Every day you toil, hacking away at your computer, sitting through endless meetings, and trying to avoid Carol from accounting. Why make your day even more tragic with a Sad Desk Lunch™? You’re in Austin, which means you’re surrounded by epicurean escapes and delectable deals no matter what neighborhood you’re in, mere minutes away from your cube-prison. When the clock strikes lunch, hop up from that ergonomic chair, and head to whichever of the following spots is closest -- for your sanity as well as your stomach. Then, once quittin’ time approaches, duck out with some of your most trusted colleagues and get your happy hour fix.
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Fareground Food hall with an abundance of options Yes, the term “food hall” might be a fancy upgrade on the mall food courts of our youth, but the basic premise still proves out: multiple restaurants with options for all diners and price ranges, and a common area to sit, snack, and share. Fareground’s current darling is TLV Israeli Street Food, serving incredible hummus and sabiches with Israeli salad, fried eggplant, and other delights. Plan an early or late lunch to avoid the masses.
Swift’s Attic Posh place for New American dishes This stylish second-story restaurant may not immediately evoke thoughts of “casual lunch,” but Swift’s will surprise you. They’ve managed to hit that sweet spot: nice but not intimidating, approachable but not too casual, business-y but not in a weird buttoned-up way. The menu is a mix of deli sandwiches, entree salads, as well as the creative fare they’re known for. There’s also an amazing burger stacked with ground Akaushi beef patties, melted fontina, griddled onion, B&B pickles, and their “fancy-ass special sauce.”
The Grove Wine Bar and Kitchen Contemporary eatery serving global flavors The Grove is an easy choice for a group lunch. There’s plenty of seating, the menu is hugely customizable and includes an impressive gluten-free selection, and it’s affordable. Plus, it’s just pretty. The menu touches on a wide variety of flavors -- Asian, Italian, American, seafood -- and there’s also a lunch combo special that includes pizza and a salad or cup of soup for $10.
Jack Allen’s Kitchen Filling southwestern fare with Texas flair Famous for its decadent brunch, Jack Allen’s hearty southwestern fare is equally and consistently delicious during lunch. With four locations scattered about the city, you’re never too far from a heaping plate of “chicken fried anything” or south Texas tacos, their killer green chile cheeseburger or the twisted cobb salad. Might as well throw in a frozen house margarita while you’re at it, to make your return to the office a bit more tolerable.
Ike’s Sandwiches San Francisco-based sandwich smorgasbord Ike’s is like the Thunderbird of San Francisco. Everyone knows ‘em, everyone loves ‘em. The sauce-y sandwiches are cleverly named -- like the Reading Rainbow (avocado, pesto, cheddar) and Paul Reubens (pastrami, slaw, french dressing, swiss) -- and they have an extensive number of meat and veggie options, as well as the always-welcome ability to build your own custom sandwich.
Fire Bowl Cafe Build-your-own stir fry bowls Yes, you can opt for one of the preset noodle & rice bowls on the menu, but the superior move at this strip mall spot is the “Stir Fry Your Way.” Pick a protein like beef, tofu, or chicken breast, and then follow it up with your choice of sauce, veggie mix, and rice/noodles, and you’ll have a lunch that’ll fill your stomach and even leave you with some leftovers for the next day.
Second Street District
Numero 28 Cozy Italian eatery with pizzas, paninis, and gelato Home to the best vegetarian lasagna in the city, this Italian bistro has been quietly holding its own amid the build-up of Second Street. The cozy southern Italian eatery serves classic pasta dishes, paninis, crisp salads, and creative pizzas like their namesake: the Numero28 with speck, mushrooms, mozzarella, and truffle cream. If you have a sweet tooth, make sure to get a scoop of their authentic gelato.
Le Bleu Leveled up banh mi sandwiches and Vietnamese specialties This strip mall surprise on Burnet Road is the brick-and-mortar location of Saigon Le Vendeur, a hugely popular Vietnamese food truck. The vibe is fast-casual, but the food tastes like tender loving care was put into it (because, well, it was). Now, hungry patrons can enjoy air-conditioned comfort with their mango salad, shaken steak banh mi, bone marrow broth pho bo or steamed clams with lemongrass and chili.
Pinthouse Pizza Crafty beers and good pizza with a solid lunch special Pinthouse Pizza has so much going for it… fast service, easy seating, a fantastic selection of craft brews, and a delectable pizza roll on the app menu. That said, the thing that’s most compelling is their lunch special: a 10 inch pizza plus a side salad and a drink for the bargain-basement price of $10.50! Oh, and you can sub out the drink for a beer. Boom.
Shu Shu’s Asian Cuisine Simple and affordable counter-order Asian Fast casual Chinese isn’t just for your shame dates with the couch and Netflix. The added bonus is that Shu Shu is actually great. The meat is high quality, the flavors are fresh (since they make it when you order) and they’ve got a solid variety of American Chinese favorites. The lunch special at Shu Shu’s is definitely the clincher -- choose an entree, a protein, a style of rice, and a side for under $9.
