Seattle Teriyaki - Gastro Obscura
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Prepared Foods

Seattle Teriyaki

This once-ubiquitous fusion dish is fading into obscurity.

For many native Seattleites, teriyaki captures the taste of childhood. In 1976, Toshihiro Kasahara opened up the first Seattle-style teriyaki joint, which sold hot slices of saucy chicken, grilled until slightly charred, served atop a bed of white rice. He slathered the bird in a sweet-savory brown sauce, accompanied by a scoop of crisp, vinegary slaw. To the uninitiated, the combination offered something new yet familiar, thanks to the dish’s comforting similarities with American picnic food.

Kasahara’s model quickly inspired thousands of imitations and competitors across the United States. Teriyaki—a combination of the Japanese words for “shine” or “glaze” and “grilled” or “boiled”—became a buzzword representing cheap, filling, delicious fast food. Cooks used the term to denote a base with which they could add regional flair, including Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and Hawaiian ingredients.

Like the Northeast’s chow mein on a hamburger bun and the Midwest’s egg foo yung sandwich, Seattle’s once-ubiquitous teriyaki is a vestige of an era no longer present in the contemporary food scene. Now reputed for regional seafood and seasonal produce, the city leaves little room for homely, unadorned dishes. Lacking the status of national fast-food chains and the allure of authentic Japanese food, teriyaki shops have been quietly shutting their doors.

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