Chef Rhabbie Coquia has been working in Seattle’s restaurants for almost 20 years: making clam chowder as sous chef at Etta’s, grilling New York steaks as the executive chef at Purple Cafe Seattle, and most recently, simmering gumbo as the chef at Parish Northwest in Ballard. But in all of the restaurants he worked in, Coquia never professionally cooked the food he ate growing up in Manila, salty, sour, dishes packed with the bold flavors of chilis and fermented shrimp paste — until now.
His restaurant Bunsoy opened on the corner of NW Market Street and Ballard Avenue NW on February 11. Coquia says the restaurant, owned by Tommy Patrick and John Slagle, the owners of Parish Northwest and The Ballard Cut, is focused on dishes his family cooked for him, with some French techniques and elements of Asian cuisines he picked up working in Seattle restaurants along the way thrown in the mix. The restaurant’s name comes from the Filipino word for the youngest child in the family, which Coquia’s mother used as a term of endearment for him as a child. The ingredients are mainly from local farms, ranches and fisheries, with much of the produce and seafood coming from the Ballard Farmers Market.
“This is a home for me. The food is just what I grew up with,” he says. “It really makes me kind of teary when I come in; now I’m really cooking the food that I love.”
The menu features snacks like isaw — grilled meat on sticks — with chicken, pork, and mushroom options, served with Filipino barbecue sauce and spicy vinegar, as well as two types of lumpia, one made with vegetables, and the other, with cheese and pork. Coquia also makes two types of Spam-like ham from scratch, which he serves atop vinegared rice as musubi and in a fried rice dish with carrots and scallions. Larger plates include oxtail kare kare, salmon sinigang, and half or whole Dungeness crabs covered with a balaw sauce (made with fermented shrimp and coconut butter) and strewn with fresh herbs. The French technique is evident in Coquia’s adobo dish — made with duck confit instead of the regular pork or chicken.
The restaurant space, which was formerly occupied by The Matador before it moved down the street, has a wide-open dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s decorated with palms in pots and has a long bar where diners can sip cocktails with Southeast Asian flavors like calamansi, pandan, ube, tamarind, and various tropical fruits.
The idea for Bunsoy started in 2020, when Coquia was working at Parish Northwest, and the restaurant started serving meals for staff at the end of dinner service. When Coquia asked Patrick what to make, he told him to “just make what you’d make for yourself at home.” So Coquia made lugaw, Filipino rice porridge with chicken, egg, pork, and tofu, a dish Patrick loved so much he said he could eat it every day.
In March 2021, Musang’s Melissa Miranda (who Coquia calls a friend and mentor) invited the chef to do a pop-up at her restaurant. Patrick says Coquia “objectively killed it the entire way through.” He announced right then, in front of Coquia’s family, that the chef would lead his next restaurant.
Patrick says it’s gratifying to help Coquia open his namesake restaurant on arguably the most visible corner in Ballard; the two other new high-profile Filipino restaurants in Seattle, Musang and Archipelago, are both in South Seattle. Patrick says he’s working out a plan to help Coquia become a co-owner of Bunsoy. They want the restaurant to be a force for good in Ballard, both for the community and employees. The pair plan to donate to the Ballard Food Bank and other community organizations in the future, and they cover 75 percent of their employees’ health, vision, and dental insurance.
Next month, Coquia plans to add a late-night menu with more isaw — including offal like chicken heart and chicken liver — as well as lumpia and other snacks that will be available until 1 a.m. The menu will shift seasonally, and Coquia might even add balut — partially incubated duck embryo — to the menu soon.