27 Spots Around Seattle for a Tasty Workday Lunch

The top places where you can order up a tasty, fast (and in many cases, super cheap!) workday lunch
Leslie Kelly  |   February 2014   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Classic pastrami on rye at George’s Deli on First Hill

LunchBox Laboratory

The ongoing burger “experiments” here run toward the jaw-straining variety, such as the $14 Homage to the Dick’s Deluxe, a Kobe beef patty snuggled up to grilled onions and topped with American cheese, strips of bacon and secret sauce. Takeout is available, but this fare is not exactly road appropriate, unless you’re packing a bib. Instead, grab a seat in the kitschy dining room and savor that sandwich, with an order of “tots” on the side. Whimsical cocktail mixers include Tang and Kool-Aid, and might tempt you to blow off work, but hand-spun shakes ($5–$8) are probably a safer bet. 989 112th Ave. NE; 425.505.2676; lunchboxlaboratory.com

Capitol Hill/First Hill

Big Mario’s

Having a bad day? It’s nothing that a slice from Big Mario’s can’t turn around. This likable, retro-funky joint in the heart of the Pike/Pine corridor’s eclectic culinary landscape is probably best known as the place to party after a night of drinking on the Hill. ’Round midnight, the slurring, boozed-up patrons are a hoot to watch. But during daylight hours, Mario’s has a downright sunny personality, which probably has a lot to do with the fine prices and satisfying slices. Make ours a classic cheese, built on a thin, chewy crust, a bright, nicely seasoned red sauce and plenty of mozzarella for just $3. Toss in a salad (house $5, Caesar $7.50) if greens are your thing, or take a wonderfully messy detour to meatball sub land ($8.50), but the quickie slice will get you in and out the door and back to your desk with a smile on your face in 15. 1009 E Pike St.; 206.922.3875; bigmariosnewyorkstylepizza.com

Chico Madrid

Sure, you can linger over savory snacks and sangria at the handsome Chico Madrid (from the owners of Ballard’s Honoré Artisan Bakery, Capitol Hill’s High Five Pie and Fuel Coffee), but like most tapas spots in Spain, it’s also possible to grab a quick bite if you’re in a hurry. In the real Madrid, you’ll see all sorts of workers congregating midday at busy bars, standing over their sandwiches. That’s one option at this café, located not far from the Cornish campus and open all day. Or, order one of the terrific bocadillos ($7–$10), wildly flavorful sandwiches made on Columbia City Bakery ficelle, and take a seat at a table on the patio or slide into the banquette inside. It’s so Euro, you might want to take a siesta after polishing off a slice of the dynamite tortilla española ($7), an eggy potato pie, served cold with a dollop of aioli. 711 Bellevue Ave. E; 206.453.3234; chicomadrid.com

George’s Sausage & Delicatessen

George’s Sausage is an out-of-this–Old World kind of delicatessen. The tiny gem on Pill Hill has been cranking out its own outstanding kielbasa, juicy Polish sausage, pierogi and homey potato salad since 1983, and its prices are a throwback to another era. The thick, meaty sandwiches are all priced at less than $7. Pastrami on rye, please! While waiting for your takeout order, take a look at some of those Eastern European pantry staples. (Pickle purists will love the Polish dills, and the meat-centric deli counter is loaded with all sorts of links to buy and DIY at home.) Service is swift and friendly. 907 Madison St.; 206.622.1491; georgessausageanddeli.com


The kulage sandwiches ($7–$9) sold out of the restaurant’s walk-up window might be the city’s most perfect carry-out meal. The brilliantly seasoned elements of each—we love the crispy falafel, as well as the tender beef fired up by Aleppo chiles—are tucked securely into the better-than-pita Arabic flatbread. No muss, no fuss as you stroll down the sidewalk and chew. If you’d rather chill at the communal table up front, then there are plenty more options: terrific quinoa tabbouleh ($7), addictively dippable hummus ($6) and, oh, the shorabut adas ($6), rustic lentils made wonderfully complex by loads of garlic. A cuppa Turkish coffee will brighten any afternoon. Closed Monday. 1508 Melrose Ave.; 206.906.9606; mamnoonrestaurant.com


