Restaurant Guide: Cheap Eats in Seattle

Inexpensive, fast and good? These prized spots serve it all up, for $10 or less

By Leslie Kelly and Allison Austin Scheff May 20, 2013



El Camión Adentro [MEXICAN] One of the most beloved taco trucks in the city now has a brick-and-mortar home—in the former Zesto’s, near Ballard High School—and we’re especially pleased to see those bargain prices carry over to the new venue. Fat, filling burritos for less than $7? Sí, sí! Even the massive combo plate that features spicy shrimp tops out at $9.50. Of course, El Camión is famous for its flavorful tacos ($1.45/beef and chicken; $2/fish), which you can now eat sitting down in the bright, busy dining room. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. 5314 15th Ave. NW; 206.784.5411;

Jolly Roger Taproom [AMERICAN] Arrgh, matey! We love the big flavor of those oyster sliders at Maritime Pacific Brewing Company’s swell family-friendly pub. (Yes, it’s even got a menu for little swashbucklers.) Grownups will cheer that every dish on the seasonally changing chef’s list—whether it’s the smokin’ hot Caesar ($7) or the fat Ballard Big Boy burger ($10) or the super-cheap but filling sliders ($7–$9)—seems to be created to partner up with the fine ales. The happy-hour menu is short, but packed with deep-fried goodness. Mmm, buffalo clam strips! Lunch Mon.–Wed., dinner Mon.–Sat. 1111 NW Ballard Way; 206.782.6181;

Ocho [TAPAS] Fit for a date but still Ballard’s most affordable option at night (most of the small plates are less than $10), Ocho does Spanish tapas just right: toast with mushrooms sautéed with sherry ($3.50), toast with chocolate, chile and truffle oil ($3), and steamed mussels with harissa and fennel ($9). And, boy, are the drinks well made. Lunch Sat.–Sun., dinner daily. 21+ only. 2325 NW Market St.; 206.784.0699;


Black Bottle [GASTROPUB] While the portions are petite, the flavors are huge at this boffo Belltown watering hole. We’re talking fried chicken and collard greens ($8) or the world-famous blasted broccoli for $8, and cumin-rubbed pork tenderloin for $10. All the dough you’ll save might tempt you to splurge on a glass of true blue French Champagne, but there are steals in the glass-pour lineup, too. If it’s too slam-packed, head down the block to Black Bottle’s welcoming little sib, The Innkeeper. 21+ only. Dinner daily. 2600 First Ave.; 206.441.1500;

Macrina [AMERICAN] We love everything about this place, from the homey cookies the size of saucers to the stick-to-your-ribs soups. The original Belltown café is even better after its recent makeover, which added a few more tables, so during the brunch/lunch prime time, there’s not always a line out the door. The galettes ($4.50) are gorgeous, and the fancy flatbreads taste as good as they look, as do the various quiches ($4.75). And, yes, please, we’ll have an order of the three-cheese mac that’s served with braised kale ($7.75). Breakfast, lunch and early dinner Mon.–Sun., brunch Sat.–Sun. 2408 First Ave.; 206.448.4032;


Tony’s Bakery and Deli [VIETNAMESE] When a craving for grilled pork banh mi hits, our first stop is this South End treasure, where the pickled veggies, fresh jalapeños and sprigs of cilantro make a big impact. But along with a menu of Vietnamese sandwiches ($3) and assorted hot dishes, we pick up bánh bông lan ($3), the addictive green-tinged coconut-milk cake ($3), and shrimp banh khot ($3.50), eggy shrimp pancakes with sweet chile dip. And it’s all so cheap! Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (mostly takeout). 6020 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S; 206.722.8800.


Pike Street Fish Fry [SEAFOOD] While its still oft-reported “free fry Fridays” promotion has long since ended, this fish ’n’ chips spot is still a whale of a deal. The crispy catfish ($9.60) is crazy good, as are other fillets of fish, including cod and halibut. It also does a fab fried asparagus ($5). Brit up your basket with a sprinkle of malt vinegar and grab a seat at the counter or take it outside, as the space is as small as the tab. Lunch and dinner daily. 925 E Pike St.; 206.329.7453.

