The slow winter months are cruel to the restaurant industry’s bottom line, made all the worse this go around with an indoor-dining ban. Some cafes are hibernating til spring. Others have thrown in the towel. If you can help, this period is when corner cafes need your takeout orders the most. Or if you just care about finding bargain meals, takeout is cheaper now than at any time during the pandemic. At least that’s my observation after scrolling through 50 menus around town in recent weeks. Some high-end restaurants from the acclaimed Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi in Bellevue to Shiro’s in Belltown (see below) have added sandwiches and cheaper entrees. But don’t ignore the higher-priced family dinners or cooking kits. Those are the better deals, usually tallying $10 or less per person.
5405 Leary Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-659-4499; asaderoprime.com. Note: Asadero also has a restaurant in Kent with the same taco family meal deal.
This taco kit might top all the bargain-basement meal deals around North Seattle — more than a dozen tacos stuffed with Wagyu-grade beef for about $50. A cook informs me this taco meal feeds two. I would hate to feed his family. This is enough tacos for a couple with two children. The family kit comes with 2 pounds of beef and 3 pints of different salsas, along with other fixings (diced onions, radishes, herbs, lime wedges). The mesquite-grilled meats are laid out on a tray, sectioned into three different cuts: rib-eye, New York and flap steak — a smorgasbord of salty, smoky, charred meat that tastes like a memory of a fun summer backyard barbecue. The kit comes with 24 handmade corn tortillas that stayed warm and fluffy even after my 30-minute drive home. These gourmet beef tacos will taste better if you go easy on the condiments. You’re going to have a lot of leftover salsa. Buy a bag of Juanita’s tortilla chips and dip away.
Pho Bac Sup Shop
1240 S. Jackson St., Seattle; 206-568-0882; thephobac.com
Our dark winters are made for pho, bowls of steaming beef broth, perfumey with holiday spices. This pandemic sucks all the more because a tasty bowl is best served piping hot out of the billowing cauldron. It’s not meant for takeout. The delicate rice noodles turn to mush in takeout containers. The soup kit at this noodle house in Little Saigon gets you closer to the true pho experience. Request “uncooked noodles” for your takeout order and follow the cooking directions posted on the restaurant’s webpage under the heading “pho later.”
The pho package, called “PhoKit Phamily style #1” ($45), includes enough noodles and condiments to build four large bowls. The isles of beef fat floating on the surface of the broth are signs of life — a sweet soup awakened with the fragrances of cloves, cinnamon and dried dates when you simmer this pho at home. You have a choice of four toppings: beef, chicken, shrimp or a vegetarian version, though the best option is the beef (with tripe, tendon, brisket, round steak and meatballs). Those less adventurous can request just meatballs. If you want to splurge, soup up your pho with smoked brisket ($4) or Flintstone-sized ribs ($7). This pho kit includes appetizers (two deep-fried garlicky pork spring rolls and two rice-paper shrimp rolls) and a dessert (a ramekin-sized ube cheesecake from Hood Famous Bakeshop).
2401 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-443-9844; shiros.com
Our estimable (and one of the most expensive) sushi spot has rolled out $12-$13 “burgers.” Sounds like an odd pivot, but this is how the kitchen reimagined a sandwich with a sushi theme — forming sushi rice into a bun shape and deep-frying it to a crispy, golden-brown finish. Tastes like a sweet, sticky take on a McDonald’s hash brown. These fried rice cakes get glammed up with shrimp,
fried chicken, tofu or a combo of applewood-smoked salmon and deep-fried smelt. The last one is the best of the four takes: It’s full of crunchy and creamy textures and flavors of the sea — salty sockeye and oily smelt, cut with pickles, cabbage and tomato, and made moist with a medley of jalapeño sauce, sweet mayo and tartar sauce. With its chicken or shrimp sandwich, you could have swapped in a Martin’s potato roll and it would’ve tasted better. But its salmon-and-smelt version could only work with these rice cakes, an umami-rich sammie with the proportions and the sour, sweet and salty flavors singing in harmony.