Ten cheap eats near JBLM

From hot dogs to a Korean flavored, burger-styled sandwich, your guide to frugal eating in the South Sound

By Dutch Randall on August 29, 2019

Affordable meals are available across the South Sound if you know where to look.

Like most people, I enjoy eating out and avoiding the clean-up of cooking at home. However, I don't like that sometimes it can cost an arm and a leg. Fortunately, the variety of offerings throughout the South Sound include plenty of small businesses, so you don't have to frequent the fast-food chains to eat for under $10. Here are some of my favorite spots to get great food for very little coin.

The Red Hot on Tacoma's Sixth Ave. is a hot spot for locals largely because of the open space and plenty of beer on tap, but also because the hot dogs here are cheap. Seriously, a selection of nearly a dozen basic hot dogs are priced around $5 each. Even if you show up with a larger appetite, the Tideflats which consists of two all-beef hot dogs, ketchup, mustard, fresh onions, relish, sport peppers, sauerkraut, jalapenos, coleslaw, all-meat chili, nacho cheese, a pickle spear and more slaw (this time Southern style) can be had for just $8.50.

11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday; 9 a.m. to midnight, Saturday; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday; 2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.779.0229, redhottacoma.com

There is just something about a good bowl of soup that is satisfying in a way that no other comfort food can. Infinite Soups in downtown Tacoma has elevated soup making to an art form. With four daily categories to choose from (creamy, non-creamy, vegan, and vegetarian), there is something for everyone. And rotating creations such as chicken gorgonzola tortellini, three-cheese potato, or smoky split pea, each has a minimalist approach to its ingredients, and yet pack a great deal of flavor. Show up with cash or check only and select sizes from an 8 oz. personal size for just $2.75 to a 32 oz. for the whole family at just $8.50. There is also more good news for the soup lover as a second location is open in the downtown post office building.

11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday; 445 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma, 253.274.0232, infinitesoups.com

When I find myself out battling the traffic on Meridian in Puyallup, I make certain to stop at Out and About Burgers. A stationary food truck business, this drive-thru offers a simple menu of shakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, and burgers. By keeping a simple menu, Out and About is able to keep the prices low for their customers. A double patty bacon cheeseburger is obtainable for under $6. My favorite, however, is the BMC for just $3.99. The BMC stands for Bun, Meat, Cheese because that's all it is -- two patties and three slices of cheese between two buns. It's filling, flavorful, and I can add fries or rings and a shake and still be under my $10 ceiling.

11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday; 14214 Meridian Ave. E., Puyallup, 253.677.1974, outandaboutburgers.com 

South Tacoma is known for the authenticity of the Asian cuisine that can be found there. The House of Mandoo is no exception. Located in Paldo World Market, they serve up three hand-held, softball-sized Korean dumplings. Options include pork, kimchi, and red bean, and each one is just $2. Though each holds its own when it comes to flavor, the pork mandoo is my personal go-to. Seasoned ground pork is partnered with scallions, chives, and glass noodles before being wrapped in dough and then finally steamed to a warm and tasty meal. Generally speaking, a soda and two dumplings is enough to fill you up.

11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 9701 S. Tacoma Way, Tacoma, 253.267.0609

Old School Pizzeria is everything Olympia embodies -- friendly, quirky and eclectic -- but also quite affordable. Like any other pizza joint, you can create your own pizza here, but with nine creative combination pizzas available, including the Jorf with four kinds of meat or the Al Green with broccoli and mozzarella, you are truly doing yourself a disservice if you don't stick to the menu. Plus, they offer pizza by the slice for each of the menu selections. Slices start at just $2.11 for a triangle of cheese! How can you pass up a fresh, hot, NY-sized pizza slice at that price?

11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday; noon-10 p.m., Sunday; 108 Franklin St. NE, Olympia, 360.786.9640, oldschool-pizzeria.com

Tacoma's Beefy's Burgers offers diners a retro space with retro prices as well. I can appreciate the limited menu from which just a few burgers can be selected. And with fresh beef on the grill, I often opt for a double deluxe cheeseburger. Two patties with crisped edges are partnered with melted cheese and then finished off with fresh lettuce, onions, pickles and the house sweet sauce. I add a side of crinkle fries which are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and when dipped in either the house fry sauce or tarter, make for a hearty meal for just over $7.

11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 3018 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.301.1663, beefysburgers.me

One of the best kept secrets in Tacoma is NW Lumpia on Center Street. It is only open Monday through Friday, and only for a few hours, so it is important to time your day just right. A little planning will pay dividends once you bite into one of the 10 flavor options. Each lumpia is just $1 or you can purchase combo #1 which allows you to mix and match a dozen lumpia for just $10. Flavor fusion options range from traditional to sweet and sour or taco mix, but the best has to be the one dessert option of brown sugared banana. Hot, sweet and caramelized with just the right amount of cinnamon; some days I'm tempted to spend my entire $10 on just this one flavor.

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday-Friday; 1607 Center St., Tacoma, 253.341.0234, northwestlumpia.com

Burger Seoul food truck in Tacoma is not your standard burger shack; they've merged Korean flavors with burger-styled sandwiches. The Bulgogiger is a bulgogi-inspired sandwich that piles marinated Korean grilled ribeye on a toasted bun along with crispy lettuce, pickled Korean cucumbers, and plenty of rich, dark Bulgogi sauce. The ribeye is tender, the lettuce and Korean cucumbers are crispy to give the sandwich a good textural balance, and the sauce ... wow. This is not your everyday burger or sandwich; this is a top shelf, hand-held experience in flavors. And you can enjoy it yourself for just $8.

11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., daily, 1750 S. Prospect St., Tacoma, Facebook

It's not difficult to find good Thai food in the South Sound, but finding it on a budget can prove to be more challenging. Loak Toung Thai in Tacoma offers diners three hearty lunch choices for just $9.99. The garlic chicken is packed with flavor; thin slices of breast meat are sautéed in a Thai garlic sauce and served over steamed vegetables with rice and a fried spring roll. As far as lunch servings go, the serving sizes are plentiful for nearly any appetite.

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4-8:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 3807 Center St., Tacoma, 253.248.9813, loaktoungthai.com

Street food has become more mainstream over the past few years, and Arepa Latin Street Food in Olympia is an excellent example of why. Traditional ground corn buns known as areaps are treated as buns to support several combinations from the simple shredded beef and gouda cheese to the Cubana with pork loin, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and sauce. Each option is packed with flavor and offered for just $8. The vegetariana is an option for more than just vegetarians; the combination of black beans, caramelized onions, plantains, and avocados are sure to satisfy meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike -- it's a solid combination of textures and flavors.

11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 728 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360.207.5774, arepalatinstreetfood.com