If my timing is on, following the lunch rush I can drive up to her stand, slip into the No-Parking-No-Standing zone, roll down my window and order two dogs with mustard and sauerkraut, and a soda $3.25. It's one of the best deals going and one of my favorite lunches: fast, cheap, slightly illegal, not particularly healthy and very tasty.
More so than dinner, lunch people are creatures of habit. Of course there are exceptions, but most of us go to the same three or four places every week. I know because I see the same people at the same three or four places I go to every week.
Occasionally we branch out. But that's a risk: Will it be any good? Is it expensive? How long will it take? I have a meeting. I have a client. I only have $5. With those factors in mind, here are some of my secret spots for a great lunch. Patrick Getlein
Got no money but want good food? Try Bombay Express (lunch cart), Corner of 11th & Leigh, downtown.
With MCV out of session for the summer the line at this unassuming green lunch cart is a little shorter than during the rest of the year. But it still runs out of the popular Chicken Makhani (grilled chicken breast in yogurt, tomato sauce) from time to time so if that's what you're after it's best to sneak out early. Aloo Bagan (potatoes and green peas cooked in ginger, onions, cumion, tomatoes) and Aloo Chna (same as Bagan, but with chickpeas) are also excellent. Order the vegetarian combo and get change back from your $5 bill.
Got a small wallet and big hunger? Check out Café Ole, 2 N. 6th St., downtown.
A regular hangout for bicycle messengers, Café Ole typically features a variety of suits and secretaries standing in line or waiting around for the staff to shout out order numbers. Pay attention: Staffers don't like to yell twice. Helpful instructions on how to eat the giant burrito are required reading for first-timers. Fish tacos on Tuesday and Thursday ($2.37), and super steak burritos every day (at $4.99 it's the most expensive one). Also taco salads and quesadillas, but nobody in town makes burritos like this. Note to the frugal: Sparkling water is a free refill. Also, the line is long by noon so get there early or wear comfortable shoes.
Looking for a meatball sub? Go to Jo-Jo's Famous Pizza, 1201 E. Main St., downtown.
I've tried every meatball sub in the city (it's another vice) and Jo-Jo's has the best. But it mysteriously takes a while to prepare, so if you feel the need it's best to call ahead. And if you're like me, put it on your speed dial. They also have excellent calzone and pizza (New York and Sicilian), plus a line to the door every day. There's not much atmosphere OK, there's none. It's a cafeteria so it's either dine and dash or grab it to go. For the best deal get the combo: two slices, fries and a drink for $3.99 ($4.99 for the sub).
Need a burger? Head to Poe's Pantry and Pub, 2706 E. Main St., Church Hill.
During the day this excellent band venue becomes a working-man's lunch pub serving up ribs, catfish, barbecue and one of the best chargrilled burgers around: lean ground beef with grilled onions, mushroom, bacon, Swiss and cheddar cheese, plus homemade chips. A bargain at $5.95. Add a beer and you're in paradise. You might as well call it a day.
In need of a sandwich and some Very Richmond atmosphere? Perly's, 111 E. Grace St., downtown.
In 1997, a grill fire gutted the place while customers were trying to pick up their to-go orders. But this lunchtime landmark came back strong a year later with retro fixtures, bold colors and clean booths. Devoted regulars pack the place lots of newspaper types and there is limited ability to handle large groups. But they line 'em up and knock 'em down with ease. Big sandwiches, fun names and fresh ingredients make Perly's one of the best lunch spots going.
Got a client to entertain? Pomegranate Euro Bistro, 1209 E. Cary St., Shockoe Slip.
Upscale and urbane, Pomegranate brings the glossy pages of gourmet food mags to your lunch plate: composed salads with chilled lobster and asparagus; jicama slaw; compound butter. Though sophisticated and sleek, this Euro bistro welcomes business casual and more (or less), and gentlemen may remove their coats without fear of reprisal. But if you're out with a client, remember to speak quietly: The tables are very close together and Richmond is still a small town.
Vegetarian? Visit A Moveable Feast, 1318 E. Cary St., Shockoe Slip.
Of course it's not all vegetarian, thankfully. But if you are a vegetarian, then this teeny-weenie gourmet sandwich shop should be high on your list. Black olive herb cream cheese on pumpernickel; romaine salad with fresh veggies, feta and black olives; pesto, provolone, roasted peppers on sourdough. If you're a carnivore, try the fine rare roast beef sandwich or the tarragon chicken salad. Most sandwiches are around $5. As narrow as a door, the restaurant still manages to squeeze in a couple of tables. Still, most people get food to go. Box lunches are available with delivery in downtown for only $3 more.
Easily forgotten but unique: Sausalito's, 213 E. Grace St., downtown
Sausalito's is easy to overlook (there's not much else in the neighborhood), but it's the only place in Richmond serving savory crepes. Big ones. Like the size of big Frisbees, loaded with pretty much anything you could imagine. Grilled onions, black olives, spinach, tomato, feta and mozzarella. Roasted pork and country ham, grilled onions, stewed tomatoes, roasted corn, rice and cheddar cheese. Ham and eggs. Hummus, avocado, parsnips, carrots, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts. We're hoping the smoked salmon, chive and cheese makes a valiant return, but for the moment it's been 86'd. Plastic forks and knives keep costs down: from $5 to $6 per crepe.
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