Baguette Box [VIETNAMESE] This small chainlet on Capitol Hill is rightly revered for its updated banh mi (especially the Drunken Chicken, $6.90), and we’re swinish about the pork belly ($6.90), but it also makes darned fine salads. We’re fond of the niçoise ($8.50) and could eat that red potato salad all day long. A generous side of it is $3.50, so maybe that’s not a bad idea. Delivery and pickup daily. 1203 Pine St.; 206.332.0220;


FareStart [AMERICAN] The terrific lineup of sandwiches ($9.95–$10.95), including the jaw-testing burger, comes with a cup of soup, a small Caesar or a mess of fries, which adds up to a filling midday meal at this comfortable, feel-good downtown dining-room-cum-job-training-program for homeless people rebuilding their lives. We’re particularly pumped about the Field Roast sammie, created to honor FareStart founder chef David Lee (who’s the guy behind that satisfying vegan patty and the owner of Seattle-based Field Roast, a wildly successful company specializing in vegan meat alternatives). Lunch Mon.–Fri., dinner Thu. Seventh and Virginia; 206.267.7601;


GAINSBOURG [GASTROPUB] This lovely, dimly lit lounge in Greenwood might be best known for its well-mixed cocktails, but get a load of the grub: super French onion soup ($7), garlicky escargot ($7) and poutine ($8) fit for the pickiest Canadian, for starters. The French dip ($12, which comes with frites on the side) and le duck confit ($14) might be just out of the cheap-eats category, but they are delicious and excellent values. 21+ only. Dinner daily. 8550 Greenwood Ave. N; 206.783.4004;

Gorditos [MEXICAN] This hole-in-the-wall in Greenwood bills its burritos as “baby size.” Not sure if that’s the most appetizing image, but still, these hefty stuffed tortillas have been satisfying a steady stream of customers for more than 15 years. Get it wet, with your choice of the usual fillings—plus the novel tofu, served fajita style—and ask those wrappers to drench it in the tangy tomatillo sauce ($6–$8.30). You’ll need a knife and fork to tackle this meal deal. Lunch and dinner daily. 213 N 85th St.; 206.706.9352;

Mr. Gyros [GREEK] We adore the namesake sandwiches at these warm, welcoming cafés in Greenwood and Ballard, where the well-seasoned meat mingles with that addictive tzatziki. But the plates are the way to go if you’re hungry and broke. The falafel is fine and dandy, and when you get the full meal, it comes with hummus, Greek salad, rice and pita, all for $9! The friendly brothers who run these places—Sammy and Joni Arsheed—are on a first-name basis with a lot of their loyal regulars. Lunch Mon.–Sat., dinner Mon.–Fri. 8411 Greenwood Ave. N; 206.706.7472;


The Crumpet Shop [BRITISH] This venerable mom-and-pop at Pike Place Market is jolly good, and getting better all the time—the menu has moved in a more organic direction over the past few years. Three cheers for that! We’re big fans of those lovely crumpets served with jams made in the Northwest. The green eggs and ham ($5.31) is a tasty eye-opener, too. And when lunch rolls around, the made-from-scratch soups ($4.93) are satisfying. This is also one of the best spots in Seattle to enjoy a cuppa tea. Breakfast and lunch daily. 1503 First Ave.; 206.682.1598;

Mr. D’s [GREEK] Yes, there really is a Mr. D, and Greek-bred Demetrios Moraitis is our hero. (Make that our gyro.) Those wonderfully messy sandwiches are dripping with flavor, especially the lamb “yeero” ($7) (that’s how Mr. D rolls, spelling it the way you’re supposed to say it). This walk-up window attracts a huge crowd around lunchtime, but it moves swiftly. If you’re looking to DIY, it sells its pita and blocks of feta, too. 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily. 1518 Pike Place Market; 206.622.4881;

Three Girls BakeryThree Girls Bakery [AMERICAN] This likable luncheonette is the oldest restaurant in Pike Place Market, and its menu is decidedly old-fashioned. The meatloaf ($8.50) will remind you of mom’s, and the Reuben ($8.50) is toasty good. We’re also fans of the egg salad ($7) and the ever-changing assortment of hearty soups ($3.50–$4.55). Save room for a cookie! 6 a.m.–6 p.m. daily. 1514 Pike Place; 206.622.1045


Il Corvo [ITALIAN] The best pasta in Seattle—yes, we said it, and so have tons of others—is also one of the most amazing deals, with plates of perfectly sauced, handmade noodles ringing in at $9. We’ll have one of each of the three daily specials, especially if it’s the rigatoni with stinging nettle cream or the lasagna misto or the bronze die-cut spaghetti with romesco. This crazy-popular lunch spot near Pioneer Square is a serious carbo-loading zone. Also, cin-cin to the $4.10 house glass pours. Lunch Mon.–Fri. 217 James St.; 206.538.0999;

