it. I think this is the first.

Perhaps the answer was both: Seven Stars was one of the first Sichuan restaurants in Seattle and continued to attract many Sichuan food-seeking diners, but it also left a legacy of cuisine. , helping it grow throughout the city. Leson recalls Yang’s “revealing cooking,” but also Ngo’s warmth and the symbiotic way the two ran a restaurant, and it shows even long after leaving a location. When Yang and Ngo sold the Greenwood location, an employee bought it and opened the Szechuan Bistro, which served an almost identical menu until it was burned down by the Greenwood arsonist in 2009. But by then, Yang and Ngo had long since moved on, selling Seven Stars and ran Bellevue’s Szechuan Chef in 2006, then repeated the process with Spicy Talk in Redmond in 2010. Ngo remained at Spicy Talk, with the Yang’s brother as chef, moving the restaurant to Kirkland in 2018. Chef Szechuan and Spicy Talk remain open today.

Seven Stars Pepper does not. Last November, the first bad news came with an article in the Seattle Times, with owners Michael Creel and Yong Hong Wang saying that between a recent shooting and ongoing burglaries, they couldn’t stay open. In mid-February, the city did a sweep to clean up what Time called “an open-air drug market”, but it was too late to help Seven Stars Pepper, which had already shut down. “First, the complaints were that he was gentrified,” notes Leson of the Neighborhood. “Now it’s just the opposite.”

The historic location, overlooking one of the largest intersections in Seattle’s Chinatown, is now empty. After her split from Ngo, Yang opened Country Dough at Pike Place Market in 2015, which closed temporarily, then permanently, during the pandemic. It was replaced in 2021 by Seattle Dumpling Co., owners of Mount & Bao of Lake City. So while a scene behemoth is gone, you can still get Sichuan dandan noodles inside the city’s most iconic culinary attraction, a fitting gesture of Seattle’s love for the dish. and a sign of the mark Seven Stars Pepper left in Seattle.

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