Belle Epicurean

The pastry-focused approach to making diners happy deserves a round of applause. (Hang on while I put down my ham and Gruyère croissant.) A fine lineup of sandwiches is made on house baguettes, which are the right mix of chewy on the exterior and soft inside. The roasted peppers and chèvre is a standout ($5.89) as is the croque madame ($8.79) on the excellent brioche. Salads are nicely composed and taste as good as they look, especially the rustic warm French lentils with bacon ($6.29). Cookie fans rightly rave about the feather-light macarons ($2.29), but we’d rather savor the rosemary shortbread ($1.79). 1206 Fourth Ave.; 206.262.9404; belleepicurean.com. Additional location in Madison Valley.

Evolution Fresh
Starbucks’ entry into the juice market, these grab-and-go spots showcase cold-pressed fruits and veggies, and drinks packed with nutrition (although you pay dearly for those made to order, starting at $6.95). These liquid meals are dubbed “handfuls of flavor.” But the real surprise—beyond the prices—are the more substantial offerings of salads, such as kale, fire-roasted corn and avocado ($7.95), which can be also transformed into a hearty soup on request (starting at $8.95). 517 Pine St.; 206.682.7740; evolutionfresh.com. Additional locations in Bellevue and University Village.

Matt Janke and Jill Buchanan’s hidden jewel off Harbor Steps feels like the sort of comfy place where you’d like to hang, but the polished staff at Lecosho also well knows most of its midday diners are on a lunch hour. Go ahead and carbo-load on the fab carbonara ($13, when it’s available on the rotating menu), hand-cut tagliatelle tossed with local eggs, caramelized red onions and crispy house-cured pancetta. Still, the stellar lineup of sandwiches is mighty tempting, especially the albacore tuna melt, tarted up with Mama Lil’s pickled pepper relish. All of the sandwiches, including the half-pound Painted Hills burger, are served with a choice of a small green salad or the daily soup, making these hefty meals, all less than $15, a deal. 89 University St.; 206.623.2101; lecosho.com
Home Remedy

One of the best salad bars in the city, hands down. It’s a winning combo of healthy—the kale salad ($8.49 per pound) is genius, a citrusy, peppery, Parm-y dressing mellowing those assertive greens—and flat-out indulgent. Yes, it’s easy to go overboard on the blue cheese crumbles. Beyond the self-serve salads, there are also hefty slices of New York–style pizza ($3.75), curry wraps ($8–$11) inspired by Indian street food, and sandwiches ($8.50–$10) featuring ingredients like pastrami that’s made in house. There are lots of Dahlia Bakery goodies on offer, too. The shelves in this small Tom Douglas–run gourmet market are fun to peruse, and the freezer case is stuffed with the greatest hits from other T.D.R. venues, so you could pick up lunch and a Seatown pot pie for dinner on the same trip. 2121 Sixth Ave.; 206.812.8407; tdhomeremedy.com (Photo: Melissa Kagerer)

Potbelly Sandwiches
Fervent fans of this Chicago-based sandwich chain are known as Potbellians. Those loyalists are sold on the quality of the ingredients—meats are hand-sliced daily on the premises—and the efficient, assembly-line style of service. You’re going to get through that line in eight minutes or less, according to the sign at the entrance. (There are two locations downtown, one on Third and Spring and another on Fourth and Pike, as well as shops on Capitol Hill and First Hill, and in Bellevue, Redmond and Renton, with more likely to come, as the company recently offered stock to the public; Starbucks’ Howard Schultz is a longtime investor.) Build-your-own options are endless, or if you’re in the mood for something super-substantial, order the mega-meaty pizza sandwich ($5.10), which stuffs meatballs, pepperoni, capocollo, mushrooms, marinara and melting cheese into a toasty roll. potbelly.com

