Seattle’s fine-dining scene is world-class, but sometimes you just want to keep it simple—especially when you’re on a budget. Thankfully, the city has us covered there too. We’ve compiled a handful of the best local menu items that can be had for a Hamilton, or less. This is by no means a definitive list, so don’t take any “snubs” personally. It’s merely a decent place to start for those on a budget.
• Mulitas at Taqueria El Sabor The walls of Taqueria El Sabor may once have housed a Taco Bell, but now they’re home to the most authentic and affordable Mexican food in the area. While the menu is loaded, the mulitas cannot be topped. Cheese, guacamole, cilantro, onions, and meat are sandwiched and melted together between two small, lightly grilled tortillas. The steak packs sublime flavor into tiny diced morsels, but there are seven other meat options (including less-common choices that show El Sabor’s authenticity: head, tongue, and stomach). Unlike most rolled Mexican staples, the stacked mulitas spread each tasty ingredient evenly, providing a near-perfectly balanced bite every time. $5.19 (order of two). 15221 Aurora Ave. N.
• French toast donut at Mighty-O Donuts By mixing two of the most joyous breakfast staples, Mighty-O has created one of the best foodstuffs in Seattle. The flawless vegan organic French toast donut nails every flavor note of classic French toast: It’s got a substantive bready density without feeling heavy, the sticky frosting carries the sweetness load, and—of course—there’s a powdered cinnamon sugar dusting. $2.50. Locations in Tangletown, Ballard, Capitol Hill, and Denny Triangle
• Teriyaki at BB’s Teriyaki Grill When BB’s Teriyaki Grill opened in the U District last July, the restaurant checked all three boxes needed to appeal to the college crowd: cheap, quick, and generously portioned. The sleek University Way spot keeps things simple and efficient with just one item on its menu: the teriyaki meal. Patrons choose up to three bases/sides (rices, a tasty yakisoba, veggie stir-fry, steamed broccoli, etc.), then pick either chicken, spicy chicken, or tofu, and finish it off with regular or spicy sauce. The teriyaki sauce effortlessly balances tang and sweetness, the small cuts of chicken are clean, lean meat with delightfully charred tips, and the hefty helpings dished out can easily stretch to two meals. $9. 4221 University Way N.E.
• Snickerdoodle ice cream at Bluebird Ice Cream Seattle has no shortage of artisanal ice cream joints. But even after the arrival of Salt and Straw, no flavor hits the literal sweet spot quite like a snickerdoodle scoop from Bluebird Ice Cream. The cinnamon/sugar-cookie flavor is recreated to a T, and the ice cream’s inherent milkiness only enhances it. When served in a fresh-rolled waffle cone, the flavor/texture combo is like a fresh-out-of-the-oven cookie that literally melts in your mouth. $5. Locations in Fremont and PhinneyWood
• Mac and cheese at Beecher’s Homemade Cheeses Sometimes tourist traps get to be tourist traps for a reason. Beecher’s Homemade Cheese always draws a crowd in Pike Place Market, but it’s well worth waiting in line for a hot cup of its “World’s Best” mac and cheese. Using the artisanal cheese that patrons can watch being made in-house, the cup oozes with a decadent gooiness. Each creamy and chewy bite is powerful enough to make you forget the Pike Place madness that surrounds it. $5.99. 1600 Pike Place
• New England clam chowder at Pike Place Chowder Apparently Pike Place Market is a haven for heavenly cream-based cheap eats. Pike Place Chowder is a mere minute’s walk from Beecher’s, and its signature item lives up to its billing. Saying the New England clam chowder’s creamy base is rich is an understatement of epic proportions. Still, it manages to not detract from the delectable chunks of calm, expertly cooked potato and artful hints of bacon. It’s the ideal edible coating for keeping your innards warm on a chilly day. $7.95 (medium 12 oz. bowl). Locations in Pike Place Market and Pacific Place
• Lamb and beef gyro at Mr. Gyros Even after its Greenwood location blew up, literally, Mr. Gyros continued on its mission to deliver the best affordable Mediterranean cuisine around. The restaurant’s lamb and beef gyro is without peer locally. The meat features an explosive combination of spices, and each carved slice is so soft that it feels like it could dissolve on the tongue. The tzatziki sauce is wonderfully mild and unobtrusive, offering a counterbalance that further highlights the meat. Tomato, onion, cucumber, and lettuce round out the pita’s robust fillings in knowing moderation (unlike some competitors, Mr. Gyros realizes a gyro is not a salad). $7.69. Locations in Ballard and Wallingford + a food truck
• Daily special slice at Post Alley Pizza While Seattle may not be a mecca of by-the-slice pizza, Post Alley Pizza is well worth the trek to its tucked-away nook in the Central Business District. While you can’t go wrong with the New York-style basics, including a near-perfect sauce/cheese ratio and crisp crust, the array of unpredictable daily specials make Post Alley stand apart from its peers. Any day might feature BBQ chicken pizza, bacon and potato slices, a pepperoni, onion, and jalapeno combo, some overloaded veggie creation, or basically whatever suits the chef’s current mood. $2.35–$2.85. 1123 Post Ave.
• Chicken strips at Heaven Sent Fried Chicken While the titular fried chicken gets all the attention at Ezell Stephens’ restaurants, the chicken strips are the surprise star. Served regular or spicy (which isn’t overwhelmingly hot), the strips of chicken hold their tender, pull-apart juiciness under the crisp, but not heavy, breading. The BBQ dipping sauce might be the best in town, boasting a sweet tang and almost buttery finish. There’s nothing small about the stand-alone “small strips,” which come with a sweet roll and a side (I suggest the excellent crinkle-cut fries), and can easily be split into two meals. $7.55. 14330 Lake City Way N.E.
• Crunchy Cream at Fuji Bakery
Sure, one of the most popular donut chains may be Krispy Kreme, but that’s really a misnomer. There’s nothing crispy about it, and those attributes are near-impossible to balance in a pastry. But the Japanese-style Fuji Bakery pulls it off with its Crunchy Cream. The yeast donut is filled with a light custard and coated with bites of cornflakes to provide an ideal blend of smoothness and satisfying crunch and a blissful sugar-coated mess. $2.50. Locations in Chinatown-International District and Queen Anne