Top Lunches Of 2013: Banh Mi, Cheese Fries, Chicken Fingers, Shawarma Represent

Looking back through all of the lunches I consumed in 2013 made me wonder, once again, how I am not morbidly obese. There was BBQ chicken lo mein, pizza with bacon and jalapeños, cheese steaks, fancy hot dogs, and one uncooked lunch that I’ll talk about later. All in all it was a great year for lunching downtown, and we gained options like Jersey-style subs, Philly-style hoagies and Japanese curry.

While digging through all of these lunches, there were several that stood out and I whittled them down to 10. You’ll find those straight ahead, along with an honorable mention and a bonus spot for perhaps the most memorable lunch I’ve eaten in my tenure as editor of this site. 

The following 10 lunches are in no particular order of greatness. Basically, they’re dishes I still remember as being delicious even if it’s been 11 months since I ate them.

Shorty’s Italian Fries:  “You can get plain fries for $4 but why do that when you can get them topped with Cheez Whiz, Old Bay seasoning or Italian seasoning and romano cheese? The fries were fresh, crispy and liberally sprinkled with the salty cheese and some fresh herbs.” I still dream of these fries and would not hesitate to pay $5 for them again and again.

Luckyim Thai Cart’s Pad Thai“Other than rice noodles, you get bean sprouts, egg, radish, and six large shrimp that were surprisingly not overcooked. Yes, you have to wait five to 10 minutes for your food, but I could tell that my pad thai had been cooked to order, as the noodles weren’t stuck together and everything was still piping hot.” After having so many subpar version of pad thai, this version, tart with tamarind, was a revelation.

 French Cafe Gourmand’s Lamb Sandwich: ”The lamb wasn’t tough at all and I appreciated it was in small enough pieces that I didn’t pull all of the meat out when I took a bite.” How often do you find a tasty braised lamb sandwich for $8? Pretty much never.

Dirty Bird To Go’s Chicken Fingers: “These chicken fingers are gigantic! Each piece was basically the size of a small chicken breast with a thin coating of breading. It was more original recipe than extra crispy – if you’re familiar with Kentucky Fried Chicken lingo.” I’m not ashamed that I put chicken fingers in my top 10. These are worth the shame.

Banh Mi Cart’s Pork Roll and Egg Sandwich: If you were thinking New Jersey-style pork roll, think again. This is the same pate found in the classic banh mi but with a fluffy folded omelette in the middle rather than more pork.” This one gives the traditional banh mi a run for its money.

Birdbath Bakery’s Veggie Burger In M’smenThis veggie burger is made of bulgur, pumpkin seeds and chickpeas, and it’s a bit crumbly. This is where the buttery Moroccan flatbread called m’smen that it’s nestled in comes in handy if you eat it like a taco.” Sometimes you want to eat something that’s light, yet filling and interesting. This is that lunch.

Yummy Fawl & Falafel Cart’s PlatterBy far my favorite part of the plate was the hummus, which tasted deeply of tahini, and the falafel balls covered in it were the best ones.” This cart from a vet of Sam’s Falafel is just as good, plus there are no lines.

Pisillo’s Cantanzaro Sandwich: “The pickled peppers balanced nicely with the fatty meat and cheese, and the bread did a good job of holding everything together. This thing was basically a foot long and I could have stopped eating at the midway point but ended up finishing it.” Pro tips: Don’t expect any parm sandwiches or marinara sauce here, and go hungry.

Hummus & Pita Co.’s Chicken Shawarma Pita: What was in my pita was so tasty that I powered through the whole thing even though my stomach told me not to. The crisp-skinned chicken, although tasty when I got a bite, took a back seat to the salads and vegetables within (the Spanish eggplant and carrots were standouts).”  The chicken is good, but you should totally take advantage of the many vegetable topping options. Just keep pointing until they cut you off.

Mooncake Foods’ Lemongrass Shrimp & Rice Noodle SaladThe shrimp were the best part of the plate – cooked and seasoned nicely, although I didn’t detect a lot of lemongrass flavor. The second best part was at the bottom when I discovered the lettuce had been slicked with a vinaigrette that prominently featured that fish sauce.” Bet you didn’t think a salad would make this list! I can still taste those shrimp, and that funky dressing.

Honorable Mention: One of the first lunches I ate in 2013 was also the most surprising. An order of a peppermill grilled chicken with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella on focaccia from The Grotto got me this behemoth. The key is the oil-slicked bread covered with chopped tomato, cheese and herbs, then charred on a trip through the pizza oven. Delicious!

Most Memorable Lunch…Ever:  There were a lot of really great lunches eaten in 2013, but the “Cheezee Satisfaction” from Magic Mix Juicery was sadly not one of them. From the review: “Despite being denied my dish of choice the first time I stopped in, on a return visit they had properly dehydrated the kelp and I walked out into the freezing cold with the raw food equivalent of spaghetti.” 

But wait, there’s more: “As I gazed upon the disconcerting red color of the noodles, and the puddle at the bottom of the container, I wondered what I’d done. But I was hungry and pressed on. The good news was that the meatballs were actually pretty tasty, molded together with some sort of pesto and tasting of garlic and herbs. The clear kelp noodles, on the other hand were colored with beet juice that somewhat transferred its flavor into the noodles.” 

I can still taste the beet juice clinging to those overly-chewy kelp noodles, and I think the shirt I was wearing that day also bears the scars of this lunch. Seriously, you guys, I enjoy the occasional healthy lunch as much as the next person but eating this seemed like I was being punished.

That’s the end of my list, but now it’s your turn. What were some of your most memorable lunches from 2013? Share them in the comments!


1 Comment

  • Except for the fact that the size of their portions seems to have dwindled a bit, the Mamak Cart is my personal favorite.

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