On a gray, windy day, just off the main commercial strip in Columbia City, two of the Seattle hip-hop scene’s brightest stars are meeting at Vietnamese coffee shop Coffeeholics. On one side of the table you have Burien hometown hero Travis Thompson; on the other, gold-plated producing legend Jacob Brian Dutton, aka Jake One.
Both artists are storied creators in their own right. Thompson made his bones in the rap scene as a teenager hanging outside the Crocodile in Seattle, tagging in for stage time long before dropping much-beloved 2016 album Ambaum and penning tracks with the likes of G-Eazy. Dutton, a generation older than Thompson, was raised in Seattle cut his teeth at the University of Washington and went on to win a grammy with Mayer Hawthorne as one-half of Tuxedo. (He also produced the iconic entrance theme for John Cena.)
But Thompson and Dutton are linking up for more than a gustatory scavenger hunt. They’re joining forces for Wolves and White Tees, an album that drops on June 23 and taps blockbuster rapper Logic, Erick the Architect of Flatbush Zombies, Jay Worthy, and Paul Wall. But the two took a break from their busy production schedules for a South Seattle restaurant tour, and invited Eater Seattle along so we could see what the Reservation Dogs star and Drake-backed beatmaker eat when they’re dining out.
The mural of a hummingbird at Coffeeholics is fitting given the zippy, caffeine-loaded beverages on deck. The business opened during the pandemic and has gained a serious fanbase thanks to its Vietnamese-inspired coffee and highly-Instagrammable ube lattes. Both Thompson and Dutton opt for the Coffeeholic Dream, which has condensed milk and a layer of salted cheese on top. “It’s basically dessert,” Dutton says. It’s his go-to after dropping his daughter off at school or before hitting the golf course. While we’re here, a fan daps Thompson up for a pic, shouting out the emcee for his lyrics.
Strolling down the block, the artists hit up Columbia City Bakery, a local legend that keeps it piping hot with a litany of familiar favorites ranging from flaky croissants to thicc cinnamon buns. The outdoor parklet is the ideal place to discuss the pros and cons of the region’s art and what Seattle’s next generation of rappers might look like. Thompson points to rhyme-slayer Maika Million and the cooing 200paid for their powerful lyrics and confident flows.
The Boat is an aptly-named boat-shaped brunch restaurant at the intersection of Jackson Street and Rainier Avenue. One of the most-heralded new spots of 2022, it’s the latest hit from James Beard-nominated restaurateurs, which probably makes it sound fancier than it is. Beneath pink neon lights comes plates of chicken and waffles and tall glasses of coconut coffee with sprinklings of matcha powder. Dutton knows the move, though, which is to order the garlic chicken rice, joined by chrysanthemum salad and a cup of chicken broth. This is a weekly staple to nab between errands before returning to the beat laboratory.
The chicken’s skin rides the important line between sweet and savory, invoking the familiarity of crackling duck skin hanging in a dim sum parlor window. The rice and broth work as key wingmen, pun intended, adding liquid and roughage to the peanut-topped texture of the bird. For $18, this dish is the priciest on the tour, and it still feels like paying a buck for a chartered yacht ride across Lake Washington.
Next up is a trailer officially called The Best Roasted Corn Stand in White Center. Most just call it “the corn stand.” Thompson keeps coming here for the #2 and the #7, the Mexican and the Hot Cheetos renditions on the classic Mexican elote. The mangonada, a cup stuffed with chamoy, chili, and fruit, tastes like a box of Hot Tamales.
Buxx Teriyaki is as unassuming as they come. Behind a gas station on a wooded block beneath the highway, it’s almost hard to find the restaurant. That’s the secret, Thompson says: The teriyaki is alright, but this place is a master of familiar Chinese favorites. Think kung pao chicken and Mongolian beef at prices that would make most Seattleites swoon — heaving plates come in at $15. But the Mongolian beef’s decadent scallions and sumptuous, crispy white onions make the oft-phoned-in dish pop. It’s a lot like it was when he’d come here as a kid, mobbing over with his friends in tow. After all, Thompson says it’s those that stay consistent in both hip hop and food that get rewarded. “Just do what you know how to do,” Dutton adds. “The cream always rises to the top.”