Deals on Flavor

Seattle's Best Wintertime Cheap Eats

17 terrific places to give the budget a break this post-holiday season.

By Kathryn Robinson and Allecia Vermillion December 20, 2016 Published in the January 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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Korean fried chicken at Bok a Bok.

Big Chickie Pollo a la Brasa

A whole lot of folks detour through Hillman City since the very careful proprietors of this refurbished gas station began peddling their Peruvian charcoal-roasted rotisserie chicken. Choose quarters, halves, or wholes—dark or light meat (some nights juicier than others, alas)—then fill out your plate with your choice of insanely terrific sides: lime-glazed sweet potatoes, a mouth filler of a crunchy kale slaw, and a carb loader’s dream of cheesy potatoes are among the best. Technically the only seating is at outdoor picnic tables with seating that’s enclosed to keep out the elements in winter (read: bring the Polartec)—but the chili-spiced brownies for dessert have warming properties of their own. 

Bok a Bok Fried Chicken

What’s with all the people milling around outside this spare White Center storefront? They’ve come for Korean-style fried chicken—in sandwiches, rice bowls, and served straight up with a compulsory pile of napkins. In this context Korean doesn’t imply spicy (that’s what the sauces are for), but rather a delicate, shattering crust. It’s more akin to a Pringle, in the best possible way. Chef Brian O’Connor is a veteran of Skillet Diner and Roux, as evidenced by Bok a Bok’s perfect biscuits. But the rest of the counter-service menu that debuted in early June nods hard to the East, like a chicken sandwich with yuzu aioli and charred Korean chilies alongside the requisite spears of pickle or kimchi mac and cheese. 

The Butcher and the Baker

The teensy pleaser along Latona’s restaurant row is both charcuterie and bakery, with a lineup of thoughtful sandwiches at lunchtime and a weekend brunch so adored the sidewalk wait often stretches to 40 minutes. The reason? An unusually high level of invention in the preparations, particularly the savories—witness a recent bennie with cured pork leg, garlic collard greens, and fried tomatoes on a cheddar chive biscuit alongside a curried vegetable hash, or the perennially favored Winner Winner Chicken Fritter, where craveable fried chicken arrives all gravied up over a bacon cheddar biscuit with a crown of parsnip frizzles. Pastries are not yet up to this level, which means the gratis cakey blueberry–vanilla bean scone is finer as a gesture than as an accompaniment, but in general the view through B&B’s pomegranate sparkler is a rosy one. 


A dozen each “Traditionalist” and “Progressive” sandwiches fill the chalkboard of Pioneer Square’s manliest hipster-brick deli; choose among the latter for the smartest innovation. Like the glorious ShankLamb: lightly toasted ciabatta bread oozing braised lamb shank and chive aioli, ruffled with lettuce and tomato and the occasional thrilling detonation of hot pepper. A second location in Benaroya Hall has its own list of specialty sandwiches. 

Fonda La Catrina

You might assume this color-splashed Georgetown cantina with the faintly industrial vibe and the courtyard patio is too enchanting and fun to be this precise—but orange-kissed cochinita pibil and grass-fed bistek tacos testify otherwise, along with (usually) the rest of the authentic Mexican menu. The salt-rimmed deal of the century, from 3pm to 6pm weekdays, are excellent $6 margaritas. 

Green Leaf

Green Leaf gives you everything you want in a hole-in-the-wall and nothing you don’t: plentiful plates of fresh and wholesome Vietnamese food delivered on handsome ceramic plates by extremely friendly folks at giveaway prices (not much over $10). Order the Vietnamese pancakes: thickly embedded with shrimp, nearly cream textured, brimming with bean sprouts, swaddled in fresh basil, mint, and lettuce greens, and anointed with drips of briny fish sauce. The menu offers many other appetizers in addition to salads, pho, and other soups, rice-based entrees (of which the spicy lemongrass chicken is commendable), and vermicelli bowls. 

Hi-Spot Cafe

There are other cinnamon rolls in town—the fat ones that perfume the mall, the icing bombs—but you’ll find us at a table inside the coziest house in Madrona, the legendary Hi-Spot, where we’ve been for the last 37 years, ordering the sticky six-inch spiral of wheaty pastry, suffused with butter the way morning sky is suffused with light, exhaling soft flavors of cinnamon and just enough sugar, served warm so its almond shards slide around on the glaze like ice skates on a pond, and so substantial it’s served with a serrated knife. There are other breakfasts to order at the Hi-Spot—the Mexi-Fries, the goat cheese–chicken sausage scramble they call the Round-Up—but whenever we visit, someone has to order the cinnamon roll. It’s just that good. 

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There it is.

Image: Hi Spot Cafe

Hitchcock Deli

There’s something wonderfully dislocating about one of the state’s famed locavore restaurants sharing its name with a couple of delis—one in Georgetown, the other on Bainbridge. And they stick to the same careful sourcing and in-house elan, from condiments to fermentations, that make their namesake Hitchcock a destination. Feeling classic? They’ve got a turkey club. Even if you snag an adventurous sandwich—like the house-preserved Westport albacore with salsa verde and bibb lettuce—the side of Tim’s Chips and salted chocolate chip cookie keep things grounded. 