Veggie Grill

This meatless restaurant chain has made a pretty big splash with its faux meat versions of Buffalo wings, crab cakes, burgers and fried “chickin’,” not skimping on the flavor or the calories. This is meat-free fare even dedicated carnivores can love, and most everything on the expansive menu is less than $10, even the generous home-style plates heaped with sides, such as the mashed cauliflower and potatoes smothered in porcini mushroom gravy. You might feel so virtuous that it’s impossible to skip the monstrously good grilled cookie for dessert. 1427 Fourth Ave.; 206.624.1332; veggiegrill.com


Dot’s Delicatessen

Walk into this cozy space near The Book Larder and look up. The menu features daily specials and signature sandwiches, while the well-stocked deli case offers a sneak preview of the possibilities, especially if you’re in the market for super-rich pâté. The rightly famous burger ($14) is built around a grass-fed ground beef patty, embellished with cheddar and served on a pillow-soft brioche. Hand-cut frites are a must alongside the burger. French onion soup ($10) is capable of chasing away a winter chill, gooey cheese blanketing the rich stock. Meat master Miles James named the deli for his grandmother, so it’s not surprising the place has a homey feel. 4262 Fremont Ave. N; 206.687.7446; dotsdelicatessen.com

Homegrown Sandwiches

Sandwiches made from primarily locally sourced ingredients take the humble sammy to a whole new level. There’s red-wine-simmered kraut and cranberry mustard on the Reuben, for instance. The ham and Beecher’s cheese sandwich is embellished with sage aioli, and vegans cheer sandwiches that showcase primo produce like squash partnered with snap pea pesto. (At press time, sandwiches were $7 for a half; $12 for a whole, but prices were slated to rise in 2014). In the mood for something green? All hail the kale Caesar ($7). Zapp’s salt-and-peppered potato chips are a must to accompany these flavorful, handheld meals. 3416 Fremont Ave. N; 206.453.5232; eathomegrown.com. Additional locations in Capitol Hill, downtown, Queen Anne, South Lake Union.

Pike Place Market

The lines at this takeout café are often pretty long, but the queue moves quickly. While you’re waiting, you can check out the various sandwiches and salads in the well-stocked deli case. We love the super-fresh-tasting kale and wild rice salad ($8.50) and the caramelized character of the roasted Brussels sprouts ($9.95/pound). On the sandwich side, the fried chicken with pesto ($6.50) is satisfying, while the grilled tofu ($6.50) is teriyaki-fied. And what’s not to love about the freedom to go big or small? Half sizes are available for most items. The excellent, self-serve soups are one of the best deals around, priced at $3 a cup and $4.50 for a large bowl. Bring some zeppole—Italian doughnut holes—back to the office and you’ll be a hero. 1904 Pike Place; 206.448.4758; michoudeli.com

Three Girls Bakery

For the time-crunched, there’s a walk-up window, where you can order sandwiches and soups. If you have a bit of time, there’s also an old-fashioned lunch counter that does right by the classics, including a meatloaf like Mom used to make (which is also excellent in sandwich form here; $9). Creamy egg salad and liverwurst (each $7.50) aren’t options you see often, all built on terrific bread. Pick up something sweet, too. The pecan-studded Russian teacakes are two bites’ worth of powdered sugary satisfaction. 1540 Pike Place, Suite 1; 206.622.1045: Facebook, “Three Girls Bakery–Pike Place Market