Salumi [ITALIAN] It’s impossible to leave this Pioneer Square landmark hungry. The famous sandwiches at the place launched by Mario Batali’s mom and pop (and now run by his sister, Gina, and her husband, Brian D’Amato) are beyond substantial, made to order on hearty Macrina rolls. Make ours a Leonetta’s meatball sammie, please ($7/$8.50 with cheese). But don’t forget to check out the veggie special ($7.50), which, when combined with a bowl of soup ($6) or the daily pasta ($8.50), will likely put you in a comfort-food coma. Lunch Tue.–Fri. 309 Third Ave. S; 206.621.8772;


Pho Cyclo Café [VIETNAMESE] You can’t walk two blocks in this city without hitting an Asian soup spot, but we’re especially psyched about this SoDo place and its warm, friendly dining room. Yes, the pho’s fine, but consider a cool detour to one of the noodle-rrific salads. The char-grilled pork bun ($8.25)—pronounced “boone”—is a tangle of contrasts. We love the play of the crunchy vegetables and soft rice vermicelli, dressed in a sweet-salty sauce. Go for the combo featuring a belt-busting pile of pork, shrimp, meatballs and shrimp cake, and the price is still less than $10. Lunch Mon.–Sat. 2414 First Ave. S; 206.382.9256; Also in Bellevue, on Capitol Hill and downtown.


A Pizza Mart [PIZZA] This U District joint has a real frat-house vibe, but get over it. The slices are damned good and stupid cheap. Like $3 cheap. Yes, it does serve appetizers and salads, too. But it’s the bubbly hot, crispy thin crust pie you want to order. If you’re sticking around, take note: The drinks are strong. Or, you can skip the scene and get it delivered, with online ordering. (There’s also a second location downtown, on Ninth and Stewart.) Lunch, dinner and late-night delivery daily. 5026 University Way NE; 206.517.4000;

U:Don [JAPANESE] Soothe your soul with a bowl of warm, minimalist house-made udon noodle soup at this spare, light and airy University District spot. We’re all over that porky version, and in summer, the cold dipping noodles ($4.50–$5.50) are just the thing. Lunch and dinner daily. 4515 University Way NE; 206.453.3788;


Bakery Nouveau [FRENCH] It’s hard to get past the absolutely pristine pastries, but if you’re hankering for something savory, indulge in a slice of the white pizza (garlic sauce and mixed cheeses, $3.85). That heavenly crust wears its cheesy crown so well, it might make you wonder whether this dish was really invented in Italy. Quiche lovers will find plenty of egg pies to try, too ($4.50). The handsome dining room always seems to be packed, drawing an eclectic crowd of the stroller-pushing set, sprinkled with seniors from the ’hood and everyone in between. Breakfast and lunch daily, open until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. 4737 California Ave. SW; 206.923.0534;

Marination Ma Kai [KOREAN-HAWAIIAN] Cheap food and a killer view? At Marination’s Alki-adjacent outpost, check out the million-dollar view while you eat for decidedly less moola. We like the tacos ($2.50), the sliders ($2.50) and the kimchi rice bowl ($6), too, but you’ll also be surprised at how perfect the fish ’n’ chips ($10.50) are here. And beer! Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tue.–Sun. 1660 Harbor Ave. SW; 206.238.TACO (8226);

Seattle Fish Company [SEAFOOD] A crab cocktail for $11.99? There are some real steals on the menu at this retail seafood shop, which fires up its grill for lunch and dinner. We’ll have the clam chowder ($5/$8), please, and a half-dozen grilled oysters ($9.99), too. A big bowl of steamers ($10)—clams or mussels—is a swell starter to share, followed by a basket of fried cod and chips ($5.99–$10.99). While most folks grab it and go, there is some seating, and customers are welcome to dine in. Lunch and dinner daily. 4435 California Ave. SW; 866.938.7576;


Salvadorean Bakery [CENTRAL AMERICAN] Part market, part bakery, full-on delish, this White Center mainstay is worth making a trip. Fill up on the tamales ($2.65) or the dynamite pupusa ($2.50), those flavorful flapjacks stuffed with meat and cheese and topped with a tangy cabbage pico de gallo. Take a look at the sweets and savories in the case and order what looks fetching. Then again, those small tables in the spare dining room can only hold so much. Be sure to pick up some exotic pantry staples before heading out the door. Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. 1719 SW Roxbury St.; 206.762.4064;


Teddy’s Bigger Burgers [DINER] We’re impressed by the tasty burgers at Woodinville’s retro-diner-esque Teddy’s, the only outpost on the mainland of this Hawaii-based chain. We’re especially down with the perfectly seasoned, moist and completely delicious turkey burger ($6.75), topped with Teddy’s special sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles. It’s a burger so good, the beef burger at the table was all but forgotten. Lunch and dinner daily. 17705 140th Ave. NE; 425.408.1604;


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