“Eugenians are proud of the regional bounty and were passionate about incorporating local, seasonal, and organic ingredients well before it was back in vogue,” writes Michelle Zauner, the lead singer of synth-y rock band Japanese Breakfast, in her 2021 memoir Crying in H Mart. The book details her young life in Eugene, where she grew up, and her return to the city as her mother battled cancer. Restaurants and markets serve as settings through crucial moments in the book: Shopping with her mother at Sunrise Market, her argument with her mother as a teenager at Cafe Seoul, sobbing in the dining room at Marché after her mother’s funeral. As much as Crying at H Mart is a story about love and grief, it is a story about the way food behaves like a common language when words are insufficient; how it ties us to people we’ve lost.
When Zauner returns to Eugene on tour, she makes pilgrimages to certain restaurants she loved growing up, a quick hit of nostalgia between shows in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. She’ll soon be back in town to play the venue she visited as a teenager, the WOW Hall, performing songs from Japanese Breakfast’s new album, Jubilee. Ahead of her September 24 show, Zauner divulged a few of her favorite pit stops in town, growing up and as an adult.
“I always have to go to Newman’s Fish and Chips. My husband and I love Newman’s Fish and Chips; my mom and dad used to love Newman’s, and bought fish there to cook at home. I love their tartar sauce, their chips. They used to have really good ice for their soft drinks. I’m a cod gal; I know people say halibut is amazing, but I think cod in fish and chips is a perfect thing. With the tartar sauce, and the scallops and shrimp — honestly all of it is so good.”
“There used to be this tiny sushi restaurant in the Whit called Mame, but they’ve moved to a new place called Akira. I love going there if I have time for dinner. [Chef] Taro [Kobayashi] actually saw me the day that my mom died, and he is a really nice guy — I’ve always done the omakase, just because I really like Taro and want to put my trust in him. I like to sit at the bar and watch him work. it’s not just the top sushi for me in Eugene; I’ve eaten sushi in a lot of places, and it’s some of the top sushi I’ve eaten.”
“Because there was no H Mart in Eugene, I used to go to Sunrise. My mom used to buy kimchi there; my mom never made kimchi growing up, and it wasn’t usually as sour as I’d like it, so she’d leave it on the counter for a few hours. My mom used to buy dongchimi, white radish kimchi, in these huge jars; they must make it in-house. She’d serve it with the brine, with gochugaru, sesame seeds. I miss that taste so much.”
“Cafe Seoul was my mom’s go-to Korean restaurant; I used to always get their dolsot bibimbap. I was really pissed off because they have some bad Yelp reviews from white people looking for teriyaki. I think sometimes the owner comes off as a little bit rude because his English is limited, and he’s really fucking busy doing everything.”
“As a middle schooler, we used to go to Sundance Market and get their amazing mac and cheese, Nancy’s Yogurt, Kettle Chips. There were those staples you can get at Sundance: Santa Cruz strawberry lemonade, their coconut macaroons, salads and mac and cheese from the deli, Kettle Chips, Toby’s tofu spread.”
“Honestly, I’m a Cafe Yumm stan. My friend Nicole will send me a big bottle of Yumm Sauce every once in a while because I miss it so much. I get a Deluxe Hot ‘n’ Jazzy, and sometimes I’ll get a tortilla on the side with extra Yumm sauce. We usually don’t have much time in Eugene, because it’s a long drive up from San Francisco. So I try to visit my mom’s grave, and I’ll get a Yumm bowl — or Newman’s fish and chips.”
Other Notable Mentions
Eugene Saturday Market: “I love Ritta’s Burritos, and we used to always get the pad thai at Bangkok Grill.”
Sy’s Pizza: “We would get Sy’s pizza as a family, but of course I worked at the Sizzle Pie in Eugene; I felt bad coming across as a baby, but that was the most difficult job I’ve ever had.”
Burrito Boy: “I feel like every drunken teenage night ended at Burrito Boy with friends.”
Izakaya Meiji Company: “As an adult, I’ve returned and enjoyed cocktails at Izakaya Meiji.”
Level Up: “I had a very emotional episode at Level Up. The necklace I refer to in the book got caught in the air hockey machine. I went there a lot when I was stuck in Eugene and I always really liked it there.”