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November 10, 2008 at 7:53 AM

Fast food: different nation

In 1992, Tim Pham and Judy Dinh opened Seattle Deli in Seattle’s Little Saigon. Then, six years ago, they moved their ridiculously inexpensive little Vietnamese take-out joint into contemporary new digs where it’s been packed with delicious food and hungry customers (myself among them) ever since.

Back in September I told you Seattle Deli would soon open a second location in Edmonds, in the Boo Han shopping complex (22618 Highway 99) only minutes from my front door. It’s been open a few weeks now, and I just can’t seem to stay away. Here’s why: I can walk out of the place carrying this:

And for less than $20 (bring cash — it’s all they take), treat myself and my family to a weekend’s worth of lunch, snacks and dinner-worthy sides like these:

You might recognize some of what I bought — like the BBQ pork banh mi ($2.50 each):

And what about this pair of shrimp- and pork-filled spring rolls with a peanut-y dipping sauce for only $2?

See this vermicelli combo below, with rice noodles, fried eggroll and chewy bits of pork, meant to be tossed with the accompanying vegetables and nuac cham (the sweet and spicy dressing in the side cup)? Nate loves the stuff, and believe me, it’s far more nutrious than the Whopper and fries from Burger King he’s always begging me for. And at $4 for the full-meal-deal, it costs less, too.

I usually buy an egg roll (50-cents), or two — which for me is the equivalent of leaving Burger King or Micky D’s with a side of French fries to munch on the way home. And I always purchase a couple of fresh submarine-style rolls for stuffing with “regular” deli-fare like ham and turkey, or the leftover pork-roast I plan to put in Nate’s lunch-box today. At 50-cents each, you can’t beat the price on those, either. P.S.: they’re the closest thing I’ve come around here to the Italian “hoagie rolls” I grew up eating in Philadelphia.

Just so you’ll know: the banh mi at Yeh Yeh’s Sandwiches , just up the road in Lynnwood, are much better (and only slightly more expensive) than the ones at Seattle Deli. And I prefer the Deli’s chicken sandwich over their pork (Mac and Nate disagree) since their pork is one stepped removed from jerky — in a good way. But for $2.50 I’m not complaining, I’m just sayin’.

Seattle Deli also sells plenty of sweets and lots of hot steam table-surprises, including soups, tofu, eggplant, pork, poultry and hunks of fish, though the compostion of the steam table offerings vary from day to day and hour to hour. The cool thing is, they’re happy to put together a little bit of this and a little bit of that, which makes a great, cheap, quick-eats lunch or dinner for about $5. I’m addicted to their whole shrimp, fried in its edible shell with garlic and chilies. Here’s Judy, showing off her wares both hot and cold:

On Saturday afternoon, I stood in line with a woman who watched as I grabbed a couple of heaping-big green papaya salads ($3.50 each) — one of which I ate for lunch and the other used as a side-salad at dinner the next night. With a smile as broad as mine, she confided: “I couldn’t buy a green papaya at the store, bring it home and make that salad for that price!” Amen, sister. My point, exactly.

Which is why I’d urge all of you — if you haven’t already — to open your eyes to the many other fast-food nations that have become part of the fabric of our community; to the many ethnic restaurants that offer adventure and a bargain; and to the excitement that comes from traveling (sometimes only as far as your local “deli”) for a taste of something new. Seattle Deli is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Edmonds, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Seattle.

Do you have a favorite inexpensive little takeout (or eat-in) joint you’d like to share? Please do.

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