Where J. Kenji López-Alt Eats Lunch In Seattle For Under $10

If you're not going to listen to us, listen to him.
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

photo credit: Aubrie Pick

Welcome to Perfect For, an Infatuation series of ultra-specific restaurant recommendations from people around town you don't know personally, but might wish you did. Today, J. Kenji López-Alt shares some of his favorite Seattle picks for a lower-priced lunch.

After chef and cookbook author J-Kenji López-Alt moved to Seattle in late 2020, we noticed The Kenji Effect: once he hypes up a restaurant on his Instagram, seemingly overnight, that spot gets busier than ever. Suppose he shares kind words about the monthly Friday-only burger at Beast & Cleaver—good luck getting one now. An everything bagel from Rachel’s? If he endorses it, a speedy sell-out is imminent. But Kenji’s spontaneous advertising helped restaurants at a time when they needed support, so we can’t complain.

When he’s not writing foolproof recipes for The New York Times or creating content for his YouTube channel, Kenji is on the lookout for standout Seattle lunches that cost around $10 or less. Here are his go-tos—check them out, and prepare for The Kenji Effect.

photo credit: Chona Kasinger

Bar Food

South Park

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsCasual Weeknight DinnerDay DrinkingDrinks & A Light BiteOutdoor/Patio Situation
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"Loretta’s Northwesterner is a classic South Seattle dive (no minors allowed!) that takes its food seriously. Not just one, but three items on the menu—the tavern burger, the fish and chips, and the frisbee-sized pork cutlet sandwich—would be high in the running for best in the city.

If you’ve only got room for one, take the burger, which comes with a single small but juicy patty packed with char-grilled flavor, melty cheese, special sauce, onions, and pickles, all wrapped up so that the ingredients can steam together a bit before you dive in. These burgers are equally good to go."

"Pick two: generous, delicious, and inexpensive. Hard, right? At Frelard Tamales, you don’t have to. The half-pound tamales are packed with tender steamed masa and flavorful fillings (both meaty and vegan, savory and sweet).

Come by during lunchtime and you can get a full meal with rice and vegan refried beans for under $10 from this community favorite. If the selection is overwhelming, the pulled pork or the cheese and chiles are my family’s favorites, though we almost always pick up at least one of whatever seasonal special is in rotation. (Don’t sleep on the horchata either!)"

"There’s lots of great pizza in Seattle in a huge range of styles, but for lunch, I’m typically looking for a couple of slices on a paper plate, not a full pie sit-down experience. The slices from Post Alley Pizza have a crisp, charred underbelly, a nice bubbly crust, excellent high-quality tomatoes and cheese (and not too much of either), and a varying array of seasonal toppings—cheese and pepperoni are always available, along with a meat special and vegetable special.

It tastes like pizza made by a great bread baker, which explains the quality of the hoagie rolls they also bake in-house. If you’re in the mood for a sandwich, get the Italian loaded with paper-thin salumi, tons of shredded chicories, and a spicy anchovy spread."

"The kathi rolls from Spice Waala in Capitol Hill are not going to put you into a food coma, but what they lack in size they make up for in flavor, thanks to the multi-day rest all of their fillings (lamb, chicken, paneer, or potato) take in a spiced yogurt marinade. Equally delicious are the snacks, especially the chickpea chaat, tossed in a pair of chutneys: tangy tamarind, and fresh cilantro. Spice Waala partners with local organizations to provide 200 free meals per week to neighbors in need—they’re a true community-forward spot."

"Combining the spice and flavors of owner Stevie Allen’s Southern roots with Pacific Northwest traditions leads to things like crab puppies, spiced vinegary sweet potato fries, and crisply fried breaded Alaskan cod with a dusting of spices. There’s no shortage of great fish and chips in Seattle, but Emerald City is a particularly special bargain.

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Suggested Reading

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