The Easy, Decent, Casual-But-Not-Too-Casual Lunch

Posted by Glenn Gritzner on September 24, 2011

Hello Enthusiasts –

I know how it is.  You’re going to lunch with someone you want to actually have a decent conversation with.  You don’t have a ton of time, but you want to sit down, get waited on, enjoy the time you do have.  Bottega Louie is too crowded, you forgot to reserve Daily Grill, you want something nicer than Quizno’s, and you don’t want to pay Drago or Water Grill prices.   You just want to go somewhere to have a decent, somewhat quiet, efficient, and not too pricey lunch.  It can seem like a tall order sometimes, but your loyal Enthusiast is here to help.

Today, we focus on places that, loosely speaking, meet the following criteria:  they provide sit down table service, you rarely if ever have to wait, they aren’t too pricey (in my admittedly subjective opinion), and they have at least decent food and decor.  Oh, and they have to be Downtown. 😉  So, in no particular order (sorry – no pictures this time.  Takes too long…):

Soi 7
518 W. 7th St.
Between Grand & Olive, just a couple doors up from Bottega Louie
Soi 7 is a Thai place that meets all my criteria to a tee.  It’s never crowded, it serves perfectly good Thai food, it’s got a decent interior (look for the “Mandel’s” embedded in the doorway tile as a clue to its former life as a department store), and it’s reasonably priced.  Get their version of a prix fixe – you get either soup or salad to start, your choice from 4 or 5 entrees, and a side of either satay or an egg roll, for something like $12.  Frankly, I’m not sure why it’s not more crowded, but I’m not complaining.  It’s especially good when you thought you were going to go to Bottega Louie until it had a 30 minute wait – tell your friends you’ve got the perfect alternative, walk a couple doors up, and voila: lunch.

Yxta
601 S. Central
6th & Central Ave.
I’ve written about Yxta before, but it’s been awhile.  It’s admittedly in a somewhat random location, but that’s part of what keeps it chill during lunch – and, with $1 valet parking, it’s not like it’s a hassle.  Yxta serves impressively good, creative Mexican food (including breakfast until 4:00 pm, which for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I like), in a festive, well-designed atmosphere.  And, if it’s one of *those* kind of lunches (you know who you are), they serve amazing margaritas.  Admittedly, this place feels a little like a ‘nighttime’ place that happens to be open during the day (meaning that there’s a fine line between “quiet” and “dead”), but for a quick, good, easy lunch – especially if you want to impress someone by knowing a good, out of the way place – Yxta works.

Pasta Primavera (included the link though the website seems to be down)
611 W. 7th St.
Between Hope and Grand
I hesitate to include Pasta Primavera, because truth be told, the food is medium at best, and it’s pretty loud.  I partly include it for nostalgia’s sake – back when Downtown had verrrrry few options in between Carl’s Jr. and Water Grill, Pasta Primavera was there for us, providing easy, quick, sit down service at reasonable prices.  And that’s what it’s still doing today.  It does get pretty busy at lunch, but they always miraculously seem to find a table quickly.  That’s probably because once you do sit down, it’s no muss, no fuss – here are the menus, what do you want, food comes out, pay the check.  Not in a rushed way, but definitely in an efficient way.  Don’t expect miracles with the food, and it’s certainly not quiet – but it’s still a quick, not-too-expensive sit down place, and that’s what we’re looking for here.  As if you haven’t figured that out by now.

Nola’s
734 E. 3rd St.
Old “E 3rd” space in the Artists District, next to Zip Fusion Sushi, near 3rd & Traction
Truth be told, Nola’s is still getting their feet underneath them.  They have only recently opened, and they are prone to sometimes run out of things or otherwise be a little ragged.  But, the food is actually quite good, and can be somewhat characterized as “healthy Southern”, if there is such a thing (“healthy” being a relative term with this kind of food).  Cabrini, the proprietor, is incredibly friendly and really trying hard to give the community something new and authentic.  The space still looks mostly like E 3rd used to, because it’s hard to change the ‘bones’ of that space, but it’s warmed up with a few Southern touches.  And it’s still mostly undiscovered, especially for lunch, so you’ll have a unique, good, inviting meal.  Another good “impress your friends with your knowledge of out of the way Downtown places” place.

Octopus
729 W. 7th St.
Between Flower and Hope
Octopus is a nice little Asian place with way better design than you’d expect from the outside.  It’s easy to miss with its frosted windows and somewhat obscure signage, and there’s an odd little cheesy lit “Open” sign by the front door  But when you walk inside, it’s all cool colors and sleek surfaces and inviting greenery.  Although, to add to the odd juxtapositions, there might also be a sporting event on the huge wall-sized TV, which clashes with the quasi-hip surroundings.  No matter.  The food is good, the service is friendly, and the wait is usually nil.  It’s also centrally located, often making it a convenient meeting spot.  Try not to flinch when they yell ‘hello’ at you in Japanese when you walk in.  It’s friendly and all, but I hate when sushi places do that.

So there you have it.  More ‘news you can use’ from your loyal Enthusiast.

Happy travels.