Huong Binh

This storefront treasure isn’t fancy, but it is revered among Vietnamese for serving unheralded specialties from around the old royal capital of Huê, the epicenter of Vietnamese cuisine. And it’s stayed focused for two decades on turning out some of the very best Vietnamese food in town, using impeccably fresh ingredients, for no more than $10 a person. Of particular note are soups, especially thâp câ’m, a clear pork broth with egg or glass noodles, a full brace of squid, shrimp, sliced pork, and quail eggs; and (weekdays only) mî vit tiêm, a rich star-anise-teased duck and vegetable broth with egg noodles and black mushrooms and a braised quarter bird. Great sweets and candies. 

Italian Family Pizza

If the family owners at this First Hill pie shop don’t know your name on your first visit, they will by your third. And there will be a third, for their Jersey-style pies feature golden, perfect crusts crackling with heft and bursting with flavor. Of course such hifalutin descriptors are all wrong for pizza this down to earth; order a white pie (built on ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella) or bright tomato pie, with choices of toppings, to the strains of good old ’70s rock. Checkered tablecloths, family photos, and cheap price tags dial up the sense of community. Hint: The large pie means it. 

Loretta’s Northwesterner

This South Park community center may look like a place to get into a late-night brawl with a grizzled logger, but the kitchen produces a wonderful corned beef hash.


Some of the tastiest North Indian–Pakistani food in the region comes from this Renton storefront, with ornate Indian appointments and walls the color of dark curries. A few things make it stand out: star ratings you can take to the bank; tandoori chicken that’s not overcooked; and uncommonly velvety mughlai korma, the dense orange sauce made of crushed almonds. It also serves only halal food and therefore draws numbers of observant Muslims in hijabs. 

Portage Bay Cafe

Pancakes and French toasts at these four bright and buzzing favorites come with a complimentary trip through the toppings bar, loaded with fruits, nuts, and butters. 

Señor Moose Cafe

This little splash of colorful Mexican authenticity brightens a particularly gray patch of Leary Avenue with deep dark moles and notable seafood preparations, reminiscent of owner Kathleen Andersen’s 20 years in Mexico. But the joint’s real distinction is its stunning way with breakfast: entomatadas with eggs and black beans, huevos rancheros, and the city’s best chilaquiles, simmered in green or smoky red salsa and topped with cream and cotija cheese. Great coffee too.

Slab Sandwiches and Pie

Around the corner from and sharing a kitchen with John Sundstrom’s magnificent Lark is its daytime takeout sibling, dedicated to the reinvention of sandwiches and pie. About a half dozen of the former are on hand any given day, including things like short rib meat pies and English muffin breakfast sandwiches and gluten-free flatbread. (If the Spanish sardine sandwich is on offer, get it: a masterpiece of meaty fish and piperade and plenty of lemon on a yielding French roll.) Pies are equally various and sure handed, with offerings like caramel apple pie between slabs of biscuity pie crust that exist at the corner of divine inspiration and butter. Not much seating. 

Slim’s Last Chance

Slim’s is all about the red: big heaping bowls of it, served up in four varieties daily (try the brisket and bean, with fire-roasted tomatoes and Angus beef)—and some of which, like the turkey–white bean and the chili verde—aren’t red at all. The nice folks here grill jalapeños and bake corn bread and are entirely too happy to ladle chili over fries or white cheddar grits or jalapeño macaroni and cheese. It all takes place in a room sprawling and spare—one part roadhouse, one part saloon—with a little stage in the corner so rockabilly bands can turn it one part nightclub on weekends.

Tacos Chukís

Tacos Chukís drags eaters by the taste buds on a cheapo’s tour of Mexico City. Yes there are $3.56 baby burritos and $4.20 quesadillas (the latter, crafted of flour tortillas and carne asada, boast more mere aroma than your typical quesadilla has flavor)—but your first order of business has to be the two-buck tacos, swaddled in their corn cradles with plenty of cilantro, onion, salsa, and guacamole. And meat, like the deeply marinated adobada pork—carved off a vertical rotisserie and served with a slice of caramelized pineapple—which doesn’t wear its tingly, fiery flavor so much as exhale it. If there is a single more compelling taco in this city—bring it. The original location is hidden in the upstairs warrens of the Broadway Alley building, and a second outpost feeds the Amazon lunch hordes. 

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Tacos Chukis

Thai Curry Simple

The Thai couple who run this crammed lunch joint near the corner of Fifth and Jackson discovered the secret to success in their New York restaurants: Use curries made in Thailand, with native lemongrass and galangal, from Grandma’s own recipes. The distinction is evident, particularly in the green curry, which you can augment with crazy-fiery hot sauce (one is labeled “No Kidding”), only if you’re, well, not kidding. Lunchtime finds the joint packed with wage slaves, digging the $5 lunches and sweating out their eye sockets. For dessert try roti, the panfried flatbread of Thai street culture, drizzled with condensed milk and lavished with whatever sweet toppings are listed on the wall-size chalkboards. 

Editor's Note: This article was updated January 11, 2019 at 12:30pm to reflect restaurant closures.

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