Habanero Small south Austin tex-mex with cult following One of south Austin’s go-tos for tex-mex favorites, Habanero is only open for breakfast and lunch. That makes it much desired among the lunch crowd who needs to get their fix before closing time. Their quesadillas, borracho beans, and enchiladas are pretty unbeatable but if you’re slimming down, try the grilled shrimp ranchero. Breakfast is also served all day.
Lil Doddy Burger Lab Spinoff of SoCo gourmet burger shop with slimmed down menu Lil Doddy saves everyone in South Austin the trouble of back-in parking on SoCo when they want their gourmet burger fix. It’s a bit smaller than the other locations, but they have the same commitment to blowing your mind. Go classic with a plain ol’ cheeseburger, or get real real with the Green Chile Mac N Cheese, a Nashville hot crispy chicken sandwich, or a bacon egg and cheeseburger
Arpeggio Grill Choose-your-own Greek and Mediterranean with intriguing surrounds Arpeggio Grill was one of the only good spots around when Highland Mall was still a thing. It’s certainly one of the most atmospheric -- with walls covered in murals, heavy tapestry, and warm lighting provided by pendants. They’ve continued to draw a crowd with their under $10 lunch special (meat and three) and their traditional Greek and Mediterranean offerings plus giant pizzas.
Kome Comfortable contemporary eatery with Japanese-inspired dishes For something that won’t leave you feeling like you need an immediate nap, pop into Kome and grab a light Japanese lunch. The range of specials is impressive, from fresh to fresh fried. When the weather is hot, try a cold noodle salad or the $12 sushi lunch (varying nigiri, a roll of your choice, and clear soup); once we finally hit cooler temps, opt for the beef curry with onsen egg or the Thai-style Japanese fried chicken.
Bao’d Up Charming bao-and-boba spot also serving rice and noodle bowls There’s something strangely satisfying about biting into a soft, steamy bao (or three). Bao’d Up (now with three locations) has made it simple to enjoy a fast filling lunch that isn’t your typical same ol’ same ol’. Pick your bao from a wide range of flavors like spicy chicken, juicy pork, sweet potato, veggie, or skip the little buns and head straight for a soup bowl filled with curry, sesame noodle, or even classic chicken.
Culinary Dropout Busy indoor/outdoor restaurant with elevated pub grub In the evenings, this expansive sportsy restaurant is busy with the after-work crowd ripping off their proverbial (or actual) ties. Lunch is usually a bit more restrained, and the location is central enough that you’ll probably bump into friends and cube-mates digging into crispy fried chicken or an Italian grinder. Here’s a pro-tip: Always get the pretzel fondue.
NG Cafe Vietnamese eatery with bangin’ banh mi First there was NG BMT, a tiny to-go only bahn mi counter inside the Hong Kong Market -- now, after various iterations, NG Cafe is finally a full-fledged restaurant. The bread for those incredible Vietnamese sandwiches is made in-house, and now you can also get larger plates like Tiger’s Cry, Pineapple Cashew Chicken, soups, salads and noodle dishes. If you’re in a rush, you can order online for either delivery or pickup.
Vazquez Restaurant Legit, no-frills Mexican food Some people go to Torchy’s for “Mexican food,” and other people who really know what's up seek out gems like Vazquez. Now with three locations, you’re not here to see and be seen -- you’re here because they start your meal off with a complimentary basket of chips and fresh, spicy salsa, and your lunch total for two people plus drink will be under $20. They’re setting the Tex-Mex standard with their enchiladas, fajitas, and their pork adobada.
Hoody’s Sub Shop Small spot renowned for their authentic Philly cheesesteaks Hoody’s epitomizes an old school sub shop; close your eyes, and you’d almost feel like you’re somewhere in Philly surrounded by sports pennants and lunch regulars. There’s a daily deal where you can grab a sub with chips and a drink for less than $8, which leaves you with lunch money leftover for a TastyCake dessert. Everything on the menu is mouth-watering, but fan favorites are the meatball sub and the Philly Cheesesteak (Hoody’s specialty).
Fat Dragon Family-owned spot for “bellyrific” pan-Asian food It’s worth coming here for the name alone, but Fat Dragon also happens to be a fantastic restaurant. The husband-and-wife team behind this unassuming spot bring their knowledge of LA-caliber pan-Asian food to a little strip mall, with the widest variety of soup dumplings in the city (try the mala spicy) and an extensive selection of soups, ramen, stir-fry, noodles, and rice dishes.
Hoover’s Home Cooking Longtime Austin staple for Southern-fried home cooking Sometimes you just need a good home-cooked Southern meal (one that you don’t actually have to cook), and Hoover’s delivers exactly that, with enormous platters of fried, blackened, charbroiled, smothered, and sauced soul food. Between the ham steak, meatloaf, pork ribs, and barbecue chicken, and sides like black eyed peas, jalapeno creamed spinach, and of course mac & cheese, a lunch here will have you loosening your belt and swearing to eat kale.
Gourmands Diner-style sandwich shop with hearty soups Gourmands Neighborhood Pub makes no attempt at pretense. With checkered floors, a happy hour kicking off at 11am, and a menu full of stick-to-your-ribs classics, it’s a solid spot for drinking or lunching (or both simultaneously). Come here for hearty soups, accessorized salads, and cheekily-named fat sandwiches like the Second Deadly Sin and the Foghorn Leghorn.
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