Pay by the tray size at Umma’s Lunch Box downtown, and get a great deal on solid Korean food.
The voice on the other side of the buffet line encouraged me to scoop up more veggies and chicken to fill out my tray. He encouraged the customer behind me to get more radishes and cucumber to go with the bibimbap rice.
Umma’s Lunch Box owner Jiwon Kim, the young Korean man with the welcoming face, sounds less like a salesman and more like a doting uncle who wants you to eat well, fatten up and be happy.
Located under The 5th Avenue Theatre, Umma’s, Korean for mother, has a devoted following of office workers for its lunch buffet. I’m guessing Kim has something to do with that.
Umma’s Lunch Box
1301 Fifth Ave., (downtown) Seattle; open weekdays only 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; 206-854-3166, ummaslunchbox.com (note: website is not updated)
He looks almost embarrassed to take your money if you didn’t fill out your buffet tray. He attentively advises which condiments to pick up by studying the starches and proteins you choose.
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Umma’s doesn’t charge by the weight like other lunch buffets, but by tray size. “Asian food is a lot of rice and noodles. It’s cheap. It doesn’t cost me much, so I don’t feel right charging by weight,” he said during a phone interview after the lunch rush. “I want to make sure they get a good deal.”
Umma’s isn’t a destination lunch, but it’s a notch better than your usual downtown offering, certainly worth a stop if you’re looking for a change up from the usual Chipotle or sandwich shop.
The menu: There are 27 rotating items including noodles and rice such as bibimbap and stir-fry noodles such as japchae. Proteins like chicken and pork are usually offered along with an assortment of veggies, tofu and sushi. Some daily specials include shrimp tempura (Monday and Tuesday), kimchi fried rice (Wednesday) and katsu chicken (Friday). Tray sizes: 12 ounce ($5.45), 16 ounce ($7.95) and 28 ounce ($9.95); $1 off if you bring back your tray and $2 off if you eat between 2:30-3:30 p.m.
Don’t miss: The “popcorn chicken”: Dark meat is cocooned in a breaded, deep-fried crunchy shell, ideal as an appetizer or with noodles or rice. Bibimbap was the best starch offering. Sides such as the grilled potatoes and zucchini weren’t soggy because they turnover fast enough and they don’t sit long in the steam tables. The plump spring rolls are stuffed with chicken, shredded lettuce and bean sprouts.
What to skip: Spam musubi lacks any of the umami sugary-soy glaze, and the oven-baked pork strips and spicy tuna rolls were dry.
Prices: Two trays (both 28 ounce) and a $1.50 Perrier totaled $21.40, enough to feed two for lunch with leftovers.