One of Pike Place Market’s most beloved spots is getting some much-deserved recognition. The James Beard Foundation announced that Oriental Mart, the small Filipino lunch counter that has been a staple of the Market for decades, will be one of six recipients for its 2020 America’s Classics Award. The honor (introduced as a category in 1998) is given to local restaurants that have “timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of the community,” according to the Foundation.
Oriental Mart certainly fits the bill. The three generation, family-owned business first opened in 1971 as a grocery owned by Mila Apostol, who immigrated to Seattle with her husband and children from the Philippines. In 1987, Apostol’s daughter Leila Rosas (known as “Ate Lei”) decided to open an eatery adjacent to the grocery, with no menu, but plenty of sassy instructional signs for diners.
Since then, Rosas has been serving up wildly popular Filipino dishes using ingredients found in the store (now run by her sister, Joy Mori), and has become known for her salmon collar sinigang and her “Do You Trust Me Plate,” which is a smorgasbord of items dependent on whatever’s in season (or whatever she feels like cooking). She and the “O Mart” were also featured on a recent episode of “No Passport Required,” highlighting the area’s Filipino food scene.
Disclosure: Some Vox Media staff members are part of the voting body for the James Beard Awards.