So it’s 11am and you’re in the office, busy at work. I don’t know about you, but that’s right about when I’m thinking, what should I do for lunch today? Now I have to tell you that I LOVE lunch! And not just because it’s my first main meal of the day (I tend to skip breakfast) but because it’s such a bargain. Most restaurants need a lunch service to fill their schedule out and I’m pretty sure that most don’t make a heckuva lot of money at noon time. Typically you get nearly all the food for dinner at nearly half the price which means for me, cha-ching! Total bargain and for me, a great chance to enjoy a great meal. Easy access, quick service and great food in addition to parsimonious prices seals the deal for me! It’s not a long, sit-down affair, lunch is about getting in and out, having a reasonably enjoyable meal and it’s back to the workplace.
With $10 in your pocket there are plenty of choices in the Triangle for fresh and flavorful food. Out in Raleigh-Cary is one of my favorite lunch spots, the Hot Point Deli. Located conveniently on Buck Jones Road off of 1 South, Hot Point looks a bit like a converted pancake house. But don’t let the bland exterior fool ya! Step inside and you’ll immediately notice the hand-chalked menu with interesting gourmet food items and you know you’ve got something special here.
A catfish quesadilla, cuban sandwiches, individual pizzas and burritos round out the menu. Hot Point Deli puts a bit of a spin on most of their offerings, we’re talking gourmet across the board. The Thanksgiving in a Bun sandwich is wonderful: foccacia bread, turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing. Everything I’ve had at Hot Point has been fresh and unusually tasty. A seat out on the small patio out front means you can enjoy your lunch in the sunshine! And while at lunch you order at the counter, Hot Point Cafe switches over to table service for the evenings.
Further up north near Lake Boone Trail in Raleigh (and at several Durham locations) is Chubby’s Tacos, my FAVORITE quick-Mex spot! Chubby’s focus on high-quality ingredients for great Mexican food makes places like Moe’s and Qdoba’s an after-thought. Find Chubbys in the back of the plaza near Sushi-Thai, they’ve got a corner patio for fresh air dining. Order at the counter and don’t miss the refrigerated case of Jarritos up front if you need a beverage. The line can get a bit long but it’s perfect because Chubby’s has got a LONG menu. And way too many delicious choices!
Chubby’s menu features tacos at $2 and $3 ranging from barbacoa to grilled shrimp. Try one of their delicious tacos on corn or wheat tortillas. Their grilled tilapia taco is covered in a creamy sauce and spiked with onions, fantastic! Or their tacos al pastor: pork marinated in pineapple juice, yum! Or if you’re really hungry, go for one of their massive burritos that will put you to sleep for the afternoon. Don’t miss the salsa bar in back with a bunch of great spicy bling for your meal. Chubby’s large choice of delicious fillings means you’ll have to eat here for weeks to go through the menu. And their location near Rex Hospital off of I-440 is perfect for you medical workers on Blue Ridge and Lake Boone Trail!
Heading out west towards Durham in Five Points you’ll find my favorite sandwich spot, Toast! And while there may be slightly better sandwiches, you won’t find any better for the price. Toast focuses on local ingredients and yet all their lunch options are typically well under $10. Unfortunately because Toast is so darn good, the small space can get pretty crowded with a line to the door. Plan your visits accordingly! And yes, if you’re catching a show at DPAC, a quick meal at Toast makes for a casual start to your evening. Order at the counter and go find a seat quick! And don’t forget about the sidewalk seating outside.
The cheery turquoise walls highlight a very Italian menu full of eenies. Tramezzinni, panini, crostini. But there’s nothing teeny about the food and flavors at Toast. They’ve got a wonderful chicken salad tramezzini which is made with garlicky aioli and comes with the bread crusts cut off, just like momma used to make! Add in a cup of soup for $2 and you’ve got an amazingly tasty and healthy lunch. The crostini with fresh mozzarella and pesto is FAN-tastic! Crisp, crunchy and luscious, I like to think this treat is healthy but it tastes ridiculously decadent. And yes, they serve beer and wine but we’re talking lunch here so you probably can’t imbibe, yet. Overall I can’t get enough of Toast but neither can the rest of Durham! So be patient, it’s a family-run paninoteca that’s worth the wait.
And down in Chapel Hill you’ve got a couple of wonderful Asian lunch bargains: Merlion Restaurant in Southern Village and Jujube in Glen Lennox shopping center. Merlion is focused on flavorful food from Singapore, they do a great roti prata with chicken curry. A bit greasy but really delicious stuff. Or try their Char Kway Teow, stir-fried flat noodles with some soy, egg, shrimp, and sprouts. Merlion does a great rendition of upscale Singaporean street food in a comfy space.
Jujube Restaurant is at the high end of my lunch price range but they do some fantastic baguette sandwiches (chicken, pork or beef) and also have a great Asian bolognese dish. Braised pork and scallions over rice noodles makes for some wonderful comfort food. Service is spot-on and pleasant for this little eatery. And Jujube’s funky and hip decor means you get some atmosphere with your lunch, a great little spot for a bite!
Even if you’re short on time, most of these places will get you in and out quickly if you can avoid prime-time hours. My experience has been that people in the area are VERY punctual so just arriving at 11:45am or going a bit late at 12:45 should give you a short wait if any. And even if you have to wait a bit, these places are worth the effort. As much as I’ve done plenty of Quizno’s and Subway sandwiches, sometimes you just need a civilized and tasty lunch. Because if you’re in the middle of a busy day, there’s nothing wrong with having a great meal and getting a bit of bon appetit for lunch!