As soon as you step off the water taxi at Seacrest Park, Marination Ma Kai is directly in front of you, slightly to the right. It’s hard to miss since it’s the only building on the dock. The two women (Kamala Saxton, who hails from Hawaii, and Roz Edison) responsible for this restaurant first began business with Marination Mobile, which in 2009 was named by Good Morning America as the best food truck in America and then followed by a succession of praise from the local media and even a plug from Anthony Bourdain. The mobile truck has had a fanatical following since its inception. Marination Station soon followed in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, a brick-and-mortar operation that presumably came about because Seattle’s strict regulations made it difficult to run a food truck operation there. Marination Ma Kai is the third and latest undertaking in the mini-empire. Incidentally, ma kai (makai) is the Hawaiian word for “toward the ocean” when giving directions (mauka meaning “toward the mountain”), no doubt a reference to the restaurant’s location.
The food served by all three can be loosely described as Hawaiian-Korean-Mexican fusion. Think, for example, of Korean tacos, a version of which was made famous in the LA area by Kogi. Marination fills their corn tortillas with a choice of kalbi, miso-ginger chicken, spicy pork or tofu, along with slaw, pickled jalapeños and their special, commercially available Nunya sauce. There is also Kimchi Quesadilla and fish tacos featuring grilled miso-sake fish and Nunya sauce. You get the picture.
Marination Ma Kai has a breakfast menu that none of the other outlets offers, which we partook of as soon as we arrived in West Seattle in the morning.
Situated on the pier, Marination has a spectacular view of the Seattle skyline to the east. There are plenty of park picnic tables outside to enjoy the view and take in warm, sunny weather. Inside there is seating for more people, including a bar facing the south-facing windows. Customers place their orders at the counter, given portable wireless alerts, and pick up their orders when ready.
Awesome is the word for the Double Coconut Muffins (☆☆☆☆). Served warm, they were tender on the inside, nicely browned on the top, insanely buttery and filled with generous shreds of coconut, an outstanding muffin.
Since we’re not loco moco fans, the two remaining savory choices were Sunrise Burrito and Breakfast Sliders. Rolled inside the burrito (☆☆½) were Portuguese sausage, scrambled egg, potatoes, green onions and crema. The sausage is housemade. Unlike typical Portuguese sausage, it isn’t dry but rather like a crumbled patty, which had a hint of clove flavor. While my wife didn’t care for the kimchi addition, I thought it added a distinct Korean/Hawaiian stamp. We both agreed that the crema, which seemed like a variation of Nunya sauce, made the burrito too wet. A wedge of lime came with the burrito, which to us added too much acidity. Still, it was an innovative burrito.
The same Portuguese sausage was used for the Breakfast Sliders (☆☆☆), sandwiched between Hawaiian-style housemade sweet buns that were not as sweet as King’s. Shredded Cheddar and Jack cheese, fried egg and Nunya sauce completed the ingredients in this rather good breakfast sandwich.
Exactly what is Nunya sauce, you ask? Marination will not reveal all of its ingredients, outside of mayo, kojuchang and garlic. What other spices are used is a closely guarded secret, as in “nunya business.” You can purchase the sauce in jars though as well as T-shirts and undies.
In the afternoon, while waiting for the water taxi back to Pier 50, we decided to have a shave ice (☆☆) from Marination. Two problems. The ice was too crunchy, not shaved finely enough—a snow-like quality that defines the best Hawaiian shave ice—and passion fruit and mango syrups that were timidly fruity, making this the equal of any other shave ice we’ve had locally, namely, meh. Why can’t anyone do this right? For starters, you have to have the right ice machine. Still, the ice cold refreshment hit the spot after a long day of walking around in rather warm, humid weather.
Marination Ma Kai
1660 Harbor Ave SW