Harissa: A chat with chef and owner Walid Alabtan

“I don’t need to sleep!” he says as we part.

Not that Walid Alabtan has much time to, with his very own restaurant opening the next day (not even two weeks after the previous restaurant tenant, Himalayan Kitchen, closed).

He’s very busy, to be sure — we’re interrupted three times during our brief chat that day — but his passion for his new enterprise is almost infectious.

“I wish I could open today,” Walid says. It’s a crazy thought to my mind, but already clad in his chef’s pants, he seems rarin’ to go.

Walid has been cooking since he was ten years old.  When he came to the United States in the early 1990s, he started his more formal restaurant education doing dishes in an Indian restaurant. But he made his way into the food side of things there a couple of years later.

In 1995, Walid was cooking with his Vietnamese wife (now former) at Pho Saigon in Wallingford. They sold the restaurant in 2001, and Walid started working at Raja Cuisine of India (under the owner of Himalayan Kitchen and India Express up on Broadway).  After two years at Raja, Walid then moved on to Ephesus in West Seattle, where he was head chef for five years.

After Ephesus, Walid says spent a couple years at an Italian restaurant in downtown Seattle, and then began his ice cream business.  His (and his current wife’s) Go Go Ice Cream concession stand sits over by Green Lake’s Bathhouse Theatre (7312 West Green Lake Drive North), and Walid would also make the rounds in his own ice cream truck. He says he hopes to have some of that ice cream in the new restaurant in the future.

The Seattle Times’ Seattle Sketcher, Gabriel Campanario, sketched a picture of Walid and his truck for his illustrated blog back in July of this year (“The frosty sound of summer“).

Illustration by the Seattle Sketcher, Gabriel Campanario (used with permission of The Seattle Times).

As for this new restaurant, and its focus on Mediterranean cuisine, Walid says his inspiration has been his Lebanese wife (who is now running their Go Go Ice Cream stand) and their family (Walid is Muslim, and his wife and children are Catholic). The namesake Harissa is a Lebanese pilgrimage site whose main attraction is a 15-ton statue of the Virgin Mary (she’s featured on the menus in the restaurant).

We talk of the dishes to come; healthy, with lots of fresh ingredients and flavors. But he struggles to describe them further.  “Where I present food, it’s like art,” Walid says, emphasizing that people should just come in and experience it for themselves. He wants Harissa to be a place for everybody to relax and enjoy each other, and his food.

He literally can’t wait to meet you.


Harissa Mediterranean Cuisine (2255 NE 65th Street) opens today.

For hours and menu, see the previous post on the restaurant (“Harissa Mediterranean Cuisine opens this Thursday“).