SEAReview

photo credit: Nate Watters

Onibaba image
8.5

Best New Restaurants

2023

Onibaba

Japanese

International District

$$$$Perfect For:LunchCasual Weeknight DinnerDining Solo
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Life moves fast, and our snacks move fast with us. One of those snacks is onigiri, a stuffed rice ball sold in Japan at convenience stores or even vending machines. And while Seattle's mini-marts have more hot dogs than tuna-pumped rice parcels, we have Onibaba, a small Japanese restaurant in the International District that specializes in onigiri. The kicker: Onibaba isn’t a rushed grab-and-go situation at all. In fact, this excellent sit-down spot encourages us to slow down and stay a while. 

For the past 30 years, this space used to be Tsukushinbo, one of the best sushi counters in Seattle. Now, it’s owned by the same team, and that warm feel has been preserved in the dining room. Only a handful of tables fit, but it isn’t cramped. A remixed Ed Sheeran song plays from the kitchen, steaming bowls of salmon ochazuke parade past, and plates of neatly arranged onigiri are the centerpieces on every table. 

Onibaba image

photo credit: Nate Watters

Onibaba image
Onibaba image

photo credit: Nate Watters

Onibaba image

photo credit: Nate Watters

Onibaba image

photo credit: Nate Watters

Onibaba image
Onibaba image
Onibaba image
Onibaba image
Onibaba image

Even though you’ll find nods to Tsukushinbo’s old menu by way of pan-seared pork gyoza and silky curry udon noodles, the menu is dominated by onigiri. There’s a whole section dedicated to over 20 different kinds. Soy-marinated egg has a yolk jammy enough to tame a cowlick. Honey-laced mayo drizzled on shrimp tempura crunches with a crispy tail that pokes through the seaweed. Spicy cod roe provides a kick cooled down by pillowy rice. The grilled ones are great too, like shoyu butter yaki onigiri topped with a pat of butter that melts through crackly grains like candle wax. A trip to Onibaba isn't complete without an order of these glistening three-sided masterpieces.

We like Onibaba best at lunchtime, and that’s partially because there’s usually a long wait after 5pm, and because there aren’t many casual lunch spots as special as this. Forget convenience—at Onibaba, you can take a beat to enjoy fantastic Japanese food while exercising your right to have an extra-long midday meal. That business plan for food vending machines on every corner can wait.

Food Rundown

Gyoza

Gyoza is a mandatory appetizer order. The plump filling drips with pork juices, and each dumpling has a golden lacy pan-seared crust. They're some of the best in town.
Onibaba image

Ajitama Onigiri

This onigiri is stuffed with a jammy egg cut in half. And while logistically it is one of the more difficult onigiri to eat (as in, the egg can fall out) it is very tasty, and a great non-fish option.

Ebi Ten Onigiri

Even when tightly wrapped in warm rice, this teriyaki-glazed shrimp tempura stays crisp. Don't overthink it, just make sure this hits the table.
Onibaba image

photo credit: Nate Watters

Shoyu Butter Yaki Onigiri

We wouldn’t be surprised if Keebler elves were working in the kitchen to inject smoky soy-sauced butter into each grain of rice. It’s Onibaba’s (and possibly the elves’) best work.
Onibaba image

photo credit: Nate Watters

Cheese Yaki Onigiri

Onibaba’s second-best contribution to society is this rice ball filled with gooey cheese, while the outside—topped with more cheese—is torched to create a buttery crust.

Yasai Ochazuke

If you need a soul-warming dish that feels like a holiday Hallmark movie in food form, get this soothing vegetarian ochazuke—it’s a dashi hot spring with rice, pickled mustard greens, shiso leaf, and edamame.
Onibaba image

photo credit: Nate Watters

Curry Udon

This planter-pot-sized bowl of sinus-clearing Japanese curry and chewy udon noodles is something we want to eat every day, even though it’s so scalding hot that our mouths could benefit from a cold compress. Worth it.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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