Pioneer Square
Chuck’s Hole in the Wall BBQ
Do not wear a white shirt to this neighborhood lunch-only institution, where you might end up sporting some of that saucy pulled pork or the Texas brisket, which are slowly wood-smoked until tender. Gnaw on St. Louis–cut ribs (one-third rack $10.25, half rack $13.25) offered on Thursdays and Fridays, or warm up with a bowl of the beefed-up “Championship Chili” ($4.50/cup, $5.50/bowl). Sorry, vegetarians, there’s nada for you here except for the slaw. 215 James St.; 206 622.8717; holeinthewallbbq.blogspot.com

Grand Central Bakery

Sandwiches are inventive and flavorful: The seasonal Sas-squash features maple-and-sage roasted butternut squash on the rustic Peasant loaf, while a succulent sliced leg of lamb tucked into a demi-baguette brightens under the spell of garlicky chimichurri sauce and carrot relish ($7.50 for each). Made-from-scratch soup selections change daily and always include a meatless option. There are plenty of sweet meal-ending options, but we’re partial to the deeply flavorful chocolate cookie. If they’re picking up lunch, savvy regulars know it’s quicker to order by phone. 214 First Ave. S; 206.622.3644; grandcentralbakery.com. Additional locations in Burien and Eastlake.

Rain Shadow Meats Squared
Butcher extraordinaire Russ Flint’s second spot has a meat case filled with stellar cuts, just like its big sister at Melrose Market. But there’s also an extensive menu at this venue, where the emphasis is on, you guessed it, meat. There’s even a “butcher’s salad” ($10) heaped with mortadella, house-made ham and salami from Olympic Provisions in Portland, all resting on well-dressed mustard greens and mizuna. Specials change weekly, and sandwiches are supreme. If it’s available, don’t miss The Dipper ($12), featuring flavor-packed beef from Gleason Ranch, Harlow Cattle Company and Painted Hills. 404 Occidental Ave.; 206.467.4854; rainshadowmeats.com


Pho Cyclo

There are a gazillion Vietnamese noodle soup spots in Seattle, so it’s hard to make a splash. But Pho Cyclo across from Starbucks headquarters gets raves for its distinctive broth, seasoned with ginger, star anise, cinnamon and cloves, and for including a few unexpected entrées in the mix. Along with the traditional slurpy soup ($6.85–$8.10), bahn mi sandwiches ($3.50–$4), stir-fries ($7.50–$9.80) and rice noodle salads (known as bun; $7.20–$9.80), there’s the popular fried shrimp cake and some globe-trotting to American-style Chinese chow mein. Like most pho shops, service is super-fast. 2414 First Ave. S; 206.382.9256; phocyclocafe.com. Additional locations in Seattle and Bellevue.

Sodo Kitchen

Bon Appetit Management is running this glammed-up corporate cafeteria at Starbucks HQ, where you wander between various stations—yes, there’s a tandoor and a rotisserie, as well as a brick oven, from which emerge fragrant, beautifully topped flatbreads—before deciding what looks good. The emphasis is on local, sustainable ingredients, and the menu credits farmers and fishermen, so it’s possible to enjoy albacore harvested by the FV St. Jude, often seen at upscale restaurants. The affordable tab makes the experience sweeter: Everything’s less than $10. 2401 Utah Ave. S; 206.318.0356; sodokitchen.com

South Lake Union

The Wurst Place

On the border of Amazonia, this sausage shop does a brisk biz during the lunch rush. Ordering is done at the counter, with extensive selections listed on a board hanging high. You might get a stiff neck reading the savory lineup: bratwurst, spicy bison brats, whiskey-soaked pork, Nürnburger, elk with cheddar and jalapeños, cheddarwurst and two vegetarian sausages. The selection rotates regularly, but there are always at least nine links. Once yours arrives, be sure to hit the well-stocked condiment bar. Love the Hell sauce, made with those hotter-than-the-sun ghost chiles. Order a side of crispy, hand-cut Belgian fries and a beer, and you can get out of the Wurst Place for about $15. No Monday lunch. 510 Westlake Ave. N; 206.623.3548; Facebook, “The Wurst Place (In Seattle)

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