The holidays are gone, and so are all the leftovers. Spring’s a tiny light at the end of a long tunnel. To improve your life immediately and without undue expense, we’ve assembled our favorite new spots for cheap eats — places where you can get full of great food for under $15, all freshly opened in 2014.
VILLA ESCONDIDA: Squirreled away in the Broadway Alley on Capitol Hill, family-run Villa Escondida makes evangelists of people, like the guy at the next table who can’t stop talking about the birria. It’s spotless and brightly lit, with filling, homestyle lunch and dinner plates for around $10, plus breakfast, too. This is the Mexican diner that Seattle’s been dreaming of. (UPDATE: Villa Escondida is now located in Belltown, at 2203 First Ave., Seattle; 206-448-2393) Bethany Jean Clement
HOKKAIDO RAMEN SANTOUKA: The skeptics will point out that this ramen costs a buck or two more than at other noodle houses. But $11-$12 a bowl isn’t breaking the bank for the best ramen in Western Washington. Everything from miso to the soy-sauce based is excellent — rich, with bold flavors that surprisingly don’t drown out the lighter ingredients. The ramen is topped with buttery pieces of braised pork belly. (103 Bellevue Way N.E., Bellevue; 425-462-0141 or santouka-usa.com) Tan Vinh
PIZZERIA GABBIANO: Mike Easton became a hero of Pioneer Square cheap-eating when he moved his all-handmade-pasta spot, Il Corvo, there in 2013. Not content to rest on those laurels, Easton opened Pizzeria Gabbiano three blocks away last summer, and his Roman-style pizza is great. The foccacia-like crust is pillowy-light but filling, and each topping combination you try is better than the last. The only sad part: It’s weekday lunch only. (240 Second Ave. S., Suite 102, Seattle; 206-209-2231 or pizzeriagabbiano.com) B.J.C.
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LOCAL BURGER: This Bellevue outpost of Local 360 in Belltown has a narrower focus. Can you guess what that is? Their half-pound patties, ground in-house, are charred on the outside and pink in the center, a fat-dripping bite. These juicy burgers get dressed up in every conceivable way — topped with peanut butter and bacon, or served as banh mi — though a cheeseburger will do just fine, thank you. Many range from $10-$12, fries included. (10134 Main St., Bellevue; 425-454-8559 or localburger.org) T.V.
TROVE NOODLE: Trove isn’t so much a restaurant as a complex. In its priciest zone, Trove BBQ, you can spend $100 for a tower of meat. But at Trove Noodle’s lab-like counter, you can try this Capitol Hill place from the famed chefs of Joule and Revel for $12 a bowl. The chewy discs of rice cake with rich lamb curry are especially good. Eat in adjoining Trove Bar for $2 off noodles from 4 to 6 p.m.; scrutinizing the erupting Mount Rainier diorama is free. (500 E. Pike St., Seattle; 206-457-4622 or troveseattle.com) B.J.C.
DOUGH ZONE: Most menu items, from green onion pancakes to braised beef burgers, range from $2.75 to $4.75. The juicy steamed shrimp-pork dumplings are underrated. Everyone, though, joneses for the soup dumplings — pillowy morsels of ground pork crowned with crab meat in a savory broth that rival those at Din Tai Fung. The line can be as painfully long. (15920 N.E. Eighth St., No. 3, Bellevue; 425-641-8000 or thedoughzone.com) T.V.
SHEWABER: Little Saigon’s Shewaber is the new incarnation of Ethiopian favorite Mesob. Owner Zufan Abebe is disarmingly friendly, and her stews taste fresh and bright; the injera used to scoop them up is superlative, too. The veggie ($9.99) or the meat ($12.49) combo here is plenty for two. It can take time, so enjoy the menu’s prose, like the gomen wat description: “Popeye would’ve hopped the first boat to Africa if he knew spinach could be this good.” (1221 S. Main St., Seattle; 206-860-0403) B.J.C.
MIDORI BAKERY: Technically, Midori isn’t new. It started as a modest coffee-and-pastry counter in a warehouse in the back of an industrial area in Redmond. Thanks to a cult following for its croissants, Midori moved into bigger digs in November, expanding into a bakery and cafe, serving sandwiches from baguettes baked every morning to dense Kouign-amanns to sink your teeth into. Pastries are $4 or less, while sandwiches cost $9. (16505 Redmond Way, Redmond; 425-836-6583 or midoribakery.com) T.V.
RED STAR TACO BAR: The Lenin statue stares in Red Star’s direction, probably thinking about the tortilla-chip-crusted catfish tacos ($4). Slushy margaritas are $6, and the pomegranate version hits sweet-tart exactly right. The place is relaxed, and the owners, two former neighborhood bartenders, don’t tolerate Fremont overindulgers on (wooooo!) weekend nights. (513 N. 36th St., Seattle; 206-258-3087 or redstartacobar.com) B.J.C.
BIG CHICKIE: This shack in Hillman City quickly gained a following for its Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, especially for the charred skin and citrusy, dark meat. Twenty-two bucks get you a whole chicken with two sides, four cornbread muffins and three dipping sauces. It’s several notches better than your typical supermarket rotisserie takeout. (5520 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; bigchickie.com) T.V.