Every year around back-to-school time, The Stranger staff puts together a list of spots near Seattle's colleges where broke and new-to-town students can find easy and reliable eats. Things are a little different this year, obviously, but that doesn't mean you can't find a takeout banh mi for five bucks.
This list is not exhaustive or exhausting. We were probably too hungry to remember your favorite spot. Please yell about it in the comments.
The BBQ pork banh mi at this Vietnamese deli in Jackson Square has made top-ten lists for years for good reason: it's probably the best $5.00 you can spend in the city. Sweet, salty, tender pork topped with a bright little salad of carrot, daikon, cucumber, and cilantro all wrapped in colonial bread that's soft on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside. If you need sriracha, you can buy a little bottle in the store. If you don't want anything too heavy, you can't go wrong with the ready-to-go spring rolls with a side of their addicting chili-peanut sauce. Pick up a zip-lock bag of shrimp chips and a massive steamed hum bao cloud for $4.00 while you're it. If you're a good Catholic at Seattle University on a budget, take the 5-minute walk to the edge of the ID and get the $6.00 steamed rice lunch special with caramelized shrimp and stir-fry vegetables. You'll pay a little extra for the shrimp, but the money's worth it and you'll eat for a day. The place draws a diverse crowd—construction workers, people from the neighborhood, students—and sees pretty constant foot traffic during lunch, but the women who run the joint do brisk business. Few places in Seattle make you feel like you live in an actual city. Saigon Deli is one of them. —R.S.
Capitol Hill (and all over)
If you're searching Capitol Hill for fast food on a student budget, how can you consider any other option than Dick's? It's the cheapest and the quickest, of course, and immediately satisfies your craving for grease, but really it's the ambiance that makes the meal. A few minutes spent standing in line (or on Saturday nights, a half hour to 45 minutes) is the perfect encapsulation of the chaos of college life: The drunken hunger, the meticulous counting of change, the all-hours tumult of buskers, the occasional fights over nothing in particular, the teenagers cheering for nothing in particular, the opportunity to engage with strangers whose lives represent widely varying levels of stability. You'll walk away shell-shocked and clutching a paper bag, both your mind and the bag growing ever more saturated by delicious nourishing drippings. —M.B.
I want to be buried in Enat's injera. The spongy sour bread forms the bedrock of Enat's platters and serves as the primary utensil. It's the vehicle for all the goodness the Enat combination platter has to offer, piled high with lentils, cabbage, potatoes, and meats all soaked in tangy spices. (There's a meatless option, too.) I like to pinch a good bit of the collard greens, a portion of atkilt wot (a medley of potatoes, cabbage, and carrots), and some meat in between my injera and shovel it into my mouth.
The University District
The amount of food Sizzle & Crunch serves you for $10 is kind of incredible. In pre-pandemic times, I used to
walk waddle out of the Vietnamese fast-casual restaurant having eaten more than my fill with leftovers to stick in the fridge at home. Serving bahn mis and rice and salad bowls, the ordering set-up at Sizzle & Crunch is reminiscent of Chipotle—you get in line, point at various proteins and toppings you want to be included in your meal, and dip. I recommend a lemongrass pork rice bowl loaded up with all the toppings (except tomatoes, I don't like tomatoes) and a hefty pour of fish sauce to marry everything together. It good crunchy eating. The stuff of college takeout dreams. —J.K.
It's right by the Seattle Times
Everyone else chose a restaurant. I chose a grocery store. Maybe this recommendation is cheating, but I love a good grocery store. This is a great grocery store. If you happen to find yourself near Cornish's campus, go to District H. It's right there. This "ritzy" version of H Mart has a hearty selection of boxed ramen—not a healthy meal, but a cheap meal. The best of us will go through periods in our lives where we spend too many months primarily eating instant noodles. District H's selection won't fail you. Let it embrace you. If you're like me, you'll find yourself blacking out and filling your cart with cakes and lotus root and little boxes of seasoned deodeok. I've spent $3 there and been full. I've also accidentally spent over $100 just on candy. It's a slippery slope. Good luck. —C.B.
Seattle Pacific University is a school founded in 1891 by Methodists. I'm a Methodist, though not a practicing one. My father named me after Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, "the English cleric, theologian, and evangelist who [led a] revival movement within the Church of England known as Methodism." Charles Wesley, who, like his brother, died a long time ago, wrote something like 6,500 hymns for the Methodist movement. The Charles who happens to be alive today, me, recently had lunch at Sam's Mediterranean Deli & Cafe, which is a hop and skip and jump from Seattle's only Methodist university. What I can say about what I ordered at this small joint—Lamb & Beef Shawarma, a Beef Gyro plate, and two sambusas—is that it was done right for the right price (you will spend between $9 and $12 here for a meal). The rice: soft and feathery; the tomatoes: fresh but not crunchy; the tzatziki sauce: not thick and not too sharp; the meat: not dry and not buried in spices. The sambusas were of the highest grade. The place also sells East African dishes. And this makes perfect sense because Jesus was a black man from the Mediterranean world. —C.M.