After two years drawing long lines at Chophouse Row for its playful and inventive midday meals, By Tae is moving on. Chef Sun Hong and his wife Erin announced on Instagram that Friday, February 19, was the last day for the counter at the Capitol Hill location, and they are currently on the hunt for a new spot.
Ever since opening in 2019, By Tae gained a large following for Hong’s excellent (and often improvised) prix fixe lunch service, which the chef switched up regularly. Influences from Korea to Japan to Southern California (where Hong grew up) often found their way onto the menu, whether it was a twist on gyeran-jjim, mung bean pancakes with kimchi, hand rolls, or avocado mousse.
As befitting the operation’s ad hoc nature, there has never been an official website, nor any online reservation system at all. Just an Instagram page keeping followers informed on the newest offerings and a daily signup sheet posted early in the morning (reservations often filled up within minutes each day).
Affordability was an appealing aspect to the experience as well. For a long time, the price was set at a reasonable $25 for multiple courses (though raised slightly higher eventually). And diners got more than their money’s worth through Hong’s engaging repartee in which he’d regale guests with his thoughts on just about everything, including enthusiastic analysis of his all-time favorite movies.
In early 2020, Hong earned a James Beard Award semifinalist nod, and business continued to boom. Then, like everything else, COVID took its toll. After remaining closed for a time, By Tae picked back up for takeout later in the year, with a selection of sushi, bento boxes, and curries available sporadically.
But small chef’s counters in Seattle have been especially vulnerable to restrictions during the pandemic, even with indoor dining allowed (25 percent capacity means just a few people per seating). The Valencian fine dining restaurant Tarsan i Jane in Frelard gave takeout and meal kits a try for awhile, but eventually decided to close permanently in October; chef Perfecte Rocher moved back to Los Angeles with his family.
By Tae — which began as a pop-up at Pike Place’s esteemed Jarr Bar — hasn’t made progress on finding a new location yet. The two-person team is definitely staying in Seattle, but keeping an open mind on neighborhoods. No matter where it ends up, Hong’s go-with-the-flow style promises to remain. “We come with our hearts,” he tells Eater Seattle. “Then we approach the space and see how to ride it. Just like skateboarding.”