Lucas Draper

Somewhat miraculously, we at The Stranger still have jobs, but we're not what you would call rolling in it. These restaurants—different cuisines, all around town, on the cheap side, always worth it—are where we're still choosing to spend our somewhat-hard-earned dining-out money.

Moonlight Cafe

1919 S Jackson St, 322-3378

I love meat like I love my own family (I mean, not exactly—I avoid eating humans, most particularly ones I love), but sometimes, through a weird confluence of perfect spices and glutinous magic, fake meat is better than actual meat. This is the case with the Moonlight Cafe in the Central District. The Vietnamese veggie (eggplant hot pot, $7.95), soy (sesame tofu, $7.95), and fake-meat dishes (vermicelli with grilled pork, $6.75) are so good there's no reason to stray to their formerly sentient counterparts, though a bona fide meat menu is offered. The vegetarian appetizer platter ($12.95), a mountain of DIY salad rolls stuffed with the best fake pork in town, is totally enough for two, and you get to roll it all up in dripping, bursting bundles and shove it messily in your face like the ravenous carnivorous beast that you are. Fuck yes. LINDY WEST

Lindy's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Szechuan Noodle Bowl (International District)
Musashi's (Wallingford)
Canton Wonton (International District)
Coastal Kitchen (Capitol Hill)

Sushi Tokyo

6311 Roosevelt Way NE, 526-2935

Someday, I would like to wake from a fever dream to find myself transformed into a gigantic sushi roll from Sushi Tokyo. It would be the most delicious metamorphosis in the history of time. If I had my druthers, I'd be one of Sushi Tokyo's creamy and ever so slightly sweet and spicy tuna rolls ($6.25), or a piece of their thick, buttery salmon nigiri ($4.50 for two pieces). Then I'd eat myself. That's how good Sushi Tokyo's sushi is. During these tough economic times, sushi might seem like a bit of a luxury, but if you're able to scrounge up a little bit of cash—even if it means you have to eat Top Ramen a few days a week—a trip to this relatively cheap, off-the-radar spot in Roosevelt is totally worth it. JONAH SPANGENTHAL-LEE

Jonah's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Tubs Gourmet Subs (North Seattle)
Columbia City Alehouse (Columbia City)
Taco trucks!

Afrikando Afrikando

5903 Rainier Ave S, 448-5183

A cheerful little restaurant on a dodgy block of Rainier Avenue South in Hillman City, Afrikando Afrikando uses humble ingredients to turn out some of the most exciting, memorable food in Seattle. The debe ($14.95)—tiny grilled lamb chops topped with fiery sauce, served alongside a tangy pile of mustard-and-vinegar-sauced slow-cooked onions—is one of those dishes you think about, longingly, for days. The accara ($4.95), black-eyed-pea fritters smothered in a fiery red sauce, will have you gulping down your glass of mango or guava nectar like it was the last liquid on earth—then begging for more. And every serving is huge, so you won't even have to pay for lunch tomorrow. ERICA C. BARNETT

Erica's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Jamjuree Thai (Capitol Hill)
Ali Baba  (Capitol Hill)
India Bistro (Ballard)
Seattle Deli (International District)
Tacos El Asadero (Columbia City)
Green Leaf (International District)
Hidmo (Central District)
King Creole (Central District)

Pho Viet

1240 S Jackson St, 568-0882

Lesser pho emporiums suck up to customers with cut-rate prices and complimentary cream puffs. But the International District's Pho Viet earned my eternal allegiance the old-fashioned way: via roasted garlic. In Pho Viet's pho (large, $7), the noodles, broth, veggies, and meat (I'm told) are all fresh and good. But the genius ingredient is the garlic, roasted to near liquidity then squeezed over each bowl as a final garnish, quietly revolutionizing an old standard and triggering your pho-craving centers in a fierce new way. DAVID SCHMADER

David's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Mirch Masala (Capitol Hill)

