There are many cheap bites to be found in Seattle, but just because something is priced under $10 does not make it a great dining deal. Exquisite flavors matter. The four noshes below are some of the best food I’ve had in recent weeks that just happened to cost $9 or less — from a chicken sandwich made by a James Beard-nominated chef to the best damn biscuit in this city.
The pâté chaud ($2.25) at Q Bakery
3818 S. Graham St., Seattle; 206-725-9193
I try to avoid this Vietnamese bakery while doing my Asian grocery runs around Rainier Valley. I say this as a compliment, because man, if I park anywhere near that entrance, the whiff of butter from their oven reels me in. This bakery makes the city’s best pâté chaud or Vietnamese meat pie, a peppery, onion-pork morsel embedded in layers of buttery pastry sheets. At many other delis, the filling is cocooned in a hard shell that crumbles easily, the pastry a mere vehicle for the meat that is often stuffed with fillers like carrots. Here, the pastry texture hews closer to a croissant. The proportion of flaky dough to meat is ideal; more buttery-sweet than pork-salty. Q Bakery goes through so many pâté chauds that these meat pies don’t sit under a heat lamp long or dry out. It’s the undisputed best savory bite you can get in Seattle for around two bucks.
Al pastor ($3.50) at El Catrin
9641 15th Ave. S.W., Seattle; note: closed on Sundays and Mondays during the pandemic; 206-708-6341; facebook.com/Elcatrinmexicanfood
The range of tacos offered around town is better now than ever, but why, oh why, is there so much mediocre al pastor? This White Center Mexican restaurant redeems my faith. The owner got a vertical spit in Los Angeles and started slow-roasting pork and pineapple this summer. The golden hive-shaped pork drips, drips, drips with pork fat and juice down the stick, the edges of the meat singed and lacy. The clove-scented pork has a tobacco-esque sweetness from the chipotle peppers. I request my pork “planchado,” by having the cook sizzle the shards of pork on the plancha grill to finish to get that meat nicely charred and crisp before they get tucked into warm corn tortillas.
Chicken sandwich ($9) at Milk Drunk
Milk Drunk is the fast-casual follow-up to Logan Cox and his wife Sara Knowles’ critically acclaimed restaurant Homer on Beacon Hill. A soft-serve-and-chicken-sandwich shop, Milk Drunk dresses poultry up with various sauces and toppings from Virginia ham to pineapple slaw. But the “Basic” is as good as any souped-up sammie, just a clean taste of poultry – briny, battered thigh meat topped with shredded lettuce, Hellmann’s mayo and some tangy pop from lug-nut-sized bread-and-butter pickles. James Beard-nominated chef Cox pays homage to these three favorite kinds of fried chicken: the double-fried Bonchon Korean wings, the crunchy potato-starchy Japanese kaarage version and the buttermilk bird from his Southern upbringing. Stacked 3 inches high, the “Basic” is a substantial sandwich for only $9.
Biscuit with jam and butter ($5) at The Wandering Goose
403 15th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-323-9938, thewanderinggoose.com
My favorite breakfast on the run, this buttermilk biscuit, with a tart kick from the raspberry jam, soaks up the butter like a sponge. Do not ask the cashier how much butter is in that biscuit. Don’t peek inside to see the thick spread of creamy butter. Ignore the butter drippings on your shirt. Repeat after me: This is low-fat and healthy for you.