Costs keep rising, bills are due, and oh my god do you really have to pay parking meters until 10pm now? Here are the city’s best places where a relatively small outlay* can carry you through the day.
*Cheap is in the eye of the beholder: One person’s rocking value is another’s ludicrously overpriced sandwich.
Breakfast Burrito • Taco Street
Breakfast magic happens all day long across from the Othello light rail station: chorizo, cheddar, fluffy eggs, and diced potato in a $7 package so dense it requires actual physical exertion to lift. Or, get that same combo inside a $2.50 oversize breakfast taco.
Bagel and Schmear • Westman’s Bagel and Coffee
That cubby on East Madison Street that looks like a Wes Anderson–designed diorama? Actually a welcome outpost for legitimately great bagels. Maldon salt and scallion, pumpernickel with dill and black pepper—any combo of schmear and chewy bagel is great (and $6 after tax), but Friday lines are extra long, thanks to the special challah and caviar schmear.
Rice Bowl • B-Side
This pastel-tiled nook on Capitol Hill illustrates chef Jake Vorono’s philosophy of “healthy without harping on about it” with a grain bowl so glorious it demands harping: puffed wild rice and amaranth, roasted vegetables like broccoli and turnips, chickpea-miso dressing, and on top a delightfully runny soft-boiled egg. Ten bucks never tasted so wholesome.
Spanish Fly Biscuit Sandwich • Morsel
The town’s biscuit sandwich benchmark is this unruly stack of prosciutto, arugula, and fried egg, with manchego cheese plus a smear of aioli piqued with Mama Lil’s, all for $9. This modest U District cafe makes biscuits that are almost crisp on the outside, yet soft and fluffy within.
Side Hustle: This popup brings superb, whisper-light little brioche bundles to Georgetown’s Lowercase Brewing—and uses the brewer’s spent grain in its flour ($4.50 for a half dozen).
Tempesta Lovers of cake doughnuts will dig the chewy, golden (yeasted) offerings at this Belltown coffee shop ($2 each).
Raised Doughnuts Sugar-dusted mochi rings, honey cruellers, electric-pink raspberry holes—they’re all craveable, and they’re forthcoming in spring at this popup-turned-bakeshop (about $3 each).
Banh Mi • Lan Hue
Chinatown–International District doesn’t lack for Vietnamese sandwiches. But the more the better, especially at this Jackson Street sandwich shop where a family of charming sandwich smiths build all manner of banh mi to order (all $4 each), such as one with housemade pâté and thin slices of cured ham on a freshly baked baguette.
Original Steak • King Philly Cheesesteaks
What dark art of the grill injects the taste of peppers and onions into the very essence of the finely chopped beef? How is it that meat juice and cheese sauce fuse into a superstrain of flavor? The $10 cheesesteak from this tidy Rainier Valley strip mall may not yield answers—but probably leftovers.
Basar Hummus • Aviv Hummus Bar
A spread of smoothly blended chickpeas, tahini, and a bit of lemon isn’t merely a side dish; rather it’s the dish, and a great one, inside owner David Nussbaum’s Capitol Hill cafe. Hummus is the foundation for the $13 basar, shawarma-spiced ground beef topped with pine nuts and accompanied by warm pita bread and house pickles.
Caribbean Roast • Un Bien
Attention to detail makes this $11.50 sandwich legend: Tender pork shoulder, brightened by marinade. The crunch of oversize grilled onions, the unifying sheen of garlic-forward aioli. Structured buns that can handle it all and not get soggy. Two sons and a pair of bright-pink shacks on either end of Ballard carry on the family tradition that began with the original Paseo.
Hot Oil Noodles • Xi’an Noodles
The simplest $10 preparation at this U District noodle house is also the best showcase for its broad, rustic Xi’an–style biang biang noodles: just some searing hot oil to magnify the charms of chilies, garlic, soy sauce, and bean sprouts. Make sure to inhale the aroma before you dive in.
World Traveler Salad • Plum Chopped
On Capitol Hill, next door to Plum Bistro, owner Makini Howell’s first vegan restaurant, is her latest: a walk-up counter that serves healthful salads like this one of chopped romaine, coriander-rubbed tofu, red peppers, tangerine, and toasted tumeric pepitas. Even the fiercely carnivorous can quell hunger for about $10.
Chirashi • Fremont Bowl
Cheap isn’t a word to use with raw fish, so let’s call the $15 rice bowl that overflows with marbled salmon, tuna, shrimp, and eel a screaming value for the glistening abundance of high-quality fish. Come for lunch, when crowds at this cheerful new donburi shop aren’t quite as crazy.
