A Valentine's Date in the International District
Keep it a secret 🤫
January 26, 2023
📸: Courtesy Hood Famous Bakeshop
I planned the best date ever in 2020, right before the world shut down.
My boyfriend and I decided we’d each take a day during Valentine’s Day weekend and plan a surprise multi-step date for one another. I’m usually a sucker for spontaneity, but planning an entire experience for someone as an act of love is a top-tier feeling. Not only that, but since we went into an indefinite lockdown only weeks later, this extravagant Valentine’s Day became so much sweeter. It was our last taste of pre-COVID life.
Romance is as good an excuse as any to break out of the mold of routine. I picked places almost entirely in the International District for the date I planned. My goal was to get us to explore new-to-us parts of the neighborhood, and it worked.
Since I’m still thinking about this date, I’ll share it with you, but only if you promise to surprise someone you care about with it. Emphasis on surprise. Keep ’em guessing.
Start at Yesler Terrace Park 🌆
This first step may seem small, but it’s fundamental for setting the mood. The most important part of this step is to hype your partner up for the date and tell them nothing. You lead, and they follow.
Yesler Terrace Park has one of the best sweeping views in all of the city—of downtown, the Cascades, and the Sound. If you start this date in the evening, you’ll get a nearly unobscured sunset. Once you arrive here, maybe you’ll say something like “You ready?” to your bewildered partner, and then you’ll take them down, down, down the steep steps on the Yesler Terrace Hillclimb and into the International District.
Hot tip: Since it’s an undeniable, undebatable fact that anticipation is the sexiest feeling a person can experience, heighten the “what the f are we doing?” feeling by taking the First Hill Streetcar to Yesler Terrace Park. Every good date involves multiple modes of transportation. Ask anyone.
Impress your date at Imperial Foot Massage 🦶
Yesler Park’s stairs will spit you out on Jackson Street. Head west toward I-5’s underpass until you hit the Pacific Rim Shopping Mall. Enter this building. Inside, you’ll find Imperial Foot Massage (it may take a bit of searching, but this is part of the fun). This is your first stop. You’ve booked you and your partner foot massages! The catch is a foot massage at this place is an hour-long full body massage complete with an over-clothes neck, back, legs, and feet rub-down for $40 (it used to be $27, but we cannot waste time mourning the past).
Imperial Foot Massage is one big room full of massage chairs and other people getting massages. There’s dim lighting and soothing music. Everybody wants a relaxing date and now you’ve planned one. Good job.
Every day – 10 am to 11 pm
Dinner at Itsumono 🍜
After your massages, shake off your post-relaxation stupor with a quick walk to dinner. Head down Jackson Street to Itsumono, a Japanese gastropub.
The restaurant specializes in small bites, so you’ll probably want to try multiple dishes. Itsumono’s specials rotate. Past specials included a killer fried chicken sando and sweet and sour spare rib with flavors guaranteed to dance across nearly every taste bud on your little tongue. Make sure to start with the nori tots and cauliflower karaage.
You’ll also have plenty to drink, too, from flights of Japanese whiskey, a gigantic sake menu, and a variety of cocktails. Hopefully, the first thing you drink post-massage is a big glass of water.
Psst: If you’re splurging tonight, the chef’s tasting menu with beverage pairings costs $45. If you don’t want to splurge but still need a helping hand, ask your waiter for a sake pairing and they’ll deliver with a tailored to-sip selection for you.
Tuesdays thru Thursdays – 5 pm to 12 am
Fridays and Saturdays – 5 pm to 1:30 am
Dessert at Hood Famous Cafe + Bar 🎂
The recently-expanded Filipino cafe and bar is the perfect place to end a perfect date. The inside is open and lush, with a cascade of plants framing the bar area. The cafe and bar drinks are both delectable (I could write odes about the ube latte), and the main event at Hood Famous is the dessert.
They peddle a tantalizing array of light, fluffy cheesecakes—ube, coconut pandan, white chocolate guava, Vietnamese coffee—that you’ll dream about as soon as you clean your plate. Dates should select (at least) two mini cheesecakes to share. You’ll probably also want a slice of the notoriously orgasmic flakey, coconut-y buko pie.
As I write this, Hood Famous’ bar is temporarily closed and the spot’s hours have been adjusted, so it closes at 4 pm Wednesdays through Sundays. Check their website or Instagram before you go to see if you should be starting your date with dessert.
Wednesdays thru Fridays – 9 am to 4 pm
Saturdays and Sundays – 8 am to 4 pm
OR: End with Bambu Desserts and Drinks 🍹
In the event you didn’t want dessert before dinner and Hood Famous is closed, Bambu is a good pivot. Wash down your meal with bubble tea and sate your sweet tooth with a crispy waffle filled with sweet ube. You should also try the snow ice, or bingsu, a Korean take on shaved ice that comes with toppings like fruit, boba, or crumbled cookies.
Every day – 11:30 am to 9 pm
Still having fun? Go rollerskating.
Okay, this part of the date doesn’t take place in the International District, and thus it’s not a requirement. However, if you’re feeling like you want to keep the evening going and you’re all fueled up on good food, sugar, and elaborate drinks, secretly order a ride-share from your dessert table to whisk you and your date to Southgate Roller Rink in White Center.
On most nights of the week, Southgate hosts live bands or DJs who set up in the middle of the roller rink. Check their schedule to see which one appeals most to you. (I would pick the night DJ Slayground is spinning purely because of the name Slayground.)
Nathalie is a writer focused on anything she finds weird or fun. Sometimes this includes local politics and the environment, sometimes this involves scootering half-nude in Tacoma. She used to work as a staff writer at The Stranger where she did a lot of that sort of thing. She detests dentists and loves costume parties.