December 2014…Phillip and I pack up our Wallingford apartment and bid Washington goodbye, heading south to the San Francisco Bay Area. A homecoming six years in the making, I now find myself a born-again Californian, re-learning my way around town and pining for the Pacific Northwest (pun intended). But before the ravages of time lead me to completely forsake the Evergreen state for the Golden one, I want to make a record of some of my favorite places in the Puget Sound as they were when I knew them best.
Seattle Cheap Lunches
One of the few perks of Phillip and I having opposing work schedules for the better part of a year and a half, was that he was often free to meet me for lunch, a ten minute bike ride from our house. And while we had a near infinite number of lunch options to try in the University District, we soon found ourselves returning to a couple of places time and time again – for convenience, for quality, and for value. Scouring the streets of Seattle for inexpensive places to eat, both as a hungry student and slightly less hungry workingperson, has been a habit that continues to this day. I am happy now to share some of the results of my search!
Saigon Deli // University District // 4142 Brooklyn Avenue NE
There was a time in my life that I had never eaten a banh mi. That time was two years ago and I had no idea where to start my search for a good Vietnamese sandwich. As it turned out, the first one is my top pick – a quick search sent me up a couple of blocks north to Saigon Deli. At $3.25 a pop, a chicken, barbecue pork, or tofu banh mi is one of the best deals in town – for seventy-five cents, you can top it with a fried egg and feel full until dinnertime. The staff is friendly and heavy-handed on the jalepeños – a perfect combination for a casual lunch.
Korean Tofu House // University District // 4142 Brooklyn Avenue NE
Located in the same building as Saigon Deli, round the corner onto NE 42nd Street and take the stairs down to the basement. Phillip, who lived in South Korea for a year and was starting to miss its most renowned dishes, suggested Korean Tofu House on a whim – it’s been one of our favorite spots ever since! I was a total novice when we first started coming here, but now I often find myself thinking about Korean Tofu House’s dolsot bibimbap, tteokbokki, and especially sundubu jjigae. You cannot go wrong with a hot stone bowl of tofu soup.
La Conasupo // Phinney Ridge // 8532 Greenwood Ave N
I was lucky enough to be introduced to one of Seattle’s secret spots by a housemate. A Mexican grocery in the front, through the aisles of candied fruits, ceramic cookware, calling cards, and duros is the main attraction: La Conasupo’s incredible tacos. Though four to six dollars may seem a bit pricey, order one “taco” and you’ll get a basket full of tortillas and a plate piled high with meat. Schedule your visit for a Saturday or Sunday and you’ll be treated to their barbacoa, slow-cooked lamb whose bones are then used to make consomé – a rich, flavorful broth with chickpeas. Fresh green salsa is always on the table, but you’d be wise to ask for pápalo, an herb similar to cilantro, for something extra special. Be ready to bump elbows at this popular comedor.
Musashi // Wallingford // 1400 N 45th Street
Another crowded spot, I have braved the line at Musashi many a time and would gladly do it many more times. The queue isn’t for anything on the paper menu, the people (nearly all of them) are there for Chirashi, a beautiful bowl of salmon, tuna, unagi (freshwater eel), scallops, hamachi (yellowtail – both raw and seared), and shrimp over rice. The nigiri and rolled sushi are also very good – simple, unencumbered by giant pieces of tempura or slippery with sauce. Hidden behind a tree on a quiet part of 45th, you may miss it passing by but it would be a mistake to not stop in and try it yourself.
Dick’s Drive-In // Wallingford // 111 NE 45th Street
Dick’s is iconic. Since 1954 it has been a Seattle landmark that merits a visit, even if you just pass by and make silly puns. However, if you are in the area, hungry, and broke, you should definitely join the throngs for a humble hamburger or a Dick’s Deluxe, with all the accoutrements (no special orders are allowed). Grab a milkshake and fries, hand over a ten-spot, and you’ll get change back. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t gourmet, but it’s tradition, goshdarnit!
The trouble with moving away is that when you return, it’s never quite as you left it. But the problem with my stomach is that as soon as I fill it, soon enough it needs to be filled again! Which is to say, your cheap Seattle lunch recommendations are of the utmost importance to me – share for the sake of bellies everywhere!