Tavolàta

2323 Second Ave, 838-8008

It's easy to miss: unbusy part of Belltown, narrow storefront, basic sign. Inside, the room is deeper and happier and more crowded than you expect. Wait for a table? No. Sit at the bar, possibly the most underappreciated in the city: yellow lights like fat fireflies suspended at different heights, high windows looking into leaves and streetlamps, a wall of mismatched mirrors. The lighting is warm and low. You feel like you're in Europe without the hassle of having to go to Europe. And the food is fucking amazing. The grilled-octopus salad ($14)—white beans, chilies, lemon—is cold, sprightly, and shareable. You'll want to keep eating it forever. Gnocchi with pork cheek ($16), covered in a snowdrift of salty cheese, will disappear within seconds. Who to take? Someone you want to have sex with. Have I mentioned the lighting? CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE

Christopher's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Le Pichet (Downtown)
Sitka & Spruce (Eastlake)
El Camino (Fremont)
Smith (Capitol Hill)
Pagliacci (everywhere)

Szechuan Noodle Bowl

420 Eighth Ave S, 623-4198

In times like these, the best food is not only cheap but also psychically reassuring. The chicken noodle soup (or, if you must, its vegetarian variant) at Szechuan Noodle Bowl in the ID is the very ideal of the clichéd comfort food that launched a thousand self-help books. It's totally filling at around $6, its handmade noodles and familiar clear broth both consoling and toothsome. Combine it with the essential green-onion pancake ($3), a perfect disk of crispy-fried, still-chewy dough and onion, or some of the restaurant's handmade dumplings or wontons ($4–$5.95), and you'll have leftovers. If your power's been shut off, no worries; the noodles are still excellent cold. Cash only—look under the couch cushions. ERIC GRANDY

Eric's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Hana (Capitol Hill)
Tacos Gringos (Capitol Hill)

Ocho

2325 NW Market St, 784-0699

Ocho in Ballard feels like a tapas bar should: a crowded, informal neighborhood place, stuffed onto a street corner and easy to miss. The Ocho outing is for tasting things you probably aren't making at home: garlicky gambas ($6), warm plates of octopus with white beans and chorizo ($7), salted chocolate and truffle oil on little bits of toast ($3). The bar's specialty is a $10 añejo margarita, but decent tumblersful of wine may be had starting at $5 (or $18 a bottle). A tip for filling up: Order the patatas bravas ($4) and gambas (or anything else with sauce for dipping). Then ask for more bread. BRENDAN KILEY

Brendan's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Tacos Guaymas (White Center, Capitol Hill, others)
Café Presse (Capitol Hill)
Le Pichet (Downtown)
Liberty (Capitol Hill)
Samurai Noodle (International District)
Szechuan Noodle Bowl (International District)
Pagliacci Pizza (University District, others)
Hot Mama's Pizza (Capitol Hill)

Cafe Presse

1117 12th Ave, 709-7674

Cafe Presse on Capitol Hill is goodness incarnate: pretty but not fancy, possessed of a full bar, and serving simple, perfect French food from the crack of dawn (7:00 a.m.) until two in the morning (in Seattle, a miracle). Among the (many) faultlessly great menu items: the epitome of an omelet ($5), the world's best green salad ($4), a grilled sardine sandwich ($5), a cheesy-hammy-creamy croque monsieur ($6), a giant slab of chicken-liver terrine ($6), a half-dozen local oysters on the half shell ($10), steak frites ($16), a daily fish special ($16), and so forth. Are you seeing these prices? Wine's so cheap, they're practically paying you to drink it. With it comes the city's best baguette and butter, all you can eat. (It's embarrassing, but this bread has made me into the kind of person who wraps the leftovers in a napkin and puts them in my pocket.) The day I'm too poor to eat at Cafe Presse with some regularity, I'm jumping out a window. BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT

Bethany's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Thai Tom (University District)
Café Besalu (Ballard)
Ristorante Machiavelli (Capitol Hill)
Jade Garden (International District)
Joule (Wallingford)
Monsoon (Capitol Hill)
Tavolata (Belltown)
Maneki Restaurant (International District)

