“Seattle isn’t that expensive,” your friends say, as they look down at the $200 check for a dinner that consisted mostly of shaved kohlrabi and charred broccoli. Turns out your friends were wrong, and if you live in the same metro area as Gates and Bezos, then yeah, vegetable-based small plates are going to cost you a fortune. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
If you’re looking for somewhere to have an inexpensive dinner in Seattle, try one of the spots on this guide. It has a bunch of great restaurants where you can eat a full meal (an entree and a drink, or an entree and an app) without having to spend more than $30. These places are all perfect for weeknights, reasonably-priced dates, and those times when you’re saving up for one of those stupid hoverboard things or a VRBO in Lake Chelan.
Reckless Noodle House is our favorite restaurant in the Central District. They serve incredible Vietnamese and Thai food in a space full of decorative coffee bean sacks and shark jaws. But the best part about this place is that their most delicious entrees, the fried coconut rice with pastrami and braised beef cheek noodles with sour mustard greens, are super filling and only $17. You’ll be able to order one of these mains along with a caramelized pork fresh roll or a mule made with really good homemade ginger beer and still be under budget.
Grabbing a pepperoni slice at a pizzeria counter is one way to save money. But you can do better than that - go to Bar Del Corso. This Beacon Hill spot serves some of the best Neapolitan pies in town, complete with charred crust bubbles and spicy chili oil on the side. None of the pizzas here will run you more than $15, whether it’s the margherita or sausage with pickled goathorn peppers. That means you’ll be able to tack on some fried mozzarella-stuffed risotto balls or an Aperol spritz.
At Jebena Cafe, a terrific Ethiopian restaurant in Lake City, the most expensive thing on the menu is their massive $21 combination plate that can easily serve three hungry people. Whether you’re sharing or taking home the leftovers, you’ll get plenty of stewed lentils, tibs, salad, homemade cheese, and injera.
The two-pastas-and-an-entire-bottle-of-wine deal at Artusi that happens every Sunday and Monday is so popular that it was only a matter of time before they raised the price. It started as $30 and over time became $45, which still means you only have to pay $22.50 to split two bowls of delicious pasta and four glasses of prosecco with someone you like. This is the sister bar to Spinasse, the best Italian restaurant in town, so you know that you’re in great hands ordering dishes like cavatelli with carrots and bacon or pici with mushrooms and kale.
At Super Six, a Columbia City Hawaiian restaurant, you can order virtually any entree with any appetizer or drink and come out spending under $30. That includes loco moco and wings, spicy salmon poke and a hibiscus margarita, and kimchi fried rice and lumpia. And if you feel like spending a little extra, you can do a family-style “luau” that involves spam musubi, kalua pork, huli huli chicken, furikake popcorn, rice, mac salad, roasted vegetables, malasadas, grilled pineapple, and sweet rolls with guava butter, all for $29 per person.
It’s Monday - you don’t want to kick off the week spending an obscene amount of money on dinner, but you can’t bring yourself to figure out a meal based on the rogue ingredients currently in your fridge. The clear solution is L’Oursin. This sepia-toned French bistro in the CD serves a very delicious smashburger only on Mondays - the only catch is that you have to sit at the bar to get it. You can get this beautiful thing topped with brie and cornichons on a potato roll ($12), with enough cash left over to add fries ($3), a glass of natural rosé ($5), and even foie gras ($10) if you feel like splurging just a little.
We love hanging out with a group of friends and eating BBQ at Lady Jaye. More specifically, we love the bologna sandwich topped with potato chips and pickle slaw that puts many Seattle sandwiches to shame. If you stick with one of the sandwiches here or the braised pork cheek mac and cheese, you can also add a starter like burrata with garlic breadcrumbs and green beans or a bourbon cocktail rimmed with sour powder and still have your check be under $30.
There’s always a line snaking around the corner at The Independent just before it opens, and we understand why. The thin pizzas here are the best thing about Madison Park aside from the arboretum - but that’s not a fair contest, because you can’t eat any of the plants there. Any pie with most starters or a glass of wine will be perfect if you want to spend less than $30, especially if you come with a group to pass around some slices.
The pricier entrees at this Belltown Carribean restaurant, like the jerk-fried half-chicken served on a giant wooden plank, are big enough to split between two people. Even the smaller ones are still pretty filling, like the Cubano with crispy plantains or the soft shell crab sandwich, and are cheap enough to be able to have some mac and cheese or a rum punch on the side. It’s perfect for a last-minute group dinner, and even better if you come in the summer to eat out on the back patio.
If you want a plate of pasta without any drama, head directly to Esters Enoteca in Fremont. It’s a cozy counter-service wine bar that serves tasty bolognese and carbonara for only $14 ($12 during Happy Hour), and their inexpensive appetizers like ricotta and honey bruschetta or crispy duck bites with yuzu chili are way more interesting than a caesar salad.
Saigon Deli gets you the most for your money. Large bowl of pho? $8.50. Add a BBQ pork banh mi and you’ll spend $13. Go ahead and add a fried egg. Still, you’re only at $13.75. There’s no way you wouldn’t be extremely full of broth and baguette at this point, but let’s say you didn’t have lunch, and maybe just engaged in some light cardio. In that case, get a Vietnamese iced coffee and an order of eggrolls. The grand total comes to $20.50, and as an added bonus, you probably won’t have to eat again for 36 hours.
At Ciudad, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Georgetown, you’ll find meats like grilled tahini-marinated chicken and citrus-brined pork collar that are all priced out by weight. You should be satisfied with a quarter-pound (around $10) and very full with a half-pound (around $16). Add some mezze and flatbread or a beet margarita and you’ll still be under budget. Plus, while you eat, you can stare at the strange cartoon characters painted on the walls - there’s a demonic bunny pouring a glass of red wine for a deer with a human body in a wheelbarrow who has a crow on his shoulder smoking a blunt.
Going out for a big sushi dinner can sometimes feel like playing a slot machine. It’s fun at first, but then you have to call your niece and explain why she’s not getting a birthday present this year. You won’t feel like that at Kisaku, an excellent sushi restaurant up near Green Lake. They have a bunch of combination dinners, the largest one being $28 for 10 nigiri, a California roll, and miso soup. It’s some of the best raw fish in town, and there’s no chance you’ll end up making a little girl cry in the process.
Pair is one of our favorite places for an upscale meal that won’t feel like you took a chainsaw to your checking account. The most expensive entree (the terrific steak frites with red wine jus and blue-cheese butter) at this French spot is only $23, and even if you order that, you’ll have some leftover funds for an order of gougères or an IPA.
All of the satays at this Greenwood Thai spot are $10, so add them onto an order of drunken noodles or panang curry ($13) and you might even have some leftovers to take home. It’s a fantastic choice for a casual dinner when you don’t feel like changing out of sweatpants.
Seattle is an expensive city in general, but if you hop in an Uber to grab a meal Downtown, you might as well throw your wallet out the window. You should know about Chan - a great, reasonably-priced Korean restaurant by Pike Place that serves things like bibimbap, soy-braised short ribs, seafood pancakes, and bulgogi and spicy pork sliders. Suddenly, Downtown doesn’t seem so expensive anymore.
The fresh fruit-infused margaritas at Sal Y Limon are super refreshing, delicious, and strong. And for $10, it’s a good deal. We like this Mexican spot in Queen Anne for more than just tequila, though. All of the entrees, from the pollo asado to seafood enchiladas, are less than $20 - and you get chips and salsa for free. Come with a date to sit at the bar or with a huge group.