One of the greatest things about leaving home is the freedom from having to eat what your mother feeds you. Don't give me that gushy love for mom's home cookin' crap—if you're still eager to have your mother provide you with daily sustenance, you should crawl back on her lap and suckle, you fucking baby.
As for nonbabies: The culinary treasures of Seattle welcome you with open arms, you young hot things—wait, what? You don't have any money? Duh, you're students, and Seattle is sensitive to your needs. With a bus schedule and some gumption, any budget diner in Seattle can eat like a king, or at least a duke.
For starters, you must become familiar with the International District (formerly Chinatown and "that neighborhood where Asians congregate"). The ID is south of Capitol Hill, north of Beacon Hill, and east of Pioneer Square. You can pretty much walk into any restaurant there and get something your poor ass can afford. Example: the $1.50 banh mi sandwich at Saigon Deli (1237 S Jackson St, 322-3700). For those who live on ramen and tap water, banh mi makes a peerlessly thrifty meal out. That baguette is crispy, the veggies are fresh, and the pork is flavorful. Sure, Saigon Deli doesn't offer much ambience, but you can't afford ambience.
If you've got a date who's not open to the charm of eating while standing, take his or her highness to the ID's Tamarind Tree (1036 S Jackson St, Suite A, 860-1404). There are white tablecloths and water with lemons in it, and the amazing and delicious entrées don't cost more than about $8 a pop. If you don't want your date to know how cheap you are, do all the ordering before they even have a chance to look at the menu—you can't order wrong, and your date might even think you know what you're talking about.
Are you gay, but scared of going where the populace might not be more than 15 to 20 percent gay? Are you a hipster who bursts into flame if you are more than 29 yards from a bar that's been photographed by the Cobrasnake? If so, you're never leaving the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and on your budget, that means you'll have to eat pho. This shockingly thrifty noodle soup (available both totally vegetarian and totally not) has kept more poor people alive than dog food and prayers combined. Go to Than Brothers (516 Broadway E, 568-7218), which is like the McDonalds of pho. It's fast, delicious, and cheap (a small bowl costs $4.25). Plus, Than Brothers only serves pho, so you can't order the wrong thing, and the complimentary cream puffs make an exquisite free dessert. For cheap late-night dining on "the Hill," head to Dick's (115 Broadway E, 635-0300) for a Deluxe hamburger ($2.20) and fries ($1.30). Ketchup, tartar sauce, or onions are a nickel extra. FYI: They know you're an idiot when you try to order anything that's not on the menu. Dick's doesn't have time for idiots.
Maybe you're not a hipster fag on Capitol Hill, but a vegan anarchist in the University District. If so, head directly to the Wayward Cafe (901 NE 55th St, 524-0204), which will meet all your vegan food needs for cheap in an atmosphere that reeks of overthrowing the dominant paradigm. A half order of biscuits and mushroom gravy (more than enough) is only $4—all the more for you to spend on "literature" (read: rolling papers). Another good cheap U-District standby: Aladdin Gyrocery (4139 University Way NE, 632-5253), where falafel and fries costs $5.75 and service continues till 3:00 a.m. on Saturdays.
Speaking of late-night dining on the cheap: Should a night of drunken debauchery and/or pretest cramming find you with a growling belly and few dollars in the middle of the night, head directly downtown to the Hurricane Cafe (2230 Seventh Ave, 682-5858). This world-class dive is open 24 hours, and specializes in grub for the broke and hungry.
(P.S. If you actually run out of food, you can always go to the food bank. Make sure you find the one that corresponds with your zip code and they'll make sure to feed you, no questions asked. Find a list of locations at www.seattle.gov/humanservices.)