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Thursday, April 13, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Just Looking

Lake City: Seattle's drive-through neighborhood that's worth a stop

Special to The Seattle Times

If you go


Lake City

Where

Flava Coffee House. Open 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; closed Sundays. 12716-A Lake City Way N.E.; 206-306-0543.

Oriental Herbs. Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays (closed Sundays). 12712 Lake City Way N.E.; 206-367-9180.

Minoo Bakery. Open 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays; 12518 Lake City Way N.E.; 206-306-2229.

Fletcher's General Store. Open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; noon-5:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon-4:30 p.m. Sundays; call for hours on Mondays. 12317 Lake City Way N.E.; 206-364-4069.

More information

See the Lake City Chamber of Commerce Web site.

No doubt you've barreled right through Lake City countless times via Lake City Way, a route that invites barreling as it links the two ends of Seattle. From a moving car, Lake City doesn't look like much. A bit run down without succumbing to ruin, it's the municipal equivalent of Scarlett O'Hara after the fire, pinching her cheeks pink, wearing old curtains, defiant.

There's still life in "little old Lake City."

"We're getting a face-lift," says JoEllen McNeal, executive director of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce, "but the older traditions will remain, like Toyoda Sushi and Fletcher's General Store."

The facelift includes a new library that opened last year, and coming soon, the razing of half a city block to make way for new retail and living space.

Known for its down-home Pioneer Days parade and festival in August — recently updated to become the Lake City Summer Festival — as well as a farmers market that resumes May 18, Lake City has also become an international district, with African, Vietnamese, Iranian, Japanese and Chinese restaurants and shops.

You wouldn't know this unless you park the car (for free) and take a stroll, which I did, first spying an old-time barber shop. The striped pole was long stopped, a Civil Defense sticker yellowed on the window, and inside were the men, some in chairs, others standing.

This seemed like a safe place for men to go, away from commerce, women and children, all of which they likely love in their own way. But they also love to sit in the same cracked leather chair every week, grumble about political knuckleheads and be understood without having to spell it all out, if only while the barber takes the merest whiff of hair off the back and sides, if there is any hair at all.

As I peered in, one of the men turned and looked at me, a lady voyeur loitering on the sidewalk. I dropped my eyes and moved on. It would have been easy to mock this nostalgic bastion of maleness but hey, we all seek sanctuary. Why not in a barber shop?

Wide mix of offerings

Looking for the real Lake City, I slipped into Susan Roshi's Flava Coffee Shop. She's lived in the neighborhood for more than a decade and notes a decline over time. "We're trying to hang on here," she said, watching potential customers in cars speed past. "Some businesses are struggling but others are doing OK."

For local color, Roshi advised visiting a nearby store that sells Asian herbs and groceries. "There's a well-known acupuncturist there. People come from all over to see him," she said.

I smelled it before I saw it, and the sign confirmed it, reading, simply: Oriental Herbs. Shelves were stacked with what looked like jumbo-sized mayonnaise jars lying on their sides, Chinese script decorating the lids. The jars held 1,200 different herbs from China, brought here by the esteemed Dr. Yun Wang and his wife, Nancy. On the countertop, she laid out two rows of paper plates then dropped a handful of a bark-like material onto each. "It's for a customer," she said. "For tea."

The doctor received medical training in the 1970s at China's Qingdao Medical College, and got additional instruction when he came to this country. He now splits his time between teaching and seeing patients who, he said, come from all over. Even out of state.

With all due respect, I mentioned acupuncture was not for me because of my needle issues, bad childhood booster shots, very deep, but he just laughed, bringing out a sterile packet with a slender needle inside. With my nervous permission, he pushed up my sleeve and popped the needle into my arm. "You see?" he grinned. "No pain."

Right. No pain. Knee-shaking anxiety, but no pain.

Wang is pleased that the West is coming around to Chinese medicine, but he warns that people should not dabble in it. "Very powerful but very dangerous if not done right. Herbs are not always good," he said, plucking the needle from my arm. "Must be careful."

A bit of everything

Leaving the Orient behind, I crossed the street to Americana central, Fletcher's General Store, a neighborhood icon for almost 20 years. Discovery is everything in this creaking labyrinth of a store. Owner Mike Fletcher said his specialty is selling tools purchased from estate sales for a fraction of the usual cost. Also find old sheet music, delicate tea cups, tin cookie boxes and the truly unique, like a stuffed chicken brought in by an airline pilot who does taxidermy to unwind. I'd suggest he try acupuncture or the barber shop because, to be honest, the chicken looked tense.

One more stop: Minoo, an aromatic Iranian bakery open for less than six months. Inside, a local businessman, who left Iran in the 1970s, ordered a box of goodies for his daughter's birthday.

He preferred not to be named, an elegant man who carefully chose nazook, not sweet but flavorful, as well as the honey-soaked pastry, bamieh, which goes well with tea. He spoke Farsi to the Kurdish woman behind the counter, but to me, he spoke in lightly-accented English, saying: "If we eat this food with joy, there can be no calories, only pleasure." Then he smiled beautifully.

This is Lake City, folks. Park that car and come visit.

Freelance writer Connie McDougall was born in British Columbia and has spent most of her life in Seattle, learning to fly out of Boeing Field, to dive in Puget Sound, and write about almost anything except math. She has contributed to magazines including Islands and AAA's Journey, and to a recent anthology, "Stories To Live By: Wisdom to Help You Make the Most of Every Day" (Travelers' Tales Guides, 2005).

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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