Marination Ma Kai. John Beck - Marination Mobile

A report last year found that from 2008 to 2018, the average price for lunch in downtown Seattle had risen by 50 percent—from $8.09 to nearly $13. Based on our experiences lunching in the city, the increase also holds true for locales outside the downtown perimeter, especially Capitol Hill. But plenty of terrific dining establishments still offer lunch at won't-break-the-bank prices. Here are our favorites.


Saigon Deli

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When you can get a delicious bánh mì in the city for less than $4—you order two. And you won't regret it! People line up at this little counter deli for good reason—the pork is perfectly seasoned and the French bread is crispy on the outside yet fluffy on the inside, plus it comes loaded with all the right veggies and extra cilantro. You could opt to order your sandwich with ham, chicken, or tofu instead—but why mess with a good thing? These sandwiches are utter perfection, and a great snack to grab before you head off on a hike or to take on a picnic in Hing Hay Park. There are no seats here, so plan ahead for a grab-and-go meal, or plant yourself on the curb out front. KARA TIERNAN


Daawat Grill & Bar

I'm a deep lover of Indian food, but I live in a city that has only a few decent Indian restaurants. The closest of these to my place of work on Capitol Hill is Daawat. It's right next to the gateway to downtown, and it is busy but never crowded. Without a doubt, the best Indian lunch in the downtown area is found here, in all-you-can-eat buffet form, and for $12.99 a plate. The usual suspects of an Indian buffet are offered—tikka masala, coconut curry, butter chicken, naan—and the attendants make sure that the hot trays are never empty or even soon-to-be empty. I like sitting at the high tables by the east-facing windows. CHARLES MUDEDE


Mean Sandwich

Married couple Alex and Kevin Pemoulie, who met while working at Momofuku and opened the acclaimed Thirty Acres in Jersey, moved to Seattle (Alex's hometown) to start the neighborhood sandwich shop of their dreams. The results are every bit as delightful as you'd expect: unpretentious, inspired sandwiches with bright flavors, like the Buon Appetito (chicken cutlet, provolone, lettuce, tomato, buffalo mayo, and pickled pepper relish, $12), the Fish (sardines, celery root slaw, fried lemons, pickled jalapeños, cilantro, and lettuce, $12), and Midnight at the Oasis (falafel, hummus, harissa beets, Persian pickles, lettuce, and white sauce, $10). Their "skins and ins" (fried baked potato chunks with their skins, like the crispy bits in your french fries, $5) are habit-forming. JULIANNE BELL


Manu's Bodega

Hidden in the sad, gray area of Prefontaine and Yesler, Manu Alfau's Latin American lunch counter is celebrated for sumptuous sandwiches that hover around $10. They're all fantastic, but I get a little teary-eyed when I think about the puerco asado ($11) with slow-roasted pork, mayo, shredded cabbage, chimichurri, and neon-pink pickled onions on a Macrina baguette. It's a precise, on-the-nose balance of roasty, crunchy, juicy, garlicky, fatty, and acidy, and a beauty to behold. The veggie-friendly green-tomato sandwich ($9) is a strong second-place contender: salted green tomatoes, smoked Gouda, avocado, carroty-vinegary coleslaw, and "crack sauce," which is just chili-enhanced mayo. The light, gluten-free empanadas and the pork-belly rice bowl are killer, too. Seriously, get the puerco asado, though—it's The Thing. MEG VAN HUYGEN


Sam Choy's Poke to the Max. courtesy of sam choy’s poke to the max

Sam Choy's Poke to the Max

This Hawaiian food joint opened by the so-called "godfather" of poke never disappoints, and if you're looking to satisfy your poke or katsu craving, you've come to the right place. You can get an island plate with your choice of aloha chicken, kalua pork, or pork belly with two heaping scoops of rice and mac salad for less than $12. For an extra 99 cents, you can splurge on a giant rice plate with your choice of poke (like Sam's spicy ahi tuna or chili mango salmon), or the loco fries with juicy kalua pork smothered in gravy and topped with a sunny-side-up egg. KARA TIERNAN


