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One Girl, $15, and a Day of Eating Well in Ballard

Loading up on tacos, gyros, and more

Gyro making at Mr. Gyros
Gyro making at Mr. Gyros
Julia Wayne

For Eater Cheap Eats Week, writers around the country were challenged to stop racking up the bill for a day and try eating for a set amount of money. In Seattle, there are hundreds of options for eating well without spending a whole paycheck, and Eater has rounded up everything from overall awesome cheap eats to great (and cheap) Asian cuisine to bomb food in Pike Place.

There are some neighborhoods that lend themselves better to eating cheaply than others. I picked the "other" and with $15 in hand, went about seeing what I could eat in my home ‘hood of Ballard — a notoriously not so cheap place to live.


Breakfast has never really been my thing, since eggs hate me like I hate the Yankees, so I start my days with coffee. And some of the best (though not necessarily cheapest) coffee is at Bauhaus, where Lighthouse Roasters great locally roasted beans make awesome espresso. It's creamy and chocolatey and just a little bitter. I snagged two shots of espresso for $2.75 and grabbed a seat.

Among the dozen or so tables, people are already doing their WFH thing as early as the 6 a.m. opening time, so the counter at the window is a solid bet for hanging out and watching people walk by on Market Street. If you like to read, Twice Sold Tales is situated inside of Bauhaus and has books aplenty. So, for just a buck or two more, you can buy yourself a breakfast date. Though the bookstore's hours (12 - 7 p.m.) aren't in line with the early/late coffee shop, hundreds of books around the coffee shop are available for purchase.

I browsed for a few and was tempted to buy No More Ramen, a survival guide for 20 somethings that seemed appropriate for the assignment, but the buck price tag was too rich for my blood — even though it was a promisingly collectible autographed copy. >> Dollars remaining: $12.25


Later, for lunch, I hit up Malena's Tacos. Taco lovers may tell you that you can only find authentic tacos at a truck in White Center, but that's not true. Malena's is home to crunchy-shelled chicken tacos that I can't resist. I buy two of the fat, crispy tacos, brimming with cheese and lettuce and tomatoes. They remind me of potato tacos I used to buy in college at Patty's Mexican Food in Claremont, California, which are still the touchstone for all other crunchy taco experiences.

As far as I can tell, the meat is stuffed into par-fried tortillas, and then the whole shebang is briefly deep fried. The chicken gets a bit saturated and crunchy on the edges, adding textural tendrils to the ends of otherwise juicy shredded meat. Its toppings are what would appear on your dad's homemade burritos (or, at least, mine), and I get a beautifully fried, lime-moistened jalapeño on the side upon request. When you eat in (rather than take out, as most people did while I was there), they hook up a basket of tortilla chips and salsa. It's $5.58 with tax. >> Dollars remaining: $6.67


For dinner, I finished up with Mr. Gyros. Its fat gyros are stuffed with lamb or chicken, sawed off meat spits that hang next to the tiny flat top. Hummus and tzatziki are slathered on thick, warmed naan, making the base for a sandwich mounded with a handful of meat (a literal handful of a large-handed person). On top of that is piled lettuce, cabbage, tomato, cucumber, and onion. For an extra 50 cents, you can get feta, and hot sauce is complimentary and delicious. It's a deceivingly filling sandwich and one that has won plenty of awards. With tax, the gyro was $7, putting me at $15.33 for the day, and thus just barely losing me the challenge. >> Dollars remaining: $ -0.33

Sure, it would've been cheaper to get tacos at El Camion, where they cost around $1.50 apiece rather than $2.55 at Malena's, but mixing it up with something a little different than I normally eat was a nice change. Ann's Teriyaki down the street is also a solid bet for cheap eats, with pretty good banh mi for around $4, and plenty of noodles and curries that don't cost much.

So, what's the takeaway? It's definitely possible to eat for $15 a day (or less) and eat out all day, even in a neighborhood full of people who seem like they don't need to be pinching pennies.

Bauhaus Books & Coffee

2001 NW Market St, Seattle, WA 98107 (206) 706-2900 Visit Website

Mr. Gyros

5522 20th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98107 (206) 782-7777 Visit Website

Malena's Tacos

2010 NW 56th St, Seattle, WA 98107 (206) 789-8207