Dishin’: The $3.00 Box at 12th and Jackson

Cheap. Hot. Fast.

When we’re desperate for food, we can count on all that and more at 12th and Jackson, our favorite food corner in Seattle. In addition to some excellent restaurant choices, this area is home to some delicious delis – Vietnamese-style. Our favorite: Saigon Vietnam Deli, in a little strip mall at 1200 S. Jackson.

Many people walk out with bags of banh mi – cheap, delicious sandwiches on baguettes. That’s a topic for another time. Then there’s all the pre-wrapped stuff, some familiar like the fresh spring rolls, and some foreign with seemingly unnatural colors. We’re still not exactly sure what kind of food comes in neon green.

It’s all pretty overwhelming, especially since most of the signage is in Vietnamese, and the workers, while patient, aren’t overly forthcoming in their descriptions of the food. We recommend getting a rice box, or “box” if that’s not short enough. For years the cost was $2.50, but it recently skyrocketed up to $3.00. Think fast, as you’ll soon need to say what two sides you’d like with your big serving of rice. You can see all your choices on the steam tables in front of you. They’re replenished often, but good timing is helpful for the best selection (a great time to come is about 11am, before the lunch rush). We like the pork-stuffed bitter melon for its startling taste. Also delicious are the cubes of fatty (and we mean fatty – yum!) pork accompanied by boiled brown eggs. And the chicken curry. Oh, and the beef meatballs, prawns in their shells, whole fish (small ones fried in batter, or large ones stir-fried with lemongrass), the veggies with tofu, the noodle dishes…the list goes on and on. Variety is king here. Sometimes there’s not enough space to hold all the selections, so they stack the trays on top of each other.

Your order goes into a sectioned foam container, which is thrown into a bag with some napkins and plastic utensils. Sometimes we’re so anxious to eat that we grab some little plastic stools, sit down amidst the big bags of rice, cases of vegetables, and stacks of exotic drinks, and then dig in with delight.

Did we mention it’s cheap, hot and fast? And, for what it is, delicious.

Originally posted at Seattlest (where “we” = me) on September 29, 2006. The box costs a little more now, but it’s still a great deal.

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