Il Corvo. Lester Black

READERS' CHOICE WINNER: Il Corvo

Mike Easton, the chef behind Il Corvo, is a pasta magician. He turns two simple ingredients—flour and eggs—into fascinating pasta shapes that he pairs with deliciously savory sauces. The constant line at the Pioneer Square restaurant he runs with wife Victoria Diaz-Easton indicates the love locals have for this place, as do the votes that earned it the Readers' Choice for best lunch in Seattle. The format is simple: a mere three pasta options at $10 each, with salad and focaccia sides. There's always a Bolognese on the menu, but there's enough variety in the other two pastas and sauces to fill up half an Italian dictionary, from firm shells of cavatelli with spicy chorizo and clams to bells of campanelle with sun gold tomatoes. On a recent visit, the vegetarian pasta option (there is always at least one) was cresti de gallo ("rooster's crest"), a tube with a ruffled edge like a mohawk drenched in a creamy sauce that had the fresh flavor of celery root, a bit of bay leaf, and a hint of lemon. It was rich but not overwhelming, and as typical, a line of people stretched out the door to try it and the day's other tasty selections. LESTER BLACK


Mia's Off Broadway Cafe

Some say teriyaki is the signature dish of Seattle, the way the Chicago dog is the signature dish of the Windy City. Whereas teriyaki in other cities is usually relegated to the food court at the mall, teriyaki restaurants in Seattle enjoy an unmatched ubiquity, thanks to a teriyaki boom in the 1990s pioneered by Toshi's Teriyaki. The affordable, family-owned Mia's Off Broadway Cafe is one of the best places around to get your teriyaki fix. You can also get it stuffed into a flour tortilla (a teriyaki burrito!), or try their other offerings, like Seoul cheesesteak or kimchi fried rice. Whatever you choose, a consistent, relatively wholesome, satisfying lunch under $10 on Capitol Hill is something to be treasured. JULIANNE BELL


Aladdin Gyrocery

What sets Aladdin apart from the scores of shawarma joints in the University District? It's the little touches. The hummus is a bit creamier and olive-oilier, the lamb is richer and a bit higher quality, the chicken is more spice-fragrant and flavorful, the homemade hot sauce is sharp and brilliant (and free). They add sumac to the salad. The pita is grilled so it's just, just crispy... but not charred. You can't beat the prices, the portions are colossal, and they're open super late. MEG VAN HUYGEN


Pho 99 Vietnamese Noodle House

This unassuming spot in a White Center strip mall is serving up some of the best (if not the best!) pho in the city. The difference between good and great pho is all about the broth, which here is consistently light yet subtly rich and complex in flavor. Taste it before you start dumping in the plum sauce and red pepper flakes—you won't need as much as you think. I've been ordering the brisket pho to cure lingering colds or afternoon hangovers for more than 17 years, and it always hits the spot. They're graciously heavy-handed with their toppings, too (piles of bean sprouts, cilantro, and jalapeños for everyone!). Order the Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk for a decadent caffeine fix, and don't miss the spring rolls with peanut sauce, the tangy barbecue chicken, or the prawn skewers. KARA TIERNAN


Qin Xi'an Noodles

Not to be confused with Xi'an Noodles in the University District, this Capitol Hill hole-in-the-wall specializes in hand-pulled biang biang noodles from Northern China, named for the onomatopoeia of the sound of noodles slapped on the counter as they're being made. These noodles are a revelation, chewy and toothsome and available in broth or with a variety of sauces and toppings, and you can take in the spectacle of how they're prepared as you slurp. JULIANNE BELL


Marination Ma Kai. John Beck - Marination Mobile

Marination Ma Kai

The folks at Marination are serving up some of the freshest tacos in town (I dream of the juicy kalua pork, kalbi beef, or miso-marinated fish!), heavenly kimchi fried rice, and other treats fusing Hawaiian and Korean flavors like musubi with Spam or house-made Portuguese sausage that you can enjoy overlooking the city by the water at the West Seattle location (there are also counters located in Capitol Hill and South Lake Union). With a number of gluten-free and dairy-free options, it's the perfect spot for a quick, tasty bite that won't break the bank. KARA TIERNAN


Tacos Chukis

The hole-in-the-wall taqueria on Broadway now has four locations, though the best is still the original, which retains some of the grit and charm the newer places in the Central District, SLU, and Beacon Hill lack. The menu is small (no chips and salsa or steaming plates of fajitas to be found), but the flavors are mighty. Each taco includes a choice of carne asada, grilled cactus, pollo asado, adobo pork, or beans; is topped with cilantro, onion, salsa, and guacamole (the excellent house taco comes with grilled pineapple and cheese is an extra 50 cents); and served with two tortillas (as it should be). I like to take one tortilla off and let the excess goods from my taco spill onto the spare one, giving the illusion of doubling my meal. The place is regularly called the best taqueria in Seattle for a reason. It's cheap (there's nothing more than $10), hearty, delicious, and will have you returning here early, late, and often. KATIE HERZOG