Half Sandwich and Salad • Michou
Pike Place Market’s midday miracle: this case of sandwiches (crispy chicken, beef poblano, brie with tomato) pressed on order until warm and toasty. Maybe order half a sandwich and round out lunch via the endless parade of salads by the pound. A proper meal can run $10, even with dessert.
Jibneh with Za’atar • Mamnoon Street
That superlative housemade man’oushe flatbread meets the soft, salty white cheese known as jibneh—not to mention an herb-forward riot of mint, tomato, green olives, and za’atar spices. It’s an $11 lunch that’s light, but also comforting.
Oysters, the Original Fast Casual
Long before there were grain bowls or poke bars, another fast-casual phenom proliferated in the Northwest. They came in their own, mostly calcium carbonate container, nature’s to-go box, compostable before it was hip (or lawful). Oysters were surely fast—unhinge that jagged exterior with a swift shuck, then down it in one briny slurp. And what’s more casual than a food plucked directly from cool tidelands?
However, mollusks from low shores skew high-end these days. Lucky us, Seattle has many a seafood den with an oyster happy hour. Along Lake Union find White Swan Public House, where oysters on the half shell can run $1 to $1.75. Meanwhile, rows of $2 oysters await daily upon crushed ice beds at Ballard Annex Oyster House. Taylor Shellfish cultivates much of the state’s tidal flats and runs three oyster bars in town, all of which have a rotating happy hour oyster for under two bucks.
And, unlike a grain bowl, they’re perfect with beer. —RS
Classic Mix • Pel Meni Dumpling Tzar
Somehow steaming hot, dough-wrapped bundles of beef and potato are best inhaled in the wee hours—perhaps after frequenting the many bars that surround the Fremont and Capitol Hill locations, perhaps because no one really needs a reason for a $9 bowl of Russian-style dumplings, dusted with curry powder and doused with red-chili rice vinegar.
Corn Dog • Unicorn
Get thee to Capitol Hill’s unabashedly weird bar to sate those midnight carnival hankerings. Slather the corn dog in toppings, should you so desire, but the original can’t be beat: hand dipped in cornmeal batter that, when fried, forms a golden crust. A $6 corndog never felt so right.
Aloha Tots • Marination
It’s a Midwest tater tot casserole after a journey of self-discovery in the Pacific: crispy tots and kalua pork beneath a lava flow of red kimchi sauce, white mayo, and the yolk of a fried egg. It’s $10, only available at the Denny Regrade location, and even better with one of the beers on tap.
The Tavern Burger • Loretta’s Northwesterner
It’s been a cheap-eats legend for years, and rightfully so. South Park’s famed $4.50 burger tastes like fond memories from a midcentury small-town drive-in—fat slice of cheese melted over a slender chargrilled patty, squishy bun, sprinkle of onion, and coins of dill pickle. The tavern’s been-here-forever ambience is just a bonus.
Steak Tartare Club • Mean Sandwich
A refined appetizer, a barometer of a chef’s deft hand—the tartare is usually the stuff of finer dining, but in Ballard it’s stuffed between two slices of rye bread, wonderfully dressed with yuzu kosho mayo, and, at $13, the most exquisite bite issued forth from this small sandwich shop.
Fried Chicken Sandwich • Ma‘ono U Village
Mark Fuller applied his fried chicken know-how to a masterpiece of a sandwich sold at a counter inside the Rachel’s Ginger Beer at University Village. The chicken crackles like fireworks and is just about as hot; thank goodness for the cooling properties of kewpie mayo, pickled daikon, and crunchy iceberg, all in a sweet bun. This massive, marvelous $11 sandwich stays crunchy even for takeout.
Pizza by the Slice
It’s the ultimate cheap eat, classed up of late with double the pepperoni—or even taco meat, or a combo of mortadella, fontina, and ricotta—on a perfectly chewy crust (but still just $4) at Mark Fuller’s Supreme pizza tavern in West Seattle. At Southpaw, John Sundstrom’s wood-fired pizzeria on 12th Avenue, $6 gets you a quarter pie that might sport Italian sausage and basil-mint pesto or chorizo and padron peppers. But if you prefer your pizza slices giant, folded, and consumed after copious booze, Hot Mama’s is the gold standard and, at $2.50 a slice, one alluringly greasy bargain; Big Mario’s $4 behemoths are available until 2am in three locations around the city.