Taste of India

5517 Roosevelt Way NE, 528-1575

Flavors this amped-up usually come accompanied by an afterpool of slimy butteriness. But at Taste of India in the U-District—by far the best Indian restaurant in the city—the food is bright and fresh without tasting remotely virtuous or health-like. A vast array of dishes are rich and ample (every $9.95 order of paneer shahi is actually two $4.95 meals of paneer shahi), so that while eating them, no thought of destitution can enter the brain. JEN GRAVES

Jen's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Tacos Guaymas (White Center, Capitol Hill, others)
Café Presse (Capitol Hill)
Tavolata (Belltown)
Hi-Spot Café (Madrona)

Ezell's Famous Chicken

501 23rd Ave, 324-4141

When you're poor, dining out is reserved for food you can't make at home. And face it, honky, you don't know the first thing about frying chicken. Since 1984, Ezell's has been serving warm morsels from the poultry gods, cradled in cracklin' breading (spicy on request). The Central District location, across from Garfield High School, is the original; now there's also South Seattle, Renton, Woodinville, and Lynnwood, all family owned. Eight bucks gets you a three-piece pack of ambrosia with two side dishes and bread rolls like honey pillows. Oprah Has It FedExed Directly to Her Mouth™, and connoisseurs chase it with a peach Faygo. DOMINIC HOLDEN

Dominic's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Mae Phim (Downtown)
Best of Bento (University District)
Jewel of India (University District)
Olympia Pizza (Capitol Hill)
Hana (Capitol Hill)

La Isla

2320 NW Market St, 789-0516

If you only have $20 in your pocket to last you a week, buy a dozen packs of ramen and then take your ass to La Isla. The pastelon, a Puerto Rican–style lasagna, is one of the best dishes served in all of Ballard, if not the world! Bubbling marinara sauce (tofu, $13.99; beef, $14.99; or pork, $15.99) and gooey mozzarella cheese are layered with sweet strips of plantains. The price tag may not seem like a bargain, but it comes with a couple sides—smashed plantain chips, rice and beans, avocado slices—and is big enough to split. Especially if you kick off the meal with a couple crispy, fat empanadas for $3.99 apiece. MEGAN SELING

Megan's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Pho Than Brothers (Ballard)
Verite Coffee (Ballard)

Market Grill

1509 Pike Place #3, 682-2654

Fresh fish, grilled to order and served right into your hungry hands, is not an easy thing to find for cheap downtown. And why should it be, when tourists are more than happy to pay huge markups for the "Seattle experience" of dining on Northwest seafood? Market Grill, tucked between fish-on-ice stands and produce-in-piles peddlers in one of the more hectic stretches of Pike Place Market, offers a wonderful exception. To be clear, it's not dirt cheap: On a recent day, offerings ranged from a halibut sandwich at $11.95 to a cod sandwich at $9.95. But these spare fish sandwiches—generous portions of grilled market fish, crusted with spices if you like and set on fresh lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and baguette—are a nice bit of affordable decadence. My trick: Go with a friend, split a salmon sandwich, share a medium clam chowder, and walk away paying less than $10 each (and feeling way smarter than the tourists). ELI SANDERS

Eli's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Volunteer Park Cafe (Capitol Hill)
Green Leaf (International District)
Stellar's Pizza (Georgetown)

Rosebud Restaurant & Bar

719 E Pike St, 323-6636

I'm a regular at the Rosebud for three good reasons. One, the establishment plays traditional jazz (from 1940s to 1969—a little late-swing and certainly no funky chicken jazz-fusion). Two, Robert the bartender: He is an excellent example of NYC humanism. Third, these three dishes, which are worth the price: the exquisite duck confit salad ($8), the elegant calamari with spinach in a lemon-basil sauce ($9), and the royal lamb shank, which comes with tomatoes and Yukon gold potatoes ($20). A perfect night for an exhausted Marxist is catching a forgotten Thelonious Monk tune, like "Crepuscule with Nellie," a quick conversation with Robert about Manhattan, and one of the three mentioned dishes. CHARLES MUDEDE

Charles's other spend-last-dime restaurants:

Machiavelli (Capitol Hill)
Flowers (U District)
Monsoon (Capitol Hill)